Subscribe: Reason Magazine - Topics > Free Speech/First Amendment
http://reason.com/topics/topic/230.xml
Added By: Feedage Forager Feedage Grade A rated
Language: English
Tags:
burkert  court  defendants  fake news  fake  free speech  free  government  law  new  news  people  president  speech  trump 
Rate this Feed
Rate this feedRate this feedRate this feedRate this feedRate this feed
Rate this feed 1 starRate this feed 2 starRate this feed 3 starRate this feed 4 starRate this feed 5 star

Comments (0)

Feed Details and Statistics Feed Statistics
Preview: Reason Magazine - Topics > Free Speech/First Amendment

Free Speech/First Amendment



All Reason.com articles with the "Free Speech/First Amendment" tag.



Published: Sun, 21 Jan 2018 00:00:00 -0500

Last Build Date: Sun, 21 Jan 2018 08:09:19 -0500

 



D.C. Prosecutors Dismiss 129 Inauguration Day Protest Cases

Fri, 19 Jan 2018 16:45:00 -0500

Federal prosecutors have dismissed all charges against 129 of the defendants arrested in connection with the protests in downtown D.C. on Inauguration Day. The decision comes one month after a local Superior Court jury acquitted the first six of the so-called "J20" protesters. Fifty-nine protesters still face charges. The group was arrested after some demonstrators broke store windows, started fires, and clashed with riot police in Washington's downtown business district. Civil libertarians harshly criticized the arrests, pointing out that the defendants included people who did not appear to have committed any violence or vandalism; the government was prosecuting them under a theory of liability that could criminalize a broad range of nonviolent dissent. Privacy advocates also criticized the digital search warrants sought in connection with the case, one of which compelled a webhost to reveal the I.P. addresses of every vistor to a site afiliated with the protests. In a "Notice of Intent to Proceed" filed with the court, lead prosecutor Jennifer Kerkhoff and U.S. Attorney Jessie Liu did not concede the innocence of the defendants whose cases were being dismissed. But "in light of the legal rulings by the court and the jury's verdicts in the first trial of these cases," they decided to proceed only with those defendants who "(1) engaged in identifiable acts of destruction, violence, or other assaultive conduct; (2) participated in the planning of the violence and destruction; and/or (3) engaged in conduct that demonstrates a knowing and intentional use of the black-bloc tactic on January 20, 2017, to perpetrate, aid or abet violence and destruction." The mention of a "black-bloc tactic" refers to the prosecution's initial theory of the case. Prosecutors claimed that by dressing in masks and black clothes while marching together with individuals who assaulted police and destroyed property, each defendant had aided and abetted those crimes, whether or not they had not committed them personally. Even before the jury's not guilty verdict in December, that theory found a skeptical response in court. In early November, Judge Lynn Leibovitz ruled that one of the two charges with which all of the arrested demonstrators were charged, Felony Engaging in a Riot, didn't actually exist under D.C. law. (In the district, federal prosecutors prosecute local laws.) Then, before the case was submitted to the jury, Judge Leibovitz took the unusual step of acquitting the defendants of the other Riot Act felony charge herself. That acquittal from the bench requires a judge to hold that the government has produced so little evidence that no reasonable juror could possibly find proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The jury was left to consider only the related lesser charges stemming from specific acts of alleged property damage, plus misdemeanor riot charges. It returned a verdict of not guilty to each. At a hearing this afternoon, Kerkhoff claimed that the government has identified specific video clips and or items of physical evidence that prove each of the remaining defendants committed at least one specific criminal act. One defendant still facing charges is Aaron Cantú, a staffer at the Santa Fe Reporter. Charges had been dismissed early on against six other journalists who said they were merely covering the protest rather than rioting, but prosecutors contend that Cantú participated in the destruction. (Another reporter, independent videographer Alexei Wood, was found not guilty at the first trial.) The next group of remaining defendants are scheduled to be tried beginning March 26.[...]



Jeff Flake Highlights Donald Trump's Rhetorical Kinship With Censorious Autocrats

