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Ruth Marcus Reveals Another Journalistic Value

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Emma Sullivan

Yesterday, The New York Times" Roger Cohen displayed a core value of American political journalism -- love of government secrecy -- as he applauded President Obama for conducting what he described as numerous covert, lawless wars without a shred of transparency, democratic debate or accountability.

Today, The Washington Post"s Ruth Marcus reveals another (related) leading journalistic value -- extreme deference to those in political power -- with a column denouncing Emma Sullivan, the 18-year-old high school student in Kansas who committed the crime of saying something disrespectful about the Hon. Sam Brownback, her state's Governor.

Sullivan attended a school-sponsored event at which Gov. Brownback spoke, and during it, tweeted to her 60 followers: "Just made mean comments at gov brownback and told him he sucked, in person. #heblowsalot." Sullivan did not in fact say anything to Brownback, but merely expressed this sentiment on her Twitter feed.

Brownback's staff monitors Twitter for references to their boss, saw Sullivan's tweet, and then creepily complained about it to school authorities. The school's principal demanded that Sullivan apologize to Brownback, but she steadfastly refused (backed by her mother, who said: "I raised my kids to be independent, to be strong, to be free thinkers. If she wants to tweet her opinion about Governor Brownback, I say for her to go for it and I stand totally behind her"). After the story turned Sullivan into a mini-hero (her Twitter following exploded from 60 to more than 15,000), it was Brownback who was forced to issue a statement saying: "My staff overreacted to this tweet, and for that I apologize."

Needless to say, Marcus finds Sullivan's conduct to be terribly upsetting and wrong. First, the journalist questions whether Sullivan, as a student, even has a Constitutional right to write what she did ("Sullivan has a First Amendment right to express her views -- although not unlimited"); it's always inspiring when journalists become the lead advocates for legal limits on political speech. But then Marcus gets to her real point: it is wrong to speak so ill of our nation's honorable leaders:

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"Emma Sullivan, you're lucky you're not my daughter. . . .If you were my daughter, you'd be writing that letter apologizing to Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback for the smart alecky, potty-mouthed tweet you wrote after meeting with him on a school field trip. . . ."

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For the past 10 years, I was a litigator in NYC specializing in First Amendment challenges, civil rights cases, and corporate and securities fraud matters. I am the author of the New York Times Best-Selling book, How Would A Patriot (more...)

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It goes all the way down the line. These little br... by Paul Repstock on Wednesday, Nov 30, 2011 at 10:59:43 AM