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Bush Administration Remains Woefully Inconsistent When Considering First Amendment Rights

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Can you yell “fire” in a crowded theater and get away with it?

If the Bush Administration was deciding, it would likely depend on whether you were a liberal or a conservative.

Universal Press Syndicate columnist Ann Coulter “joked” during a Thursday speech that liberal Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens should be poisoned.

We need somebody to put rat poisoning in Justice Stevens’ creme brulee,” Coulter said at Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Ark. “That’s just a joke, for you in the media.”

And by all accounts, no action was taken against Coulter, save for a smattering of boos from the audience.

Christian conservative leader and former Republican presidential candidate Pat Robertson declared a fatwa on Aug. 22, calling for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

“If he thinks we’re trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it,” Robertson said of Chávez on his show, The 700 Club. “It’s a whole lot cheaper than starting a war. And I don’t think any oil shipments will stop.”

Robertson first lied about what he said, claiming the Associated Press “misrepresented” his words. He later apologized. And again, by all accounts, no action was taken against him.

Now, JABBS is completely in favor of free speech. A favorite movie moment is the speech given by Michael Douglas’ character, President Andrew Shepherd, at the end of the 1995 film, The American President:

DOUGLAS: America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You’ve got to want it bad, because it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say, “You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil who is standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.”

And JABBS has to assume that the Bush Administration feels the same way — even if Douglas’ character was an obvious Democrat.

Coulter? She was joking. Robertson? He quickly apologized. Right?

If it were that simple, there wouldn’t be much to discuss. The problem is that the Bush Administration has been woefully inconsistent in how it views First Amendment rights. Strangely, while a public call for the murder of a Supreme Court Justice or the assassination of a foreign leader go seemingly unchecked, other lesser demonstrations of free speech have led the administration to take action.

Consider these examples:

A married couple was removed from a Bush presidential campaign event in West Virginia in the summer of 2004 after revealing anti-Bush T-shirts. A Utah man was visited later in the year by the Secret Service for an anti-Bush bumper sticker on his car. Last spring, the Secret Service sent agents to investigate a college art gallery exhibit of mock postage stamps, one depicting Bush with a gun pointed at his head. The military is shutting down some soldiers’ blogs it says reveal sensitive information about the Iraq War; others claim the military’s real goal is censorship.

In the face of such perceived inconsistency, it seems fair to ask whether the Bush Administration puts party before country when considering first amendment rights.

JABBS doesn’t expect, nor does it desire, to have Coulter or Robertson visited by Secret Service agents or arrested. But a consistent interpretation of the law would be appreciated.

***

This item first appeared at JABBS
Edited: [GH]

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About David R. Mark

  • RedTard

    As many of your posts demonstrate, you’re not really concerned with the facts or a balanced view but I’ll provide that for you anyway. Your article is comparing apples to oranges.

    The secret service, whose job it is to protect the president, did not close the exibit or remove the bumper sticker, or infringe on anyone’s right to free speech at all. They did they’re job.

    The secret service does not protect Justice Stevens or Hugo Chavez. I think that Chavez takes the threat of assassination very seriously. I don’t think a joke by Ann Coulter would cause Justice Stephens to designate a food tester at this time.

  • gonzo marx

    well now, David has provided pertinent links to each of his assertations, and the points he has made in his Opinions are clear and concise

    some folks may have problems with what he has said, but overall…good stuff here, if for no other reason than food for Thought

    i know a bit about what the secret service’s job entails…and it IS part of their job to investigate threats…

    according to the links provided, none of these incidents were threats…

    just a Thought

    Excelsior!

  • david r. mark

    JABBS doesn’t expect, nor does it desire, to have Coulter or Robertson visited by Secret Service agents or arrested. But a consistent interpretation of the law would be appreciated.

    >>

    Isn’t that a clear enough point, RedTard?

    Which is the greater threat: suggesting the murder of a SC justice, or holding up an anti-Bush sign at a rally?

    Which is the greater threat: suggesting the assassination of a foreign leader, or having a bumper sticker on your car?

    Indeed, these are not apples to apples.

  • Dave Nalle

    So when you’re sitting in your car do you talk to yourself and think you’re having a conversation with JABBS?

    Dave

  • david r. mark

    Apparently, you have run out of things to bitch about, huh?

