Whose Free Speech?

A disturbing story that came to light last week, courtesy of Think Progress

Middle East analyst Flynt Leverett, who served under President Bush on the National Security Council and is now a fellow at the New America Foundation, revealed today that the White House has been blocking the publication of an op-ed he wrote for the New York Times. The column is critical of the administration’s refusal to engage Iran.

Leverett’s op-ed has already been cleared by the CIA, where he was a senior analyst. Leverett explained, “I’ve been doing this for three and a half years since leaving government, and I’ve never had to go to the White House to get clearance for something that I was publishing as long as the CIA said, ‘Yeah, you’re not putting classified information.’”

According to Leverett the op-ed was “all based on stuff that Secretary Powell, Secretary Rice, Deputy Secretary Armitage have talked about publicly. It’s been extensively reported in the media.” Leverett says the incident shows “just how low people like Elliot Abrams at the NSC [National Security Council] will stoop to try and limit the dissemination of arguments critical of the administration’s policy.”

In remarks to the New America Foundation, Leverett explained that the op-ed made a case for diplomatic engagement with Iran. He had submitted the op-ed to the CIA to verify that the piece had no classified information. The CIA cleared the op-ed without reservation. But the White House intervened, claiming there was classified information in the piece. Leverett says this was nothing but a bare-assed attempt to squelch debate on President Bush’s Iran policies.

Carol Giacomo of Reuters reported

Flynt Leverett, a Middle East expert who once worked for Bush’s National Security Council, advocates a “grand bargain,” offering Iran full diplomatic and economic relations and a security guarantee in return for forswearing nuclear weapons.

This was “the best of the available options for American policy,” Leverett, now with the New America Foundation, told a conference hosted by the CATO Institute thinktank. …

… Bush has resisted even the modest step of talking with Tehran about Iraq and has shown no signs of being prepared to consider what Leverett and other analysts call “a grand bargain.”

In a Voice of America report by Barry Wood, Leverett says the Bush Administration needs Iran’s cooperation if there’s to be progress in Iraq.

Former diplomat and Central Intelligence Agency analyst Flynt Leverett says the Bush administration finds itself in the awkward position of needing Iran’s help to bring stability to war-ravaged Iraq. “They (the Iranians) are very well positioned on the ground, right now, to defend their interests in Iraq without our help. We’ve put ourselves in a situation in Iraq where at this point we need them (the Iranians) more than they need us,” he said.

This is what the Bush Administration doesn’t want you to know. And if indeed the op-ed contained no classified material, it is censorship in the purest sense of the word.

Today some rightie bloggers are also up in arms over “a disturbing story for those of us who defend freedom of speech through our blogging,” quoting Captain Ed. Government interference with the right to blog? Not quite.

HostGator has suspended the Right Wing Howler for linking to and excerpting an “editorial” at IMAO, a well-known source of biting (and excellent) political satire. Vilmar’s offending web page has been cached by Google here.

The article in question calls for saving America by killing all Arab children; in other words, it’s one of IMAO’s lead-balloon attempts at wit. There’s no question that it’s a satire, however unfunny. [Update: Actually, there is a legitimate question on this point; see update below.] HostGator suspended the Right Wing Howler account after the Council on American-Islamic Relations complained; IMAO is still online.

I can empathize with Right Wing Howler’s frustration. I lost more than a year of work when Lycos Tripod destroyed the original Mahablog archives without prior notice. Since I didn’t owe them money and had been very careful not to violate Tripod rules — there was no obscenity; I had deleted most of the graphics to stay within byte parameters, etc. — I can only assume that someone had taken offense at the anti-Bush Administration content. Needless to say, I was very angry. Although I had saved a little of it elsewhere, it still frustrates me sometime that I have no record of what I blogged from July 2002 to August 2003 (when I moved Mahablog to a new web host).

So, yeah, it’s frustrating. But it’s not censorship. Tripod doesn’t have the power to keep me from expressing opinions; it just doesn’t want my opinions on their servers.

Further, CAIR says the one li’l satire wasn’t the only problem with Right Wing Howler.

