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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 4/22/16

Vexed by Vaxxed

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Rosenthal, meanwhile, makes a point of answering a question nobody asked her: "It wasn't our sponsors or donors that were threatening to pull out of the festival. It was our filmmakers." Later in the interview, DeNiro seems to second this. However, Penny Lane's open letter, the most publicized filmmaker intervention, makes no such threat. If she didn't, who did? I want--the world needs--to see the list of courageous filmmakers, who must be proud of their pro-free- but anti-dangerous-speech stance, and who threatened Robert DeNiro with pulling their films from his festival.

If we are even permitted to talk about such things.

By the way, Penny Lane & Co might defend their censoriousness at Tribeca by pointing out that it's a private festival, free to exercise its editorial judgement, and there is no issue of government censorship in that instance. True enough. I guess it would have been better if the artists, rather than Mayor Rudolph Giuliani had, in a momentous moment, had demanded the censoring of Chris Ofili's dung-painted Virgin Mary from the publicly-financed Brooklyn Museum of Art. In this case, it's "only" the ethico-political attitude toward "free (dangerous) speech" in the context that's in question (and to which, precisely, I object).

And I suppose it's not a First Amendment, only a free-speech issue when the Huffington Post pulls an article that had been published by anti-fracking activist Lance Simmens, which gave a dangerously positive take on Vaxxed. The article was one-fifth about the movie and four-fifths about climate change, fracking, glyphosate/Monanto, PCBs, and the BP oil spill--all discussed in the context of "the corruption of government regulatory agencies [and] the corruption of science and scientific method itself," and the nation's failure "to balance out the avarice of the private sector with a regulatory framework in the public sector." Simmens has published almost 200 articles over 8 years on Arianna's notoriously indiscriminate hodgepodge of a website, without interference. This one, however, was, I guess, not "free" but "dangerous" speech, and just had to be pulled. Perhaps Arianna was only responding to the petitions of her scores of unpaid columnists.

But it does become a First Amendment issue, when, following on Penny and the Round-Earthers' victory at Tribeca, the film they targeted is also pulled from the WorldFest Festival in Houston, which bills itself as "the oldest Independent Film & Video Festival in the World." This time, there's no tale about the revolt of the filmmakers. This time, the festival's organizer received "very threatening calls " from high Houston Government officials (the first and only time they have ever called in 49 years) ... Heavy handed censorship, to say the least" they both threatened severe action against the festival if we showed it, so it is out. Their actions would have cost us more than $100,000 in grants".There are some very powerful forces against this project." As the local news reported it: "Ffor the first time in nearly half a century an elected government leader [Mayor Sylvester Turner] has intervened to prevent a scheduled film from being screened." Truly a momentous and significant moment in American film history.

University of Houston Law Professor Peter Linzer says: "The Mayor has no business censoring films at a film festival," and, as the local news paraphrases him: "unlike private individuals, who have the prerogative to pick and choose what speech they present, the law holds government officials to a much higher standard when it comes to censorship." Linzer, who served as a litigant for the ACLU on flag-burning case, also makes the point that: "Speech is not benign. People can get hurt. People can get injured by speech, but it's the best thing we've got."

But what does Penny say?

Ubiquitous private and public censorship, and nary a word of objection from the liberal cultural elite. It takes very powerful force indeed to demand this kind of instant, absolute compliance from Tribeca to Houston. And it's not the union of safe-speech artists--not Penny's crew, but Jane's--which wields it.

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Former college professor, native and denizen of New York City. Blogging at, from a left-socialist perspective. Also publishing on Counterpunch, The Greanville Post, Medium, Dandelion Salad, and other sites around the net. (more...)

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