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Slander

The birther movement is quite a phenomenon in its size and longevity. Since the very beginning I have tried to understand it under various models. What has come to mind of late is the concept of slander and this is how I would put it:

People prejudiced against Barack Obama justify their prejudice by slandering him, and in turn they justify their prejudice against anyone connected with Obama by slandering them too.

The original source of prejudice, I believe, is either racism or bias against anyone not on the right politically. Racism still remains stigmatized in the minds of most Americans, so racists have to come up with some other justification, such as calling Obama other things (noting that there’s noting “wrong” with some of these):

  • Ineligible (foreign born)
  • Ineligible (not a natural born citizen because of his father)
  • A forger
  • A liar
  • A Muslim
  • A Communist
  • Gay
  • A foreigner

And by extension, Obama’s parents, grandparents and wife come in for their own slander. The State of Hawaii, it’s constitutional officers, and the Department of Health have been demeaned. Members of Congress are called traitors for not doing anything. Even bloggers and others who criticize birthers have come in for their share. I got this mild example through the Contact Form a few days back:

[B]efore I read this I thought Obama was the biggest liar in the world but now I see I was wrong. He’s tied with you. If you have kids you’re helping to insure they have no future in America.

When I replied asking what I had lied about, the writer evaded the question. I replied:

You have sent me several emails, but you have yet to identify any falsehood or immoral act on my part. It seems to me that your perception of “terrible” is based on prejudice rather than fact.

Slander is deeply offensive to me in all of its manifestations. Combatting it is one of the things that keeps me blogging.

45 Responses to Slander

  1. avatar
    Sudoku March 6, 2015 at 2:17 pm #

    “Slander is deeply offensive to me in all of its manifestations. Combatting it is one of the things that keeps me blogging.”

    That’s one of the best things I like about you and this site. Please keep up the good work!

  2. avatar
    J.D. Sue March 6, 2015 at 2:32 pm #

    “Combatting [slander] is one of the things that keeps me blogging.”

    Doc, where I come from, that’s considered a “mitzvah”! In case you’re interested, I just block-copied the following apropos references from http://www.chabad.org/parshah/in-depth/plainBody_cdo/AID/75897:

    The Psalmist compares slanderous talk to “Sharp arrows of the warrior, coals of broom” (Psalms 120:4). All other weapons smite from close quarters, while the arrow smites from the distance. So is it with slander: it is spoken in Rome and kills in Syria. All other coals, when extinguished, are extinguished without and within; but coals of broom are still burning within when they are extinguished without. So is it with words of slander: even after it seems that their effects have been put out, they continue to smolder within those who heard them. It once happened that a broom tree was set on fire and it burned eighteen months–winter, summer and winter.

    (Midrash Rabbah)

    Evil talk is like an arrow. A person who unsheathes a sword can regret his intention and return it to its sheath. But the arrow cannot be retrieved.

    (Midrash Tehillim)

    To what may the tongue be compared? To a dog tied with an iron chain and locked in a room within a room within a room, yet when he barks the entire populace is terrified of him. Imagine if he were loose outside! So the tongue: it is secured behind the teeth and behind the lips, yet it does no end of damage. Imagine if it were outside!

    (Yalkut Shimoni)

  3. avatar
    bgansel9 March 6, 2015 at 2:59 pm #

    J.D. Sue: Evil talk is like an arrow. A person who unsheathes a sword can regret his intention and return it to its sheath. But the arrow cannot be retrieved.

    Most Birthers consider themselves good Christians, but Jesus didn’t like that kind of thing either.

    Matthew 19:16-18 – And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness..

    1 John 2:4 – He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.

    1John 2:4 is referencing Exodus 20:16 which says the following:

    Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.

    In fact, Jesus said that Christians were to be good to their enemies, to not judge people, to lend to everyone, and not expect anything back in return. Nothing I see coming from the Birther camp reminds me of Jesus at all. (see all of Luke 6 here: http://biblehub.com/kjv/luke/6.htm )

  4. avatar
    Joey March 6, 2015 at 4:13 pm #

    Slander has been a key component of American political discourse since Aaron Burr shot and killed Alexander Hamiliton.
    The 1800 Thomas Jefferson campaign said of John Adams: [he had] “a hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.”
    The Adams’ campaign responded by calling Vice President Jefferson “a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father.”

    If the birther movement hadn’t existed, the Obama campaign would have had to invent it.
    Birtherism was a boon to election and reelection.

