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New Cloaks for the CIA

New Cloaks for the CIA
November 11, 1981

On September 23 the House of Repre­sentatives voted 354 to 56 to enact a piece of legislation that perilously abridges free­dom of speech and of the press: On Octo­ber 6 the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 17–0 in favor of a similar bill making final passage a certainty. What follows is the history of this extraordinary piece of legislation, purportedly designed to pro­tect the identities of intelligence agents but perhaps marking a fatal turning point in the history of liberty in America. 

The story begins with former Central Intelligence Agency officer Philip Agee. But although Agee’s personal odyssey is by now all too familiar, the complex series of actions he initiated had repercussions far different from anything he intended — and repercussions that even today are little­-known. 

In London, on October 3, 1974, Agee, Notre Dame ’56, made a public announce­ment more quixotic than most. He in­tended, he said, to wage unremitting private war against the Agency which had employed him for 11 1/2 years. According to Agee, who entered the CIA a rabid anti-­Communist and who left it in 1968 a rabid pro-Communist, the CIA’s unforgivable sin was its success in forestalling the worldwide triumph of revolutionary Marx­ism. Since that is just what the CIA claims, Agee’s opinions disturbed nobody at the Langley, Virginia, headquarters of the largest, busiest, and most inept “intelli­gence service” in the world. What did in­furiate the CIA was the strictly practical aspect of Agee’s little war. In order to cripple the Agency, announced Agee, he intended to identify, and to train disciples to identify, “CIA officers and agents,” and by doing so to “drive them out of the countries where they are operating.”

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A self-important sort of person (re­sembling in this respect the Agency he abhors), Agee did not divulge the CIA trade secret on which his prospective war depended — the almost comical truth that the identities of undercover CIA officers are not a secret, have never been a secret, and are not even meant to be a secret. These officers work at U.S. embassies un­der the thin guise of State Department employees and their “cover” is as trans­parent as a plastic raincoat, beneath which they wear, metaphorically speaking, CIA T-shirts in order to make it easier for the natives to find them.

In a foreign capital you can identify the CIA crew at the embassy by asking anyone at the bar favored by newsmen and politic­os. The habitues can always give you the name of the CIA chief of station because he probably gives conferences — or even cocktail parties for that matter. Or you can ask an embassy janitor to point out Americans who all work in the same room and only talk to each other. If you travel in diplomatic circles, you don’t even have to ask who the CIA people at the embassy are, for, as one ex-CIA officer put it, “a favorite pastime of Foreign Service Officers and their wives was to point them out whenever the opportunity arose.” 

Even stay-at-homes can identify the CIA lads working under embassy cover with the help of various unclassified gov­ernment publications. If you want to know how it’s done, read “How to Spot a Spook” in the November 1974 issue of the eminently respectable Washington Monthly. One “indicator,” as the CIA calls it, is the fact that no CIA official at an embassy is allowed to be listed as a foreign service officer. This is because foreign serv­ice people, who have to take a stiff test to win that coveted title, refuse to let it be worn, unearned, by some ill-educated CIA clodhopper. So much for America’s famed clandestine service. 

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This great CIA trade secret would be something of a joke if the American people shared it. Most Americans do not, and because they do not, Congress, at this very moment, is exploiting that ignorance to carry out one of the deadliest assaults on First Amendment liberties ever attempted on Capitol Hill. The assault has been more than a year and a half in the making and the slow pace is readily understandable. Given a Constitution which states catego­rically that “Congress shall make no law… abridging freedom of speech or of the press,” passing such a law is not the work of a day. 

