Free speech for gun extremist, not for student?

Editors passionately defend the Freedom of Incendiary Speech of a right-wing extremist – but not a peep about a student arrested for a tweet.

The editorial board of the Northwest Arkansas Times today announced that “Free Speech Wins in GOP controversy”, referring to the brouhaha around Benton County Republican Chris Nogy who had made noises about shooting lawmakers who voted for laws that he disagrees with. Nogy wrote on the county GOP web site:

“The 2nd amendment means nothing unless those in power believe you would have no problem simply walking up and shooting them if they got too far out of line and stopped responding as representatives.”

While he personally thinks that “a gun is quicker and more merciful” than political and civic action, he regretfully concluded that “we can’t shoot them” [lawmakers]. He later issued a non-apology, stating that he “most likely won’t try to kill them [legislators] or harm their families”, and has since resigned from his committee post. The State Police had looked into the matter and concluded that he didn’t really mean to shoot anybody so his remarks weren’t actual threats and so no criminal charges were in order. The NWA Times editors agree:

“we’re glad to see free speech at work, just as the Constitution guarantees. Nogy got to express his ridiculous notion about a political party exterminating its traitors, while others fairly had the opportunity to speak out against an ill-conceived, poorly executed advocacy of political retribution. That’s exactly what’s supposed to happen. Nogy isn’t in danger of going to jail or being executed for speaking his mind.”

Fair enough. One has to wonder though why there wasn’t the slightest peep from any journalist, politician, or other advocate of Freedom of Speech when recently a UA student was arrested after a tweet that seems far less dangerous than Nogy’s figures of speech. On April 12, a University building was evacuated and student Carlos Martinez was arrested and charged with “terroristic threatening” after he had tweeted:

“UPDATE: Someone screams over the mezzanine and shoots all the forth year.”

This blogger has no idea what Martinez was trying to express in this message but it doesn’t appear to be a threat. At worst, it might have been intended to create a false alarm (as it did). Authorities nowadays understandably take any hint of danger in connection with schools seriously. But students still have First Amendment rights or have they? In the Nogy case, the police investigated whether there had been an intent to threaten and concluded there was none. In the Martinez case, the police arrested and the prosecutor charged without asking any questions.

None of the media outlets reporting on the incident (here, here, here and here) offered any comment on possible Free Speech implications of a hefty criminal charge based solely on a twitter message. No passionate editorials were written. There was also no hint that any of the journalists attempted to contact Martinez. Indeed all reporting appears to have consisted in merely copying the police press release.

Apparently, when it comes to exercising Free Speech, it helps to be a firebrand political extremist rather than an unknown – and probably harmless – student.

Does Exxon control the Mayflower oil spill coverage?

It is during crises, like Exxon Mobil‘s Mayflower oil spill disaster, that press freedom matters most and we can really judge whether the media are doing their job. As critics have pointed out from the beginning, many media outlets have effectively let Exxon dictate their coverage. As Arkansas Blog now reports, Little Rock TV stations have gone a step further in their submission to the corporate giant: Under pressure from Exxon, Arkansas ABC, NBC, and Fox affiliates have declined to air a paid advertisement (view on youtube) critical of Exxon. Exxon – get this – has threatened legal action against the stations. Exxon executives, who should probably be on trial for criminal negligence, are dictating what can and cannot be said in public about them in Arkansas. That is the extent of press freedom and freedom of speech in this state.

“Amidst reports of media intimidation at the site of the Mayflower, Arkansas tar sands oil spill, ExxonMobil has now taken to bullying local Little Rock television stations into canceling the airing of a satirical but cutting advertisement critical of their business practices… The move by Exxon marks the latest in a series of reported strong-arm tactics undertaken by Exxon to censor reporting in the days following the Mayflower tar sands oil spill.” (Statement from the ad organizers)

The news media and the Mayflower EXXON oil spill disaster

Former Little Rock news Anchor Ron Gardner has posted a passionate take-down (via arkansastvnewswatch) of the news media’s, especially the Little Rock TV news programs’ treatment of the oil spill disaster in Mayflower.

