Posts Tagged ‘Free Expression’

Is Boycotting Rush Anti-Free Speech or the Exercise of it?

March 6, 2012 1 comment

There are free speech proponents who, regardless of the foulness of the speech involved, feel very, very queasy about economic boycotts intended to silence people.

But regardless of how one feels in the specific case of Rush Limbaugh’s remarks about Georgetown University student, Sarah Fluke last week, central to the issue of the efficacy of economic boycotts is the concept of money and the free market.

The Supreme Court has made it pretty clear that money is a vehicle for the expression of protected 1st amendment rights. In the matter of Citizens United, the high court upheld the rights of corporations and labor unions to spend unlimited amounts of money on political campaigns.

The underlying philosophical foundation would also support the concept of economic boycotts because they too involve the use of money as a means of political expression. Not the spending of it, but the strategic denial of it.

And it is, perhaps, ironic in the case of the Rush controversy, that presuming that many on the political right are extreme free market proponents, the use of the economic leverage of the boycott, really is use of the free market; manipulating it as an expression of free speech.

So whether you’re boycotting Bill Maher’s advertisers for an ill-advised and, some would argue, grotesque tweet about Tim Tebow a couple of months ago, or angry with Rush Limbaugh for his vitriolic rhetorical attack on a young female college student, looks to me like the law is- more than ever- firmly behind you if you decide to stop buying products from companies whose perceived values are incompatible with your own.

To the anti-boycott/free speech advocates- if there really is a marketplace for ideas in this country- a place where people pay through their purchases and their listening or viewing habits, to make it possible for some to shout their views from an electronic pulpit- no one is ever losing their right of expression.

The only thing affected by the power of money- is the size of the pulpit. How people choose to spend their time and money and show their attraction or revulsion to the product, determines whether that pulpit is amplified through a 50,000-watt radio or television tower, or relegated to 45 people reading the daily rants of a lonely website.

Either way, though, it’s still free expression. Nobody said you have the absolute right to get rich off of it.

Herman Cain’s Libel and Defamation Lawyer

November 11, 2011 1 comment

Lin Wood will be watching very carefully. Every word they say, every charge they make, every news conference they hold. Not to intimidate but to “monitor the accusations…and respond accordingly,” according to the Reuters news service.

As if it were not already a gut-wrenching decision that opens you up to scrutiny, notoriety and the surrender of all personal privacy, if you are one of the women who swear Herman Cain once acted inappropriately and crossed the line in regard to workplace behavior, you can now add the risk of financial ruin by lawsuit to your list of concerns for going public.

Coincidently, the news conference that had been planned by Cain’s accusers is now off.

I don’t doubt that Atlanta attorney Lin Wood feels very strongly about false accusations against anybody. I do too. He’s worked for a number of folks who were absolutely falsely accused, like Richard Jewel, the poor fellow who was connected by many media organizations to the Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta in 1996 that he had nothing to do with.

And though he has represented many other clients, the Jewel case is instructive. The guy was no public figure. He was a security guard living a normal, anonymous life. Herman Cain, however, is quite the public figure.

Surely, Mr. Wood is well aware of the incredibly high bar American law has set for successfully pressing a defamation suit against someone who exercises their 1st Amendment rights to write or make a claim about a public figure. There must be “actual malice” to the accusation. It has to be knowingly false and show a reckless disregard for the truth.

Lin Wood knows all this. Perhaps, more importantly, anyone contemplating going public in regard to Mr. Cain, should also know this. If your accusations are true, you are safe. If they’re not and you’re lying to bring someone down, then you deserve whatever you get.

I am not advocating anybody hold a news conference. It’s none of my business. But just as I abhorred the actions of Redskins owner, Daniel Snyder, when he demanded a retraction of a critical article from a small, local newspaper threatening litigation that could bankrupt them, Lin Wood seems to be walking a very fine line between sage counselor and 1st Amendment bully.