For a number of years, in fact, Agee’s little war against the CIA was scarcely noticed in Congress, although by the end of 1978 he and his handful of followers had published in one place or another the names of 1000 CIA officers working in U.S. embassies around the world. Con­gressional lethargy stemmed from many sources, but chiefly from the fact that we were still in the era of detente; that popu­lar support for the Cold War had broken down, and that the CIA itself was in ill­-repute. Thanks to Watergate’s endlessly ramified revelations, the Agency, by 1975, had almost lost the only “cover” it has ever really cared about — the 30-year-long pre­tense that the Central Intelligence Agency is in fact an “intelligence-gathering” service. Blaring headlines about a CIA-backed coup in Chile and shocking stories about CIA attempts to assassinate foreign rulers gave the American people a tantalizing glimpse of the long-hidden truth. The chief activity of the CIA is to intervene politically in the internal affairs of half the countries in the world. The CIA is little more, in fact, than an enormous bureau of incessant meddling, working constantly to prop up pro-American governments, how­ever inept or vile, and to subvert independ­ent-minded rulers, however popular or worthy. It is chiefly because the CIA’s embassy operatives are political manipu­lators, not spies, that their “cover” is of so little consequence. 

All such “covert action,” as it is called at Langley, is no secret to the Kremlin, which, interestingly enough, makes no ef­fort to impede it. Indeed, it is no secret to anyone in the world except the American people, whose knowledge of what their government does overseas constitutes the only danger to “national security” Ameri­ca’s rulers really fear.

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The real CIA is a secret of state, and by mid-1979, the time was ripe for shoving this secret back in the box. The political atmosphere was changing. Detente and Jimmy Carter were on their last legs. Suddenly Agee’s little war, a minor nuisance at most, took on interesting legislative possibilities. Agee himself was not especially useful. A law making it a crime for a former intelligence officer to publish the names of CIA officials, although often proposed in Congress, held few attractions either for the CIA or for men bent on putting the “cover” back on the Agency, namely the members of the House and Senate Intelli­gence committees. Such legislation would “get Agee,” as various legislators put it, but it had one quintessential drawback. It would leave the American press free to publish what it wanted about the doings of the CIA. 

Far more promising was an Agee-in­spired little magazine known as the Covert Action Information Bulletin. For one thing its three radical editors, Ellen Ray, Louis Wolf, and William Schaap, were private citizens. Secondly, their magazine is uncommonly easy to denounce. In addi­tion to articles about CIA meddling abroad, the Bulletin lists at the back of each issue the names and biographies of 25 or so CIA officials working at various U.S. embassies. The editors label this the “nam­ing names” section and the very sight of this gratuitous little directory can turn even liberal spirits livid. 

Just how the CIA and its Congressional allies were going to exploit the Bulletin first became public on an NBC network program, a news magazine called Prime Time Sunday, shown on July 8, 1979. Af­ter the Bulletin editors were shown trying to explain why they opposed the CIA’s covert action the interviewer turned to Admiral Stansfield Turner, then the CIA director. What did he think these Bulletin people were trying to do? “They are avowedly doing this in order to destroy the intelligence-collecting capability of our country.” What kind of people did he think they were? “Traitors.” “What do you think would happen to these people if they lived, say, in the Soviet Union?” After pondering the blessings of dictatorship, the good Admiral crisply replied: “They would be put in jail in nothing flat.” Shouldn’t we be able to do that here, asked the interviewer, who by this time sounded like a man convinced that America faced imminent ruin because of some insane omission in the U.S. Penal Code. Yes, we should, answered the CIA’s deputy director, Frank Carlucci, now deputy secretary of defense in the Reagan administration. “We’re in the process of drafting legisla­tion right now.” In order to get around “such problems as freedom of the press and the First Amendment,” said the depu­ty director, it would be “narrowly based, narrowly drawn legislation,” scarcely ap­plicable to anything save wantonly naming CIA names in publications avowedly de­voted to harming the Agency. 

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On October 17, 1979, Edward Boland, Massachusetts Democrat and the chair­man of the House Intelligence Committee introduced the CIA’s “narrowly drawn legislation” to the House, with his entire committee co-sponsoring it. Three months later, New York’s Democratic Senator Pa­trick Moynihan introduced identical legis­lation into the upper chamber with similar bipartisan support. What had won this enthusiastic backing was a bill distin­guished by the fact that nothing about it was narrow. Despite the talk about “nam­ing names,” it was only loosely linked to naming names. Despite the talk about pro­tecting CIA officials abroad, it was not limited to CIA officials abroad. 

