Subject: [Fwd: NYTimes.com Article: In Patriotic Time, Dissent Is Muted]
Date: Fri, 28 Sep 2001 10:38:40 -0400 (EDT)
This article from NYTimes.com
has been sent to you by email@example.com.
Bernie, this is the sort of thing that makes me sad and then angry.
It's a scary time to live in. - Love Nan
In Patriotic Time, Dissent Is Muted
September 28, 2001
By BILL CARTER and FELICITY BARRINGER
The surge of national pride that has swept the country
after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 has sparked the
beginnings of a new, more difficult debate over the balance
among national security, free speech and patriotism.
In the most highly publicized case, a nationally televised
talk show host was shunned by many of his advertisers and
criticized by the White House spokesman for making what
some considered an unpatriotic remark about American
But the debate over whether it is proper to speak in ways
that seem to contradict the popular theme of national unity
has been played out on smaller stages as well.
A college professor in the Southwest has been threatened
with disciplinary action for comments he made about the
World Trade Center disaster, and at least two small-town
journalists have lost their jobs after criticizing the
A program of the works of a German composer was canceled by
a New York music program after he made comments that
suggested the destruction of the World Trade Center might
be considered "the greatest work of art imaginable for the
Floyd Abrams, a first amendment specialist with the
Manhattan law firm of Cahill Gordon & Reindel, said the
United States often debates issues like patriotism and free
speech in times of crisis.
"Hard times for the first amendment tend to come at very
hard times for the country," Mr. Abrams said. "When we feel
threatened, when we feel at peril, the First Amendment or
First Amendment values are sometimes subordinated to other
One of the most visible examples of this burgeoning debate
involved a scuffle between the White House and Bill Maher,
host of the late-night talk show "Politically Incorrect."
Last week, Mr. Maher said that the hijackers were not
cowards but that it was cowardly for the United States to
launch cruise missiles on targets thousands of miles away.
Some of his main advertisers abruptly ended their
sponsorship of the program, which is designed to be
controversial. He later apologized for the remarks.
On Wednesday, Ari Fleischer, the White House press
secretary, denounced Mr. Maher, saying of news
organizations, and all Americans, that in times like these
"people have to watch what they say and watch what they
When the White House later released the official transcript
of Mr. Fleischer's briefing, the portion of his comments
urging people to "watch what they say" was not included.
When that sparked yet another round of discussion over Mr.
Fleischer's comments, Anne Womack, an assistant to Mr.
Fleischer, said yesterday that the transcript did vary from
the remarks Mr. Fleischer made. She called it "a
Mr. Fleischer had earlier noted the President's criticism
of Representative John Cooksey, Republican of Louisiana,
for remarks that were considered disparaging to Arabs. Mr.
Fleischer said last night that his suggestion that people
"watch what they say" referred to both Mr. Maher and Mr.
Karlheinz Stockhausen, the German composer, apologized for
the remarks he made in Hamburg following the attacks,
saying, "Not for one moment have I thought or felt the way
my words are now being interpreted in the press."
The Eastman School of Music's Ossia Ensemble canceled a
planned performance of Mr. Stockhausen's work "Stimmung,"
scheduled for Nov. 7 at the Cooper Union.
Community reaction was swift and furious when the newspaper
columnists in Texas City, Tex., and Grants Pass, Ore.,
criticized the president's actions the day of the attacks.
Tom Gutting, the columnist for The Texas City Sun, wrote
that the president was "flying around the country like a
scared child, seeking refuge in his mother's bed after
having a nightmare."
The paper received scores of letters and phone calls. Les
Daughtry Jr., the publisher of The Sun, later apologized on
the front page saying, the column had made him sick. "The
opinion piece which I refer to was not appropriate to
publish during this time our country and our leaders find
themselves in." Mr. Gutting lost his job.
The news director of KOMU, a commercial station run by
faculty and students at the University of Missouri, ordered
that no flags be worn on camera, leading a member of the
state legislature to suggest that body look into the
In Oregon, Dan Guthrie, 61, said that on Monday he was
called into the office of Dennis Mack, publisher of The
Daily Courier in Grants Pass, and fired for a column
criticizing the president, saying he "skedaddled" after the
Mr. Mack said in a telephone interview of the offending
column, "we felt it turned into a personal attack as
opposed to expanding the concept of the president being on
the front line."
In a more subtle reaction to a break with the unified
front, correspondents for newspapers and television
networks said administration officials stopped returning
their phone calls for a time after they expressed
skepticism about the White House assertion that Air Force
One had been threatened by terrorists. That story was
challenged in several news accounts this week and the White
House abruptly stopped talking about it.
The Bush administration's sensitivity about coverage of the
crisis was also on view this week when the State Department
spokesman, Richard Boucher, criticized the Voice of America
for defying State's wishes and broadcasting a report based
on its interview with Mullah Mohammad Omar, the reclusive
leader of Afghanistan's ruling Taliban militia.
In a press conference Wednesday, Mr. Boucher said, "I'm not
writing their news stories for them. I'm just - I think,
considering the fact that U.S. taxpayers pay for this,
considering the fact that this is the Voice of America, we
don't think that the head of the Taliban belongs on this
Lucy Dalglish, the executive director of the Reporters
Committee for Freedom of the Press, said: "The fact that
the rest of society and the media are being supersensitive
right now doesn't bother me too much. I think that's just a
human reaction. I've been a lot less sarcastic and flippant
in the last two weeks when I talk to anyone. That's
probably a unifying thing." Across the country, Americans
were torn in their feeling of whether traditional support
for freedom of speech should be undercut by the need to
support the government in times of national crisis.
"I don't think it's a time for criticism in the way we've
criticized Bush or presidents before him," said Jennifer
Ricciardi, 28, a worker for a garden service company in
Chicago. "If it's constructive criticism, that is what we
need. We do need people asking are these the right
decisions to make and what are the consequences."
Darin Peters, a 33-year old business analyst for Qwest
Communications (news/quote) in Denver said: `If I saw
something was messed up, I'd still say something. I fully
support the President though."
Mr. Peters, who was wearing a small American flag pin on
his lapel while he was waiting for his bus, said he
believed people should speak freely. `It's difficult for
anyone to have freedom and liberty and be secure at the
same time," he said.
Margaret Whiteside, a volunteer for a project called
Literary Chicago said: "We've taken the road of over
political correctness, and it's because we are a sensitive
nation right now. But we've taken it to an extreme. We've
ripped on every president before him, and that's changed
because of a real sensitivity to what has happened. But I
don't think it'll last."
Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company