This article originally appeared in the 8.23.12 issue of Metroland
Unless you’ve been sequestered under a boulder somewhere or
watch Fox “News” 24/7, you know that the members of the Russian grrrl band
Pussy Riot were sentenced to two years in a Rooskie slammer for flash-performing
an anti-Vladmir Putin song in a Moscow cathedral. The Russian Orthodox Church has “forgiven” Pussy
Riot for whatever they did that was so wrong, but the government steamrolled
the predictably spineless court anyway. Everybody’s
pooh-poohing Vladmir Putin (the surly x-spy chump-ass punk whose soul George W.
Bush claimed to look into and who placates his manhood issues by posing
shirtless, pretending to be some kind of martial arts expert, and hunting, Dick
Cheney-like, at “game farms” where the “help” brings pre-ordered farm-raised
“wild animals” over to where the hunter is hanging out and lets the hunter
shoot ‘em) for his barbaric transgression of the freedom of speech. And sure, Putin deserves it. But really, things are better here only by
degree, and not that many degrees. The
First Amendment’s guarantee of the freedom of speech is a delicate thing, and
most people will happily throw it overboard when somebody they don’t like says
something they don’t like. It can happen
here. It does
Eagle recently sat mute when a local blogger was ordered by a local judge not to
write anything about a politician’s daughter who may or may not have gotten
preferential treatment after a hit-and-run.
The local blogger is often extremely critical of the Berkshire Eagle, kind
of like how I am being right now
. The dunderheaded ruling, as legitimate a rape
of the First Amendment as you’ll ever see, was reported nationally on
free-speech blogs, but all was quiet on the Pittsfield front. It was only after
an appellate court reversed the ruling (while covering the lower-court judge’s
ass by telling the blogger he was really, really close to crossing some “line,”
undefined and ominous) that the beleaguered “journalists” at the ever-shrinking
Berkshire Eagle, wrote begrudgingly that the reversal was probably correct but
warned about the dangers (again, undefined) of those uncleansed and untethered
bloggers who “can invite court actions that might shake the First Amendment.”
Bloggers who “shake the First Amendment.”
That one made me do a Danny Thomas coffee
spit-take across the breakfast nook.
Makes one wonder what the Berkshire Eagle’s understanding of the First
Amendment actually is. A couple of years
ago it wrote, for some reason, an editorial critical of some little company in
Idaho or some damn place that was buying DVDs of popular movies, editing out
the naughty bits, and renting the sanitized movies to its mouth-breathing
evangelical customers. The Eagle thought
this was some horrible violation of the First Amendment, when it was just a
private company tending to its customers’ pathetic needs. No, Einstein, it would instead be a violation
of the First Amendment if the government barred
the company from editing the movies it had bought. The First Amendment protects the people from
the government, not the people from themselves.
recently, the Berkshire Eagle branded the defeat of the speech-killing and
corporate-control-ceding SOPA/PIPA bills as some hideous organized plot by the very
scary Big Internet Companies and the “information wants to be free crowd” to
continue their pillaging of everything that makes this country great. Like, presumably, the Berkshire Eagle. It read like the MPAA’s talking points on
steroids, and it was factually wrong, insipid, and frankly, embarrassing.
last week, it was a rant about violent movies.
Sigh. What year is this?
used to be the vanguard, the line of defense against any incursions to the
freedom of speech. Or at least they pretended
to be. They printed stuff they weren’t
supposed to, they challenged authority and corporate power, they called out
politicians who lied. Newspapers had our back.
newspapers dutifully and uncritically cover Julian Assange’s trial, his
extradition, his asylum, all while forgetting to tell us that the cat liberated
tons of information, information that wasn’t harmful, but that was embarrassing
around the world.
Information, in other words, that had no business being classified. Newspapers report uncritically each political
candidate’s statements, and then report the claims from one candidate that the
other is lying, then report a couple of political operatives’ soundbytes...
then on to the next story, leaving us to do the fact-checking on our own. Or maybe they report what some fact-checking website
says. Because facts are, like, who’s to
say? Truthiness rules. Newspapers can’t provide critical analysis
anymore (unless it’s from syndicated “pundits”) because declaring one side is right,
even when that side is unquestionably, absolutely, empirically right, will lead
to accusations of bias, and we just can’t have accusations of bias, even if they’re
total bullshit, can we? People might believe we’re biased and not like us. Maybe some will even cancel their
subscriptions! And go get their news from...from the internet! Or Fox! So we’ll just keep our heads down here in the
newsroom. It’s every man for
himself. Ignorance is Strength.
back to the Pussy Riot thing, one great aspect of it, as my friend Bert pointed
out, is that it forces every newscaster on your teevee to say “Pussy Riot” over
and over and over. And that’s a
Paul Rapp is a Western
Massachusetts IP lawyer who tries to be a good American every day and who, by
the time you read this, will have some internets in his house for the first
time in two months. You can reach him