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Partisan propaganda operative Andrew Breitbart is promoting a video filmed on a college campus purporting to "catch" students in hypocrisy because they are willing to sign a petition to "ban" Conservative talk hosts Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly yet still say they support free speech or the First Amendment. Well duh.
shows students being approached and told "we have a petition going around to ban people like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh from the radio". The students are shown signing on as they denounce the right wing hosts on camera. But the young videographers from "ExposingLeftists.com" seem to misunderstand what Freedom of Speech means, as well as basic journalistic clarity and objectivity. To wit:
1. What kind of ban is it? The term "ban" is not defined, leaving signers with no understanding of what the petition will be used for. Is this a voluntary 'ban' at the local radio station, or is this seeking to pass formal legislation that would ban the hosts through some government authority?
The videographers did not think this through. Passersby would likely assume it was an appeal to a station to voluntarily stop syndicating biased hosts because so many people protested. One portion shows the petitioner saying "we are trying to get these people off the air", portraying the petition as a grassroots effort to exercise free speech and populist outrage.
2. Cherrypicking footage: the video does not tally how many students agreed and declined, the video shows only those who agreed. In this sense, it backfired by showing how many average people have a visceral disgust for the right wing talkers. But it failed in terms of representing the "truth", or actual number and diversity of respondents during shooting.
3. Lying. One clip shows the fake petitioner mentioning one host's "anti-Cesar Chavez" comments, and another tells a woman Glenn Beck is "kind of hateful", showing how they were editorializing to get people to hate the right wing hosts, if they did not already. As people are signing, they are repeatedly asked "you believe in free speech, right?". It's pretty clear the respondents think the petitioner is referring to "free speech" as a citizens' right to sign petitions just like this one. Nowhere do the video pranksters mention government agencies, public funding or accountable officials doing the banning.
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This form of gonzo activism was ushered in by James O'Keefe
, claiming to be following in the footsteps of pioneering undercover journalists playing a role for a story. What O'Keefe does differently, however is that he pretends to be a criminal, a racist, or an otherwise unethical dirty dealer, ensnares others and then exposes his own "accomplices" publicly using deceptive editing, a form of media "entrapment".
4. The graphic superimposed at the end poses the question "How can these students "support" the freedom of speech while simultaneously wanting to ban conservatives from radio and TV?"
This shows these Breitbart prote'ge's do not understand that constitutional protection of free speech only relates to government intervention. Free speech can be voluntarily "banned" by networks, by parents, by private schools, employers, by sponsors, stations, retail stores, syndicators or whoever the hell feels like it. Firing a talk show host in itself is free speech, as valid and legal as any other form of free speech.
If a mother doesn't let a child listen to radio propaganda, that is an acceptable, legal, voluntary "ban". If my boss at the office prohibits it, or a privately funded college bans it, it's neither illegal nor wrong. In fact, many parents, educators and clergy consider radio propaganda noise pollution, harmful to the critical and creative thinking
skills students need most today.
Even worse, the videographers go on to (clumsily) say: "The freedom of speech is vital to maintaining a healthy, prosperous republic. To take that right away from any American is not only wrong, it is dangerous".
Yes, they actually argue that free speech should not be taken away from "any American", meaning schoolteachers cannot tell students to quiet down in class, parents cannot tell their children to go to bed anymore, bosses can no longer stop their workers from making personal calls and NAMBLA can send postcards to your children. Yet, amazingly, they believe that signing a petition is somehow taking "rights" away from Rush Limbaugh.
As we well know, freedom of speech in America is tempered by laws that prevent false advertising, fraud, deception, harassment, littering and much more. Our free speech is trumped by public safety concerns and what's good for the public should be determined by the public - not radio hosts.
These videographers suggest students walking around on campus cannot sign a petition to express dislike of a broadcaster and then broadcast their images to foment undue hatred against them by fraudulently calling them "dangerous".
Worse and Worser
The text accompanying this video on Breitbart's site reads in full (including original spelling errors):
"The good news is they continue to profess their love of free speech and the first amendment as their signing the petition that would silence people they don't agree with!
Please don't confuse this petition with the Soros-funded group Media Matters for America. That group has their own speech-stifling campaign going. It's totally different than this one.
Also, to be fair, this video contains several edits. We know that there are some cracker-jack websites on the left and the "right" who hold the TRUTH up as their highest standard. Surely they will discover that some of the students who were approached DIDN'T sign the petition. And, you know, that will change EVERYTHING."
Exactly how one "silences" another is not defined here as government or non-government censorship, so we cannot tell whether this falls under a constitutional freedom of speech protection or simple personal preference.
To properly "gotcha" these students, the fabrication should have invented a call to a governmental body
banning Limbaugh and Hannity, such as a Congressional resolution, an FCC complaint
, a state or community college radio station or some other taxpayer-funded institution. Otherwise the students are simply telling a guy with a clipboard how they feel about Beck, Limbaugh and the others.
Then we see the tacit admission that the video was deceptively edited, with acknowledgment that some students were approached but did not sign the petition and this will be duly discovered. They even predicted they would be called out on this. For all we know, we could be seeing a handful of respondents cherrypicked from of hundreds who refused. Who knows?
Just below this admission, Breitbart includes reader comments saying college students should be defunded by the government, calling for exactly that which the two young videographers incorrectly thought was "wrong" and "dangerous" - government activity meant to chill free speech. Insert rip-snorting laughter here.
In all, a superb example of Breitbart grooming an army of young videographers to use editing to try to make reality seem like the story they want to tell. If you have to put in a disclaimer admitting how showing the "TRUTH" detracts from your argument, maybe you should rethink the whole thing.
On the other hand, Breitbart may have seen how irresponsible these two young fellows were and plowed ahead, knowing the backlash against their hypocrisy, ignorance and illogic would nonetheless bring traffic to his site. Cha-ching.
Breitbart makes hay playing the straw man as the mean old left is trying to "ban" him, for example protesting his appearance on ABC TV on election night 2010. This ban was legal and voluntary, handed down by a network executive who was exercising his free speech. So was the NFL "banning" Rush Limbaugh after widespread outrage.
Breitbart must have recognized the wide public disapproval which resulted when his Shirley Sherrod edit-job was discovered
. Breitbart now seems to be purposely trying to confuse people into thinking Americans support unfair censorship, muddying the lines between government suppression and simple dislike.
What is truly "dangerous" however is a video meant to portray these college students as somehow doing something "wrong". This non-issue claims students want to take away Limbaugh and Hannity's rights, which ratchets up hatemongering. The vitriol, curses and threats all over the comments on Breitbart's blog confirm this.
If you disagree, please leave a comment below.
*UPDATE: One of the videographers reports via twitter an opposing view was edited out because the ratio of non-signers was "Maybe 30:1, If I had to guess".
Meanwhile, their website ExposingLeftists.com went from "free speech" commenting to "Log In Required" overnight as negative comments increased.
Most ominous among the lovely comments was one who called for the videographers to list publicly the names of those who signed, suggesting their personal information should be compromised after it was obtained under false pretenses! Who is "dangerous" and "wrong" now?