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Freedom of Speech: Mightier Than the Sword…
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Freedom of Speech: Mightier Than the Sword

by David K. Shipler

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Shipler is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist ("Arab and Jew: Wounded Spirits in a Promised Land"), and New Yourk Times foreign correspondent. In this work he presents five case studies: (1) Private attempts to remove Graham Swifts's "Waterland", and Toni Morrisons's "Beloved" from high school classrooms; (2) whistle-blowers (3) political speech after Citizens United; (4) Islamophobia; and (5) racist hate speech directed at the President. The latter he reviews at length, noting that "Deeply ingrained doubts about African-Americans, long embedded in the majority white culture, seem to have an amplifying effect".
Shipler defends an absolutist position. He describes the "anything goes" nature of American democracy in which any notion will stand or fall on its merits in the marketplace of ideas. "Speech is not a crime, even offensive speech. On the contrary, turning bigoted speech into the sunlight is much more curative than keeping it under waps, because out in the open it can be countered and rebutted". And Shipler himself, carefully limns actual examples of disputed speech, and debunks the allegations which are contrary to facts.
However, Shipler ends up documenting the failure of the American "system" to correct the contemporary engines of falsehood, such as the Fox "News" network. In spite of the opportunity to ventilate corrections, including those neatly provided in this work, our nation's citizens have fallen prey to the distortions and dangerous fear-mongering repeated endlessly -- 24/7 by the richest public media on the planet. For example, in spite of the release of the President's long-form birth certificate and millions of dollars spent repeatedly providing information, in a 2011 CBS poll, 25% believed that President Obama was born outside the United States. I am reminded, afresh, that Nazi lies were believed by the majority of the most educated, literate, and scientific nation in the world in 1939. Der Stürmer was a weekly tabloid-format Nazi newspaper published by Julius Streicher (a prominent official in the Nazi Party) from 1923 to 1945, and its style and "chutzpa" with the facts is being copied by Fox "New" today in America. The Big Lie (die Grosse Luege) worked with the Europeans in the 1940's, and a large bulk of the Der Stürmer material about Jews and the "degenerate democracies" is believed today in most Islamic countries (Turkey, North Africa, the Saudi Peninsula and Iran). The Big Lie -- falsehoods repeated endlessly -- take on the veneer of truth. Fox "News" opinions relentlessly infer that President Obama is a Muslim, and in a 2012 Pew poll, 17% of Americans believe this serious fabrication is true.
In addition, even in the whistleblower cases, our careful author simply documents the failure of his own cherished hope for redemption by market forces to rebut the reputational taint often and unfairly endured by slandered officials and employees. In Shipler's account of the charges wrongfully faced by Thomas Drake (former senior NSA official) and Jesselyn Radack (former Justice Department attorney) reporting Bush administration abuses, we find that the damage done is irreparable. Shipley includes the chilling case of James Risen, a journalist of great courage and character, who won the battle for press freedom, but lost his career. The victim of slander becomes "radioactive", even if innocent.
Thus, in spite of Shipler's efforts in this book, which carefully dissects fact from innuendo and fabrication, speech designed to slander and destroy reputation, is rarely "balanced" by any curative correction. Damages to reputation are permanent stains, even if the allegations are wrong and wrongful. Given the wholesale taint of contemporary discourse by the Grosse Luege "Liar patch", the author's failure to recognize this damage is disturbing. Today, with the 24/7 press of Fox News and a well-funded and vast Right Wing Conspiracy, our First Amendment freedom of speech does not cure the damage. No one can even hear the cure.
I must conclude with my own warning. We are the generation that can remember from personal knowledge the consequences of the relentless use of the Big Lie as a political tool. The problem is not merely with extremists who lie. The danger is not that Der Stürmer is "believed" by all good men and women. It was not. But in the face of its relentless hate-mongering, all good men and women are faced with fear and hysteria. Take this concrete example: When the Imperial Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the fear and hysteria led the best and brightest of our leaders to round up and imprison citizens of Japanese ancestry. Franklin Roosevelt (President), Earl Warren (California Attorney General), and even newspaper columnist Walter Lippmann did not believe a Big Lie, they did not believe a single Japanese American was a spy or had asked for refuge in a camp for their own safety. Nor were they evil or merely miscreant men. But they did something which appeared logical and necessary under the "fire" of distortion and fear which had been lit up. We saw this dynamic light up the Bush II administration after 9/11. A series of un-Constitutional and ill-advised acts were immediately undertaken. The Big Lie itself had not yet been indulged -- it is enough to create the fear and hysteria.
  keylawk | May 3, 2015 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0307957322, Hardcover)

A provocative, timely assessment of the state of free speech in America

With his best seller The Working Poor, Pulitzer Prize winner and former New York Times veteran David K. Shipler cemented his place among our most trenchant social commentators. Now he turns his incisive reporting to a critical American ideal: freedom of speech. Anchored in personal stories—sometimes shocking, sometimes absurd, sometimes dishearteningly familiar—Shipler’s investigations of the cultural limits on both expression and the willingness to listen build to expose troubling instabilities in the very foundations of our democracy.

Focusing on recent free speech controversies across the nation, Shipler maps a rapidly shifting topography of political and cultural norms: parents in Michigan rallying to teachers vilified for their reading lists; conservative ministers risking their churches’ tax-exempt status to preach politics from the pulpit; national security reporters using techniques more common in dictatorships to avoid leak prosecution; a Washington, D.C., Jewish theater’s struggle for creative control in the face of protests targeting productions critical of Israel; history teachers in Texas quietly bypassing a reactionary curriculum to give students access to unapproved perspectives; the mixed blessings of the Internet as a forum for dialogue about race.

These and other stories coalesce to reveal the systemic patterns of both suppression and opportunity that are making today a transitional moment for the future of one of our founding principles. Measured yet sweeping, Freedom of Speech brilliantly reveals the triumphs and challenges of defining and protecting the boundaries of free expression in modern America.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 06 Jul 2015 07:03:05 -0400)

"From the longtime New York Times reporter, best-selling author, and Pulitzer Prize winner-- an expansive, timely assessment of the state of free speech in America. David Shipler's recent best seller, The Working Poor, cemented his place among our most trenchant social commentators. Now, he turns his keen, illuminating focus to another endangered American ideal: freedom of speech. Through selected accounts of First Amendment invocation and infringement, Shipler maps a rapidly shifting topography of political and cultural norms: parents in Michigan rallying to teachers vilified for their reading lists; conservative ministers risking their churches' tax-exempt status to preach politics from the pulpit; national security reporters using techniques more common in dictatorships to avoid leak prosecution; history teachers in Texas quietly navigating around a conservative curriculum to give students access to unapproved perspectives. Anchored in personal stories--sometimes shocking, sometimes absurd, sometimes dishearteningly familiar--but encompassing a theme as sweeping and essential as democracy itself, Freedom of Speech brilliantly reveals the triumphs and challenges of defining and protecting the boundaries of free expression in modern America"--… (more)

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