Wed, 17 Jan 2018 18:20:00 -0500

I'm not sure 2017 was the year in which the truth was "more battered and abused than any other in the history of our country," as Jeff Flake declared in his Senate floor speech today. But the Arizona Republican, a longtime critic of Donald Trump who decided not to seek re-election this year, is right that the president combines a blatant disregard for the truth with an open contempt for the press in a way that sets him apart from any of his recent predecessors. As Flake noted, those tendencies are especially evident in the rhetoric that Trump borrows from and lends to dictators of the past and present. "Our own president uses words infamously spoken by Josef Stalin to describe his enemies," Flake said. "It bears noting that so fraught with malice was the phrase 'enemy of the people,' that even Nikita Khrushchev forbade its use, telling the Soviet Communist Party that the phrase had been introduced by Stalin for the purpose of 'annihilating such individuals' who disagreed with the supreme leader." Trump, who planned to announce "Fake News Awards" today recognizing the "most corrupt and dishonest" reporting of 2017, has clarified that he does not think all journalists are "enemies of the people"—only the ones who make him look bad. In his original formulation, Trump condemned "the FAKE NEWS media" as "the enemy of the American People," a category in which he specifically included The New York Times, CNN, ABC, CBS, and NBC. Fox News, presumably, is not an enemy of the people, and neither is The Federalist's Adam Levine, who recently received Trump's gratitude for opining on Fox News that "Donald Trump is the greatest president our country has ever seen." As Jesse Walker has noted, the phrase "fake news" originally referred to hoaxes but was quickly extended to sloppy reporting that was false but not consciously so and even to real news with an ideological spin. In Trump's hands, it became an all-purpose epithet for anything negative a journalist might say about him, true or not. It is disturbing (but not surprising) to see authoritarian leaders of other countries echo this usage. Flake offered examples from a December 8 report in Politico: "In February...Syrian President Bashar Assad brushed off an Amnesty International report that some 13,000 people had been killed at one of his military prisons by saying, 'You can forge anything these days, we are living in a fake news era.' "In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte has complained of being 'demonized' by 'fake news.'" Last month, the report continues, with our President, quote "laughing by his side," Duterte called reporters "spies." In July, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro complained to [RT], the Russian propaganda outlet, that "the world media had 'spread lots of false versions, lots of lies' about his country, adding, 'This is what we call "fake news' today, isn't it?" There are more: "A state official in Myanmar recently said, 'There is no such thing as Rohingya. It is fake news,' referring to the persecuted ethnic group.... "Leaders in Singapore, a country known for restricting free speech, have promised 'fake news' legislation in the new year." The point is not that Assad et al. would be more tolerant of dissent without Trump's example. Matt Welch is appropriately skeptical of attempts to blame Trump for a global downturn in press freedom. But it surely is embarrassing that the self-styled Leader of the Free World talks this way and thereby lends rhetorical cover to censorious thugs. "Not only has the past year seen an American president borrow despotic language to refer to the free press," Flake said, "but it seems he has in turn inspired dictators and authoritarians with his own language." The shared language is of a piece with Trump's disquieting praise for strongmen who get things done, including Duterte, Vladimir Putin, Saddam Hussein, and the Chinese leaders responsible for the Tiananmen Square Massacre. The crucial difference between Trump and the autocrats he admires is not temperamental but institutional. Unlike them[...]



What’s Missing from John McCain’s Criticism of Trump’s Media Attacks

Wed, 17 Jan 2018 14:14:00 -0500

Today is a particularly punchy round in the ongoing heavyweight bout that is the Trump presidency vs. the media, a conflict that is arguably a defining divide in our modern politics. In one corner, as always, is President Donald Trump, who has promised to unleash his long-awaited "Fake News Awards" tonight. In the other corner, as per usual, is just about every mainstream news outlet and journalism-related organization (sample headline from Newsweek: "President Trump Is Leading an Assault on Democracy in the U.S. and Around the World, Report Claims"), plus all the late-night comedians, a scattering of #NeverTrumpers, half of political Twitter, and the two Republican senators from Arizona. The senior senator from the Copper State, John McCain, took time away from his ongoing health battles to fire a shot across Trump's bow in today's Washington Post, under the journalist-pleasing headline "Mr. President, stop attacking the press." The piece, which has already drawn much praise, hinges on a dubious bit of connective tissue between Trump's juvenile anti-media taunts in America, and the various ongoing crackdowns on journalists abroad: While administration officials often condemn violence against reporters abroad, Trump continues his unrelenting attacks on the integrity of American journalists and news outlets. This has provided cover for repressive regimes to follow suit. The phrase "fake news" — granted legitimacy by an American president — is being used by autocrats to silence reporters, undermine political opponents, stave off media scrutiny and mislead citizens. [The Committee to Protect Journalists] documented 21 cases in 2017 in which journalists were jailed on "fake news" charges. First off, the phrase "Fake News" initially gained currency among the very journalism practitioners Trump is whacking with it today. Second, let's click on that hyperlink above and reflect on the opening paragraph: For the second consecutive year, a record number of journalists--262--were imprisoned, and President Donald Trump's anti-journalist rhetoric provides cover for the trumped-up accusations and legal charges. That is according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. The figure, as of Dec. 1, was up from 259 in the previous 12-month period. That's right—the (already way too high) number of journalists imprisoned worldwide increased during President Trump's first year in office by, um, three; none of whom were in the United States. And this is primarily Trump's fault. (No seriously, the CPJ, in honor of the Fake News Awards, announced its own "Press Oppressors awards," and the prize for "Overall Achievement in Undermining Global Press Freedom" went to, you guessed it, the U.S. president.) This is what happens when you are triggered more by words than by policy. Barack Obama, unlike his successor (so far at least!) actually prosecuted, threatened with jail time, and spied on American journalists and whistleblowers. As Reporters Without Borders pointed out last year, [I]t bears repeating that [Trump's] predecessor left behind a flimsy legacy for press freedom and access to information. Journalists continue to be arrested for covering various protests around the country, with several currently facing criminal charges. The Obama administration waged a war on whistleblowers who leaked information about its activities, leading to the prosecution of more leakers than any previous administration combined….And over the past few years, there has been an increase in prolonged searches of journalists and their devices at the US border, with some foreign journalists being prevented from any travel to the US after they covered sensitive topics such as Colombia's FARC or Kurdistan. McCain and other Trump critics are on firmer ground when they complain that the president has shown little inclination to criticize other countries' media crackdowns, that he has eschewed the tradition of insisting on press conferences even in the most autocratic of foreign countries, and that his "enem[...]



