Benjamin, Aaronson, Edinger & Patanzo, P.A.

No “Free Speech” for you!

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution protects freedom of speech and expression, along with other cherished rights.  Yet, the protections of this Amendment by and large only extend to the government infringement or abridgement of these rights.  Non governmental entities have less concern in their ability to stifle expression, speech or even thought that they disapprove of. 

    Yet, for the last year and a half it has been non-governmental entities that have stepped to the forefront in an attempt to curtail freedom of speech, expression and by and large to protect political views.  These First Amendment curtailments become even scarier when they are analyzed and it is realized that the basis for these infringements on freedoms is in order to curry favor with government.  After all, what better way by the government to stifle freedom of speech than to have corporate cronies to do it for them. 

    Last year CBS pulled from its planned broadcasting a movie about Ronald Reagan.  Their complaint about the movie were not that it was inaccurate, but rather that it showed the former President in a less than flattering light.  Exactly why CBS did this has never been truly explained.  Was it the public outcry by the conservative right who disliked the movie before even seeing it or was it the fear of a totally Republican controlled government coming down on them?  Was it the fear that the reporters would no longer have the same access to the administration or simply was it a lack of integrity on CBS’s part?

    Whatever the reason, the fact was that a movie about Ronald Reagan and his good and bad was not shown.  Rather, we all were subjected to last month’s Disneyesque remake of the Reagan presidency that failed even to mention his lack of funding for AIDS research, his illegal support in backing of the Nicaraguan contras, his arms dealings with Iran, his support for Saddam Hussein, his cutting of social programs across the board in the United States, his tax breaks for the wealthy often disenfranchising the poor, even his lack of attentiveness to this country while he allowed others to run it for him. 

    Then there is the movie Fahrenheit 911, a Michael Moore production.  Although it won an award at the Canes Film Festival, Disney still refused to allow it to be shown and distributed.  Disney’s rational is that it was too political during a Presidential election year.  The movie purportedly points out relationships between the Bush family and the Saudi royal family.  It supposedly points out the fallacies in our going to war in Iraq.  It purportedly shows another side and another argument to Bush administration’s rational for its behavior. 

    Again, like CBS before it, Disney appears to be willing to stifle First Amendment expression and freedoms and the right for the people to know, for the sake of its corporate chumminess with the administration currently in power.  In fact, it was reported that Disney did not want to alienate the President as his brother is the Governor of the State of Florida where Disney has large landholdings and are seeking tax relief.  Well, truth, fairness, accuracy, and the other point of view were silenced and censored for that corporate buck. 

    Recently, Howard Stern has been taken off the air by seven different Clear Channel Stations across the country.  The rational by Clear Channel is that they are afraid that they will be fined too much by the FCC because of Stern’s language, antics and the general nature of his program.  Clear Channel may be correct.  By allowing Stern on the air they may be subjecting themselves to heavy fines.  However, by not airing Stern shows, they are stopping million of listeners from hearing the show that they wish to hear, and they are allowing the government to dictate what we hear and think.  Again, whether Clear Channel agrees with the FCC or is cowtowing to their threats, the bottom line is that Clear Channel has no desire to buck the government and would rather stifle expression.

    These are just three examples of corporate America’s attempt to stifle the expression of others and the ability of the American populous to enjoy that expression.  Since the First Amendment does not protect Howard Stern from Clear Channel, Michael Moore from Disney and the makers of the Ronald Reagan movie from CBS, these censorships are by and large legal.  It is because these censorships are by and large legal, that the concept gets so very scary. 

    With the government doling out billions of dollars in projects, tax breaks; with the government able to influence ratings by sending various members of the administration to different talk shows or not allowing them to go on certain talk shows; with the myriad ways the government has power and influence over corporate America, we are entering an era where the government does not need to stifle speech and expression or press.  Rather they have their minions in corporate America do it for them.

    We would like to say never before in the history of this country has there been such an unholy alliance.  Yet, the McCarthy era teaches us otherwise.  During that time period numerous writers, performers, producers, etc. were blacklisted by Hollywood due to their beliefs.  The government did not force these people to be blacklisted, but rather the fear of the McCarthy Commission and government run amuck caused them to do that reprehensible form of censorship.  With corporate America stifling and repressing movies such as the Reagan movie or Fahrenheit 911, or stations such as the Clear Channel deleting shows such as Howard Stern’s, with the common thread being the government’s disapproval of these messages, are we not sliding back into the McCarthy era?

    No, we may not be there yet, but if we do not realize that it is happening then we might just not realize when we get there.  It is time that Americans who believe in freedom of speech, press and expression voice their outrage at Clear Channel, CBS and Disney.  It is time that we Americans demand not only our government officials, but now our corporate executives to allow all speech and expression to be voiced, allow it to be vented in the market place of ideas, and allow the American people to hear all, to see all, and to make their judgments based upon all.

    On another note, the 9-11 commission has given back their report.  Something that was hidden away or glossed over in the last two and a half years came to life without much fanfare.  Apparently, your President and not necessarily ours, George W. Bush was told of the attack on the World Trade Center minutes after it occurred.  Instead of cancelling his appointments, instead of his jumping into immediate action, it is now shown that he continued with his photo-op at that grade school class as if nothing had occurred.  While men, women and even children were dying in the World Trade Towers, while firefighters and policemen were fighting to save others’ lives, while jets were scrambled in the air above Washington, D.C. and New York City, your President smiled for the cameras at a grade school. 

    The Administration and the press, for whatever reason, did a great job of making George W. Bush a hero on that fateful day,  Yet, it has now come to light that it was Vice President Cheney that issued shoot down orders of those passenger jets should they have approached the Capitol or the White House.  Apparently, George W. didn’t realize that all he needed to do was raise his hand and ask to be excused from that grade school class so that he could have actually taken part in possibly the most horrific day in American history.

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