Under the key provision of the bill, anybody could be prosecuted, convicted, and imprisoned for disclosing “any infor­mation,” including information that was already public, which directly or indirectly revealed the identity of any person in the world who had secretly been an “agent” or “source of operational assistance” to the CIA. This means thousands of CIA-bribed politicians and trade union officials; this encompasses the security police of dozens of countries; this includes kings, sheiks, presidents, party leaders, dictators, and juntas from one end of the third world to the other. A reporter who publishes a de­tailed account of some CIA-backed coup, or a diplomatic historian who traces the secret links between our government and the old Congo regime, could, using infor­mation already public, without naming a name, find himself subject to federal pros­ecution. If the government proved “intent to impair or impede the intelligence ac­tivities” of the United States, the prison doors would clang shut behind him.

This was not a so-called “names of agents” bill, as a spokesman for the Ameri­can Civil Liberties Union was soon to testi­fy. “We are talking about closing down substantial discussion about the foreign policy and intelligence activities of this country.” In making it a crime to publish public information, said Floyd Abrams, the most eminent First Amendment law­yer in the country, the bill’s backers were doing something “flatly and facially un­constitutional,” something “absolutely un­precedented and terribly dangerous.” They were putting into the hands of the federal government the liberty-destroying power to prosecute the press. Had such legislation existed in 1972, Americans would never have learned about the crimes of Richard Nixon; instead, it would have been a crime to reveal that the Watergate burglars had been agents of the CIA.

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The House Intelligence Committee held hearings on this extraordinary piece of legislation on January 30 and 31, 1980. The first witness was one of the most important men in the House, Jim Wright of Texas, the Democratic majority leader. His brief testimony in favor of the bill proved to be the epitome of the ex­traordinary fakery to come. Americans had become so critical of a futile war and a lawless president, so irked by revelations long overdue and by corruption too long hidden, said the majority leader, that “It has become chic in some circles to dis­parage and belittle the CIA.” This was cutting close to the national security bone. “To make the nation’s intelligence ap­paratus the object of scorn is damaging,” he went on. “It is bad because of the dele­terious effect that it exercises upon the morale of those who must perform this delicate, dangerous, and difficult task for the United States… they have lost their zest simply because they haven’t been able to feel that the public, that the United States appreciated their efforts or were behind them.”

Such was the majority leader’s testi­mony that in both the House and the Senate, CIA spokesmen and defenders would be left perfectly free to describe the Agency as, above all else, an “intelligence­-gathering apparatus” engaged in the dan­gerous craft of espionage, to describe CIA officers as top-secret spymasters pene­trating the designs of America’s ad­versaries, to describe their cover as a mat­ter of life and death.

Consider the testimony of Deputy Di­rector Carlucci, who bore the brunt of jus­tifying legislation which, looked at square­ly, would make it a crime for an American to tell a fellow citizen what the CIA takes no pains to conceal from the KGB. “I start this morning,” said Carlucci, “from the premise that our effort to collect informa­tion about the plans and intentions of our political adversaries cannot be effective in a climate that condones revelations of the means by which these efforts are con­ducted.” Given that “premise,” which sug­gests that lack of sympathy for the CIA is itself a menace to America’s safety, the deputy director then cited the damage done by “unauthorized disclosure of the identity of individuals employed or assist­ing in the foreign intelligence activities of the United States.” For one thing, “nearly all major foreign intelligence services with which we have liaison relationships have undertaken reviews of their relations with us.” What this portended was not as yet clear. For another thing, when CIA of­ficials have their identities revealed “some must be removed from their assignments at substantial cost,” which implies that most of them stay right on the job, “blown” cover and all. The damage that has been done, or could be done, or might be done to America’s fictive ability to discover “the plans and intentions of our political ad­versaries,” plus the “climate” condoning that damage, “constitutes,” concluded Carlucci, “a serious threat t0 our national security.” 