  5. avatar
    Sluffy1 March 6, 2015 at 6:13 pm #

    Speaking with a friend yesterday, Jon Stewart entered the conversation, I mentioned that it was on too late for me and that I recorded it on our DVR. She said that she liked watching it on the computer because you can “read” about the episode prior to watching. Me too I thought, good idea, I like reading more than watching too.

    With no Facts or Truths, Slander is all they have.
    They seem to be wired different.
    Notice the frequency they use and the dependency they have on visuals like youtube snippet video’s and photoshopped images. Slogans are big with them too.

    You don’t see much of that on sites that attract “our kind”.

  6. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy March 6, 2015 at 6:39 pm #

    I don’t watch Stewart myself, just because I have so many other interests; however, it’s probably worth mentioning the difference between satire and slander. Good satire uses language to expose the truth using humor, while slander is at its base a lie.

    Sluffy1: Jon Stewart entered the conversation

  7. avatar
    bob March 6, 2015 at 7:25 pm #

    Sluffy1:
    Notice the frequency they use and the dependency they have on visuals like youtube snippet video’s and photoshopped images.

    I love the irony that Birther Report constantly rails against Obama’s “photoshopped birth certificate,” but every one of its articles (and comments section) contain photoshopped images.

  8. avatar
    J.D. Sue March 6, 2015 at 8:15 pm #

    Sluffy1: She said that she liked watching it on the computer because you can “read” about the episode prior to watching. Me too I thought, good idea, I like reading more than watching too.


    It’s comedy. Satire. Timing/delivery matters–a lot. Reading it is not the way to understand Stewart’s work.

  9. avatar
    Sluffy1 March 6, 2015 at 10:24 pm #

    J.D. Sue: —
    It’s comedy.Satire.Timing/delivery matters–a lot.Reading it is not the way to understand Stewart’s work.

    I worded that poorly.
    I agree that watching Stewart is the only way to “get” him…

    I meant to convey that I preferred reading a transcript of a speech or news account rather than a watching a news cast or video. I don’t bother with youtube clips. They are too easily edited to be trusted to convey accurate accounts.

    youtube and Fox seem to be the primary Birther sources…
    Opinion pieces too. Copy/paste and add that you are “A True American Patriot”.

  10. avatar
    Sluffy1 March 6, 2015 at 10:34 pm #

    Funny little avatar you picked for me Doc.

    I get it. It won’t happen from me here in your House.

  11. avatar
    J.D. Sue March 6, 2015 at 10:38 pm #

    Sluffy1: I worded that poorly.
    I agree that watching Stewart is the only way to “get” him…


    I just misunderstood. I like reading text transcripts too, rather than looking at other-peoples-hatchet-jobs.

  12. avatar
    Lupin March 7, 2015 at 2:03 am #

    Slander (& libel) tend to be more vigorously prosecuted on this side on the pond (Europe) so we have less of it.

    The last person (a far-right-wing agitator) who compared our Minister of Justice, a colored woman from French Guiana, to an ape ended up with suspended jail time on her record — and no none except some of her deranged friends shed a tear.

    Even some of the National Front local politicos were recently kicked out of their own party for posting racist anti-Muslim comments on facebook.

    Gerbil Report would basically be fined out of existence here.

  13. avatar
    Andrew Vrba, PmG March 7, 2015 at 2:44 am #

    Freedom of speech can be both a blessing and a curse.
    One one hand it protects artists, protesters, activists, reporters and lots of other people who use their First Amendment rights to actually say something. On the other hand you have a host of people I can’t find a cuss word strong enough for, who use it as a shield to protect whatever hateful bile they want to spew.

  14. avatar
    J.D. Sue March 7, 2015 at 8:56 am #

    Lupin: Slander (& libel) tend to be more vigorously prosecuted on this side on the pond (Europe) so we have less of it.

    I was interested to see that Paris wanted to sue Fox News for defamation (yes!) — is that suit still going forward?

  15. avatar
    Lupin March 7, 2015 at 11:39 am #

    J.D. Sue: I was interested to see that Paris wanted to sue Fox News for defamation (yes!) — is that suit still going forward?

    The short answer is, I don’t know, but there is a precedent: the city of Narbonne sued a French TV channel which had aired a scathing report about it.

    Last I heard (mid-February) the City Council had authorized the Mayor to file a complaint, but the complaint in “against X”, so not directly aimed at Fox or only Fox.

    I literally can’t prejudge what might happen next if the suit goes forward but the problem Fox has is that it is broadcast in Europe and perfectly receivable with a dish in Paris. That might be enough for a French Court to decide to hear the complaint.