“What the local broadcasters have done, for the most part, is use statements from the EXXON spokesperson and in one case, an attempt to determine whether Sen. Jason Rapert and some others are totally in the pockets of big oil companies, simply let Rapert totally off the hook…
Jesus Christ. Everybody involved in putting that sort of shit on the air should be fired…
It’s shameful, disgusting and depressing and bodes ill for the future of our country when the local media does such a piss poor job of educating the people about issues, who their politicians are, what is happening behind the closed doors in the capital building, etc. etc. etc. …”

The Arkansas-Democrat Gazette, to its credit, in its April, 3 edition published a well-written column , (paywall) about he pipeline burst and its implications for the Keystone XL pipeline: “Oil spill highlights pipeline perils“, by Sam Lane, the director of ArkansasFracking.org.

Meanwhile, Huffington Post reports that a twitter account mocking Exxon and its handling of the oil spill disaster was suspended by the corporation (twitter corp., that is). I guess that’s how social media are supposed to be furthering democracy and empowerment and citizen journalism and saving the world – by caving in to any bully who comes along, whether China or Exxon. Thanks, Twitter, for making that clear.

Check out the coverage at Arkansas Blog.

Mike Masterson: Ignorant And Proud Of It

I had hardly completed my last post about Paul Greenberg‘s newest battle in his war on science when his hatchet man Mike Masterson (full title: opinion editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette‘s Northwest edition) entered the competition for the silliest display of ignorance. Gene Lyons thankfully alerted me to Masterson’s May 27 column which was mostly about the primary election but ended in a curious, off-topic paragraph excerpted in full for its sheer absurdity:

DNA deliberating
For readers who value rational thought over dreams and wishes, a friend recently sent this: “Mike: All living things on earth – including microbes, grass, elephants, blue whales and humans – reproduce using DNA. Although the creatures differ widely, the code that controls many of their characteristics is very stable and has served to maintain the distinction between each of them through the ages.” So, he continues, if creatures evolve, their DNA must switch between kinds to make an entirely different DNA strain to support a new living thing altogether. “Is there any evidence anywhere to show that’s happened, according to DNA? I’m not aware of it, are you?” Anyone out there aware of DNA shape-shifting from an amoeba into an elephant or a person?

It’s easy to make fun of that “argument”. How on earth did Masterson’s parents’ DNA “switch” to create something as unique as little Mikey? Every middle schooler who has paid the slightest bit of attention in biology class could explain to Masterson and his anonymous dummy friend that DNA is generally stable but not immutable. Mutation, sexual recombination and asexual recombination (as occurs between unicellular organisms like bacteria) provide for the genetic variety that enables descent with modification, which over many generations through natural selection gives rise to natural evolution. Mutations in the genetic code cause cancer and hereditary disease as well as the occasional lucky occurrence of a useful new trait. Mutation and genetic recombination enable the breeding of plant and animal varieties that humans have practiced for thousands of years, and explains the emergence of drug, herbicide and pesticide resistance.

If DNA were absolutely stable, none of this would be possible. No pet dogs. No agriculture. No need to worry about new strains of flu every year. No cancer. Of course, no individuality. The notion is so absurd that even most creationists and “Intelligent Design” proponents accept what they call micro-evolution. Masterson’s all-out attack on science is like waving a giant banner saying “I am ignorant and I am proud of it”. Maybe he is a scientific illiterate and genuinely thinks himself smart for raising what he thinks is a refutation of the whole scientific enterprise. Maybe (more likely I would say) he is a cynic whose job it is to spread misinformation and distrust among his scientifically illiterate readership. What stands out is the fact that a completely anti-scientific, flat-earth type of ideology is deemed respectable enough to be published in a “respectable” newspaper. The effect that this has on public discourse is that more and more Americans are convinced any opinion is as good as any other. Facts, logic, empirical reality don’t matter. And Masterson, though extreme, is hardly unique. Public discourse is dominated by a political class and a punditocracy inoculating American culture with anti-intellectualism on a permanent basis. Americans are being told day in day out that science and reason are worthless, that you can make up your own facts if you like, that evolution and climate science are just matters of opinion. This is why it has become virtually impossible in this country to have any kind of rational discourse about anything – whether the economy, birth control, evolution, or climate change. And that is really really worrying because Americans can choose to ignore reality but that doesn’t make it go away.