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CIA witnesses and committee members pointed out time and again that un­authorized disclosures jeopardize the lives of CIA officials and their families. Yet nobody asked a CIA witness why after five years and 2000 published names, no CIA official so named had demonstrably suf­fered harm because of it. The lawmakers didn’t ask because they already knew the answer: CIA people are so widely known that further identification makes re­markably little difference. The one named CIA official killed by terrorists was a CIA chief of station, Richard Welch. In Decem­ber 1975, he was gunned down in Athens outside his front door, not because his assassin had read his name in a several-­months-old American pamphlet but be­cause he had insisted, despite three warn­ings from Langley, in renting the home of the previous CIA chief of station in Athens. If terrorists really started attack­ing CIA officials abroad, what would be needed is not a law against the press but a new system of cover.

One after another, CIA witnesses testi­fied that unauthorized disclosure of CIA identities “crippled” America’s ability to learn the plans of its enemies, to “blunt their plots,” to “monitor their military ac­tivities.” Yet no member of either commit­tee asked the perfectly obvious question, which reduces such assertions to absurdi­ty: If identifying CIA officials is such a “serious threat to our national security,” why doesn’t the KGB do it? The legislators didn’t ask because the real CIA, the Agen­cy which props up and subverts fourth-­rate powers, has no convincing answer. That was demonstrated in August 1980, when the names-of-agents bill passed through the hostile purlieus of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Civil and Con­stitutional Rights. There the CIA’s legisla­tive counsel, Fred Hitz, finally had to con­front the KGB question. It reduced him to that curious combination of blather and self-pity which characterizes the CIA whenever it is put on the defensive. The counselor replied (if that is the word) that what “professional intelligence officers… did not sign up for is a situation where citizens from their own country in effect make the moral judgment themselves that the activity in which the intelligence of­ficer is engaged is improper…” At which point his questioner, Democrat John Seiberling of Ohio, impatiently cut Hitz short: “My question is not what they signed up for.”

Not only did the intelligence commit­tees ask no revealing questions, they utter­ly ignored the few witnesses who raised the questions themselves. One such witness was an ex-CIA man named John Stockwell, who had served in the Agency from 1964 until 1977. Unlike Agee, who turned against the Agency because he thought it stemmed the tide of “social­ism,” Stockwell had turned against it be­cause he thought it disgraced America. In the long written statement he submitted to the Senate Intelligence Committee, he noted the Agency’s “long and continuing record of arrogance, incompetence, cruel­ty, and irresponsible activities.” Covert in­terventions, in his own long experience, “had little if anything to do with United States’ national security.” What he had come to tell the committee, his statement continued, is that “the objective of this bill is clearly not to protect the safety of secret agents, as its proponents claim, because the CIA itself is flagrantly careless of the identities of its own agents.” The bill’s real objective, wrote Stockwell, is “to gain an important weapon for the CIA to use in silencing its critics.”

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Stockwell’s spoken testimony was brief but devastating. “I was a clandestine case officer for 12 ½ years. I lived under cover. I did CIA operations on four continents… I think it is fair to say that I know how cover functions.” The committee did not seem to realize, said Stockwell, that cover “is not intended to be, nor has anyone in CIA ever pretended that the 95 per cent of its officers are, in fact, safely and com­pletely covered when they go overseas… Everyone around them knows they are CIA.” What is more, it is often actually an “advantage” to be so known. “This was the first thing my first chief of station told me. He said: ‘Forget everything you learned in training about cover. You want people to know you are CIA so that they will come to you, they will report to you.’ ” Far from being “dangerous for CIA people to be known as CIA,” they often “played to” their CIA identities. 