Other entries on the site contain obscene and hate- filled attacks on Islam and Muslims, as well as support for violent actions. One entry states: “It’s bad enough some (expletive deleted) in Minnesota elect a Muslim to Congress but the people in Michigan might have done them one better…Start sticking (sic) up on guns and ammo. The war will start soon.”

Here’s the post quoted above, courtesy of Google cache. It is not satire. However, it is par for the course for a rightie blog. If CAIR tries to shut down every blog publishing anti-Muslim hate speech it’ll have to take on most of the Right Blogosphere. They might as well try to clear the sand off Miami Beach.

But the point is that HostGator and Tripod are not restricting free speech. They are not the government. Tripod is a wholly owned subsidiary of a North South Korean corporation. HostGator is a privately owned company. Neither is under any obligation to host or publish anybody’s rhetoric they don’t want to host or publish. HostGator’s Terms of Service statement clearly says

We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone. Any material that, in our judgment, is obscene or threatening is prohibited and will be removed from our servers with or without notice.

The flaming bigot of Right Wing Howler is free to set up shop at another host and resume spewing out pollution.

Flynt Leverett, on the other hand, is being censored by the government. Even if Leverett does find another venue for his opinion, he (and his publisher) could face serious repercussions from the feds. Do you see the distinction, righties? If so, do you care?

Update: Amanda argues that to call the IMAO piece a “satire” in the style of Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal, as Captain Ed did, is a slur of Jonathan Swift. She says,

The piece that’s being defended today is at lMAO, and it’s a “satirical” piece suggesting that the best way to handle terrorism is to kill all children of Muslims. Now, to make it very clear, the authors are right wing shills who support killing Muslims, at least under the guise of the Iraq War. This is critically important to understanding why the comparisons to Swift are asinine, besides just quality issues.

My reading — a casual reading, I admit — of the piece is that it is intended to make fun of people who are unconscious bigots. I base that opinion mostly on this bit —

Others object to this as genocide, but only a moron would do that. I’m not saying we should kill all Arabs; I’m just saying we should kill all their children. Think before you speak.

As I said, it’s a lead-balloon attempt at satire. I don’t think it gets anywhere close to being “Swiftian.” But the “Think before you speak” lick lifts the piece to the level of being almost clever. Or maybe that’s just me.

On the other hand, Pandagon commenter DivGuy writes,

As Amanda points out, in theory, this could be Swiftian satire.

Of course, satire always has a point. The point of A Modest Proposal was that the colonial treatment of the Irish was a moral abomination of such great extent that eating Irish babies would be a logical extension of the injustice.

If the IMAO piece is satire, it is one of the most cutting critiques of US policy to be posted to the web at any time, let alone by a wingnut site. The logic of a Swiftian satire of US policy would be, again, that the war was so horribly unjust that the US might at some point start killing Muslim children.

I agree; if it’s supposed to be a “swiftian” satire, as Captain Ed claims, that’s the only reasonable interpretation.

28 thoughts on “Whose Free Speech?

  1. I think in cases like this one has to defy the feds and go to print. The only way we get free speech back is to speak. Easier said than done, of course!

  2. So your angry that right-wing bloggers are making an issue over another blogger being shut down but not talking about some incident we never heard of? And, has anyone said that HostingGator doesn’t have the right to shutdown any site they want?

    Yes, these are two completely different cases, so much so I have no idea why you put them in the same post.

  3. so much so I have no idea why you put them in the same post.

    Obviously, the point is that righties have no clue what “free speech” actually is. If you are too stupid to see the point, you must be a rightie.

  4. HostGator attacked my personal and customers domains with phony ICANN complaints after I moved all of the domains to another service and dared to criticize HostGator’s lousy service, customer service, and servers at HostGator. They sent a cease and desist order to my new hosting company (see Chilling Effects Clearinghouse – HostGator Tries To Take A Big Bite). The owner of the company slandered me in hosting related forums, attempting to connect me to something called Jew Watch, and other domains that are hosted or have been hosted at HostGator. Bad company to deal with, especially when they extend the nightmare experienced for months after moving to another hosting company.