"Fake News" is Not an Excuse to Regulate the Internet: New at Reason

Wed, 17 Jan 2018 13:30:00 -0500

src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/_1dfxXAs4yo" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0"> President Trump promised that today he'll announce the recipients of his "Fake News Awards," an honor he's sure to bestow upon unflattering coverage that displeases him, a category that will almost certainly include the book Fire and Fury, Michael Wolff's insider tell-all of life in the Trump White House. But with "fake news" back in the real news, it's worth reflecting upon how both Republicans and Democrats have utilized the amorphous term to lay the groundwork for the regulation of speech on the internet and why that's a very bad idea. Shortly after her defeat, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton held a press conference decrying the prevalence of fake news on social media, calling it "a danger that must be addressed." In October of last year, Democrats in both chambers of Congress took up her call, grilling the attorneys for the tech giants Facebook, Twitter, and Google about Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and the role of so-called "fake news" in sowing discord and confusion among the electorate. "You have been identified as major purveyors of fake news," Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) told lawyers at one hearing. Some Democrats were explicit in their threats to regulate the companies if they didn't do a better job weeding out trolls, bots, and fake news. "You have to be the ones to do something about it," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), "Or we will." While Democrats seem concerned that tech companies don't do enough to police content on their platforms, Republicans and conservatives have expressed concern that they do too much to cultivate their users' newsfeeds. "Your power sometimes scares me," admitted Sen. John Kennedy (R-Okla.) at one point during a hearing. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) questioned the social media giants over whether or not they consider themselves "neutral public fora" and cited a study that claimed to have found political bias in Google search results. Former White House adviser Steve Bannon has called for Facebook and Google to be regulated like public utilities, and conservative Fox News host Tucker Carlson made a similar case on his show after Google fired software engineer James Damore for writing an internal memo questioning some of the company's diversity policies. But both Democrats and Republicans are missing the mark when they call for the government to regulate the flow of information on the internet. Treating social media as some sort of public utility is quite simply a power grab that all but guarantees that politicians and unelected bureaucrats will decide what information should appear in Americans' newsfeeds and would likely grant the government even greater access to our private communications than it already has. This is not the first time governments have tried to control new tools of mass communication. Much like the internet, the advent of the printing press provoked panic and backlash among the elite institutions it disrupted. America's first multi-page newspaper was shut down after a single edition because it spread rumors about the sex lives of government officials and published what the colonial government described as "uncertain reports," or what we might today call "fake news." For the crime of publishing without a license, the government imprisoned and later ran out of town another early colonial newspaper's editor: James Franklin, older brother to Benjamin Franklin who went on to run that paper and do a few other notable things. A few decades earlier, John Milton criticized the British government's regulation of materials produced by the printing press, writing in 1644 that, "Truth and understanding are not such wares as to be monopoliz'd and traded in by tickets and statute." Instead, wrote Milton, better to "Let [Truth] and Falsehood grapple." Granting government even the slightest control over the free flow of information on the int[...]



Court Kills Most of Idaho’s Law Against Secret Farm Recordings

Sat, 13 Jan 2018 08:00:00 -0500

Last week, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that parts of Idaho's "ag gag" law are unconstitutional. The court upheld, in part, a U.S. District Court ruling from 2015 that found the Idaho criminal law runs afoul of the First Amendment. Ag gag laws are on the books in seven states. As the Ninth Circuit explains, these laws "target[] undercover investigation of agricultural operations [and] broadly criminalize[] making misrepresentations to access an agricultural production facility as well as making audio and video recordings of the facility without the owner's consent." Proponents of the Idaho law, including lawmakers, argued it was intended to "quash investigative reporting." A person convicted of violating the law faced up to one year in prison and a fine of up to $5,000. The case decided last week, Animal Legal Defense Fund v. Wasden, saw several animal-rights and free-speech groups, including the ALDF and ACLU, join with others to sue Idaho in an effort to overturn an Idaho law that makes it illegal to snoop on agricultural producers. The 2014 law was drafted by the Idaho Dairymen's Association, which was unhappy when video taken by an animal rights group, Mercy for Animals, revealed abominable mistreatment of dairy cows in Idaho. Does this decision throw open the doors of agricultural operations in Idaho to trespassers of all sorts? Hardly. "If, as Idaho argues, its real concern is trespass, then Idaho already has a prohibition against trespass that does not implicate speech in any way," the Ninth Circuit ruling notes. I discuss the case (and ag gag laws more broadly) in my recent book, Biting the Hands that Feed Us: How Fewer, Smarter Laws Would Make Our Food System More Sustainable. I also organized more than a dozen fellow food-law faculty from around the country to sign on to an amicus brief in support of the ALDF and its fellow plaintiffs. And I attended oral arguments in the case in Seattle in May, which I wrote about here. In our brief, we argued in favor of the value of the information that undercover investigations provide to consumers by making that information available within the marketplace of ideas. As the court rightly notes, "undercover investigative reporting... has brought about important and widespread change to the food industry, an arena at the forefront of public interest." The good news in last week's the Ninth Circuit ruling is that the court effectively overturned the Idaho law. The court found that two key parts of the Idaho law—one prohibiting a person from misrepresenting themself to enter an agricultural production facility, the other banning a person from making audio or video recordings of a production facility—are unconstitutional. But the Ninth Circuit reversed the lower court, upholding the part of the Idaho law that criminalizes the act of obtaining agricultural production facility records by misrepresentation. Supporters of ag gag laws did find a silver lining in last week's ruling. "The big news in this decision is that lies or false speech can be 'criminalized' if made 'for the purpose of managerial gain or material advantage or if such speech inflicts a legally cognizable harm,'" writes Farm Futures columnist Gary Baise, an attorney and farmer. But opponents of Idaho's law—and ag gag laws in general—should find much more to like in last week's ruling. "The Ninth Circuit's decision in ALDF is an important victory for consumers," says Mahesha Subbaraman, the appellate attorney who drafted ands submitted the amicus brief on behalf of me and the other food-law scholars. "The decision ensures that consumers will continue to reap the benefits of investigative journalism directed at exposing the true conditions of food production."[...]