  16. avatar
    J.D. Sue March 7, 2015 at 1:00 pm #

    Lupin: Fox has is that it is broadcast in Europe and perfectly receivable with a dish in Paris. That might be enough for a French Court to decide to hear the complaint.


    From my perspective (including my ignorance of French/European law), the key is to establish jurisdiction in a place where such a suit is actionable. When it comes to defamation, I would think jurisdiction might be established (regardless of place of origin) if it was reasonably foreseeable that Fox broadcasts would be heard by people in the jurisdiction. Like the rabbi said, “So is it with slander: it is spoken in Rome and kills in Syria.”

    For our shared amusement, I just came across this incredible video of a Fox report, re Google’s (scary/threatening!) plan to rank search results by factual accuracy. Video spoiler alert: “They say you are entitled to your own opinions, but you are not entitled to your own facts. It’s a concept not everyone is comfortable with….” It even has a shout out to birthers.
    http://www.addictinginfo.org/2015/03/07/fox-news-officially-freaking-out-about-googles-plan-to-rank-sites-by-accuracy-video/

  17. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy March 7, 2015 at 9:48 pm #

    Heh. The avatars are randomly assigned. You can, however, created an account on the blog and upload your own. See:

    http://www.obamaconspiracy.org/visitor-guide/#contents-avatars

    Sluffy1: Funny little avatar you picked for me Doc.

  18. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy March 7, 2015 at 9:51 pm #

    Here, it’s extremely difficult for a public figure to win a libel suit, thanks the Supreme Court decision in NY Times v. Sullivan.

    Lupin: The last person (a far-right-wing agitator) who compared our Minister of Justice, a colored woman from French Guiana, to an ape ended up with suspended jail time on her record — and no none except some of her deranged friends shed a tear.

  19. avatar
    Lupin March 8, 2015 at 3:08 am #

    J.D. Sue: —
    From my perspective (including my ignorance of French/European law), the key is to establish jurisdiction in a place where such a suit is actionable.When it comes to defamation, I would think jurisdiction might be established (regardless of place of origin) if it was reasonably foreseeable that Fox broadcasts would be heard by people in the jurisdiction.Like the rabbi said, “So is it with slander: it is spoken in Rome and kills in Syria.”

    For our shared amusement, I just came across this incredible video of a Fox report, re Google’s (scary/threatening!) plan to rank search results by factual accuracy. Video spoiler alert: “They say you are entitled to your own opinions,but you are not entitled to your own facts. It’s a concept not everyone is comfortable with….”It even has a shout out to birthers.http://www.addictinginfo.org/2015/03/07/fox-news-officially-freaking-out-about-googles-plan-to-rank-sites-by-accuracy-video/

    Same here. The plaintiff has to establish a “lien de territoriality” for the action to be heard; if Fox could not be widely received in France, the action would stand no chance.

    But as it is, since like CNN INTL, it is broadcast here and can be received by anyone with a dish, I think the complaint will survive that initial challenge.

    Under the law the maximum amount of a fine for libel/slander is 12,000 euros so I doubt this will be a major fight in the penal arena; however the city could ask for damages for economic prejudice in a civil court (though hard to establish) and those could add up.

    But since an exequatur for that type of decision in the US would be likely not be granted, Fox could also simply refuse to pay. I don’t know if they have assets in France that could be seized. I doubt it.

  20. avatar
    J.D. Sue March 8, 2015 at 4:42 am #

    Lupin: But since an exequatur for that type of decision in the US would be likely not be granted, Fox could also simply refuse to pay. I don’t know if they have assets in France that could be seized. I doubt it.

    —-

    As for collections, couldn’t the European Union possibly make them pay? I bet Fox has some assets in Europe.

    I’d like to see a suit like that against Fox, even if the penalty wasn’t very high–just to see Fox get a public smacking for its reckless disregard for the truth. It is so frustrating that they get away with everything here–TV News used to be regulated for fairness, until it was deregulated under Reagan … (all roads lead back to Reagan)

  21. avatar
    Lupin March 8, 2015 at 5:28 am #

    J.D. Sue: —-

    As for collections, couldn’t the European Union possibly make them pay?I bet Fox has some assets in Europe.

    I’d like to see a suit like that against Fox, even if the penalty wasn’t very high–just to see Fox get a public smacking for its reckless disregard for the truth. It is so frustrating that they get away with everything here–TV News used to be regulated for fairness, until it was deregulated under Reagan …(all roads lead back to Reagan)

    We all would, wouldn’t we? 🙂

    But assuming the suit is heard, what the Court *(Tribunal de grande instance of Paris) would have to determine is if the FoxNews report constituted an abuse of the freedom of the press as defined under the Law from 1881 which does protect the Media from abusive or frivolous complaints, but obliges them to check and verify their information.

