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Speaking of Pussy Riot

by Paul Rapp on August 23, 2012

Unless you’ve been sequestered under a boulder somewhere, or watch Fox “News” 24/7, you know that the members of the Russian grrrl band Pussy Riot were sentenced to two years in a Rooskie slammer for flash-performing an anti-Vladmir Putin song in a Moscow cathedral. The Russian Orthodox Church has “forgiven” Pussy Riot for whatever they did that was so wrong, but the government steamrolled the predictably spineless court anyway.

Everybody’s pooh-poohing Vladmir Putin (the surly ex-spy chump-ass punk, whose soul George W. Bush claimed to look into, and who placates his manhood issues by posing shirtless, pretending to be some kind of martial arts expert, and hunting, Dick Cheney-like, at “game farms” where the “help” brings pre-ordered farm-raised “wild animals” over to where the hunter is hanging out and lets the hunter shoot ‘em) for his barbaric transgression of the freedom of speech. And sure, Putin deserves it. But, really, things are better here only by degree, and not that many degrees. The First Amendment’s guarantee of the freedom of speech is a delicate thing, and most people will happily throw it overboard when somebody they don’t like says something they don’t like. It can happen here. It does happen here.

The Berkshire Eagle recently sat mute when a local blogger was ordered by a local judge not to write anything about a politician’s daughter who may or may not have gotten preferential treatment after a hit-and-run. The local blogger is often extremely critical of the Berkshire Eagle, kind of like how I am being right now. The dunderheaded ruling, as legitimate a rape of the First Amendment as you’ll ever see, was reported nationally on free-speech blogs, but all was quiet on the Pittsfield front. It was only after an appellate court reversed the ruling (while covering the lower-court judge’s ass by telling the blogger he was really, really close to crossing some “line,” undefined and ominous) that the beleaguered “journalists” at the ever-shrinking Berkshire Eagle wrote begrudgingly that the reversal was probably correct but warned about the dangers (again undefined) of those uncleansed and untethered bloggers who “can invite court actions that might shake the First Amendment.”

Bloggers who “shake the First Amendment”? That one made me do a Danny Thomas coffee spit-take across the breakfast nook. Makes one wonder what the Berkshire Eagle’s understanding of the First Amendment actually is. A couple of years ago it wrote, for some reason, an editorial critical of some little company in Idaho, or some damn place, that was buying DVDs of popular movies, editing out the naughty bits, and renting the sanitized movies to its mouth-breathing evangelical customers. The Eagle thought this was some horrible violation of the First Amendment, when it was just a private company tending to its customers’ pathetic needs. No, Einstein, it would instead be a violation of the First Amendment if the government barred the company from editing the movies it had bought. The First Amendment protects the people from the government, not the people from themselves. Duh.

More recently, the Berkshire Eagle branded the defeat of the speech-killing and corporate-control-ceding SOPA/PIPA bills as some hideous organized plot by the very scary Big Internet Companies and the “information wants to be free crowd” to continue their pillaging of everything that makes this country great. Like, presumably, the Berkshire Eagle. It read like the MPAA’s talking points on steroids, and it was factually wrong, insipid and, frankly, embarrassing.

Then, just last week, it was a rant about violent movies. Sigh. What year is this?

Newspapers used to be the vanguard, the line of defense against any incursions to the freedom of speech. Or at least they pretended to be. They printed stuff they weren’t supposed to, they challenged authority and corporate power, they called out politicians who lied. Newspapers had our back. No more.

Now, newspapers dutifully and uncritically cover Julian Assange’s trial, his extradition, his asylum, all while forgetting to tell us that the cat liberated tons of information, information that wasn’t harmful, but that was embarrassing to governments around the world. Information, in other words, that had no business being classified. Newspapers report uncritically each political candidate’s statements, and then report the claims from one candidate that the other is lying, then report a couple of political operatives’ sound bytes . . . then on to the next story, leaving us to do the fact-checking on our own. Or maybe they report what some fact-checking website says. Because facts are, like, who’s to say? Truthiness rules. Newspapers can’t provide critical analysis anymore (unless it’s from syndicated “pundits”) because declaring one side is right, even when that side is unquestionably, absolutely, empirically right, will lead to accusations of bias, and we just can’t have accusations of bias, even if they’re total bullshit, can we? People might believe we’re biased and not like us. Maybe some will even cancel their subscriptions and go get their news from . . . from the Internet! Or Fox! So we’ll just keep our heads down here in the newsroom. It’s every man for himself. Ignorance is strength.

Getting back to the Pussy Riot thing, one great aspect of it, as my friend Bert pointed out, is that it forces every newscaster on your teevee to say “Pussy Riot” over and over and over. And that’s a beautiful thing.

Paul Rapp is a Western Massachusetts IP lawyer who tries to be a good American every day and who, by the time you read this, will have some Internets in his house for the first time in two months. You can reach him through paulrapp.com.