Monday, March 02, 2009

Senate rules for press oligarchs 

On Saturday's Final Word we had KNSI program director and talk host Dan Ochsner, more often known around St. Cloud as simply The Ox. Dan had reported to me on Thursday last week that he had had his press credentials to the floor of the Minnesota State Senate revoked after holding them for many years. Here's a Google cache of the 2006 press booklet for the senate. It contains KNSI entries for Ox and for former news director Cory Kampschroer. The 2009 book, in contrast, has an entry for KNSI in its table of contents, but nobody from KNSI is listed. (I listed the Google cache just in case the other book is disappeared.) The new book was printed Feb. 5 according to the properties of the Adobe document, a month after the opening of the Senate. This was the same week, it appears, that Ox was denied access to the Senate. (Worth noting here: credentials are a hard plastic badge which are renewed. Ox reported sending in his request for renewal; no additional badge was expected.)

Dan has been an officer of professional radio organizations through the AP and held credentials for many years. His biography includes being past president, Minnesota Associated Press Broadcasters (2000-01) and a news or program director since 1999 in Detroit Lakes and St. Cloud.

It was not the Ox's first visit to St. Paul this year. He broadcast, it appears, from the Minnesota House on January 7. At that time nobody had informed him that his credentials to the senate were being pulled. He had, as usual gone to do a show at the opening of the legislature (as Gary reported) and had, among other things, discussed the amount of per diem money received by Senator Tarryl Clark.

Did this have anything to do with Ochsner's credentials being pulled? He reported on the air that he was told that the Senate had decided to focus their floor privileges to reporters who were more often at the capitol (Dan's show makes a monthly appearance, though he says he visits the capitol more often than that.) He was informed that this came from Clark and DFL Senate leader Larry Pogemiller. When Sen. Clark subsequently was interviewed on Ox's show, she was questioned about this. At one point she is reported to have said that she thought his listeners were not interested in this subject and that Ox should move on. Ox's response was that he knew his listeners, and that they were interested.

Readers are probably aware that in her successful special election campaign in December 2005, Senator Clark's opponent was none other than Ox. It's noteworthy that she continued to do his show even after the credential was pulled. The ostensible reason -- that there's too much traffic on the Senate floor, flies in the face of the evidence, insofar as a new organization that is not a radio, TV, or print outlet, The Uptake, holds five credentials. Is access for that group more important than for out-state news organizations? Does the Senate not respect the journalism of people who are outside the Twin Cities? (Notable silence from the one remaining St. Cloud journalist with full access.)

There is a particular issue, perhaps, between Ox and Clark. Perhaps; I'm not as interested in that. Later in the show Marty Owings, who probably agrees with nothing I blog here, called in to say his work as a journalist was equally hampered in the House. (Chris Stellar reports on this in MnIndy.) His story, that Rep. Tony Sertich had used a procedural trick to restrict access to online media, was the point where I decided this has to be discussed. (h/t on Marty goes to Mitch.) He appears in Hour 2 of the Final Word broadcast of 2/28.

The Society of Professional Journalists has spoken out in favor of online journalists, but not yet, as far as I can tell, for Ox.

If the Legislature is concerned about the conduct of individual reporters, existing rules and procedures can be utilized. If the problem is one of space, then the criteria for distributing media passes should be equitable for all journalists, not arbitrarily discriminatory based on an outlet�s medium.

The Minnesota Independent quotes House Rules Committee Chair Tony Sertich as saying a rule change to allow online media would open access to anybody. In fact, the change gives open access to everybody, which is the best and most credible means of government accountability in a democracy.