  5. Brian — yeah, my problem with Tripod occurred some time after I had moved my domain to another site, but since I lacked the technical ability to move the old content I maintained an account with Tripod just to keep the archives online. And the reason I moved to another host was that attempting to squeeze customer service out of Tripod was like trying to squeeze orange juice out of a rock.

    And not only did they close the account and dump the content without telling me, I never got a straight answer out of them why they did it. They said they had received “complaints,” but they wouldn’t tell me the nature of the complaints. But it’s my own fault for not keeping backup files of the archives.

  6. This confusion of free speech with a corporation’s right to choose not to publish something is common among righties. I have spoken with many righties who bristle at the concept of “political correctness”, and consider it a violation of their free speech rights despite the fact that there is no law that says you have to be politically correct. I remind them of this, but I usually get a gruff response to the effect that they should be “allowed” to say what they want. It’s actually very childish.

    Nonetheless, maha, sometimes I wonder if we’re headed in a dangerous direction — corporations may have been allowed too much power to control speech on their sites. After all, corporations all have an interest in promoting globalization and less restrictive labor laws. If all these corporations act in concert to quell certain kinds of anti-corporate speech, then the public interest has not been served.

    I agree that there is a difference here, and that the first ammendment does not cover the kind of actions these companies take — it is nonetheless a disturbing trend.

  7. What is lost on liberal readers is that the first amendment was only a failed practice attempt at amendment writing. It wasn’t until the second ammendment that they got it right. Subsequent amendments were only added to “pad” the bill of rights and make it look more substantial. An perfected version of the constitution would be limited to the amendment that counts.

  8. What struck me first of all was the tone of Maha’s script concerning RWH. Had this been a right wing site, and the “other side” had been at all leftish, the tone would have been absolute condemnation, not sympatheic disagreement.

    Refreshing. That’s why I read here.


  9. @ ff11 “What is lost on liberal readers… failed attempt … It wasn’t until the second ammendment that they got it right.” …

    Are you kidding me?

    1) What was “failed” about the first ammendment?
    2) Have you read the second? It is so poorly written with its hanging antecedent clause that we still can’t all agree if it applies to militias or individuals.
    3) They had to “pad” the list to make it look legit?!
    4) OK, I get it — it was a joke — sorry I didn’t get it. Who writes you stuff?

  10. This confusion of free speech with a corporation’s right to choose not to publish something is common among righties. I have spoken with many righties who bristle at the concept of “political correctness”, and consider it a violation of their free speech rights despite the fact that there is no law that says you have to be politically correct. I remind them of this, but I usually get a gruff response to the effect that they should be “allowed” to say what they want. It’s actually very childish.

    It goes even further than that. Witness the wingnut Republican talking point trolls who infest various liberal blogs, and:

    (a) whine about the intolerance of liberals when they’re taken to small pieces (because “tolerance” in their world apparently means being polite to pinheads who deliberately lie and insult you);

    (b) if they’re banned, disemvowelled, or warned about either of those, whine about their free speech rights on private property that an individual (who they’re usually attacking) has spend hundreds of hours to develop and maintain, when said wingnut could spend exactly zero dolloars for a blog of their own. Of course, they wouldn’t have the audience for their talking points that way, but they seem to confuse free riding for free speech.

  11. ff11’s post was a snark… and very clever.. It’s similar to the bumber sticker that say, My wife,yes..my dog, maybe..my gun, never.

  12. Joe and Paperwight — some time ago I read a blog post (Glenn Greenwald’s maybe; I’m not sure) that argued righties think “tolerance” means they have a right not to be disagreed with. Many of them claim to carry scars from encounters with PC Thought Police (these seem to be common on college campuses in particular) who (the righties say) interfered with their right to speak. But when you get the details it turns out that, most of the time, the rightie had plenty of opportunity to speak; he was just angry because the people he spoke to disagreed with his point of view and told him so vigorously

    I can’t tell you how many times I have deleted a comment that was nothing but a crude personal insult, and the commenter complained that I must be a fascist because I deleted his opinion. (To which I reply no, I am a capitalist. I believe in private property. I own this site, and I want you off my property. So scram.)