    Fox’s on-the-air apology might help their penal case before the Court, but would not mitigate the damages.

    If the City can show that American tourists ere discouraged from visiting Paris because (parts of) the city was portrayed as Sharia Law-controlled, then Fox might find itself in hot water.

    But to answer your original question, no, I don’t think the City could collect any damages granted to it by going after Fox News’ assets in, say, Britain or Germany. It would have to relitigate (in part) the case by asking a US Court in California for an exequatur, which I’m pretty certain wouldn’t be granted. The US is not currently party of any Treaty that i know of regarding the enforcement of foreign court judgements (which, by the way, impacts negatively the ability to enforce US judgements abroad).

    I’ll take advantage of this to mention that the broadcasting of FoxNews in Europe has been a terrible “ambassador” for the US and its policies in general.

    I’m old enough to recall when during the 70s, the US media were held on a pedestal here — the NY TIMES’ Ellsberg revelations on Viet-Nam and WAPO’s exposure of the Watergate scandal were for the most part responsible, but also Murrow, Cronkite, Rather in Viet-Nam, Hunter-Brinkley, etc. We literally had nothing like it.

    Since the early 2000s, they are now widely regarded in the same way Pravda used to be regarded in the old days of the USSR: a good barometer for the political mood in Washington, but otherwise corrupt and unreliable. I feel great sadness at this.

  22. avatar
    J.D. Sue March 8, 2015 at 12:24 pm #

    Lupin: I’ll take advantage of this to mention that the broadcasting of FoxNews in Europe has been a terrible “ambassador” for the US and its policies in general.

    I’m old enough to recall when during the 70s, the US media were held on a pedestal here — the NY TIMES’ Ellsberg revelations on Viet-Nam and WAPO’s exposure of the Watergate scandal were for the most part responsible, but also Murrow, Cronkite, Rather in Viet-Nam, Hunter-Brinkley, etc. We literally had nothing like it.

    Since the early 2000s, they are now widely regarded in the same way Pravda used to be regarded in the old days of the USSR: a good barometer for the political mood in Washington, but otherwise corrupt and unreliable. I feel great sadness at this.


    Lupin, thanks for taking the time to explain potential litigation in Europe.

    I too grew up on Cronkite, Huntley Brinkley, et al. I too feel a great sadness at the deterioration of “news” in America, particularly the great shame of Faux.

    Personally, I will never forgive Faux for how much they have scared my elderly mother who lives in Israel now–I’ve had to explain over and over that Faux is not “the news from America”… Ironically, she now gets most of her news from France 24 broadcasts…

  23. avatar
    RanTalbott March 8, 2015 at 5:35 pm #

    Sluffy1: I meant to convey that I preferred reading a transcript of a speech or news account rather than a watching a news cast or video. I don’t bother with youtube clips. They are too easily edited to be trusted to convey accurate accounts.

    It’s not just the editing: there’s a fundamental qualitative difference in the way people who watch videos/preachers/demagogues perceive the world, compared to those who read. The passivity of having information fed to you at the source’s pace, without the ability to pause and think about it, leads to greater uncritical acceptance of what often turns out to be BS. And it becomes a habit that carries over into other media: much of what birthers and other conspiracy nuts believe comes from spammed emails and other written sources that could easily be debunked upon arrival, but they never bother to check it before regurgitating it.

    I highly recommend Neal Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death to anyone who wants to understand what’s become a huge problem in our “post-literate” societies. One of the great good fortunes of my life was happening upon it many years ago, and being able to see _why_ the S/N ratio of our public discourse has been declining.

  24. avatar
    James M March 9, 2015 at 2:40 pm #

    You are so much stronger than I am. I would have corrected him on the usage of “insure” versus “ensure” and asked that he correspond in English.

  25. avatar
    sfjeff March 9, 2015 at 2:49 pm #

    Doc, Among the rational I have heard from Birthers that you didn’t list is

    Affirmative Action

    Apparently for some Birthers they see nothing ‘racial’ about a rationale of expecting Obama to have to prove all of his college experience but no other candidate because ‘only Obama was eligible for affirmative action’- as if that explains everything.