  • http://www.futonreport.net/ Matthew T. Sussman

    Free speech is one thing. Speaking in front of an audience who likes him is another. Spontaneous criticism is obviously one of his flaws, but hey, he won the election.

    Although because of this he has to be extra careful who he lets in every speech from then on out, which is too bad but we all come to expect it. Plus he can never appear on the Daily Show. (Le sigh.)

    But I don’t see a link between screening a Republican audience and being inconsistent about 1A.

  • gonzo marx

    et tu , Suss?

    have you so quickly forgottwen the verifiable facts that all of these so called “town hall meetings” were not only security screened, but all attendees had to actually sign “loyalty oaths”

    ponder that , my friend…

    Excelsior!

  • david r. mark

    Matthew, that’s a whole other argument. I’m not talking about pre-screened audiences for “town hall meetings,” or loyalty oaths — although I’ve written at length on those before.

    The point is simply that there’s an inconsistency. To me, what Coulter and Robertson said should raise the same First Amendment questions as what the various anti-Bush protesters said/did.

  • david r. mark

    you’re not really concerned with the facts>>

    Please note any “facts” that are incorrect, RedTard. I’d be happy to correct anything.

    Did Coulter not make the statement? Did Robertson not make his? Do you dispute the truthfulness of the accounts of the various anti-Bush protesters? Did I misquote the dialogue from the movie?

    Of course not. What you really are saying is that you don’t agree with me, and therefore I must be wrong.

    Then you misstate my argument, and knock down that straw man.

    Do you guys all go to some Ken Mehlman boot camp?

  • RedTard

    That’s an interesting take GM. There is more than one way to lie. I suppose we are much more critical of arguments that are against that come from other viewpoints than those who agree with us.

    A purposeful misrepresentation has been made in several of these stories to make them appear worse than they are. I think that is just as bad, or worse than, an outright lie.

    The bumper sticker guy was interviewed because his neighbors called him in as a threat. I know that’s not as exciting as imagining some evil government agent tailing people with Kerry stickers, but it’s way closer to the truth. When the Secret Service has a threat called in they have a duty to investigate and they did.

    Military blogs are only restricted from posting information with actual intelligence value. The example given is that of showing of weapon damage on tanks. This gives the enemy knowledge of the weak spots and how to destroy our equipment. The military was right to shut down the blog. Some overzealous leftwing media may think it is an infringement but I view it as common sense.

    The T-shirt incident is the closest to being an actual infringement. I don’t think that can be pinned on this administration however. The officers who made the arrest were not federal, and the secret service denies ordering the arrest. A couple went to a Bush rally meaning to cause trouble and when they did they filed a lawsuit and started whining.

    His three examples are completely lame. He then tries somehow to compare that to some statements about Chavez and a joke by Ann Coulter. It simply irritates me that some people will skim this and really think that the secret service is turning into the Gestapo. Although it may not be an outright lie it is very, very far from the truth.

  • david r. mark

    RedTard: “It simply irritates me that some people will skim this and really think that the secret service is turning into the Gestapo.”

    JABBS: JABBS doesn’t expect, nor does it desire, to have Coulter or Robertson visited by Secret Service agents or arrested.

    Build a straw man, knock it down. Congrats, RedTard. You have learned well from the GOP spin-meisters.

  • http://www.futonreport.net/ Matthew T. Sussman

    Did the loyalty oaths come with ball gags? ‘Cause that would be hot.

    In all honesty I did forget about that. It’s just another precaution which sounds like they’re overdoing it, but still not a 1A violation, I think.

    And if I were to run, it’s not a policy I would implement. Then again, what do I know about campaigns? I never won a student council election in my life.

  • david r. mark

    RedTard first says I’m not concerned with facts. Yet, he is unable to cite any factual errors.

    Then he says I misrepresent events to make them appear worse than they are.

    I provide a list of relevant items, with links to the original stories. I don’t use any unusual language to describe the events. I don’t minimize the events — it’s not like I avoid mentioning that the mock postage stamps include one depicting Bush with a gun pointed at his head.

    Who exactly is committing a “purposeful misrepresentation”?

  • david r. mark

    Matthew, I didn’t bring up the loyalty oaths or the pre-screened events because I don’t think it’s relevant to this story.

    However, I have always found it unusual that the Bush Administration would take those steps, when historically, no other politician — Democrat or Republican — has done so.