The threat of litigation to silence free expression against public figures seems antithetical both to American values and to existing law. Wood says his hiring by Herman Cain is not meant to “scare, intimidate or threaten anyone from making statements.”

But he also says this in regard to making public accusations:

Anyone should think twice before you take that type of action. And I think it’s particularly true when you are making serious accusations against someone running for president of the United States, but I think it’s equally true if you are making those accusations against your next door neighbor.

You be the judge whether his “think twice” statement is meant to scare, intimidate or threaten.

From a purely legal standpoint he has a strong case to make against those who would publicly accuse their “next door neighbor.” He has an exceptionally weak case for taking legal action against those who speak or write about someone, especially someone who is running for president of the United States.

The Incredibly Shrinking Dan Snyder

February 5, 2011 4 comments

King George III

Hosni Mubarak will likely be gone long before Daniel Snyder. If there were a version of Liberation Square somewhere near FedEx Field, tens of thousands of Redskins fans would be gathering in an effort to depose our own more innocent local version of the imperious dictator. 

It’s more than a case of an incompetent owner of a football team. This has become a cause- a fight in defense of freedom of speech; a true 1st amendment battle against intimidation and the abuse of our judicial system by a rich, powerful, self-absorbed bully who has resorted to the courts in a transparent effort to stifle dissent and criticism. He would have made King George himself proud.

Snyder has now given more than a half-dozen media interviews since invading Dallas, Texas this week in his royal arrival for Super Bowl festivities. With each defense of his defamation law suit against the Washington City Paper, he reveals himself as a self-pitying, intolerant man with a well-developed sense of victimization.

He continues the canard, repeating from his law suit, that the small, local newspaper somehow demeaned Snyder’s wife and her fight for breast cancer awareness. The publication did nothing of the sort. It is well-documented here.  He maintains that he’s a changed man, that he himself has had cancer. Among other things, he said this to Mike Francesca on WFAN Radio Friday:

But I’ve matured. I’m patient now. I’ve had cancer. My wife is battling breast cancer. So I’m a survivor, my wife is now a survivor, and things have changed. I’m 46 years old. I’ve matured.

Well, I too, am a cancer survivor. Eleven years ago I underwent surgery and months of radiation therapy. But I don’t trot it out every time I feel the need to elicit pity and sympathy.

I am not Jewish. But there are some who are, who have taken grave offense to his characterization of City Paper’s photographic depiction of Snyder with horn and mustache scribbles as some act of anti-Semitism. Here’s Brett Haber, the Sports Director of WUSA-TV from a commentary he aired Thursday night on the station’s 11pm newscast:

But most offensive of all is Snyder’s reckless claim of anti-Semitism, saying that the newspaper’s cover-art, showing Snyder with horns and a mustache, invokes longstanding anti-Jewish imagery. Well, speaking as a Jew, that’s baloney. Moreover, it’s an opportunistic and self-serving accusation that minimizes the real pain suffered by legitimately aggrieved Jews throughout the world. As the City Paper correctly points out, the cover suggests a child’s scribblings across a photo of Snyder. It doesn’t portray him ant-Semitically; it portrays him as a figurative devil, and that’s legitimate. And oh, by the way, the cover artist and the editor who approved it are both Jewish.

In his media interviews Friday, Snyder repeatedly said that City Paper “crossed the line.” I would argue it is Daniel Snyder who has crossed the line. And in so doing, he has unleashed a firestorm of indignation that has resulted in a veritable celebration of 1st amendment exercises of free speech against his attempts to stifle criticism.

In these interviews, Snyder says all he sought was an apology and a retraction. So this $2 million dollar law suit is a matter of pride then. The threats from Redskin’s COO and General Counsel, David Donovan, to City Paper’s ownership group last November, that litigating a law suit could bankrupt City Paper, were just a matter of principle.