  26. avatar
    bookfiend75 March 9, 2015 at 5:25 pm #

    An interesting case of slander/libel in England/Europe involves the holocaust denier David Irving and historian Deborah Lipstadt. He’s British, she’s American, and he sued her for libel in England concerning her book Denying the Holocaust. Here’s a quote from the article on RationalWiki:

    “In the United States, the claimant has to prove that what the defendant has said about them is libellous – that is, that it would cause a right-thinking person to form a negative opinion of the claimant, and in no way could it be said to be in the public interest. In England, the burden of proof rests on the defendant, as English law assumes that the litigant is entitled to a good reputation until proven guilty – in other words, the defendant must prove that what they said was not libellous. The notorious slant of English libel laws towards the plaintiff has made Britain the libel equivalent of a tax haven, attracting defamation suits because the majority of defendants will not even try to defend themselves. This was what Irving blatantly hoped would happen – that Penguin and Lipstadt would see the case as too much bother and simply retract the statements, thus giving him effective victory.”

    He lost the case because he is an idiot and she had the facts on her side. I wonder what would happen if any part of the UK decided to sue Fox News under the same reasons as France. Fox has made the same type of false claims about cities with “Muslim no-go areas” in England (London & Manchester I think) as they have about France. Those claims are clearly false and it’s not like the British government is fond of Fox News or Murdoch.

  27. avatar
    Rickey March 9, 2015 at 5:46 pm #

    J.D. Sue: —

    I too grew up on Cronkite, Huntley Brinkley, et al.I too feel a great sadness at the deterioration of “news” in America, particularly the great shame of Faux.

    It isn’t just Faux News, although they are the worst.

    Today it is being reported that the disgraced NBC news anchor Brian Williams refused to air “divisive” stories on the NBC Nightly News.

  28. avatar
    Keith March 9, 2015 at 6:29 pm #

    Lupin: I feel great sadness at this.

    Don’t we all? I can’t find words.

    When I first moved to Australia (30 years ago) everybody thought Americans had the worst news services and didn’t think we knew anything about the world. In fact their only view of the world was filtered through exactly one news service, the BBC, which while quite good, was the only view available across 5 national TV services – 2 government owned and 3 commercial. It wasn’t until SBS began using US news services like CNN that folks got the idea that there was actually different views and their ‘John Wayne movie’ image of America was not quite right – and this despite Aussies being some of the most prolific travelers around.

    SBS now uses Al Jazerra quite a bit because CNN like all the other US services are virtually unusable, unless they need a man bites dog story for filler.

  29. avatar
    bookfiend75 March 10, 2015 at 12:13 am #

    Keith: Don’t we all? I can’t find words.

    When I first moved to Australia (30 years ago) everybody thought Americans had the worst news services and didn’t think we knew anything about the world. In fact their only view of the world was filtered through exactly one news service, the BBC, which while quite good, was the only view available across 5 national TV services – 2 government owned and 3 commercial. It wasn’t until SBS began using US news services like CNN that folks got the idea that there was actually different views and their ‘John Wayne movie’ image of America was not quite right – and this despite Aussies being some of the most prolific travelers around.

    SBS now uses Al Jazerra quite a bit because CNN like all the other US services are virtually unusable, unless they need a man bites dog story for filler.

    CNN made itself the standard in the 80s and 90s, especially during the 1st Gulf War. The only way I can understand what happened to them concerns ratings. Almost all of television in America is beholden to magic numbers that indicate how many people are watching. The reason those numbers are important is that they enable the broadcasters to set prices for the time advertisers buy. More viewers = more $. I hypothesize that Fox’s ratings force the other television broadcasters to move away from news delivery and move towards items intended to gather viewers, regardless of the newsworthiness or intelligence those items of interest possess. It’s getting to the point where the only bastion of integrity in American news delivery lies in NPR, which has never had a television component. It must be a difficult balance to achieve in news considering the integrity we hope to receive from news organizations, while at the same time, they are businesses that still have to make money and answer to owners and stock holders. It’s becoming even more complicated with the decrease of print media and the increase in online media. There is too much junk to filter through now.

  30. avatar
    Lupin March 10, 2015 at 7:45 am #

    It’s not just CNN which went down after Ted Turner sold it, but let’s be honest, the NY TIMES and WAPO, those once-shining beacons that any European press journalist used to idolize in the 70s, have also gone down like a cheap birther.

    The US press coverage leading to the Iraq War was truly worthy of Brezhnev-era PRAVDA — and everyone on this side of the pond realized it, and frankly were awfully sad to see their idols trash themselves — sort of like if Judy Garland had become a cheap prostitute.

    The coverage of NOLA after Katrina was another shameful moment in the US media’s recent history.

    And frankly I thought the recent US coverage of the Charlie-Hebdo shootings in Paris was very weaselly.

