It seems hard to believe, but today is the 10th anniversary of the Phoenix Muzzle Awards. In 1998, at the suggestion of Harvey Silverglate, I began compiling an annual Fourth of July roundup of outrages against free speech and civil liberties in New England.
This year, for the second year in a row, Mitt Romney leads the pack. This time it’s for refusing to provide security last September at a Harvard speech by former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami — a routine matter, but the then-governor decided to make a grandstanding play instead. If the Boston Police Department had not stepped forward so that Khatami could deliver his address, Romney would have handed the reformist Khatami’s enemies back home a considerable victory.
There’s also some breaking Muzzle news. In the last item, I single out Boston England High School headmaster Jose Duarte for placing longtime substitute teacher Jeffrey Herman on a “do not call” list — retaliation, according to Herman, for Herman’s speaking out against the city’s $1.2 million Junior ROTC program. Just yesterday, the ACLU of Massachusetts announced (PDF) that the city would pay a $15,000 settlement to Herman without admitting any wrongdoing on Duarte’s part.
A controversy over a 2006 Muzzle was recently resolved as well. Last year I criticized the Massachusetts State Police for threatening a Leominster political activist named Mary T. Jean for posting on the Web a streaming video of a man being arrested in his home. The video — captured by a “baby cam” in the arrestee’s home — had been posted with his permission, but the state-police troopers somehow saw it as a violation of their rights.
On June 22, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled in favor of Jean. As media lawyer Robert Ambrogi reported on his blog:
The court ruled that the First Amendment prevents law enforcement officials from interfering with an individual’s Internet posting of an audio and video recording of an arrest and warrantless search of a private residence, even though the individual had reason to know the recording was made illegally.
The principle here is particularly important, because Jean used her Web site to criticize then-Worcester County district attorney John Conte, and because she claimed the video showed troopers assigned to Conte’s office making a warrantless arrest. This is political speech, pure and simple, and thus deserving of the highest level of First Amendment protection.