Aug 20, 2007

Newspaper calls for censoring all political blogs

With the Mike Bishop attempt at censoring a legitimate news source simply because they criticized him almost a month old, some in the mainstream and corporate media are just now getting around to putting their two cents in. Some get it, but apparently some do not understand the 1st Amendment.

As you know, back on Aug. 3 Senate Majority ‘leader” Mike Bishop, R- Rochester, blocked access to the liberal blog "Blogging for Michigan" and only BFM from Senate computers. Bishop and his staffers blamed, depending on who asked and the time of day, that BFM was banned for saying mean things about Republicans, or political staffers should not waste government time by reading political content or the assistant communications director for the Senate Democrats Communications was running the blog. It took four days of pressure from other liberal bloggers, one conservative blog and the mainstream media for him to relent.

Some mainstream media outlets, like the Traverse City Record Eagle, got it, and they called Bishop out on his classic example of censorship: the government trying to silence the press for criticizing him. Unfortunately, the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus does not get it.

In an editorial today, the conservative and corporate editorial board is parroting the rightwing topic talking point that it was a simply “mistake” by Bishop.

“The mistake made by Bishop, or whoever decided to block the site, was a basic one. Few would challenge an honest attempt to improve productivity at state offices. But this attempt was obviously aimed at blocking access to a particular site.”

Are they for real? A mistake? Then they would have no problem with the Senate blocking access to their web site. Productivity and wasting time has nothing to do with it. Senate staffers answer questions from constituents everyday on issues facing the public and current affairs, and they should have access to every available news source. It seems the only mistake Bishop made was underestimating the reaction and he thought people would not be paying attention. The “Bishop made a mistake” defense popped up on the show “Off the Record” this weekend when one of the righting bloggers on the show used it.

Unfortunately, it gets even worse, and the P & A is arguing for the government to censor all blogs. The only possible explanation I can come up with is they have a lack of respect for blogs, and they don’t consider them legitimate news sources.

“If Bishop wants to make and enforce rules about appropriate workplace behavior, that's fine. But his rules have to be content-neutral. In other words, either ban all political Web sites or none.”

I would like to hear the outcry from them if Bishop banned all newspaper web sites. You would hear from me, and I would go to the defense of the P & A. Any attempt to censor a newspaper is met with immediate response from the newspaper and the Michigan Press Association (MPA). It should be met with outrage.

Some four or five years ago the Howell City Council tried to pass an ordinance that would limit or move newspaper vending boxes from the downtown main four. There was a restaurant there with outdoor seating and numerous paper vending boxes, but most were from the free shopper and real estate publications, as well as all of the state’s major newspapers and the P & A. It was almost impossible for pedestrians to get by the bottleneck.

The newspaper's management immediately contacted Dawn Phillips Hertz, the MPA attorney, and they rightfully quickly put a stop to it because any restriction of getting the news to the public is a violation of the 1st Amendment. The city backed off of that position. Why? Because it made a mistake by demanding they be moved by a law instead of just asking.

That was an honest mistake. What Bishop did was not.


CEW said...

I don't think the Livingston Paper is advocating censorship.
The editorial also says:

"If Bishop wants to make and enforce rules about appropriate workplace behavior, that's fine. But his rules have to be content-neutral. In other words, either ban all political Web sites or none. If someone is spending too much time on the Web, then that's a performance issue unrelated to the content of the site."

I think the even bigger story that never quite happened was that a unilateral move on the part of Bishop's office censored the workplace reading of the SENATORS.

Kathy said...

It sounds like they also advocate banning access to newspapers. After all, they contain a lot of political content too.

Communications guru said...

Thanks for posting, Celeste, but I have to respectfully disagree. This is a classic example of censorship, and if you looked it up in the dictionary you might see Bishop’s picture. This is the government prohibiting and abridging the freedom of speech, political speech at that by the press. The newspaper is saying that’s OK if you censor all of them. That is the most irresponsible position I have ever heard.

Greg McClain said...

Being from Fort Wayne, Indiana and passing by your area often, it does not surprise me what local political leaders and mainstream media whores try pulling over our heads.
But, keep the good work up and maybe someday the wool will get pulled over their heads instead.

Anonymous said...

The real issue: Does an employer have any right to limit what his or her employees do on company time?

I know we are talking about government workers, but why is there any difference here?

My biggest criticism with Bishop's office is the ignorance of limiting senate staff from tracking any relevant blog. It is ignorant just like it would be ignorant to "outlaw" the reading of any specific newspaper while at the office. If there is something to be learned, why would you ban it? Why not demand that every senate staffer post to blogs using their name and disclosing their office affiliation? There is no reason they could not track exactly which computer posted an anonymous comment and reprimand that employee. Disclosure would also ensure transparency and allow the public to see the motives of various offices and officials.