James O'Keefe Panders to Populist 'Conservatives' Who Think Silicon Valley Is the Greatest Threat to Freedom

Thu, 11 Jan 2018 15:50:00 -0500

(image)

James O'Keefe's latest "investigation" with Project Veritas focuses on "censorship" at Twitter, focusing on "shadow banning" and other methods Twitter employees allegedly said they use to regulate user behavior.

Twitter has found out being an open space for racist trolls doesn't entice new users or encourage existing users to stick around, and so in recent months it has tried to impose new policies to minimize that. It should be free to adopt whatever policies it wants—it's a private company, after all.

The idea that Twitter might want to prioritize its bottom line over its users' ability to say whatever they want to whoever they want on the platform has given many modern conservatives the vapors.

"This represents the most sinister threat to free speech in history," Media Research Center President Brent Bozell said in a statement. (You see, "social media is the communications vehicle of the future," and Twitter is a social media company.) Tucker Carlson, who has masterfully co-opted the right's prevailing populist mood to propel his prime-time Fox News show to the top of the ratings, tweeted this week that "the Federal Government is no longer the main threat to your privacy and freedoms. Big corporations are. The Orwellian future is increasingly the Orwellian present, and tech barons are becoming our new commissars."

"It's increasingly clear that tech giants aren't just a threat to our privacy they are a threat to our basic American freedoms," Carlson added in a subsequent tweet.

Twitter lets Carlson claim the company is a threat to basic American freedoms, so it doesn't seem to be curtailing his freedoms. Twitter even lets a right-wing competitor—Gab, which claims to be a "free speech alternative" but looks more like a safe space for right-wing trolls—promote itself on Twitter's platform. Some threat.

Twitter has the right to regulate the use of its platform in a way that it believes will make it profitable. A cesspool of rando trolls doesn't attract users that add value. The motivations shouldn't be hard for people to understand, particularly if they claim to be proponents of the free enterprise system. Even if all of O'Keefe's allegations are true (and that's highly dubious), Twitter's policies aren't a threat to our "basic American freedoms."

Progressives often argue that private companies "owe" the government or the people something, particularly if they profitably offer a good or service that progressives can claim is a right. In many a liberal worldview, business is innately predatory, waiting to exploit consumers that willingly pay for a good or service they want. Carlson and friends are making largely the same point, while managing to use even more histrionic language than many mainstream liberals.

Increasingly, the "new conservatism" in the age of Trump appears to be little more than contemporary progressivism plus white identity politics.




This Marijuana Reform T-Shirt Cost Iowa Taxpayers Half a Million Bucks

Thu, 11 Jan 2018 12:59:00 -0500

The cost of violating the First Amendment by censoring T-shirts promoting a marijuana reform group at Iowa State University is likely to exceed $500,000 under a settlement announced this week. That's not counting the resources the Iowa Attorney General's Office has devoted to its defense of the university's refusal to let the ISU chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) use an image of the school's mascot, Cy the Cardinal, on its shirts. Student groups are routinely allowed to use Cy, and in 2012 ISU's Trademark Office initially approved a design in which the bird was leaning on the initials ISU with his head taking the place of the O in NORML. The back of the shirt said "Freedom is NORML at ISU" with a cannabis leaf above NORML. That decision became politically problematic a month later after The Des Moines Register ran a story about marijuana legalization that included a photo of NORML ISU members wearing the T-shirts. Responding to complaints from state legislators and Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad's chief drug policy adviser, ISU officials effectively rescinded approval of the T-shirt by refusing to let the student group order more, changed the rules for using ISU trademarks, and subjected NORML ISU T-shirt designs to special scrutiny, rejecting any that featured Cy or cannabis leaves. In 2014, with the help of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, NORML ISU members Paul Gerlich and Erin Furleigh sued ISU President Steven Leath and three other administrators, arguing that the state university's politically motivated T-shirt censorship violated their right to freedom of speech. A federal judge agreed. "Plaintiffs' political message, and a political reaction, was a driving factor behind Defendants' actions," U.S. District Judge Gritzner wrote in a 2016 ruling. "Defendants took action specifically directed at NORML ISU based on their views and the political reaction to those views so that Defendants could maintain favor with Iowa political figures. As such, the Court must conclude Defendants' conduct amounts to discrimination on the basis of Plaintiffs' viewpoint." ISU appealed Gritzner's decision, and last year the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit rebuked the school again. "Defendants' actions and statements show that the unique scrutiny they imposed on NORML ISU's trademark applications was motivated by viewpoint discrimination," said a three-judge panel of the court. "Defendants violated plaintiffs' First Amendment rights because defendants engaged in viewpoint discrimination and did not argue that their administration of the trademark licensing program was narrowly tailored to satisfy a compelling governmental interest." Under a settlement agreement approved on Tuesday by the State Appeal Board, the state will pay $150,000 in damages to Gerlich and Furleigh, $193,000 for the appeals work done by their lawyers, and an additional sum, to be determined by a judge, for their trial work. Robert Corn-Revere, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, told the Associated Press that last bill will be "substantially more" than $193,000. "It is an unambiguous win for our clients and for the First Amendment," Corn-Revere said. "Violating people's rights isn't free. One reason we urge universities to settle early is to avoid these kinds of expenses."[...]