    My feeling has always been that Bush/Cheney do themselves no favors by speaking to such audiences. It just suggests they don’t have enough confidence in their arguments to withstand the potential of criticism or booing.

  • http://www.futonreport.net/ Matthew T. Sussman

    They aren’t helping their popularity, that’s for sure. Yet there in the White House he lives. Maybe there’s no correlation. Maybe they won despite during a deaf ear to criticism and anti-Bush tees. Maybe Scott McClellan has no comment, as this is part of an ongoing conversation.

    But since I’m not a military veteran, I’m not allowed to comment on the war under penalty of being labeled a chickenhawk, so neither can I say whether shutting down a milblog for security purposes is justified.

    As for the SS coming to “visit” (that’s a great euphemism) people portraying the death of the president, I don’t know. That’s probably overdoing it. It’s probably standard procedure. But if they’re getting this information from wiretaps, then let’s just give them more gobbledygook to sort through, shall we?

    Ahem:

    “I would like to murder President Bush” is an example of something that will prompt in Secret Service agents throwing you in pound-me-in-the-ass prison.

  • Dave Nalle

    JABBS: JABBS doesn’t expect, nor does it desire, to have Coulter or Robertson visited by Secret Service agents or arrested.

    When you buy a plane ticket do you get a second one next to you for JABBS? Does he like a window or an aisle seat?

    Dave

  • RedTard

    “Who exactly is committing a purposeful misrepresentation?”

    You are purposefully ignoring the fact that the Secret Service only investigates threats against the limited protectees including the president, not comedic banter about judges or threats against foreigners (except when in this country). You made a bold accusation about this administration and you provided absolutely no reasonable evidence to back it up.

    Your article may be factually correct but it doesn’t logically support your title either.

  • david r. mark

    RedTard, you keep ignoring this sentence in the article:

    “JABBS doesn’t expect, nor does it desire, to have Coulter or Robertson visited by Secret Service agents or arrested.”

  • david r. mark

    Dave Nalle, regarding #4 and #16: my use of the word “JABBS” is a writing style in keeping with newspaper policy editorials. “It is the opinion of the Post/Times/Gazette.”

    But please, keep telling lame jokes.

  • david r. mark

    RedTard goes from claiming I’m not concerned with facts to admitting the article is “factually correct.” Bravo.

    I expect there to be disagreement with my opinion. But maybe next time, you’ll skip the hyperbole and misrepresentation, and instead try to have a meaningful discussion.

    Here’s a question: is there no action to be taken against Coulter or Robertson? Their comments are nationally known, and have far greater impact than a bumper sticker or an art exhibit.

    As a country, we regularly question free speech. People are regularly put in jail for protesting. In 2004, thousands in NYC were arrested for protesting the RNC convention, for example.

    Again, I’m not suggesting Coulter or Robertson should be jailed for their comments, but don’t you see an inconsistency? Is this equal punishment under the law? Who is posing the bigger threat?

  • alethinos59

    We haven’t had free speech in this country since it has been allowed to sue someone into silence. The perfect example was the book IN THE SPIRIT OF CRAZY HORSE, about the AIM movement and the killing of two FBI agents at Wounded Knee. The book, by Peter Matthiessen, a very respected writer who had published lots of books via Viking Press found that it was facing a massive lawsuit by the then governor of South Dakota. Even though all the facts in the case had been
    meticulously proven, with practically a book’s worth of references in the back of the tome – much of it via the Freedom of Information act, Viking couldn’t handle the cost of a protracted court case. So Peter and Viking gave in and the book was PULLED from shelves. It became nearly impossible to find it – even in libraries.

    I personally called Viking Press and was told by the head internal librarian there that “no such book was published by Viking.” I said, “Ma’am, I have the ISBN number right here” and read it to her. She looked it up and was shocked.

    Looooooooonnngg story short eventually Viking was able to re-publish the book.

    Odd, that the federal judge who heard the last appeal by LEONARD PELTIER and who denied Peltier’s attorney’s from using ALL of the evidence from all the previous trials… Became head of the FBI less than two years later…

    Nice reward…

    You get those for going above and beyond the call of duty in shutting down free speech…

  • troll

    * I suppose we are much more critical of arguments that are against that come from other viewpoints than those who agree with us.*

    editorial note: when using the Royal ‘We’ be sure to capitalize

    troll

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    Here’s a question: is there no action to be taken against Coulter or Robertson? Their comments are nationally known, and have far greater impact than a bumper sticker or an art exhibit.