Hard-won truth was at last confront­ing flimsy sham. What would the sham artists say? Senator Jake Garn, Utah Re­publican, was the first to reply. “Mr. Stockwell, it is a little bit difficult for me to handle this because I have such disgust for your activities… and your disloyalty to this country.” Stockwell’s answer was simple and eloquent. “I cannot let anyone challenge my loyalty to this country. I have been awarded medals. I have served in three wars for this country. I was 19 years in the Marine Corps Reserve. I am sorry, I cannot let you challenge my loyalty to this country. The CIA is not the United States of America.” Following Garn, Senator John Chafee, high-toned Rhode Island Re­publican, evaded Stockwell’s home truths somewhat more deftly. He insisted that what Stockwell had said about cover could not possibly be true because “What you are doing today is giving evidence that is quite contrary to the evidence by the head of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers, whom you just heard, that of Mr. Carlucci, that of station chiefs that we have met.” When Stockwell replied that the committee was getting the CIA’s “par­ty line,” Senator Chafee replied, in tones of shocked disbelief: “Is this a master plot?” Was Stockwell actually suggesting the ex­istence of “some kind of cabal”? Clearly anyone that hostile to the CIA, concluded Chafee, was a worthless witness with noth­ing to say “constructively” about the legis­lation in hand. 

So much for John Stockwell, and so much, too, for the 1980 hearings on what had come to be known as the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. Throughout the hearings, the bill’s proponents had argued that they were compelled to entrench upon freedom of the press because of the over­riding demands of national security. The truth was exactly the opposite. Exploiting the mystique of espionage, they pro­pounded a sham threat to national security in order to abridge our freedom to discuss the seamy side of American foreign policy. As Robert McClory of the House Intelli­gence Committee put it: “We are in a new age and we are plowing new ground.” 

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***

America’s venerable liberties, however, cannot be plowed under quite so readily. When the Senate committee hearing ended on June 25, the future of the bill was cloudy. Two ingredients of success were still missing. The first was genuine popular support, support strong enough to cow the press, which, for all its faults, does protect its freedom from the grosser forms of as­sault. The second missing element was a Justice Department assurance that the bill was constitutional, thereby providing balm to legislative consciences of the more tender variety. Unfortunately for the bill’s proponents, the department could not bring itself to agree that the bill’s chief provision, the one which made it a crime for the press to publish public information, was quite up to snuff constitutionally. It was hard for Justice Department lawyers to see how prohibiting the publication of information not even classified could pos­sibly be constitutional. As long as the Jus­tice Department refused to enter “the new age,” the bill’s proponents were leery of reporting it out of committee. 

Just when civil libertarians were begin­ning to breathe easily, however, a stunning event took place in Kingston, Jamaica, that gave momentum to identities legislation. On July 2, just eight days after Senate hearings had ended, Louis Wolf of the Covert Action Information Bulletin held a press conference in Kingston in which he supplied the names and addresses of 15 CIA officers working at the U.S. Embassy, including station chief Richard Kinsman. The main object of this exercise was to prove that the CIA was working for the conservative candidate for prime minister, Edward Seaga, against the socialist incumbent, Michael Manley, whom Seaga ac­cused of being a puppet of Fidel Castro and his CIA. Both accusations were proba­bly true. In any case, at around three o’clock on the morning of July 4, some unidentified gunmen sprayed .45 caliber bullets at the home of Kinsman, many of the bullets riddling the blank wall of his carport. Nobody was hurt; indeed Kinsman’s family was away on holiday. Kinsman himself did not call the police. Knowing a propaganda coup when he saw one, he called up the Daily Gleaner, the leading anti-Manley newspaper in King­ston, and on July 5 the story of the attack made front-page headlines from one end of the U.S. to the other. The next day CIA lobbyists hotly demanded to know why a bill designed to prevent just such an out­rage lay bottled up in congressional com­mittees. 

