Saturday, August 1, 2009

On The Freedom of Speech, was "Russian Ambassador Stigniy . . . ."

Michael Kuznetsov commented further on an element from my post, "Russian Ambassador Stigniy on some of our subjects...":


Now a few words about the freedom of speech.
Ambassador Stegniy said: "Still, you have to remember that freedom of the press is not only a right, it is a profession that also imposes a type of obligation."
And you, Lawrence, exclaim: "What on earth does he mean by that? It is either free or it isn't."
The Ambassador means a simple and evident (for us Russians) thing:
The freedom of speech must not harm the people's security, it must not jeopardize their lives.
For example, when, during the anti-terrorist operation in the Moscow Nord-Ost Theater in October 2002, the TV showed live (!) all the manoeuvres of the anti-terror forces outside the premises of the Theater, which TV reportages were watched by the terrorists having got 800 hostages inside, it was not freedom of speech, it was sheer high treason.

As far as I can understand, your American free TV does not show particulars of, say, the Iraq war, which may jeopardize the lives of your Marines. Am I right?

This is what the Ambassador calls "obligation" in this context.

As to the tiny marginal group of "dissidents" in the present-day Russia, I can assure you that they enjoy the right of free speech in full measure.
Even excessively.

For instance, one notorious "writer", whose odious name I do not want even to mention here out of aversion, does host an hour's weekly TV show on one of the main-stream all-Russia's TV channels (Kultura) in the prime time.

What dirty lies and insinuations he pours on Putin and Medvedev every Thursday I cannot repeat. It is most scornful!

Every Thursday. Regularly.
In the prime time!

And what is most remarkable is that the said Kultura all-Russia's TV channel is being state-sponsored!
Imagine only!

COMMENT (by Lawrence):

This is a difficult subject. While believing in the Freedom of Speech and the Freedom of the Press, I regret some of the purposes to which such freedom is put. Perhaps those journalists who were embedded with the Marines in Iraq reported responsibly to their editors, that is, in such a way that they did not give away Marine Corps plans or tactics. However, I would be very much surprised if some in the American media, had they the information of the embedded Media, wouldn't have published that information. The safest means of keeping the American media from telling military secrets is to keep the secrets from them.

One of the books I'm reading is Retribution, the Battle for Japan, 1944-45 by Max Hastings. In it Hastings tells of a governmental official briefing the press and divulging that American submariners weren't afraid of Japanese destroyers because they set their depth charges to explode before they reached the depth that the American submarines dove to. The press published the information. Word got back to the Japanese and the Japanese corrected their error. Hastings doesn't give us the name of the American official, of the various elements of the press who published this information, or the number of American subs that were sunk as a consequence, but I would wager that the punishment for this mistake was very light. Probably nothing happened to the people of the press who published it. As to the American official, whoever he was, he may have received a reprimand, and at worst a loss of his job, but I doubt that anything more serious happened to him.

We can't do much about official stupidity, but the elements of the Media should have known that they were going to kill Americans by printing the information about Japanese depth charges. And while I hate it that we have such unprincipled people, I don't know what we can do about it without sacrificing some of our freedoms. The Chinese and perhaps the Russians feel that such freedoms come at too high a price. Perhaps if we were in more desperate straits I might want to apply that opinion to the US as well, but in a real sense we can afford it. In fact we think the alternative, to allow government to arrest and penalize such people as the official who spoke about the depth chargers and the press who published the information too high.

Who is wise enough to establish the line in the sand and say on this side penalties will be applied, but in the other no penalties? Who do we trust to be that wise? Here in the US we don't trust our government to be that wise. If someone behaves reprehensibly then we may cause him to be fired, bring a law suit against him or write a series of article or a book about him such that popular opinion becomes his penalty. I think here of Ward Churchill, an outspoken Anti-American professor from the University of Colorado. After the bombing of the Twin Towers on 9-11 he described those who died as "Little Eichmans" who deserved to be killed. There was a great hue and cry against him in some parts of the press. After this Churchill lost his job. He brought a law suit against the University trying to get his job back, but his lawsuit failed:,0,6565327.story

I abhor Ward Churchill and agree with the decision to fire him from the University of Colorado, but notice Churchill's comment at the end of the article: "Some people have told him there are consequences to free speech. They don't understand the concept, he said: 'If there are consequences, it's not free.' Ironically it contains Stigniy's and Michael's belief that there should be "consequences to free speech," and Ward Churchill's comment, and mine I must admit, that if there are consequences it is not free. But I hasten to distance myself from Churchill. I don't believe there should be governmental consequences in the sense I imagined Stigniy to be using the term – that of being arrested and punished by the government. But I have read about what Churchill said. I have listened to him speak and I believe the University was well within its rights to fire him. Surely freedom of speech doesn't extend to being able to violate the rules of the place that you work.

No doubt Churchill will attempt to send his complaint all the way to the Supreme Court. Let us hope that the addition of Sotomeyer doesn't bend that court in Churchill's direction. Exonerating Churchill would embody consequences far worse than his imagined loss of free speech. The consequences of exonerating Churchill would mean that we would be legalizing calumny and slander. Who can defend himself against a false accusation in court if all false accusations have been declared by the Supreme Court to be legal?


I have glossed over some details in the above. As the article explains, "University officials concluded that free-speech protections precluded firing him for the essay. But complaints about his academic work also surfaced. After three committees concluded that he had committed plagiarism, fabrication and research misconduct in writings on American Indian history, he was fired."

To be more precise, the actual "consequences" of Churchill's actions were that University officials, as a result of the furor over his article, took a hard look at his background, record, qualifications and actions and found the failures that were listed as justification for his firing. A jury found that Churchill was wronged to the extent that the University's real reason for the firing was as Churchill maintained, his article, but awarded him only $1 and didn't insist that he be given his job back.

In short, we here in the US don't do "consequences" very well.

1 comment:

Michael Kuznetsov said...

I can only say that frequently it's a pleasure to communicate with a wise man like you, Lawrence.