  31. avatar
    Arthur B. March 10, 2015 at 1:52 pm #

    Lupin: And frankly I thought the recent US coverage of the Charlie-Hebdo shootings in Paris was very weaselly.

    Please say more about this.

  32. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy March 10, 2015 at 3:12 pm #

    Those wanting to read more on this topic might consider the book “935 Lies: The Future of Truth and the decline of America’s moral integrity” by Charles Lewis.

    Lupin: It’s not just CNN which went down after Ted Turner sold it, but let’s be honest, the NY TIMES and WAPO, those once-shining beacons that any European press journalist used to idolize in the 70s, have also gone down like a cheap birther.

  33. avatar
    Lupin March 11, 2015 at 3:13 am #

    Arthur B.: Please say more about this.

    Well, since you ask, I thought that the amount of time & effort it took to carefully crop, edit, blur and/or pixelize all the photos & images of Charlie-Hebdo itself in most (but thank God not all) US print & visual media, and CNN even cutting off one of their Paris correspondents in mid-report when the magazine itself was about to be shown, even though it was the very heart of the news, was extremely weaselly.

  34. avatar
    Crustacean March 11, 2015 at 5:38 pm #

    Lupin: Well, since you ask, I thought that the amount of time & effort it took to carefully crop, edit, blur and/or pixelize all the photos & images of Charlie-Hebdo itself in most (but thank God not all) US print & visual media, and CNN even cutting off one of their Paris correspondents in mid-report when the magazine itself was about to be shown, even though it was the very heart of the news, was extremely weaselly.

    Lupin, I’ve been thinking about comments you posted about freedom of speech in France as compared to the US. For example, you gave an example of someone receiving a suspended jail sentence for making racist comments about your Minister of Justice.

    So I’m wondering how Charlie Hebdo got away with publishing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed naked – and in a pornographic way, no less. Does satire get more legal leeway? Am I wrong in my assumption that they “got away with” it?

    I’m sure the tragic recent events have sparked some intense conversations in France about exactly how free speech should be. I wish I knew the answer. I’m just trying to reconcile the suspended jail sentence for the racist comment while Charlie Hebdo was not similarly hammered by the law for their offensive speech.

  35. avatar
    Arthur B. March 11, 2015 at 5:58 pm #

    Lupin: Well, since you ask,

    Ah, thanks, I understand. Over here, financial and legal considerations usual trump all — the networks don’t want to find themselves the targets of lawsuits or threats.

    But I don’t think it’s just that. I imagine most Americans would agree that, in the past few days, it’s been a good decision not to air the full version of the Oklahoma SAE chant. I think there’s some honest feeling here that if the facts are being fully presented without causing offense, that is the preferable procedure.

    But it’s certainly controversial here as well.

  36. avatar
    donna March 11, 2015 at 6:04 pm #

    J.D. Sue, Lupin et al

    have you read “Fox Geezer Syndrome”?

    http://www.frumforum.com/fox-geezer-syndrome/

  37. avatar
    Lupin March 12, 2015 at 5:03 am #

    Arthur B.: But I don’t think it’s just that. I imagine most Americans would agree that, in the past few days, it’s been a good decision not to air the full version of the Oklahoma SAE chant. I think there’s some honest feeling here that if the facts are being fully presented without causing offense, that is the preferable procedure.

    With all due respect, I would argue that there is a world of difference between the two cases.

    As far as I know, the African-Americans who were the offended party were not threatening violent retaliation against the college fraternity. In effect, they committed no crime at all.

    This is quite different from a magazine who had already been firebombed, was the butt of constant threats and already had security forces assigned to its protection.

    In the case of CHARLIE-HEBDO, the terrorist attack requires context, and you can’t provide such context without showing the magazine.

    I do not dispute the right of self-censorship, or even merely protecting one’s employees from similar potential attacks, but not showing or blurring the covers of the magazine, is , in my humble opinion, weaselly

    It is, in effect, surrendering to what I consider a form of political racketing. “Nice TV station you have here,” says the guy with a turban to the station manager. “Would be a shame if something happened to it.” Replace the guy in a turban by Tony Soprano and tell me if your reaction would be the same.

    I’ll add that in the early 1940s, talented artists like Charlie Chaplin and Ernst Lubitsch felt that they could lampoon such a-holes as Adolf Hitler and the German regime with films like THE GREAT DICTATOR and TO BE OR NOT TO BE, which, let’s remember, were still “hot button” issues when they were initially released. But lampooning (for that is what it is) such modern-day a-holes regimes as ISIS suddenly requires sensitivity and results in self-censorship?