As an aside, part of Masterson’s musings, allegedly sent by an anonymous friend, is taken verbatim from a religious web site.

Paul Greenberg: Ignorance Rules

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette opinion editor Paul Greenberg is frequently on the warpath against science and academia. That he attacks Black Studies – the academic discipline studying African-American culture and history – in a recent column (also available here) is hardly noteworthy but his transparently dishonesty is at least worth documenting. Here is what happened.

Naomi Schaefer Riley, a blogger at the Chronicle of Higher Education, a trade journal rather obscure to most of Greenberg’s readers, published an attack on Black Studies titled “The Most Persuasive Case for Eliminating Black Studies? Just Read the Dissertations“. In the blog post, Riley refers to three recent dissertations by Black Studies scholars as examples of “left-wing victimization claptrap”: about “historical black midwifery”, “Black Housing and the Urban Crisis of the 1970s”, and “black Republicanism”.

Here’s the catch: Schaefer Riley never read any of the works she attacked. She didn’t even look at the table of contents.
Continue reading

Exchange with Fayetteville Free Weekly

An exchange with Blair Jackson, editor of the Fayetteville-based Free Weekly, addresses the question of how to deal with right-wing propaganda. In one of a series of columns on the Occupy Wall Street movement (which now has a camp in Fayetteville), Blair ponders whether Bill O’Reilly might be right in dismissing OWS as a “socialist movement”. This sparked a response from Arkansas Media Watch charging that “by quoting and discussing [O'Reilly's] straw man arguments and other lies and distortions, all you are doing is giving them legitimacy they don’t deserve.” Instead of allowing the extreme right to frame the debate and dominate the public discourse, we need to “end the occupation of the public discourse space by Fox News and other corporate shills” and “expel O’Reilly from your mind”.

Read Blair’s response here and the full text of AMW’s comment below the fold. What do readers think?

Continue reading

The corporate media and the Occupy Wall Street protest

Occupy Wall Street cartoon

"They don't know why they are protesting"

This cartoon (cortesy of Think Progress) expresses well how the corporate media are trying to shape the narrative about the inconvenient Wall Street protesters. Regardless what one’s political opinion on the issues, nobody in their right mind can claim that the protesters don’t express specific grievances and propose specific policies how to address them unless they are intellectually dishonest (not to mention systematic liars like ADG’s Mike Masterson).

What is more, polls show very clearly that a majority of Americans agrees with some of OWS’s core messages:

  • A recent New York Times/CBS poll found that 46% of the public think OWS reflects the views of most Americans. 34% disagreed and 18% had no opinion. Only 27% think the Tea Party reflects the views of most Americans.
  • Two-thirds of the public said that wealth should be distributed more evenly in the country.
  • Two-thirds object to tax cuts for corporations and a similar number prefer increasing income taxes on millionaires.
  • 84 percent disapprove of Congress and 71 percent of the public say the Republican party does not have a clear plan for creating jobs.
  • Seven in 10 Americans think the policies of Congressional Republicans favor the rich.
  • In a more recent CBS poll 35 percent had a favorable impression of the OWS protest movement. Only 16 percent could say the same for Wall Street and large corporations. 29 percent had a favorable impression of the Tea Party movement, and 21 percent of government in Washington.
  • In terms of unpopularity, Wall Street/large corporations tied with Washington government, with 71 percent of those polled saying they had an unfavorable impression of them. The Tea Party movement got a 50 percent unfavorable response, and Occupy Wall Street protesters 40 percent.
  • 74 percent of those surveyed believe Americans who are not wealthy have too little influence on politics, while also saying Wall Street and large corporations (80 percent) and PACs (74 percent) have too much influence. Responses over the political influence of labor unions was divided – 39 percent said they have too much, 22 percent said they have too little, and 38 percent said they have about the right amount.

It seems that the corporate media, with their generally anti-union, pro-Wall Street, pro-corporate bias, are fighting an uphill battle on behalf of the 1%. Expect more of the nasty bad-smelling variety from the Arkansas Democrat Gazette.

UPDATE: Another excellent take on corporate media deafness by Tom Tomorrow:

Occupy Wall Street cartoon

"But what do they want?"