Indeed. Dear SPJ, let me take you to a page that I would say summarizes the problem here. This is the temporary rules of the Senate. Lines 10.8-10.16 state:
16.1 The Secretary shall provide space for news reporters on the Senate floor in limited numbers, and in the Senate gallery. Because of limited space on the floor, permanent space is limited to those news agencies that regularly cover the legislature, namely: The Associated Press, St. Paul Pioneer Press, St. Paul Legal Ledger, Star Tribune, Duluth News-Tribune, The Forum, Rochester Post-Bulletin, St. Cloud Times, WCCO radio, KSTP radio, Minnesota Public Radio, and Minnesota News Network. The Secretary shall provide an additional two spaces to other reporters if space is available. One person from each named agency and one person from the Senate Publications Office may be present at the press table on the Senate floor at any time. Other news media personnel may occupy seats provided in the Senate gallery.
The italics are mine. By what right does the Senate get to restrict access to this oligarchic structure of media? Why are certain groups privileged? (And indeed, why are these called "press privileges"? A freedom is not a privilege.) Where are the First Amendment advocates? Who decides which of these agencies are named and which are not? If you favor open access for everybody, dear SPJ, strike this list.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Toronto non? 

If you have been following the Mark Steyn trials in Canada -- where Steyn has faced legal sanctions for writing about demographic trends in the West and relative birth rates of Muslim immigrants versus native and other immigrant groups, in Steyn's witty and biting style -- you may be interested to read that some political scientists are asking the American Political Science Association to protect the free speech of its conventioneers when they meet in Toronto next year. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports:

The political-science petition, whose initial signers include Robert P. George, a professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University, and Harvey C. Mansfield, a professor of government at Harvard University, warns that scholars visiting Toronto might face legal jeopardy if they made controversial statements. Scholars should be able to speak about �public policy concerning homosexuality or the character of and proper response to terrorist elements acting in the name of Islam, without fear of legal repercussions of any kind,� the petition reads.

The campaign has the flavor of a boycott. According to a report in the National Post, the petition�s authors plan to distribute buttons at this week�s conference that say �Toronto 2009? Non!�

But the petition itself makes a milder demand. It asks the association to solicit legal advice and to consult with the Canadian government to ensure that scholars� civil liberties will be protected. �Our petition is simply asking for clarification,� said one of its authors, James R. Stoner, a professor of political science at Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge, in an interview with The Chronicle today. �We�re asking the APSA to acknowledge that there�s some issue concerning this, and that we can presume that the customary standards of academic freedom will be assured.�

Aside the usual reaoons of low attendance, there are very good reasons to not hold an academic conference in a place like Venezuela -- the regime there might not like, say, a Latin Americanist who researches Hugo Chavez's crimes and discusses them from the podium in Caracas. It would be irresponsible for an organization to invite a speaker into that situation. Likewise, if the APSA cannot assure the academic freedom of speakers to an academic conference, it should make arrangements to either move the conference elsewhere or to make a public statement declaring it cannot provide protection. I would hope it could do the former.

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Monday, November 12, 2007

Regarding the MOB and blogger behavior 

Gary Miller suggests that this MOB dust-up regarding a post on Anti-Strib (details of which you can find damn near everyplace else on the MOB, go find it yourself) is a "major test" for the office of the mayor. I wanted to review the rules of the organization before saying anything. This set is more than a year old, but I believe is applicable here. Rule 4 states:
Membership in the MOB is a privilege not a right. If you comport yourself in a manner that the MOB leadership deems inappropriate, your membership can be revoked at any times. All decisions in such areas are final and not subject to appeal no matter how arbitrary and capricious they may be.
I have stated that I have NARN as councilors in this matter, but all decisions regarding any membership revocation will be issued from this office and is the responsibility of the mayor alone. I will not pass responsibility on to others, and have arrived at this decision without counsel.

