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Reason.tv at Sundance: Shouting Fire!—First Amendment Attorney Martin Garbus on Free Speech Under Obama

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Martin Garbus' client list spans from Nelson Mandela to Don Imus. He defended comedian Lenny Bruce against obscenity charges and argued for neo-Nazis' right to march in the predominantly Jewish town of Skokie, Illiniois.

Garbus is featured in the new documentary Shouting Fire: Stories from the Edge of Free Speech. The film is directed by his daughter Liz Garbus, and screened at the Sundance Film Festival.

Reason.tv's Ted Balaker caught up with Martin Garbus at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.

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  1. What did I learn from the three minutes I wasted on this empty interview? That free speech is threatened by the Right, who are trying to control the debate on college campuses (that’ll be the day) and that Obama, like Kennedy, represents the “best and the brightest”.

  2. Don Imus. That’s why I no longer am a Rutgers fan. The way the Scarlet Knights womens basketball team lynched Imus was truly pathetic.

    Rutgers is in New Brunswick, New Jersey, so you know these women have been hearing the words “nappy” and “ho” for at least as many years as they’ve been on the team. And some on the roster are from Brooklyn and the Bronx. The BRONX! And they were offended by what Imus said? Give me a break!!!

    Vivian Stringer should have been fired and or jailed for milking the PC teat the way she did. A man — speaking freely — lost his job because of her.

  3. Elwood: Illinois Nazi’s

    Jake: I hate Illinois Nazi’s

  4. OK, so free speech is primarily threatened from the right? Ever heard of the Fairness Doctrine? And campus speech codes are usually used to force political correctness, not right wing views on students. The Bush administration was no proponent of free speech, but I see just as much free speech restrictions coming from the left as I do from the right. The only difference is that we had a right wing president the past 8 years so it is a bit more obvious.

  5. Free speech may be threatened by the right, but it seems to me that the people slapping parental warning stickers on cd’s/movie ratings/Political correctness comes overwhelmingly from the left.

  6. Free speech may be threatened by the right, but it seems to me that the people slapping parental warning stickers on cd’s/movie ratings/Political correctness comes overwhelmingly from the left.

    Much as I think they are stupid, no sticker has ever prevented me from buying the music, movie, or game that I want.

  7. ‘A man — speaking freely — lost his job because of her.’

    If you’re referring to Don Imus getting fired for calling some basketball players “nappy headed hos,” I am not aware of any government involvement in that decision. If I’m wrong, then set me straight. If it was a private decision to fire him, it was simply a vigorous civil society policing proper speech and behavior without govt involvement. That sort of thing reduces the excuse for govt censorship.

  8. Always with the negative waves, Moriarty, always with the negative waves.

  9. Much as I think they are stupid, no sticker has ever prevented me from buying the music, movie, or game that I want.

    And yet in the 80’s, liberals screamed, hopping mad about parental warning stickers.

  10. Free speech threatened by the right? Trying to control debate on college campuses? Heck, the right is trying just to get a voice on the college campuses.

  11. Free speech threatened by the right? Trying to control debate on college campuses? Heck, the right is trying just to get a voice on the college campuses.

    The right was humming right along on the campus I attended. If I may ask, what college did/do you go to that is so oppressive?

  12. “The right was humming right along on the campus I attended. If I may ask, what college did/do you go to that is so oppressive?”

    For me, at UC Berkeley, anything that wasn’t leftist PC bullshit was simply not tolerated by the professors, the campus newspaper, or any university sponsored student groups.

    When I was a senior, a couple of the football players went out one evening and started assaulting people just for shits and giggles. One poor student was beaten so badly that his skull was fractured and he was in a coma. The UC Police Department found the primary suspect and arrested him. Obviously it was a major news story for the campus community, and the Daily Californian published the picture of the arrested football player on the front page along with the print article. In response to the publishing of a photo of a black man in conjunction with a news article of a violent crime he committed, the editor of the Daily Californian was labeled racist. Several student groups went to the major distribution points of the paper and stole several thousand copies of the newspaper containing the article so it could not be read by the campus community. Several professors, especially from the humanities department, demanded an apology from the newspaper. They got one.

