By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

The 10th annual Muzzle Awards

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.

Photo of Romney (cc) by MyTwistedLens. Some rights served.

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Happy Fourth of July


  1. Anonymous

    “How about people who are in settings — mosques, for instance — that may be teaching doctrines of hate and terror? Are we monitoring that? Are we wiretapping? Are we following what’s going on?” Read this, and ask yourself honestly if this might not be a necessary idea.

  2. Larz Neilson

    Loved the column. Here’s another nominee for a Muzzle Award: Maine Public Broadcasting Network, for firing Maine humorist Robert Skoglund, a/k/a The humble Farmer, in June for his refusal to sign a contract of conditions which would have restricted his “rants” on the radio program he has been doing for the past 28 years. MPBN had alleged that he was engaging in political humor on his program, yet the two instances they cited never mentioned a candidate or specific issue. In the first case, he went on about a leader from the southern part of his country who managed to achieve office in spite of not having the most votes. As he went on, some people took it that he was talking about Bush, although no name was mentioned. But then humble said, “and he even wrote a book. It’s called ‘Mein Kampf.'” In the second case, with a tax limitation referendum on the ballot, he read an unsolicited letter from a woman in Maryland (?), talking about what had happened to the schools after a tax limitation law had passed in that state. Those two instances were about as close to politics as humble ever went. His humor is wierd, but it’s not political. Meanwhile, MPBN continues to broadcast programs from the NPR network such as Prairie Home Companion; Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me; and What Do You Know. And, continuing a tradition, they’ve advertised that on the Fourth, they’ll broadcast The Capitol Steps. I wouldn’t for a second advocate dropping any of these programs for their political humor. But firing Skoglund for refusal to sign a contract limiting his freedom of expression is not only inconsistent with their broadcast of these other programs, but is a very crude attempt at censorship. It clearly demonstrates that management at MPBN has no concept of freedom of speech.Dan, sorry I didn’t get to see you at the FCC hearing. Couldn’t attend, but I did submit letters to the commissioners on this subject. Larz

  3. Anonymous

    I’m actually astounded that the police are claiming a privacy interest in their operations in their public duties. As far as I’m concerned, that’s absurd.–raj

  4. Don (no longer) Fluffy

    I hadn’t even considered voting for Willard Mitt, but now I’m beginning to take a look at him. Anyone who inspires so much vitriol must be doing something right.

  5. Dan Kennedy

    Larz — Sorry you couldn’t come down to Portland. Give NPR a little bit of credit: it does not carry the wretchedly snobbish “Prairie Home Companion.” I once interviewed the guy who refused to take it — he was still proud of his decision, as he should be. “PHC” is carried by American Public Media.

  6. Anonymous

    don’t forget this business at tufts: speech infringement.

  7. Anonymous

    While we are at it, a salute must go to local hack Tim Toomey for echoing Willard on the Cambridge city council meeting on the same issue aka ‘the ride to Haa’ved.’What a dope!

  8. Dan Kennedy

    Anon 4:48: “Don’t forget”? It’s already in there.

  9. Suldog

    Good job, for many years, on the awards, Dan. A great idea, well done.

  10. John Howard

    Dan, how about the self-censorship of the media regarding same-sex conception? This article can now only be found on the archive, because it was removed from the site after I started calling attention to it in a flyer I was passing out to try to get this subject some attention. The article contained an interview with the leading researcher Dr. Richard Scott, who predicted that we’d see children from stem-cell derived gametes for same-sex couples in “three to five years”. (The original article’s title still comes up in this search, but the text was deleted in an attempt to “muzzle” the news. Also, note this discrepancy: A google search on “Stem cell” brings back 38,500,000 hits, but “stem cell derived gametes” brings up only 183 (that’s .0000473), and many of those are my own comments on blogs like this one. And yet, of all stem cell treatments, this is the ONLY one that I’ve seen where the leading researchers predicts results in three to five years, and these are rather significant and interesting results, too. This story – that scientists are working on enabling “both partners to pitch in” using stem cells and expect it to happen in just a year or two now – is the most muzzled story of all time. I seen reporter after reporter get out their ten foot pole when i bring this up, they act as if it is science fiction, when the fact is, they are all keeping each other in a state of ignorance and those that know about are actively working to muzzle it.

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