Having read the discussion on Mitch's blog and the attempt by Tracy to explain his views, as well as other posts in MOB, I am hereby ruling that Anti-Strib shall remain a member of the MOB.*

In the rules, as has been discussed throughout the MOBosphere, membership in the MOB requires very little. If you can read Brian's rule 3,
After a thorough vetting process, involving criminal background checks, retinal scans, and psychological screening, they will either confirm or deny your request.
...and not think the whole enterprise is more than a little tongue-in-cheek, you should check into Dr. Humor. My interview with Derek should have made this plain. And blogs that appear on the list get there through a pretty haphazard system, sprawling to now over 110 such blogs (some of which do not post and at least one whose owner is deceased.) Sad to say, there's probably 90 blogs on that list I haven't read in months, including Anti-Strib. For someone to try to attach the opinion of one one post on one blog to over a hundred others is a stretch worthy of Eyechart's best days at first base.

Satire, as a part of humor, is often used in politics. As Learned Foot states, sometimes it works well and sometimes it does not. Likewise, a good political rant can go badly awry sometimes, and other times it can produce a hell yeah! from the reader.

MOB has a tradition of rant-blogs, and though good political thought should (I agree, Pat) be held to a higher standard there is a place in the blogosphere as well for the well-sharpened stick in the eye. Not every blog is meant to persuade the undecided or engage debate. Context matters.

By the poster's own admission, there were points in the Anti-Strib article that were poorly worded and left impressions that he did not intend. That stick was not well-sharpened. We call that a teachable moment: The point where someone has done something they can regret and amend and learn from. As Flash points out,
To the point that I see a sincere effort on his part to amend himself. He could have just flew the might [sic] middle finger, in true AntiStrib fashion, but he didn�t. That says a lot to me, and those that know him.
I don't know Tracy outside of one visit to the Patriot studios as Michael mentioned. It would be a shame for that post to be the sum of what we know about him. While I don't think Tracy has amended himself -- only his post -- I take Flash's point as being the right one. Also, while we sometimes will have to chastise or bring to heel the occasional rant that goes too far -- and there will be more, humanity being imperfect -- there will only be a chilling effect if we do not tread lightly on one's speech.

Who one links to as a "daily read" is a personal decision, and whomever wishes not to display Anti-Strib as one has that right. But the MOBroll is not a choice of this blog or that. You may either display it all or none of it. Those MOB members who wish to take the MOBroll down because of its link to Anti-Strib or any other blog may be considered for violation of the privileges of membership, applying Rule 4 stated above.

It is so ordered.*

*Now, if you can't tell that some of this pomposity is also an attempt at humor, off to the Ministry of Silly Walks with you!

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Sunday, August 26, 2007

Opus and the Timid MSM 

CORRECTION (8/27/2007): As noted in the comments, the Star Tribune did run the Opus strip yesterday.


The Opus cartoon is a favorite of many Americans (present company excluded). Berkeley Breathed, the author is known for his ability to skewer most any group. He took a light-hearted approach to Islam for Sunday newspaper editions running today, 8/26 and next Sunday, 9/2. Salon has published the strips on line - you can view the 8/26 one here.

Our esteemed mainstream media (MSM), including Breathed's home paper, the Washington Post, along with the New York Times refused to run the cartoon. The St. Paul Pioneer Press ran the cartoon today (thank you) but not the Mpls. (Red) Star Tribune.

Why is it that so many papers on the left are determined to run anything that slams Christianity but play ostrich when it comes to anything other than kowtowing to Islam?

This cartoon cowardice triggered a conversation I had with one of my Muslim students. He informed me that in his home country, Muslim women did not laugh or smile. When he came to the US, it took quite an adjustment on his part to get used to women laughing. A sense of humor on the part of this particular group would help tremendously.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Most stupid sentence of the year 

"While I am a strong supporter of academic freedom, I�m afraid that hallways and office doors are not �free-speech zones.'"