  13. For me, at UC Berkeley, anything that wasn’t leftist PC bullshit was simply not tolerated by the professors, the campus newspaper, or any university sponsored student groups.

    In my personal experience, “professors didn’t tolerate my rightist beliefs” generally translates as “they required that I justify the things I blurt out in class with evidence and logic”. Unless they actually mark you down for your beliefs (and not an inability to effectively articulate and defend them), there’s no oppression. But that’s just my personal experience (both of being a conservative in liberal professors’ classrooms, and listening to other conservatives whine about it). I’m sure actual grade discrimination also genuinely occurs, occasionally.

    That newspaper thing is fucked up, though. Sounds a lot like Berkeley, too. However, usually to get a reaction that strong there is something else in play. Was it the normal practice of the paper to detail assaults with a front-page picture of the alleged assailant?

  14. This guy is a leftist masquerading as a libertarian. I can spot them a mile away.

  15. The right is such a threat to free speech, we better regulate what they say.

  16. This guy is a leftist masquerading as a libertarian. I can spot them a mile away.

    Yeah, wow, he masqueraded so well he has done more for free speech liberty than any of us will do in a lifetime.

    Now *that’s* a disguise.

  17. I got the same sad anti-intellectual vibe watching this as I did when Reason interviewed Craig Newmark (of Craigslist), another guy seems uncomfortable with his “leftist” beliefs, so in order to appear independent he slipstreams small amounts of libertarian thought into his verbage so that he can “sound” like a free thinker.

    Another sycophant who instead of being agnostic on the issues, is instead, a true believer of the State and its “virtues.”

  18. Meh. Free speech is under assault from righty and lefty authoritarians both.

    For my money, the biggest threats to free speech come from squishy liberal laws like the “hostile workplace” doctrine and (more indirectly) “hate crimes”, not to mention campus speech codes. I have a hard time coming up with any social conservative laws that actually penalize speech. Any examples?

  19. The biggest threat to free speech is the government spying on Americans? What? Government spying is awful, but what does it have to do with free speech? Maybe he means spying on people whose speech the government doesn’t like?

    I think I’m missing something.

  20. I think I’m missing something.

    Google “chilling effect”.

  21. Any examples?

    The late, great Global Gag Rule.

  22. Mad Max,

    Yes it’s true that the government was not directly involved in Imus’ firing, but firings such as his are usually motivated by fear of a lawsuit, which no one wants. That can be blamed on government.

  23. That can be blamed on government.

    That makes literally no sense. How can a private suit be *the government’s* fault?

  24. Awesome. Randall shows us that any mention of Imus’ firing will always bring out members of the “why can they call themselves nigger, but I can’t?” crowd.

    roguepatriot:

    Imus’ firing was motivated by fear of losing money from the advertisers such as AMEX that were fleeing his show.

  25. What does the Bush Administration “going after oil” have to do with free speech?

    Reminds me of the lefties in college who argued that nuclear power infringed free speech. Seriously.

  26. “Was it the normal practice of the paper to detail assaults with a front-page picture of the alleged assailant?”

    I would say generally not, except in the case of scholarship athletes, which the assailant happened to be. The campus is very divided that way. If you are an athlete or sports fan, you go to “Cal”, but if you are a regular student or on the faculty, it is referred to as “Berkeley”. It is pretty much two separate schools occupying the same space, and they don’t get along very well. But I assure you that if it had been a white football player, the picture would have been published all the same.

    “However, usually to get a reaction that strong there is something else in play.”

    The student groups were notorious for overreacting to everything while I was there, and probably still behave the same way now. It is practically encouraged by the administration. The campus groups involved in the newspaper theft openly admitted to as much, but none of the students involved were ever disciplined or put on student probation even though it was clearly a violation of the Student Code of Conduct. To put it in perspective, I was admonished 3 different times at conduct hearings for drinking beer in my own residence when I was over the age of 21. I guess a wasp male drinking beer lawfully in off-campus housing is more of a crime to the UC administration than theft and the trampling of another’s right to free speech.