    Again, I fully respect the right for each news organization to make its own choices as to who it risks offending or not offending, but despite your vaunted first amendment, the indisputable fact is that most US news media caved in to a certain form of pressure, while most European media did not.

    And while it’s hypothetical, I do not believe this would have been the case 30 or 40 years ago.

  38. avatar
    Lupin March 12, 2015 at 5:33 am #

    Crustacean: Lupin, I’ve been thinking about comments you posted about freedom of speech in France as compared to the US.For example, you gave an example of someone receiving a suspended jail sentence for making racist comments about your Minister of Justice.

    So I’m wondering how Charlie Hebdo got away with publishing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed naked – and in a pornographic way, no less.Does satire get more legal leeway?Am I wrong in my assumption that they “got away with” it?

    I’m sure the tragic recent events have sparked some intense conversations in France about exactly how free speech should be.I wish I knew the answer.I’m just trying to reconcile the suspended jail sentence for the racist comment while Charlie Hebdo was not similarly hammered by the law for their offensive speech.

    A fair question, one that requires to explain how French law works in order to answer it

    Since the French revolution and the introduction of the Napoleonic Code, there is no notion of blasphemy in French Law. You can lampoon Allah, Christ, Yaweh, Muhammad, the Pope, Buddha, anything deemed religious and/or sacred as much as you want. No one is obliged to believe in God, or respect the belief of others in God.

    This is at the core of what the French call “laicity” which is not “secularism” (freedom of belief and religious practice) but goes further: it is the strict neutrality of the state in relation to those beliefs and practices.

    I presume I don’t need to detail the bloody history of France and religion(s) to explain why the French Revolution arrived at that notion?

    To the extent that various religions care not just about God but also tell their worshipers what to eat, how to dress, what to do and not to do, how to behave, etc, they are just another part of the workings of a secular society, just like Congress or the President. Therefore one can express whatever opinions one has on the subject; one can lampoon them, attack then, and criticize them.

    What is strictly forbidden is calling for violence against an entire subset of society — race, religion, sexual preferences, etc. If one threatens ALL Jews, Muslims, gays, etc. then one can be prosecuted. The law is quite clear: a French citizen must not be threatened because of his or her appurtenance to a subset of society.

    In effect the law considers that if you are disrespectful towards or threaten God, there is no victim, since it does not recognize the existence of God. But if you do so towards a certain person because of her sex, religion, race, etc., then it’s a criminal offense. And if you do it towards an entire subset, it’s a crime against humanity.

    Then we get into more complex areas of jurisprudence, having to do with blatant lies. For example, you can mock or lampoon concentration camps (there was a comic book album in the 80s called HITLER = SS which did it and got into some legal hot water) but you cannot publicly claim they did not exist.

    Same with slavery: mocking it is legal, but don’t claim it didn’t happen.

    French law takes great care to try to treat every religion, race, etc. in the same fashion. If the Great Mufti of Paris (as opposed to Allah or Mohammed) had been caricatured in the same fashion as our black Minister of Justice, the Courts would have likely arrived at the same verdict.

    Obviously, it’s a complex subject, with centuries of evolving jurisprudence, but i hope I have provided a fair if simplified description of our legal context.

  39. avatar
    Bovril March 12, 2015 at 7:18 am #

    So, basically,

    Imaginary sky people (usually with severe anger management issues) inherently have no standing, however attacks on an individual or groups of people’s personal beliefs ABOUT said imaginary sky person would have standing…?

  40. avatar
    Lupin March 12, 2015 at 8:02 am #

    Bovril:
    So, basically,

    Imaginary sky people (usually with severe anger management issues) inherently have no standing, however attacks on an individual or groups of people’s personal beliefs ABOUT said imaginary sky person would have standing…?

    Yes. Invisible friends are not entitled to legal protection. Flesh and bones ones are. We’re funny that way.

    Seriously, the “it depends” answer lawyers often give to any question asked is true here as well — and courts are not always consistent.

    The HITLER = SS book was prosecuted three times by Jewish organizations; they won once and lost twice.

    The Taubira/monkey caricature is a thorny case. One of them originated in CHARLIE-HEBDO but framed in a context that made it clear that it was in fact an expression of National Front racism.

    In effect it would be like us portraying an Obama/Money caricature shown in the context of a tea party rally in order to condemn them.

    The problem was that the caricature was so good that it got swiped and used WITHOUT the context, making it simply racist as opposed to a denunciation of racism.