No, Trump Still Can't Outlaw Mocking Him

Thu, 11 Jan 2018 10:01:00 -0500

(image)

At the start of a Cabinet meeting yesterday, President Donald Trump reiterated his desire to "take a strong look at our country's libel laws," promising that "when somebody says something that is false and defamatory about someone, that person will have meaningful recourse in our courts." The remarks come on the heels of the president's threat of a libel suit against the author and publisher of the recent White House tell-all Fire and Fury.

But even with a friendly Congress at his back, the president would have a hard time making it easier to win a defamation or libel suit. That's because America's federal defamation and libel "laws" aren't really laws at all, in the sense of statutes and regulations that can be modified by congressional or executive action. They're Supreme Court precedents limiting what types of published statements can be judged libelous or defamatory.

Specifically, the Court's 1964 ruling in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan holds that false statements about public figures—specifically public officials—cannot be the basis for defamation or libel judgments unless they are "knowingly" or "recklessly" false.

This standard, somewhat misleadingly called "actual malice," makes it extremely difficult for a public figure to win a libel suit against a critical media outlet. It can be done, but the plaintiff has to prove the publication either knew that what it was printing was untrue and ran it anyway, or deliberately ignored obvious indicators that the story was false. Opinions, criticism, and even flat-out insults are categorically insufficient to satisfy the standard.

Because those standards come from the Supreme Court, there's no readily apparent way short of a constitutional amendment to broaden the range of published statements that can be punished as libel. Over time, of course, a president can reshape the judiciary by appointing new judges, but in a number of recent decisions the current Supreme Court has shown itself strongly disinclined to tinker with protective First Amendment precedents.

So what could Trump do to actually get what he wants? That's easy. Just replace half the current Supreme Court bench with justices he can be sure would reject a half-century's worth of free speech jurisprudence. Piece of cake.




Whether or Not Trump's Libel Threat Violates the First Amendment, It's Clearly an Assault on Free Speech

Wed, 10 Jan 2018 10:35:00 -0500

One of the president's lawyers sent a threatening letter last week to author Michael Wolff and to Steve Rubin, Wolff's publisher at Henry Holt. The attorney, Charles Harder, claimed to be "investigating numerous false and/or baseless statements" in Fire and Fury, the hot new book on the Trump administration that Wolff wrote and Rubin published. Harder demanded, on behalf of the president of the United States, that Wolff's book—that is, a work of journalism critical of Trump and his administration—be taken out of circulation. Donald Trump is as public a figure as can be, so if Harder hopes to get anywhere with a libel suit he has to prove that the book is not just false but written with malice. In his letter he claims that Wolff's malice can be presumed because the book admits in the Introduction that it contains untrue statements. Moreover, the Book appears to cite to no sources for many of its most damaging statements about Mr. Trump. Also, many of your so-called "sources" have stated publicly that they never spoke to Mr. Wolff and/or never made the statements that are being attributed to them. Other alleged "sources" of statements about Mr. Trump are believed to have no personal knowledge of the facts upon which they are making statements or are known to be unreliable and/or strongly biased against Mr. Trump... That reference to "untrue statements" is rather misleading. Wolff was noting the fact that some things that sources in the administration told him might not be true, even if his reporting that they said them is. (Other journalists working apparently harder than Harder are compiling likely or confirmed fact errors in Wolff.) The letter further accuses Wolff and Rubin of tortious interference with Trump's contractual relationship with his former adviser Steve Bannon. The book quotes Bannon seeming to violate agreements he made with Trump to not say bad things about him. (The Volokh Conspiracy's David Post explains the absurd overreach of the non-disclosure agreement our president makes everyone around him sign.) The rest of the letter is a tediously long list of information that Harder insists Wolff and Rubin must preserve regarding the book in case this threatened but so far non-existent lawsuit moves forward. In short: The president of the United States is demanding a book critical of him disappear from public view under threat of legal punishment. This censorious mentality is appalling, but it sadly is not far outside the norms of American politics. Trump's own 2016 Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, stated frankly that the real problem with the Supreme Court decision Citizens United was that it allowed documentary filmmakers funded in a certain way to legally criticize her, apparently a nightmare that must not stand. Attempts to crush malcontents who dare criticize the president go back all the way to the Sedition Act of 1798. But that law, thankfully, was rightly critiqued at the time and expired two years later, unlamented—by most, at least. Trump's supporters could deny that Harder's absurd letter impacts the First Amendment or freedom of speech in a political sense, since Trump is not acting as the chief executive enforcing criminal law; he's just pretending to be an aggrieved citizen suffering a tort. But some things we don't want officials to do—like, say, trying to use legal force to crush criticism—are things we shouldn't want anyone to do if we value a free society. Trump the citizen shouldn't be able to shut up his critics any more than Trump the president should. Whether it be libel law for Trump or campaign finance law for Clinton (or invasion-of-privacy torts funded by aggrieved billionaires), legal action that squashes free expression—especially political expression, but really expression of any sort—is bad for America. And yes, that's true even if one has said s[...]