    Regarding corporations controlling web content — as long as nobody has a monopoly on web site hosting I don’t think that’s a problem. The net neutrality issue is critical, of course. If the government or the corporations can decide whose web sites get high-speed access and whose don’t, we’re screwed. But as long as anybody with the skill and the servers can start up a web hosting service and compete with other services on an equal playing field, I’m not too concerned.

    I guess it depends on whether you see web hosting services as services or as something like a utility.

  13. I don’t doubt that many righties think killing Muslim babies is a good idea, and so this is a sick kind of satire to me. I am certain they would get very excited if there were some sort of biological weapon that could be developed along these lines.

    Righties only complain about free speech when it affects them or their cause. They simply lack the ability to put themselves in another’s shoes much less think of a large system of diverse viewpoints, and the benefits that would accrue were most of these viewpoints protected by the First Amendment.

    It’s not too hard to host your own website, although most people don’t want the hassle. The rub is getting for/paying for the bandwidth to your home. I trust you are now taking regular backups of everything you write.

  14. I do have one question, maha. Did you mean to say that Tripod is a wholly-owned subsidiary of a South Korean corporation? I would be amazed if it’s owned by the North.

  15. Off topic: Just read an ABC report about Bush’s likely support for deploying more than 30,000 additional troops to Iraq. To paraphrase John Kerry: How do you ask 30,000 men and women to die for a lost cause, for a lie, for an illegal and immoral war.

    This man’s lack of compassion and humanity should be on the front pages of US press. He should be hounded every day with questions about how can he possibly continue to justify the war and the American deaths and wounded that it is causing.

  16. Actually, I believe Internet hosts/providers should be granted common carrier status with the requirement that they have no control whatsoever over content and can remove content only after it has been proven in a court of law (entirely at the government’s expense) to have been illegal.

    I don’t want corporations standing-in for the government in removing what they consider to be controversial (“offensive”) content. Bloggers do not have an unlimited number of options, and even if they do now, they won’t once the government and corporations know they can slip censorship by us simply by making corporations responsible for doing the censoring.

    Remember, the organizations who have been lying to the public in accord with what the administration wants them to say are corporations, not government bodies. The fact that government and corporate bodies have acted in concert to censor and distort information should not be lost on anyone. Moreover, there are legislators and telcos working right now to try to find ways to take the Internet out of our hands. Government censorship is certainly a thing to be feared, but if they can get the corporations to do it for them, it’s still censorship.

  17. Bush is going after dissenters that can do his ‘new’ plan (which will look a lot like the old plan, with more troops) .. i was saying.. dissenters do his new plan serious damage. The ISG will be dismissed as being a ‘liberal’ plan, despite a few Republicans allowed as window dressing. However, Leverette sounds like a disillusioned conservative with credentials. So he will get a gag – even a temporary one – so Bush can try to take center stage and try to paint the picture (image is everything) of a great leader fighting RADICAL ISLAM & the great threat of LIBERALISM at the same time! If you are not a terrorist or a liberal, you MUST support HIM!. Snarking from Republicans flocks that picture up like paintballers in an art gallery. As I said before, it’s a good time for Dems to make nice with angry, disillusioned Republicans.

  18. Avedon — I’d agree with what you say if it were prohibitively difficult for someone to either set up a hosting service or his own web connections, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. And the nature of the Internet is such that there are no national or geographic boundaries to which service one might use. But, again, all this rests on maintaining net neutrality. Again, if net neutrality is eliminated, we’re screwed.

    I think if a privately owned company in particular chooses not to allow porn sites or the Ku Klux Klan to use its servers, that choice should be respected. Otherwise it’s just another kind of government interference in private concerns.

  19. What is funny is that while using Classified to cover incompetence they DOD sent out on the web thier counterterrorism manuel. Seriously. It was on Hufpo. check it out. They put up classified info for the terrorists but, classify things that were never suppose to be. Go figure.

  20. charles v — thank you. I’d checked wayback before, of course, but I did find a couple of fragments I’m not sure I had before. Most of it is still lost, though.

  21. but the “think before you speak” lick lifts the piece to the level of being almost clever. or maybe that’s just me.

    that’s just you, maha.

    granted, it tries to be satire. but it gets nowheres near “almost” clever.

  22. Pingback: The Mahablog » Censored

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