    So one is all right; the other is not. Further Ms Taubira filed her suit in the overseas department of French Guiana (of which she is a native) and the defendant chose not to be represented. As you know, Courts generally don’t like parties who express veiled contempt at them, so they threw the book at the defendant. Mind you, she can appeal (and probably already has).

  41. avatar
    Arthur B. March 12, 2015 at 1:08 pm #

    Lupin: With all due respect, I would argue that there is a world of difference between the two cases.

    I agree that the difference is great, but it helps to illustrate my point.

    If the position taken by the American networks is that they refrained from showing the Charlie-Hebdo images because they wished to avoid offense as opposed to caving to threats, they can point to the OU incident to show their consistency in this regard.

    If we agree that it is a sensible policy to avoid giving unnecessary offense in the absence of threats, I don’t see how the presence of threats confers a responsibility to abandon it.

  42. avatar
    Lupin March 12, 2015 at 1:24 pm #

    Arthur B.: I agree that the difference is great, but it helps to illustrate my point.

    If the position taken by the American networks is that they refrained from showing the Charlie-Hebdo images because they wished to avoid offense as opposed to caving to threats, they can point to the OU incident to show their consistency in this regard.

    If we agree that it is a sensible policy to avoid giving unnecessary offense in the absence of threats, I don’t see how the presence of threats confers a responsibility to abandon it.

    I would argue that the US media’s motivation seemed to me more motivated by the threats than by the desire to avoid offending Muslims, to the extent that they do not necessarily shirk away from offending other groups when these groups are not likely to respond with physical violence.

    Even a network like Fox which could hardly be characterized as caring about Muslims blurred the images. In an example like this, it seems to me that the only explanation left is, I paraphrase, “we don’t want any trouble.”

    This is why I called this a “weaselly” reaction. I wouldn’t go as far as call it “cowardly” because the threats are real and there are plenty of good reasons to take the decisions they did. But I wouldn’t hide behind principles either. And the contrast with the European media — Spain, Italy, Denmark, Germany, Austria, etc. who generally showed the covers of the magazine couldn’t be starker.

    In the end, no, I cannot agree that a “sensible policy” is to cave in to threats — any threats.

  43. avatar
    Crustacean March 12, 2015 at 1:57 pm #

    Thank you for that excellent post! It is a complex – and fascinating – subject, and I am much obliged that you took the time to edify me and anyone else unfamiliar with French law.

    Lupin: Obviously, it’s a complex subject, with centuries of evolving jurisprudence, but i hope I have provided a fair if simplified description of our legal context.

  44. avatar
    Arthur B. March 12, 2015 at 2:10 pm #

    Lupin: In the end, no, I cannot agree that a “sensible policy” is to cave in to threats — any threats.

    Now, let’s be fair. I never said that it was “sensible policy” to cave in to threats. What I said was that it was arguably sensible policy to avoid giving unnecessary offense whether or not there are threats.

    It’s clear that the end point in both cases is the same — the pictures will not be shown regardless of whether the motivation is to avoid offense or to cave. But as long as the policy is consistent independent of whether a threat is present, I see no basis for jumping to the conclusion that caving was the motive.

    Yes, Fox News avoided showing the C-H images. They also (I presume, I don’t watch!) avoided playing the uncensored N***** chant. I don’t see how that weighs toward the caving interpretation.

  45. avatar
    Lupin March 13, 2015 at 2:04 am #

    Arthur B.: Now, let’s be fair. I never said that it was “sensible policy” to cave in to threats. What I said was that it was arguably sensible policy to avoid giving unnecessary offense whether or not there are threats.

    It’s clear that the end point in both cases is the same — the pictures will not be shown regardless of whether the motivation is to avoid offense or to cave. But as long as the policy is consistent independent of whether a threat is present, I see no basis for jumping to the conclusion that caving was the motive.

    Yes, Fox News avoided showing the C-H images. They also (I presume, I don’t watch!) avoided playing the uncensored N***** chant. I don’t see how that weighs toward the caving interpretation.

    But IMHO the policy is NOT to avoid giving offense.

    Or rather it is permissible to offend some groups because they don’t threaten you with violence, but not OK to offend others, because they do.

    Look at the Washington Redskins and the way it was handled by the US media, compared to the C-H covers.

    (The DAILY SHOW did a brilliant segment on this.)

    The only difference is this: in one case, the Muslim fanatics will come and kill you; in the other, the Native Americans will only take you to court.

    Hence they cave in in the first case, and they don’t care about the other.

    I think the public statements made that the C-H images were blurred to avoid giving offense is pure b*llsh*t. — weaselly words to avoid being honest and saying “we’re scared those people will be after us” — which is something that I can respect.