Trump’s accidental transparency does not negate his anti-free speech agenda

“Censorship” (cc) 2006 by Bill Kerr

Talk is cheap. If President Trump actually followed through on his multifarious threats against the First Amendment, then those of us who report and comment on the news would already be on our way to a detention camp — a beautiful detention camp, for sure — somewhere in the empty spaces of Oklahoma.

He has, after all, threatened to undo the laws that protect journalists from frivolous libel suits. He has said that he would revoke Amazon’s (nonexistent) tax breaks in retaliation for the harsh coverage he’s gotten from The Washington Post, owned by Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos. His attorney general, Jeff Sessions, has said that he may unleash a wave of subpoenas that would force reporters to identify anonymous leakers. And just recently, Trump demanded a Senate Intelligence Committee investigation into media organizations that report what he calls “fake news” and suggested that the broadcast licenses held by NBC should be revoked.

But Trump in theory and Trump in practice are two entirely different things.

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The Globe hires a Gannett executive to run its printing operations

The Boston Globe has hired a new top executive to oversee print operations, according to a memo to staff members from Vinay Mehra, the Globe’s new president and chief financial officer. Dale Carpenter, who’ll be a senior vice president, previously held a top print position with Gannett. He sounds like the sort of person who should have been hired before the Globe opened its troubled Taunton printing facility. Maybe he’ll be the guy who straightens it out.

The full text of Mehra’s memo follows.

Dear Colleagues,

I am happy to announce the following additions to our Executive Team.

Dale Carpenter joins us as Senior Vice President of Print Operations where he will oversee the production, distribution, and customer service functions. Dale was most recently Vice President of Operations at Gannett Publishing where he had oversight of more than 70 print locations across the country and had responsibility for national printing and packaging. Dale is a nationally known print and production expert and we are delighted to have him join our team. He will start on October 23.

Dan Krockmalnic will join us at the end of this month as our new General Counsel as Maura McAuliffe has chosen to step into a part-time role. Dan was most recently Assistant Attorney General at the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office where he focused on consumer protection cases. He began his career at the law firm of Ropes & Gray.

Please join me in welcoming them to Boston Globe Media.

Vinay

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Some thoughts about the Boy Scouts’ move to admit girls

Photo (cc) 2013 by Phoebe Baker

I’m no longer involved with the Boy Scouts (not boycotting; just at a different stage of my life), but I continue to take an interest in what they’re up to. Admitting girls and giving them a chance to become Eagle Scouts strikes me as odd, given that both the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts were set up with the idea that there is value in having single-gender youth programs. The Girl Scouts aren’t admitting boys, so this comes across as an effort by the Boy Scouts to encroach on the Girl Scouts’ turf in order to bolster their own shrinking programs.

When our kids were younger, I was a Boy Scout leader and my wife was a Girl Scout leader. It was my impression that the Girl Scouts was a better-run program with none of the issues that bedeviled the Boy Scouts such as its longtime ban on gay scouts and leaders (since lifted) and atheists (still in effect).

I’m not sure how the Girl Scouts can respond to this latest move. The Boy Scouts may well have some success in recruiting girls who would rather be in a program integrated by gender. In our Facebook discussion, a few people have suggested that the Boy Scouts have a more robust outdoors program than the Girl Scouts, and that girls interested in that should be welcomed. Still, I’m skeptical as to whether this is a good move.

Over at The Boston Globe, Derrick Jackson offers a different perspective.

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Why the press embraces false equivalence — and why it needs to stop

The press on a bad day. Photo (cc) 2003 by James Good.

The Democrats are moving left. This is objectively true, but it also represents a challenge for those mainstream journalists whose equilibrium has been disrupted by the Republican lurch to the extreme right over the past several decades and, more recently, by the rise of Donald Trump.

The challenge can be described this way: Can the media report plainly on what the Democrats are up to without falling back onto false notions of balance? In other words, can they tell us how and why the Democrats are embracing increasingly progressive positions without resorting to the old nostrum that it’s just like the Republicans’ rightward march?

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Margaret Sullivan on the media’s terrible coverage of the Clinton campaign

There’s a very strong Margaret Sullivan column in today’s Washington Post on the media’s terrible coverage of Hillary Clinton’s campaign. It’s especially good to see her call out The New York Times, for whom she was its best public editor before moving on to the Post.

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What if the First Amendment were as untouchable as the Second?

I’ve been trying to think through what would change if the First Amendment were as untouchable as the Second. I’m sure this is an incomplete list, but here are a few ideas that come to mind:

  • Child pornography would be legal. It might still be illegal to make it because of the horrific child abuse it would entail. But sell, distribute or possess it? No problem.
  • Obscenity in general would be legal. This is a very slippery concept, and in fact it is difficult to know exactly what would be considered obscene circa 2017. But depictions of bestiality or rape would be fine. As with child pornography, it’s possible that someone could be prosecuted for the underlying acts, but not for selling, distributing or possessing it.
  • Libel would cease to exist. Want to publish something false and defamatory about someone? Go for it. And don’t worry about whether she’s a private figure. That distinction is so 20th-century.
  • If the United States is at war, and you somehow come into possession of plans detailing the specifics of an operation against enemy troops, well, go ahead and publish them. Under our new, absolutist First Amendment, Col. Robert McCormick did nothing wrong.
  • If you’re, say, a Ku Klux Klan leader, and you exhort a mob to lynch a black man standing at the periphery of the crowd, and they do it, you have nothing to worry about. The criminals who actually carry out the deed could be prosecuted for murder, of course, but under an absolutist view of the First Amendment there would be no such thing as incitement.

No rational person, of course, would support any of these changes to the First Amendment. Even someone who considers himself pretty much an absolutist, as I do, has to acknowledge that not every single form of expression can be protected by the Constitution. So why can’t extreme gun-rights advocates see that they’ve abandoned all rationality?

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The rise and fall of Digital First; or, how to get rich plundering newspapers

The Nation recently published a splendid takedown of Randall Smith, a little-known Wall Street tycoon whose avarice has hollowed out daily newspapers from coast to coast. By “gutting” his papers, Julie Reynolds reports, Smith was able to amass the $57 million he needed to buy 16 mansions in Palm Beach, Florida. “Don’t just blame the Internet for journalism’s decline,” she writes. “Old-fashioned capitalist greed also strangles newspapers.”

The name of Smith’s newspaper empire is Digital First Media, an ironic moniker for an enterprise dedicated to the proposition that every last penny should be squeezed out of the shrinking print business. But the name isn’t just ironic — it’s also iconic. Although Reynolds doesn’t mention it in her story, it wasn’t that long ago that Digital First was created by a charismatic, foul-mouthed executive who was hailed as a possible savior of the news business.

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