What Is Hate Speech? We Asked College Students

Thu, 04 Jan 2018 12:30:00 -0500

What do you think of when you hear the term "hate speech"? For many, it conjures images of torch-wielding mobs in Charlottesville or right-wing provocateurs like Milo Yiannopoulos. For some, such conduct seems reprehensible enough to merit government regulation. But it turns out that defining "hate speech" isn't as easy as pointing to extreme examples of bigotry and racism. In the United States, the First Amendment grants absolute protection of even the most vile speech, as long as it doesn't directly incite violence. There is no special legal treatment of hateful words. But the tide may be turning. 40 percent of Americans now believe the government should regulate so-called "hate speech." Many developed countries, including Canada and much of Europe, have passed laws that criminalize certain speech deemed hateful. France has prosecuted comedians for Facebook posts, the U.K. has imprisoned people for offensive tweets, and Germany threatened to prosecute a comic over a poem about Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Social media examples have also demonstrated how speech codes often backfire and hurt the very minorities they are intended to protect. Though Facebook and Twitter are private companies free to ban whatever they like on their platforms, their attempts to control hateful speech have resulted in bans of feminists for saying that "all men are trash," and rapper Lil B was suspended for posting "White people are the only ones who really love they guns U can tell they are violent people!" College campuses have become the epicenter of the free speech debate, with incidents of college students shouting down and even physically attacking controversial speakers becoming increasingly common in recent years. So we headed to the University of Southern California to see if students there could define "hate speech" for us, and whether they thought it should be outlawed. Many who desired government intervention were motivated by what they see as the rise in hateful rhetoric associated with Trumpism and the far right. But does it make sense to give the government more control over speech, when the government is run by people like Donald Trump? Can speech ever be violence? Is bigotry and ignorance best countered via the free exchange of ideas or the criminal justice system? Do universities have more of an obligation to let students be challenged and possibly offended, or to protect them from "harmful" or "hateful" ideas? We found opinions on campus that ran the gamut. Produced by Zach Weissmueller and Justin Monticello. Hosted by Monticello. Edited by Weissmueller. Camera by Weissmueller and Monticello. Graphics by Brett Raney. Music by Elvis Herod. Subscribe at YouTube. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. Subscribe to our podcast at iTunes.[...]



What Is Hate Speech? We Asked College Students: New at Reason

Thu, 04 Jan 2018 12:30:00 -0500

src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/skuLK0YpksI" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0"> What do you think of when you hear the term "hate speech"? For many, it conjures images of torch-wielding mobs in Charlottesville or right-wing provocateurs like Milo Yiannopoulos. For some, such conduct seems reprehensible enough to merit government regulation. But it turns out that defining "hate speech" isn't as easy as pointing to extreme examples of bigotry and racism. In the United States, the First Amendment grants absolute protection of even the most vile speech, as long as it doesn't directly incite violence. There is no special legal treatment of hateful words. But the tide may be turning. 40 percent of Americans now believe the government should regulate so-called "hate speech." Many developed countries, including Canada and much of Europe, have passed laws that criminalize certain speech deemed hateful. France has prosecuted comedians for Facebook posts, the U.K. has imprisoned people for offensive tweets, and Germany threatened to prosecute a comic over a poem about Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Social media examples have also demonstrated how speech codes often backfire and hurt the very minorities they are intended to protect. Though Facebook and Twitter are private companies free to ban whatever they like on their platforms, their attempts to control hateful speech have resulted in bans of feminists for saying that "all men are trash," and rapper Lil B was suspended for posting "White people are the only ones who really love they guns U can tell they are violent people!" College campuses have become the epicenter of the free speech debate, with incidents of college students shouting down and even physically attacking controversial speakers becoming increasingly common in recent years. So we headed to the University of Southern California to see if students there could define "hate speech" for us, and whether they thought it should be outlawed. Many who desired government intervention were motivated by what they see as the rise in hateful rhetoric associated with Trumpism and the far right. But does it make sense to give the government more control over speech, when the government is run by people like Donald Trump? Can speech ever be violence? Is bigotry and ignorance best countered via the free exchange of ideas or the criminal justice system? Do universities have more of an obligation to let students be challenged and possibly offended, or to protect them from "harmful" or "hateful" ideas? We found opinions on campus that ran the gamut. Produced by Zach Weissmueller and Justin Monticello. Hosted by Monticello. Edited by Weissmueller. Camera by Weissmueller and Monticello. Graphics by Brett Raney. Music by Elvis Herod. Subscribe at YouTube. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. Subscribe to our podcast at iTunes.[...]