This sentence won the award from FIRE today in its New York Post column. The offending quote was from Dave Barry.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Not guilty not the same as free speech 

While I'm relieved that the College Republicans at San Francisco State will not face punishment, their exercise of free speech should not have been put on trial.
�We are relieved that SFSU has come to its senses and recognized that it cannot punish students for constitutionally protected expression,� FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said. �But the fact remains that the university should never have investigated or tried them in the first place. This was a protected act of political protest and it is impossible to believe the university did not know that from the start.�

Yesterday afternoon, President Corrigan wrote to FIRE with the welcome news that �the Student Organization Hearing Panel (SOHP) unanimously concluded that the College Republicans organization had not violated the Student Code of Conduct and that there were no grounds to support the student complaint lodged against them.�
The trial, however, is a farce. David Frum reviews the history of San Francisco State's bouts of anti-Semitism and concludes:
There is obviously something profoundly wrong on American campuses... Apologists for terrorism receive maximum protection for the most vicious bigotry, for menace and intimidation, and even outright violence. Yet that zeal for free speech vanishes altogether when opponents of terrorism engage in much, much milder forms of protest. This goes beyond double standards. It is a moral collapse.

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Monday, March 12, 2007

Where are your papers, young student? 

An objectivist group at George Mason has had to reschedule a speaker advocating a hard line against Islamic totalitarianism.
John Lewis, who teaches history at Ashland University, was invited to speak in conjunction with an article he wrote in December titled "No Substitute for Victory: The Defeat of Islamic Totalitarianism."

In the article, Lewis calls for war against the Islamic government in Iran and the "immediate, personal destruction" of Muslim clerics and intellectuals who advocate the formation or support of an Islamic state.

The speech had been sponsored in part by the school's Objectivist Club, which promotes the social philosophies of self-interest of author Ayn Rand. The invitation was pulled after the school received complaints from Muslim students and it was discovered that the club's charter had lapsed.

Lewis said Friday that the speech had been tentatively rescheduled for April, with the university's College Republicans club as a new sponsor. But university spokesman Daniel Walsch said the school had received no notice of the club's invitation.
The Objectivist Club at GMU, a student group that promotes the philosophy of Ayn Rand, says it had someone else to help book the room on campus after it learned of its oversight in letting the club's registration lapse -- not an uncommon occurrence on a university campus, I assure you -- but the faculty member who helped secure the room apparently backed out when it appears the issue got hot. That faculty member's department "did not want to be involved with any sort of controversial event."

So apparently a group at GMU was able to both 1) use the student government system to disbar a group from holding an event on campus due to paperwork and 2) dissuade faculty from bringing a controversial speaker to campus. This at a public institution. Do the taxpayers of Virginia support this type of behavior?

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Friday, March 09, 2007

No, not THAT flag! 

At San Francisco State University, a school with a rich history of anti-Semitism, College Republicans are being put on trial for hosting a rally in which protestors stomped on the flags of Hezbollah and Hamas.

Why, you might ask, since burning the American flag is considered a protected form of free speech? Because both flags bear the name of Allah.
SFSU�s foray into unlawful censorship began after an anti-terrorism rally held on October 17, 2006, at which several members of the College Republicans stepped on butcher paper they had painted to resemble the flags of Hamas and Hezbollah. Unbeknownst to the protestors, the flags they had copied contain the word �Allah� written in Arabic script. On October 26, a student filed a formal complaint with the university against the College Republicans, alleging �attempts to incite violence and create a hostile environment� and �actions of incivility.� Although the university�s Office of Student Programs and Leadership Development (OSPLD), led by Joey Greenwell, could have settled the matter informally or dismissed the charges outright, the university is instead pressing forward today with a hearing on the charges.
Ah, there's that word again, 'incivility'. But this gets even more bizarre. Once the students were made aware that the name of Allah (copied over so poorly that it was barely legible) was on the paper flags they had made and that it was offensive, the CRs had an offended Muslim student cross out the name. That was insufficient to prevent more protests from the campus radicals and thus the charges the CRs face today.

Bruce Thornton makes a similar point:
Here�s where the double standards and incoherence of much politically correct behavior comes in. On any college campus in this country, every day, inside of class and out, you can encounter speech that is �insensitive,� �uncivil,� or �hostile.� But of course, this speech is directed towards Christians, or �conservatives,� or Israel, or Republicans, or �straight white males.�

Nobody attempts to censor this speech or haul people before tribunals to answer vague charges such as �incivility,� which will be defined according to the subjective standards of the complainants. And if someone does complain, the faculty and administration will immediately go into high dudgeon mode and start preaching the glories of unfettered free speech no matter how offensive. In other words, free speech for me but not for thee.