    No action was taken against the leftists you mention in your article. Why should any action be taken against Robertson or Coulter. But if you just want fairness, kick Robertson out the next time he shows up at a moveon.org rally and ask Coulter why she has a bumper sticker scoffing at democrats next time you see her.

    The point being that nothing meaningful was actually done to any of these people even though a couple of them made what was perceived as worth investigating as a terroristic threat against the president – but after investigation nothing was actually done to them.

    Dave

  • david r. mark

    The point being that nothing meaningful was actually done to any of these people>>

    Even brief jail time, or a visit from the Secret Service, is something. It’s more than Coulter or Robertson got.

  • http://www.fotolog.com/butki13 Scott Butki

    So let me see if I have this straight – you think the Secret Service should visit Coultier or Robertson even though the SS is supposed to be protecting the president and neither of those windbags threatened the president?

    I mean, I can understand frustration on how liberal protestors were treated but how does that justify harrassing idiots on the other end of the political spectrum?

  • sr

    Hi Gonzo. Went fishing today. Beautiful on the lake at 6:00am. Have a G-day. Im tired. Must be the Bud. rs

  • david r. mark

    Scott, please read this point from the article:

    “JABBS doesn’t expect, nor does it desire, to have Coulter or Robertson visited by Secret Service agents or arrested. But a consistent interpretation of the law would be appreciated.”

    Again, very straightforward.

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    David, read what Scott said again. The same law does not apply to the people the SS visited and Coulter and Robertson. Coulter and Robertson did not threaten the president of the united states.

    Dave

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    Or I suppose I should not say ‘threaten’, but rather ‘create an impression which could be extremely broadly interpreted as a threat to’.

    Dave

  • david r. mark

    Dave, if I had my druthers, the only things that would be investigated would be actual threats against the president — terrorist, angry American, etc.

    To me, Coulter and Robertson should be treated the same way as the guy holding the sign, the guy with the bumper sticker, or the guy at the art exhibit. For me, that would mean do nothing.

  • Bliffle

    Maybe we should just tap their phones. Then, if Coulter or Robertson says something really bad the NSA can arrest them secretly and wisk them off to a secret prison someplace to re-incentivize them. Noone need know.

  • http://www.fotolog.com/butki13 Scott Butki

    David, I was responding to this comment which you made after we repeatedly pointed out to you that secret service does not deal with threats against anyone but the president:

    You said:
    “Even brief jail time, or a visit from the Secret Service, is something. It’s more than Coulter or Robertson got.”

    That’d be like me complaining that the FCC isn’t fining the washington times for being owned by moonies which would spark a reminder that the FCC isn’t responsible for newspapers.

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    To me, Coulter and Robertson should be treated the same way as the guy holding the sign, the guy with the bumper sticker, or the guy at the art exhibit. For me, that would mean do nothing.

    I agree that none of these people should be harassed in any way, except possibly the guy with the sign at the rally, since the rally was on (as I recall) university property where they had one of those hateful ‘free speech zone’ rules which limit such displays to a specific area.

    The bumper sticker and the art exhibit were examples of secret service agents being overzealous. Contrary to what you stated, in neither of those cases was anyone arrested or subjected to anything more than brief questioning to determine that their intent was harmless. I agree that such a determination could have been made without even interviewing them, but I don’t work for the secret service.

    But as for equal treatment, I’m sure that if Coulter tried to disrupt a democrat rally on private property she’d get the bums rush. But the key thing is that neither Coulter nor Robertson have done any of the things which these other folks did to create a situation where they would be censored or mildly annoyed by someone in a position of authority.

    Dave

  • david r. mark

    Scott, my comment was in response to Dave Nalle’s comment. See #24.

    I stand by the original statement in the article — “JABBS doesn’t expect, nor does it desire, to have Coulter or Robertson visited by Secret Service agents or arrested.”

    I’ve said this a half dozen times now.

  • http://www.fotolog.com/butki13 Scott Butki

    So if you don’t expect or desire a visit from the secret service or an arrest of these two figures I’m not sure what you want here.

    You seem to understand why they were treated differently and that it had less to do with politics than who they were threatening.
    So what now?

    Do you agree with Biffle’s suggestion in #31?

  • david r. mark

    Scott, see comment #30.

  • http://www.fotolog.com/butki13 Scott Butki

    OK. Thanks