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The Justice Department suddenly saw the light. Reluctant Intelligence Commit­tee members hurried to get on the bandwagon. As one of Senator Chafee’s aides explained to me many months later, the Kinsman attack “established clearly the connection between naming names and terrorist attacks,” a connection which, he noted, “the Welch case” had unfortunately failed to make. Could anyone doubt now that naming names endangered the lives of CIA officials? Yes. Anyone, for instance, who notices how the failed, indeed markedly feeble, attack on Kinsman’s home was trumped up by its chief benefi­ciary, namely the CIA. The Agency, in fact, had what every detective looks for in de­termining a prime suspect, namely means, motive, and opportunity — not to mention a 30-year history of pulling off “dirty tricks” exactly like the Kinsman attack. 

Ready to “plow new ground,” the Jus­tice Department no longer doubted the constitutionality of a law prohibiting the press from publishing public information. The Department had one proviso, how­ever. The disclosure of “any information” that might identify a ‘”covert agent” of the United States would be a criminal act only if done “in the course of a pattern of activities intended to identify and expose covert agents.” The original bill’s propo­nents were entirely agreeable to this ap­parent narrowing. The House Intelligence Committee added an analogous condition, that the disclosure, to be criminal, must be made “in the course of an effort to identify and expose covert agents.” On July 25, the House Intelligence Committee unanimous­ly reported out its amended bill. On Au­gust 6, the Senate committee reported out its new version of the bill with only a single dissenting vote. 

Those who had hotly supported the un­amended bill were pleased to announce that the amended version accomplished everything they had wanted all along-to prohibit what the Senate committee’s re­port called “a conscious and pernicious effort to expose agents,” in short, Agee’s little war and nothing else. The amended law, said Kentucky Democrat Roman Mazzoli, was drawn up “so only the real fish we are going after — and that is the Covert Action Bulletin-type information — is netted.”

In fact the amended bill did nothing of the sort, as Don Edwards’s House Judi­ciary Subcommittee on Civil and Constitu­tional Rights made clear in mid-August hearings. The criminal disclosure still did not have to be a name — so much for “net­ting” the Bulletin‘s “naming names” sec­tion. The definition of a “covert agent” remained as vague and as broad as ever­ — so much for all the talk about protecting the lives of CIA officers. The bill still threw a protective blanket over the entire secret world of American foreign policy, the part the CIA conducts. The “pattern of ac­tivities” requirement proved under ques­tioning to be little more than window dressing. As Associate Deputy Attorney General Robert Keuch testified, the “pat­tern” did not mean “that you have to have a series of revelations” of names in order to prosecute. The government could prose­cute a writer, said Keuch, even if he never named a name in his life. Nothing had been changed at all.

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Although a campaign year recess and some knotty parliamentary tangles kept the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1980 from the floor of the 96th Congress, Deputy Director Carlucci had every reason to boast of the Agency’s legislative success at the sixth annual meeting of the Associa­tion of Former Intelligence Officers. “We’ve managed to pursue a very ag­gressive strategy on the Hill; that strategy has paid dividends.” Immediately rein­troduced in the 97th Congress, the legisla­tion is now moving smoothly toward even­tual passage, strengthened, if anything, by the stunning victory of Ronald Reagan, by Republican control of the Senate, and by what leaders of both parties regard as a popular mandate to restore the good old days of the Cold War.

The operative word is restoration. Therein lies the significance of identities legislation, the reason its promoters pre­tend it is narrow but drew it broad, why they asked no honest questions and swal­lowed so many lies. As Thomas Powers put it in The Man Who Kept the Secrets, “the history of the CIA is the secret history of the Cold War.” As long as Americans are free to write about, read about, and discuss the real CIA and the secret Cold War, the restoration of the old Cold War political system cannot be carried out.

For 30 years, our leaders have justified their Cold War policies by blatant appeals to fear, by raising false alarms, by detect­ing nonexistent “gaps,” by crying up “growing threats,” by endlessly depicting an America backed weakly against the wall. But what the covert activities of the CIA reveal is that America’s leaders, in secret, regard Russia as a markedly in­ferior power and have not seriously feared her since 1948. CIA activities reveal, too, what Americans at home cannot readily grasp, that their country is so ex­traordinarily rich and powerful that CIA twerps fresh out of college can make and break the careers of politicians twice their age and with five times their ability. Our leaders have also justified their Cold War policies by working up moral outrage over “Communist subversion” and “Soviet ex­pansionism,” but the covert actions of the CIA reveal that America is just as sub­versive as Russia, just as determined to expand its dominion, just as ruthless in the means it employs. 