Well, if we’re going to talk about principle, City Paper insists it has nothing to apologize for and nothing to retract. And here is the most important point of all. This lawsuit is not just an attempt to silence the criticism of one publication. It is a tactic of intimidation designed to suppress criticism by all who would now live in fear that the words they type or publish will somehow land them in a court of law facing the prospect of bankruptcy and destitution.

No, this is much, much bigger than a petulant owner of a local sports team. This goes to the core of why the 1st Amendment exists in the first place; to protect the rights of free expression against the whims and conceits of the powerful.

A State of Cyber War Exists

December 8, 2010 1 comment

WikiLeaks supporters in the hacking community are fighting back. They’re now trying to cripple the websites of companies that have chosen not to assist in what some are calling an internet grassroots rebellion and others call anarchy. Whatever you call it, the World Wide Web has now become a battleground.

The phrase, “one man’s freedom-fighter is another man’s terrorist,” has never been more apt. Using the technology of the modern age of communications, Julian Assange has revolutionized the impact of the internet, using its reach and its many hiding places to wage guerilla combat against the governments of the world. The attempts to stop the WikiLeaks movement have been almost laughable as governments and others- the establishment, if you will- try to figure out how to stop these folks from doing deadly damage.

Particularly alarming to U.S. authorities this week was the leak of a State Department cable that listed sites around the world whose loss could “critically impact” the communications, economy and security of the United States. We are now beyond guessing motives and looking for journalistic logic to explain the content of these leaks. With this particular release, it’s tempting to conclude that we are in a state of cyber-war and the rebellion just might actually mean to cause us real harm.

The list WikiLeaks published includes our bridges, mines and dams; critical underwater communication cables and oil pipelines; specific factories that make vaccines and weapons parts. The State Department calls it an Al Qaeda targeting list.

And so the establishment is trying to fight back. Somebody- we don’t who- has waged sophisticated denial-of-service attacks on WikiLeaks web sites. Governments have succeeded in getting many companies whose servers were being used by WikiLeaks, to kick them off their platforms. Credit card companies and PayPal are now refusing to process donations to the rebellion. Assange himself sits in a British prison as Swedish authorities seek his extradition on what may or may not be legitimate charges of rape against two women, allegedly committed last August.

And now the rebellion is responding. From this morning’s Washington Post:

LONDON — WikiLeaks supporters struck back Wednesday at perceived enemies of founder Julian Assange, attacking the websites of Swedish prosecutors, the Swedish lawyer whose clients have accused Assange of sexual crimes and the Swiss authority that froze Assange’s bank account.

MasterCard, which pulled the plug on its relationship with WikiLeaks on Tuesday, also seemed to be having severe technological problems.

The online vengeance campaign appeared to be taking the form of denial of service attacks in which computers across the Internet are harnessed – sometimes surreptitiously – to jam target sites with mountains of requests for data, knocking them out of commission.

The online attacks are part of a wave of online support for WikiLeaks that is sweeping the Internet. Twitter was choked with messages of solidarity Wednesday, while the site’s Facebook page hit 1 million fans.

The establishment’s attempts to silence WikiLeaks have, so far, been ineffective. There are literally hundreds and hundreds of mirror web sites that have sprouted across the globe that are keeping the site up. The list of these web sites is easy to find and WikiLeaks is not hard to get to on your office or home computer.

Where all this ends is anyone’s guess. This really does seem to be right out of some edgy science-fiction book. A novelist, I think, could surmise how this story will unfold as well as any security expert or CIA analysis team.

Ultimately, one would think human nature will run its course. Heady with excitement with their cause and their impact, and now counter-attacking against the establishment with cyber warfare- how far will the rebellion go? Will they start taking down web sites of bloggers who disagree with Assange? Why not? They have no qualms attacking the web sites of companies who have every right to conduct business with whomever they want.

One thing becoming clearer in my mind, is that when WikiLeaks releases documents revealing America’s security soft-spots and Assange’s supporters start taking down the web sites of those who they perceive as disagreeing with them- this movement seems to become increasingly less about free expression and more about creating chaos in the name of truth.