But, to think your boss, no matter who it is or what you do, cannot limit your right to run your mouth while you are on the clock is silly.

Say I am an employee of a private company. I don't like a co-worker. I run my mouth, or post to a blog trashing a fellow employee's actions at the company. If my boss thinks I am hurting the company then he has every right to fire me. Even outside the confines of the office, I am free to say what I want, and my boss is free to pay me as long as he wants.

This is not a free speech issue. It was a dumb move but not because it limited an right.

Communications guru said...

Thanks for visiting and posting, Greg. It’s always nice to hear from a Hoosier. My wife was born in Indiana, but her parents, life-long Hoosiers, had the good sense to move to Michigan when she was just 3-years-old. Many of her relatives are still in Indiana, including an uncle in Fort Wayne.

Communications guru said...

Thank you for posting, Anonymous, but I could not disagree more: this is a classic case of censorship.

One of the first duties of the House and Senate staffers is to pick up the daily newspapers for their bosses in the morning as they come into work, so why is it OK for the government, Bishop, to censor just that one news source? Doesn’t it seem ironic that for a body that needs to know what’s going on in the state and in their districts we would censor just this one news source? The “Does an employer have any right to limit what his or her employees do on company time” makes no sense when the employer goes out of their way to bring in news sources.

The private employer analogy does not work either because Bishop is the government. I don’t think posting is an issue. That was never one of the reasons Bishop floated for blocking it. I’m sure you can fire an employee for saying or writing something bad about the company, but he can’t fire them for merely reading something. Plus, the Democratic staffers do not work for Bishop; they work for the Senate Minority Leader.

Bishop also blocked his fellow senators from accessing the site. Many of those Senators are guest posters on the blog just like they write guest columns for newspaper OP-ED pages. He blocked that too.

This was more than a “dumb move” it’s censorship.

Anonymous said...

Anon here again. The issue was posting. Bishop's office was blocking inside information going to the blog, much in the way Bush promised to fire the leaker in the Plame case. They were trying to plug a whole, which they felt was derailing negotiations. The press release which announced the restoration of access to BFM even said the goal was to end interaction with blogs. I maintain they should never have limited reading of blogs, or posting to blogs, but simply required contributions or posts to be signed by name and listing the office of the staffer.

And, I still ask, why couldn't Bishop direct his staff to not read a particular newpaper in the office if he feels it is unworthy of resources? It might be dumb, but it would not be illegal.

Chet said...

I'm with CEW here. The real issue is that Bishop's staff prevented Senators from exercising discretion.

Of course, both sides engage in this practice all the time when they have control over the majority, but I believe Bishop and the Senate should stand above that as a matter of tactics so that when reform in the House is proposed it has more moral weight.

On the other hand, there was a large element of honest mistake to Bishop's actions, but his staff blew it when they explained it.

The editorial here didn't editorialize in favor of Bishop - suggested an either/or choice without picking which (either ban all or none). They also got the law absolutely correct -- "content neutrality" is the first test of the law.

The correct solution here would have been for Senate staff to make it clear to Senate employees expectations of conduct on the clock and to individually identify specific violations and deal with them individually.

CEW said...

Was the issue:

a)censorship of political opposition
b)ham-handedly responding to inappropriate workplace behavior of subordinates
c)unilateral restriction of Senators' access to information
d)a stupid move
e)an honest mistake
f)knee-jerk,over-reaction to healthy political banter

Communications guru said...

Anon, there was no inside information going out of the Senate computers. Someone on Bishop’s staff suspected the BFM founder, Wizardkitten, was the assistant communications director for Senate Democratic Communications. Not true. But even if it was true, so what? Her job is to send press releases to news sources and help the Senators communicate their message. Bush never fired the leaker in the Plam case, BTW.

The issue has never been posting, unless you consider Democratic senators who are posting there, which is their right and part of their job. This was an obvious attempt to stop that.

You are wrong. If Bishop directed his staff not to read “a particular newspaper in the office” then he is censoring that newspaper. He should ban them all, but that will severely restrict them in their ability to do their jobs. Plus, he may do that for his staff, but he did it for all the Senators staff and even the senators.

Communications guru said...

Yes, “the real issue is that Bishop's staff prevented Senators from exercising discretion,” and that is called censorship. It’s not a mistake, it’s not a misstep and it’s not about workplace productivity. It’s a classic case of the government trying to silence a critic. And quit trying to blame Bishop’s staff for his censorship attempt.

No, “both sides do engage in this practice all the time.”

What “honest mistake what that?” Getting caught?

Yes, the editorial advocated censoring all political blogs. It advocated blocking and censoring all or none. The correct is response is none should be censored, anymore than any newspaper should be blocked and censored.

Communications guru said...

Celeste, the answer is A, but I will give you partial credit for C, D and F.