In short, popular knowledge of the se­cret Cold War the CIA wages would deprive our leaders of fear and moralizing as propaganda props for their Cold War policies. Such knowledge would force them to do what they have not done for 30 years: attempt to explain to the American people just what relation actually exists between their foreign policy and our national in­terests — our just and legitimate interest in safeguarding the independence of the Re­public and the liberties of its people. In­stead, by means of the Intelligence Identi­ties Protection Act of 1981, they hope to abridge our liberties in order to safeguard their Cold War. ■

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A Chorus of Voices Defending Freedom of the Press

On Thursday, more than 300 newspapers across the country published editorials in protest of President Donald Trump’s characterization of the media as the “enemy of the people.” The Village Voice stands in solidarity with these newspapers and the #FreePress initiative:

Albuquerque Journal

Ames Tribune
Freedom of the press, our democracy, at risk under Trump

Anchorage Daily News

The Altamont Enterprise
Journalism needs a champion — you

The Athens News
In attacking journalists, Trump damages all Americans

Atlantic City Weekly
Joining in solidarity with the Boston Globe, others 

Athol Daily News
Trump’s media attacks are dangerous

Austin American-Statesman
Journalists are watchdog neighbors, not enemy of the people

The Baltimore Sun
News media won’t back down under pressure from president

Bangor Daily News
The media is the enemy only if you don’t want to know what your government is doing

The Berkshire Eagle
Trump’s assaults on press are assaults on democracy

The Bismarck Tribune
We aren’t the ‘enemy’ when covering news 

The Boston Globe
Journalists are not the enemy

Boise Weekly
No, we’re not your enemy. Never have been. Never will be

Bozeman Daily Chronicle
Journalists aren’t the enemy; we are you 

The Cape Cod Chronicle
Unmoored

Chicago Sun-Times
This newspaper is the ‘enemy’ of all that hurts ‘the people’

Chicago Tribune
Mr. President: We aren’t enemies of the people. We’re a check on government

The Chronicle-Express
We are not the enemy of the people

The Commons
Make no mistake: This attack on our free press — your free press — is deliberate and calculated

Chagrin Valley Today
Local news is real 

The Chronicle
The media are not the enemy 

The Columbian-Progress
The ultimate friend of the people

The Daily Free Press
Journalists are not the ‘enemy of the people,’ they are the people

The Dallas Morning News
We the people hold our elected officials accountable 

Daily Herald 
In midst of assaults, we must defend principles of First Amendment

Daily Hampshire Gazette
Journalists performing public service are not the enemy

Deadline Detroit 
We stand with our U.S. colleagues against ‘Fake News’ claims 

The Denver Post
Denver Post decries Trump’s attacks on journalists

Des Moines Register
Media are not the enemy of the people; a free press is critical to democracy

Detroit Free Press

Duluth News Tribune
Free press — our protection from tyranny

The Delaware County Daily Times
President Trump, we are not the enemy of the people

The Daily Item
Let’s Be Clear: We are not the enemy

El Diario
Defendemos la libertad de prensa

The Leader-Telegram
Phrases damaging for free press

The Elizabethtown Advocate
We need Freedom of the Press, not Freedom in name only

Ellwood City Ledger
Ledger joins nationwide call to action to defend attacks on journalists as ‘enemy of the American people’

Examiner Media
Newsprint tariffs and fake news mantra a threat to democracy

Falls City Journal
‘We are not the enemy, we are your peers, friends, and neighbors’ 

The Fayetteville Observer 
‘Fake news’ and all the president’s taunts

The Ferndale Enterprise
Way ahead of the curve

Forward
Why an independent press matters to American Jews

Fresno Bee
The Fresno Bee is not the enemy. We are Americans, and part of the Valley, like you