  27. The people for the American Way, established by Norman Lear, refused to cooperate in a non-partisan commemoration of the Bicentennial of the US Constitution in California 1987-1989- instead they issued a press release proclaiming an 880 page history text book- The Making fo America, written by Salt Lake City Police Chief W.Cleon Skousen, as a racist text book because it quoted a 1932 article written by a Pulitzer prize winning writer as using the word “pickaninny” when referring to black children (a term in the dictionary not considered pejorative). This act- to ban a text book given to various libraries by Black commissioners on the Bicentennial commission, was the best example of liberal book burning I have seen. It cost me $10 million in lost sponsorships to educate the public on the Constitution and Bill of Rights

  28. If I understand Martin correctly here … leftist, uber-PC campus speech codes are A-OK, but “righties” trying to discuss their point of view is an attack on free speech?

    I guess “free speech” now means “correct speech.” Correct, according to whom, Martin?

    USA … RIP.

  29. -The Fairness Doctrine is an actual, genuine example of government censorship. De facto if not de jure. Who is demanding an end to the airing of opinions they disagree with? The Left. Who is on the side of a diversity of opinion? The Right.

    -Campus speech codes are actual, genuine examples of government funded and operated institutions denying employees and students the right to free speech. Who instituted them and enforced them in a way to deny free speech? The Left. Who is fighting them to restore open discussion and freedom of research on campus? The Right.

    -Hate crimes laws prosecute white people almost exclusively for their constitutionally-protected views about non-whites. Note the ratio of crimes committed against whites to hate crimes prosecutions compared to the ratio of crimes committed by whites against non-whites to hate crimes prosecutions and tell me I’m exaggerating. Who backs thought crime laws? The Left. Who suggests that we prosecute muggers, vandals, rapists and murderers for their actual violations of the rights of others rather than why they committed those violations? The Right.

    How about global warming? “The time for debate is over”? “Scientific consensus”? Who is out there comparing those who argue the science one way to Holocaust-deniers and demanding that they be tried as “climate criminals”? The Left. Who is arguing for the freedom to debate the issue? The Right.

    The only case where the Right has backed something that could even be vaguely argued is a threat to speech is warning labels on music. The differences between the movement to put “Explicit Content” labels on music and the movements to shut down speech on the radio waves and college campuses are huge.

    First, the Right was not trying to use the government to stop expression, this was a voluntary measure by the recording industry. It was a voluntary association of free people asking a private industry to police themselves, not demanding that government intervene in their business. Libertarians should be backing this as loudly as possible.

    Second, the right was not trying to STOP expression at all, just to inform consumers about the content. When my kid buys a CD (assuming he isn’t just stealing the music online,) I want to know if he is listening to Frank Sinatra or 2 Live Crew. I’ll let him buy Frank Sinatra, but not audio porn and language he doesn’t need to hear just yet. Warning labels provide a quick, efficient way of alerting parents that the content on a CD may be a little raunchy for a child. The sales may be hurt, but a warning label doesn’t stop artists from recording raunchy songs. Informed consent is one of the keys to any free society. People need to know what they are buying, and buyers need to disclose information about what they are selling so that everybody involved can make an informed, free decision. Once again, Libertarians ought to be drooling about this, as it is a great way to avoid calls for the government to censor music.

    The Left is willing to use the power of the gun to crush free speech, in the form of government intervention. The Right uses the power of public relations, and the ability to shop elsewhere or buy something else.

    Who would you trust with your speech?

    http://Unrepentant-Smoker.Blogspot.com/

  30. I have been on this site devoted to “Reason” for ten minutes now and have seen precious little of it. Do the commentators here understand that there is a difference between strong and sound arguments and simply saying whatever you want with as many epithets as possible?

    Even the authors of the original articles seem unconcerned with the rules of reasoning. Perhaps you folks should change the name of this organization to “Fallacies Unbound” then readers could at least legitimately stop expecting rational support for the stated beliefs.

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