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Monday, March 05, 2007

Cry havoc and let loose the dogs of civility 

An open letter to my good friend Ed,

Dear Ed,

Dig what you said about CPAC and inviting crazy Auntie Ann, but were you really surprised? No, you had to be like the conference organizers were, right? They are only fooling themselves to say they were shocked. They weighed the cost of having her scandalize the conference again against the benefit of having her entertain the faithful for thirty minutes and took a shot. They lost, and the damage to the organizations is their rightful reward for losing that gamble. Anytime you invite her is a gamble. Fox has a dump button; live speeches don't.

But really, that's why people go to these things. They want to see the talking heads with bodies attached, without benefit of the nets presented by TV, radio, print and blogs. You went to meet all those cool people there, right? And like Auntie Ann isn't one of them? And when you come in contact with real people unprocessed, uncensored, sometimes the result isn't pretty. (I note you didn't say you wouldn't go again to CPAC if you and Annie were both invited.)

Same is true of commenters -- sometimes they aren't pretty. But your call for civility is a bit bothersome, if you'll forgive me saying so, Ed. See, back on this blog a long time ago we had a long chat about civility on a campus discussion email list. The campus tried to enforce it, and has ended up killing that list. My former co-blogger Jack Hibbard said this at the time,
Certainly the desire to censor somebody is a perennially human. Nat Hentoff is about the best author on all of this, and his Free Speech For Me But Not For Thee is worth reading, but its tough to go from desire to application. To want to censor is easy; doing it can be hard.

So we hit questions like who is going to determine what constitutes appropriate speech? And how will they make clear precisely what acceptable speech is? Will there be a word list? Will we not say "inane' any more? If 'inane' is forbidden, I can think of a lot of other words with equal or greater force that will have to be forbidden too; this could be a very long list. I'm glad I don't have to make it up. Or will context be important? Can we say some things or people are inane and others not? Or does who one is matter? A double standard has been pretty clear in the past, so would there be people who we can offend and others we can't? Or, if it's a horrific (can I say that?) thing to offend someone else, will acceptable language depend on the proclivity of others to be offended? And how will this be implemented? Will messages have to go through a screening committee before they are posted? (Boy, would I hate that job, though I doubt there's much danger I would be asked to do it.) Will somebody stop messages from going out and doing all their crushing (can I say that?) damage, or will writers merely be punished afterwards? And, of course, what will the punishment be? What's it worth to have offended somebody else, especially the most fragile among us who are most easily offended?

This list of questions could go on, and very well may. But to be honest my advice is to forget this whole business as soon as possible. Let people talk, and if they say something nasty (can I say that?) to you, either say something nasty back, or get a nasty friend to help you say something nasty back, or -- and this is usually my most preferred course of action -- go home and have a slug or two of good whiskey (can I mention whiskey) and blow the whole thing off (can I say that?).
And that, Ed, is my advice to you: Forget the whole business. It's of course your blog, and you're quite clear about moderating your comments -- a real difference between a blog and a discussion list on a state university campus. There's no question whether one can censor -- you can -- and who is to decide the rules -- that's your right alone. I've banned a couple of people, one of whom I let back after deciding I had overreacted. (The other remains off the blog not because he was offensive but because his signal-to-noise ratio fell to zero.) But we academics have had a long history with civility codes on campuses, and I will simply say they are the den for the most censorious in our midst. No matter how many times you say you won't censor content, you cannot help but do so. And in the end your comment boxes will end up the barren wasteland of so many Usenet newsgroups that took on a moderator and lost a community.

Given the excellent commenters you've had over the years, that would be a great loss.

Best to you and the First Mate,

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