A US senator from Massachusetts who wants the federal government to monitor so-called hate speech on television, radio, and the Internet. A local official in Rhode Island who disparages complaints about an unconstitutional law prohibiting anonymous political speech as “absolute nonsense.” A Maine official who pleads with legislators to reinstate a ban on releasing 911 calls, even though such calls are public records in most states.
These are just a few of the cases that comprise the 17th Annual Muzzle Awards — a Fourth of July round-up of outrages against free speech and personal liberties in New England during the past year.
The New England Muzzles, sadly, are a reflection of repression at the national level. Last year at this time, we were learning from Edward Snowden the extent to which the government spies on our email, telephone, and other electronic communications. This year, a New York Times journalist, James Risen, faces jail for refusing to testify in the trial of a former CIA agent charged with leaking classified information to him.
In February, the New England First Amendment Coalition presented Risen with the Stephen Hamblett Award for his staunch defense of the First Amendment. The award is named after the late publisher of the Providence Journal.
“The choice is get out of the business — give up everything I believe in — or go to jail,” Risen said, according to a Boston Globe account. “They’ve backed me into a corner.”
The Scrum podcast parses the Muzzles. Subscribe on iTunes
The Muzzle Awards are intended to single out the dramatic and the petty, the epic and the absurd. The First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech and of the press. Yet as these examples show, the battle to maintain those freedoms must be fought every day.
Launched in 1998, the Muzzles’ home was the late, great Boston Phoenix, which ceased publication in 2013. This is the second year they have been hosted by WGBH News.
A RECENT DEVELOPMENT: Before we get to this year’s winners, a blast from Muzzles past: In 1999 we awarded a Muzzle to two Massachusetts legislators, Susan Fargo and Paul Demakis, for pushing a buffer zone to keep protesters at a distance from abortion clinics. Fifteen years later, the US Supreme Court agreed, ruling that such buffer zones are an unconstitutional abridgment of the First Amendment. The Court outlined several less intrusive, constitutionally permissible alternatives to protect women, and we hope the state legislature will act quickly.
The envelopes, please:
The 2014 Campus Muzzle Awards
Government censorship is scary enough. But when friends of liberty and advocates of free speech stop to consider the growing trend toward intellectual intolerance prevalent among a staggering number of colleges and universities, they should be quaking in their boots.
Campus censorship is particularly dangerous since it risks teaching students, who represent the next generation preparing to assume power and guide our nation, that all of those nice words about liberty and freedom contained in the First Amendment are simply red-white-and-blue bunting: there for the sake of appearance but of no real consequence.
Until the past few years, most campus censorship was the product of administrative overreach. More recently, there has been an increase in examples of censorship by faculty members. But most disturbing of late has been the proliferation of instances of students seeking to censor campus speakers or other students.
What the current on-campus picture tells us is that the forces of censorship out there in the real world, combined with the ever-powerful tides of political correctness that have been washing over our college campuses since the mid-1980s, are taking a punishing toll.
As my co-author Alan Charles Kors and I wrote in the Introduction to our 1998 book, "The Shadow University: The Betrayal of Liberty on America’s Campuses":
It is vital that citizens understand the deeper crisis of our colleges and universities. Contrary to the expectation of most applicants, colleges and universities are not freer than the society at large. Indeed, they are less free, and that diminution is continuing apace. In a nation whose future depends upon an education in freedom, colleges and universities are teaching the values of censorship, self-censorship, and self-righteous abuse of power.
What follows are only the most egregious examples of on-campus narrow-mindedness and intolerance.
Dan Kennedy is an associate professor of journalism at Northeastern University and a panelist on WGBH News’s Beat the Press. He has been compiling the Muzzle Awards since their debut in 1998. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Kennedy blogs at Media Nation and is the author, most recently, of "The Wired City: Reimagining Journalism and Civic Life in the Post-Newspaper Age".
Veteran trial and appellate lawyer Harvey Silverglate is a long-time civil liberties activist. Silverglate is, along with Alan Charles Kors, the co-author of "The Shadow University: The Betrayal of Liberty of America's Campuses." Two of Silverglate's research assistants, Daniel Schneider and Samantha Miller, assisted in compiling the Campus Muzzles. Schneider and Miller, says Silverglate, "are much closer to their college years than I am to mine."