If you need reminding that America is not quite so bad as other countries, look no further than this story about a New York Times reporter being kicked out of Brazil for criticizing President Luiz In?cio Lula da Silva.
The article, written by Larry Rohter, the Rio de Janeiro bureau chief, and published on Sunday, reported publicly expressed concerns about Mr. da Silva's drinking habits. It said, "Some of his countrymen have begun wondering if their president's predilection for strong drink is affecting his performance in office."
The Brazilian president, making the classic mistake of confusing his person with his office, called the article "a malicious assault on the institution of the presidency."
In the U.S., thank goodness, we base our expulsion of reporters on random enforcement of nonsensical old immigration regulations, not content. The latest such case happened last week at LAX, when British journalist Elena Lappin, who has traveled to the States often without ever being hassled (her husband is American, and she lived here from 1989-93), was stopped, searched, cuffed, driven to a downtown Los Angeles detention center, and sent back home, all for the sin of admitting she was a journalist (as opposed to a tourist, in which case she would have been let right on through). From Lappin's account:
from the moment the decision to deport me was made, I was treated like a dangerous criminal without any basic rights. I was groped and searched. I was fingerprinted; mug shots were taken. Then, with my hands handcuffed behind my back ? a particularly painful and demeaning method ? I was taken through the airport to a van. Walking handcuffed among free LAX passengers was an indescribably strange experience; more than anything, it brought home the Kafkaesque fact that I was now a prisoner.
Later, I was to spend the night in a "detention tank" behind a thick glass wall, without a chair or bed. It contained only two steel benches, about 15 inches wide, a steel toilet and sink (all in full view of anyone passing by and of the camera observing all), a glaring neon light and a Big Brother-controlled television playing a shopping (!) channel all night. I found it hard to breathe in this human fish tank, yet knocking on the glass, repeatedly, brought no help. When a security officer finally walked by and I shouted through the door that I felt unwell, he wasn't interested.
Virginia Kice, spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, explained Lappin's handcuffing thusly:
"It's for their safety, for the safety of our officers and the safety of any other individuals who might be in the vehicle."
Too true. Because if history has taught us anything, it's that terrorists stupid enough to pose as easily verifiable journalists instead of just waltzing in on a tourist visa are a particularly grave threat to our safety?. Slate's Dahlia Lithwick has a good column on all of this, including some surprising personal testimony on the unique challenges of entering this country repeatedly as a non-citizen.