The 10 Worst Helicopter Parenting Moments of 2017

Mon, 01 Jan 2018 07:00:00 -0500

1. MOM TICKETED* FOR TRYING TO GET HER BABY OUT OF THE CAR An Omaha woman taking her niece out of an SUV when the wind blew the door shut and the car locked with her keys and the child inside. The mom, the aunt and two other relatives tried frantically to open the door using a hanger and screwdriver, and when they couldn't, they called 911. The cops arrived, broke the window, and got the child out, safe and sound. Then ticketed mom on "suspicion of child abuse by neglect." 2. DAD FORCED TO INFANTILIZE HIS KIDS Vancouver dad Adrian Crook taught his kids 7, 8, 9 and 11 how to ride the city bus to and from school and that's what they had done, without incident, for the past two years. Then someone reported these "unsupervised" kids to the Ministry of Children and Family Development, which informed Crook that children under 10 years old cannot be unsupervised in or outside the home, for any amount of time. The 11-year-old didn't count as a chaperone. The kids can no longer ride the bus—or even walk to the corner store—without an adult accompanying them. 3. CARTOONIST ORDERED NOT TO DRAW ALIENS WITHOUT LIFE VESTS Cartoonist Nick Confalone released a list of the changes demanded by the "Standards and Practices" lawyers at his television job. These included: "When we first see the aliens waking up on the beach, we should see that they are clearly wearing life jackets." "Please ensure all daredevil tight-ropers are only a few feet off the ground and wearing appropriate safety gear." And "Both characters should be wearing helmets while riding the T-Rex." 4. STUDENTS DENIED ANNUAL D.C. TRIP BY SCAREDY-CAT ADMINISTRATORS The North Ridgeville Academic Center in Ohio cancelled its annual three-day student trip to Washington, D.C. because of the threat of terrorism. Never mind that the terrorists might not know the exact dates and places on the school's itinerary. the students were visiting. "As you know, the safety of our students and staff is our main priority," the principal wrote to parents, "and we feel that the risk of travel to Washington, D.C., is not worth the potential for tragedy." Not only are the odds of dying in a terrorist attack astronomically low, they are far lower than the odds of dying in a car ride to the school. As one commenter asked, "Are there no math teachers at this school?" 5. NEWSPAPER RUNS "ABDUCTION" STORY THAT MOM MADE UP A Reno mom posted on Facebook she was almost certain she, her husband and kids were about to be kidnapped and sex trafficked, because when they went into the parking garage, there was another car there with four people already in it. One had a device in his ear! The mom added: "Just because it didn't happen to us that night doesn't mean it couldn't happen." Which is technically correct…about everything. Not only was her post was shared thousands of times, the Reno Gazette Journal ran an article about the mom's intuition, accompanied by a map pinpointing where the abduction did not occur. (But could have!) David Finkelor, head of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, reports that not only is snatching young children from their parents in a public place for sex trafficking purposes rare, he has never heard of such a crime. 6. DAD TACKLES MAN TRYING TO HELP HIS TOT When a Good Samaritan noticed a little girl wandering by herself near a softball game in Lakeland, FL, he assumed she was lost and started taking her around, trying to help her find her family. Alerted by bystanders that a stranger was walking toward the playground with his daughter, the dad punched the man out. "What would you do?" the father told NBC affiliate WFLA in a phone interview. "I wanted to kill him!" Even after the police explained the stranger had truly been trying to help[...]



Universities Are Raising a Generation of Trumplets

Wed, 27 Dec 2017 12:00:00 -0500

That dull roar you heard a few days ago? It came from the countless gasps of horror when The Washington Post reported that the Centers for Disease Control had discouraged the use of certain words. According to The Post, policy analysts were told not to use seven particular terms: fetus, transgender, vulnerable, entitlement, diversity, evidence-based, and science-based. This led to stern editorials about "thought control, Trump-style," warnings that the directive was an "attack on science," and so on. Having the government tell people which words they may and may not use is doubleplusungood, was the widespread consensus. And of course it is. But to borrow from Kipling, "you need not stop work to inform us; we knew it ten seasons before." Those exercised over the news about the CDC are coming rather late to the party. What's more, the backstory may be less dramatic than the initial alarms about the dark night of fascism spreading across the land. Apparently career staff, not political appointees, suggested eschewing the seven dirty words so as to avoid inflaming conservative members of Congress who would be voting on CDC funding. Yet you can't blame people for thinking the administration was checking off box No. 1 on the "How to Impose a Dictatorship in 10 Easy Steps" worksheet. After all, the Trump administration has, in the grand tradition of Soviet censors, been erasing references to climate change and global warming from government websites almost since it entered office. So why should the Trump administration be any different? It's hardly the first to declare certain words off-limits, and it won't be the last. Guffaws erupted across the country in 2000 when the Clinton administration announced that it no longer would refer to outlaw regimes as rogue states. "We are now calling these states 'states of concern,'" Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said. The Obama administration likewise was extremely skittish about linking terrorism to radical Islam, going so far as to refer to the Fort Hood shooting as an act of "workplace violence" and to purge FBI materials that were deemed Islamophobic. California has adopted legislation that, under rare circumstances, could lead to jail time for anyone who uses the wrong pronoun when referring to a transgender person. But when it comes to Orwellian efforts to erase politically incorrect terms, politicians can't hold a candle to the nation's colleges and universities. Last year Princeton banished the word "man" from the campus lexicon in an effort to be more gender-inclusive. James Madison University went even further, distributing a list that was seven pages long, rather than seven words. Among the things you should avoid saying at JMU: "I know exactly how you feel," "Love the sinner, hate the sin," calling disabled people "courageous," and calling old people "cute." The University of Michigan warned students to avoid numerous other words, from "crazy" and "insane" to "gypped" and "illegal alien." A professor at Washington State threatened to flunk students who used the words "male" and "female" or other "racist, sexist, homophobic,transphobic, xenophobic, classist or generally offensive... hateful or oppressive language." (She was later overruled.) Elon University banned "freshman." At the University of New Hampshire, "American" is "problematic." The University of California system doesn't want people to say that America is a land of opportunity, or that "Everyone can succeed in this society, if they work hard enough." Gwinnett College in Georgia shut down student Chike Uzuegbunam's Christian proselytizing because it constituted "fighting words." The list could go on and on. Indeed, many universities still maintain speech codes that prohibit a wide range o[...]



First Batch of Inauguration Day Protesters Acquitted In Key First Amendment Case

Thu, 21 Dec 2017 14:45:00 -0500

(image) Six defendants facing charges of rioting for their alleged roles in Inauguration Day protests earlier this year were acquitted today, in what civil liberties groups have called a key test of free speech and dissent under the Trump administration.

