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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

When the media yells 'fire' in a crowded theater

Not all types of speech are protected under U.S. Law.  In fact most democracies have laws that specifically exclude hate speech and any expression that may endanger an individual or group, from free speech protections.

The classic example is the prohibition against yelling 'fire' in a crowded theater (assuming there is no fire) which as famously included in a written opinion issued by Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. in 1919:

"The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic. [...] The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent." [source]

This opinion was not focused on the problem of making false statements (which are dealt with quite nicely under laws related to libel and slander), but rather on statements that create a clear and present danger.

Throughout the media feeding frenzy coverage surrounding the Ferguson shooting and subsequent Grand Jury decision not to indict the police officer involved, there has been, in my opinion, a deliberate and coordinated attempt on the part of the major news outlets to fan the flames of civil unrest and create a situation where protests would turn violent, and demonstrations would turn into riots.

The media obviously has a vested interest in fostering and sustaining such an atmosphere of violence and hysteria because, let's face it, court decisions and protests are interesting news... but regional, or even national violence is compelling news; the kind that sells papers and drives traffic to news sites.

I won't go into deeply problematic nature of the media predicting that a decision handed down by a sitting Grand Jury in the world's premier democracy, will trigger the type of riots, violence and looting normally only seen in the third world.  

That the U.S. media created, or at least deliberately fostered, such an expectation is deeply problematic, and smacks of the worst kind of racism.  Moreover, it infantilizes a significant portion of the population by making it seem a foregone conclusion that this particular demographic is incapable of expressing dissatisfaction and outrage in a peaceful manner.

But even that doesn't surprise me anymore.  If the U.S. media wants to treat minorities as if they are children incapable of reasoned, adult discourse... and that population lives up (or down) to these low expectations, who am I to yell 'foul'?

But when the New York Times actively and deliberately fans the flames of racial hatred and creates and fosters an expectation of violence... and then publishes the home address of the police officer who is the focus of violent protests and riots, that, IMHO, crosses a red line that can't be ignored.

There he is

That the New York Times' reporters, Julie Bosman and Campbell Robertson, were allowed by their editors to publish the home address of the police officer who the Grand Jury decided not to indict, is tantamount to declaring open season on him, his new wife and their property.

The Times can't reasonably argue that they didn't expect anyone to attack the officer or his family because all of their reporting to date has mentioned (in a leading and encouraging manner) that violence in the wake of any decision not to indict was a very real possibility.

Some have suggested that a fair remedy would be to publish the home addresses and other private information of the Time's reporters and the entire Times editorial staff.

I disagree.  

Nobody cares where in Greenwich or Scarsdale the Times reporters and staff call home.  

Rather, I think that the two reporters, and every editor involved in the decision to publish the officer's home address, should be prosecuted as full accessories to any violent crime that befalls the officer, his family and/or property.

Then let them spend a few years reporting on the sorry state of the U.S. Department of Corrections... from an insider's perspective.

Posted by David Bogner on November 26, 2014 | Permalink

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The Times reporters typify the modern liberal without scruples.

Posted by: RAM | Nov 26, 2014 3:22:49 PM

> a deliberate and coordinated attempt on the part of the major news outlets to fan the flames of civil unrest

Unfortunately many groups are often eager to justify such attempts by producing the requested unrest

Posted by: Garnel Ironheart | Nov 26, 2014 5:21:14 PM

Well said!

Posted by: Atara | Nov 27, 2014 1:25:54 PM

And... Mister Bogner nails it again. (Alas.)

Posted by: Elisson | Dec 1, 2014 3:46:14 AM

The Times' response:

http://publiceditor.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/12/01/should-the-times-have-left-it-out-and-what-exactly-was-it/?smid=tw-share&_r=0

Posted by: Yaron | Dec 2, 2014 12:24:29 AM

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