The acquittal is an embarrassing start to the Justice Department's attempt to prosecute roughly 200 protesters arrested by the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) of Washington, D.C., during the chaotic January 20 protests.

During Donald Trump's inauguration, as protests spilled through the streets of D.C., several groups of masked rioters began smashing windows, damaging cars, and injuring several police officers. In response, MPD encircled and arrested en masse one large group of protesters. But many of those arrested say they had nothing to do with the destruction and were subjected to excessive force by police.

Prosecutors for the government argued that, while there was no physical evidence linking the six defendants—who included a journalist and two street medics—to property destruction, they were part of a criminal conspiracy to aid or support rioters. Defense lawyers responded that the charges were nothing more than an overreaching attempt to punish political speech.

D.C. Superior Court Judge Lynn Leibovitz acquitted the defendants of felony charges of inciting a riot before sending the rest of the charges to a jury. The jury returned verdicts of not guilty on all the remaining counts of felony property destruction, misdemeanor rioting, and misdemeanor conspiracy to riot.

Scott Michelman, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a press statement that today's verdict "reaffirms two central constitutional principles of our democracy: first, that dissent is not a crime, and second, that our justice system does not permit guilt by association.

"We hope today's verdict begins the important work of teaching police and prosecutors to respect the line between lawbreaking and constitutionally protected protest," he continued. "We hope that the U.S. Attorney's Office gets the message and moves quickly to drop all remaining changes against peaceful demonstrators."

That hope appears to be in vain. Twenty more trials of small batches of Inauguration Day defendants are scheduled to run through 2018, all on the taxpayer's dime. "We appreciate the jury's close examination of the individual conduct and intent of each defendant during this trial and respect its verdict," the U.S. Attorney's Office said in a statement. "In the remaining pending cases, we look forward to the same rigorous review for each defendant."

The Justice Department has also been fighting to access protest organizers' Facebook accounts, as well as the IP addresses of those who visited a J20 protest website, in another move that has alarmed civil libertarians. The ACLU of D.C. has also filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the MPD in response to the mass arrest, pepper-spraying, and detention of J20 protesters.

But for at least six defendants whose lives were turned upside down by the prosecution and trial, their day in court is over.




'Degrading and Vile' Modification of Colleague's Wedding Photo Was Protected Speech

Wed, 20 Dec 2017 14:40:00 -0500

When William Burkert, a corrections officer at the Union County Jail in Elizabeth, New Jersey, wrote "degrading and vile dialogue" on a colleague's wedding photo and printed copies of it, his actions were "boorish, crude, utterly unprofessional, and hurtful." But they were not criminal, according to a New Jersey Supreme Court decision that narrowly construes a state ban on annoying speech to avoid a conflict with the First Amendment. The ruling, issued yesterday, does not say how old Burkert was at the time of the 2011 incident. But it mentions that he had worked as a corrections officer "for more than twenty years," so we are talking about a middle-aged man, as opposed to a 20-year-old (or a 12-year-old), which is hard to believe when you hear the details of Burkert's spat with Sgt. Gerald Hatton, who also worked at the Union County Jail (and whose name is for some reason rendered "Halton" in yesterday's decision, although it was "Hatton" in the lower courts and in a related civil suit). Burkert and Hatton did not get along, partly because they were active in rival police unions (the Policemen's Benevolent Association and the Fraternal Order of Police, respectively). "The tension became much more acute when Burkert learned that [Hatton's] wife was posting derogatory comments about him and his family on a public internet forum," Justice Barry Albin notes in the majority opinion. Specifically, Laura Hatton described Burkert and his two brothers (who were also corrections officers) as bullies, called Burkert "fat," and said one of his brothers was "quirky" and "kind of retarded." Burkert retaliated by downloading a wedding photo that Laura Hatton had posted and using it to create two flyers, each inscribed with speech bubbles. In one flyer, Burkert had Gerald Hatton say, "I know I'm a pussy with a little dick. Don't do the inmates please Laura." In the bride's speech bubble, Burkert wrote, "I wish you had a cock like the inmates." In the second flyer, Burkert put these words in the groom's mouth: "Fam, I got me another whore." Both flyers were not-so-sly references to Hatton's first wife, "a former corrections officer who he claimed had relations with another officer and an inmate." Hatton came across the first flyer in the jail's parking garage on January 8, 2011. The next day, a sergeant handed him a copy of the second flyer, which the sergeant said he had found near the officers' locker room. Two days later, while Hatton was engaged in union negotiations, a lieutenant handed him another copy of the second flyer, saying, "This came out the other night." Hatton, who like Burkert had worked as a corrections officer for more than two decades, was so rattled that he went home and never returned to work. Hatton recognized Burkert's handwriting on the flyers, and during an internal investigation Burkert admitted creating them but denied distributing him. In addition to suing Burkert and his brothers (along with the Union County Department of Corrections and its director), Hatton pursued criminal charges under a New Jersey law that defines the petty disorderly persons offense of harassment to include repeated acts committed "with the purpose to alarm or seriously annoy" someone. Burkert, who retired from his corrections job in 2012, was convicted of two counts of harassment and fined $500 for each. Last year an appeals court overturned his convictions, concluding that "the commentary [Burkert] added to [Hatton's] wedding photograph was constitutionally protected speech." Upholding that decision yesterday, the New Jersey Supreme Court noted that the harassment statute, on its face, covers speech protected by the First Amendment. "Criminal laws targeting[...]