The Freeman Courier
‘Enemy of the people’ rhetoric damaging

The Gainsville Sun

The Grand Forks Herald
This is not fake news

Hartford Courant
The president wants you to think we’re the enemy. Here’s what we really do

Hays Free Press
We are the people

Henrico Citizen

Hillsboro Free Press
Discrediting media a dangerous plan

Hillsboro Tribune
The news isn’t “fake” just because you see things differently

Honolulu Star-Advertiser
Strong democracy needs a free press

Idyllwild Town Crier
Out Loud: Fake news, American institutions, and the presidency

The Journal Gazette

Journal Star
President Trump’s attacks on the press must stop

The Kansas City Star
President Trump, we’re not ‘enemies of the people.’ End your war on our free press

The Lakeville Journal
Perspective on truth, lies, respect, and hate

Manchester Journal
Press freedom is a Vermont value

Miami Herald
President Trump, we’re not ‘enemies of the people.’ End your war on our free press

Mercury News 
President Trump, we are not the nation’s enemy

The New York Times
A free press needs you 

New York Post
Hate the press all you want — we’ll keep reporting

The News & Observer

News and Tribune
We are defined by purpose, not the president

News Herald 
We are your defense

Omaha World-Herald 
Omaha World-Herald remains committed to our community and state

Orlando Sentinel and South Florida Sun Sentinel 
President Trump, the press isn’t the ‘enemy’ — it’s America’s watchdog

The Orange County Register
The president’s dangerous dubbing of media as America’s enemy

The Palm Beach Post

Panama City News Herald
We are your defense

The Post-Standard
Journalists are not the ‘enemy of the people’

The Plymouth Review
This dirty war against the press must end

The Providence Journal
Trump attacks the messenger

The Philadelphia Inquirer
Stop the war on a free press

Queens Courier and the Ridgewood Times
Stop attacking the press! Remember the First Amendment of our Constitution

Rapid City Journal

The Register-Mail 
We believe in power of good journalism

The Ripon Commonwealth Press
One thing worse than the ‘enemies of the American people’…

Real Change News
There has never been a more critical time to engage in free speech

San Antonio Express-News

The San Diego Union-Tribune
How we restore faith in journalism

The Sag Harbor Express
We are the people

The Santa Fe New Mexican

The Seward County Independent
Trump’s attacks on media unfair 

Sentinel of Gloucester County
Call for action to protect the freedom of the press

The Star News
Trump’s attacks on press go too far

The Star-Ledger

The Sun Chronicle
Sun Chronicle joins others in emphasizing importance of free press 

Swift County Monitor-News
Attacks on journalists will lead to violence

St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Stand in defense of the truth. Don’t let Trump label journalists as ‘the enemy’

The Star Democrat
Trump is the source, not subject, of fake news

Sun Sentinel
President Trump, the press isn’t the ‘enemy’ — it’s America’s watchdog 

The San Luis Obispo Tribune
We’re not your enemy. We’re journalists who cover the real news of SLO County

Society of Professional Journalists
The press isn’t ‘fake’

The Star News
Trump’s attacks on press go too far

The Star Democrat
Your local newspaper is your neighbor

The Swellesley Report
Is humble Wellesley news site an ‘Enemy of the People?’

Tampa Bay Times
Journalists are friends of democracy, not the enemy

The Telegraph

Toledo Blade
No more enemies

The Topeka Capital-Journal
Press isn’t ‘enemy of the people’

Tri-City Herald 
President Trump, we’re not ‘enemies of the people.’ End your war on our free press

Valdosta Daily Times

Valencia County News Bulletin
We are not the enemy; we are the people

Van Buren County Democrat
Friends like these

Whitman-Hanson Express
We stand for press freedom

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Federal Judge Says NYC’s Regulation Of The Press Will Go On Trial

A journalist’s lawsuit alleging that the NYPD’s regulation of the press violates the constitutional rights of a free press can go forward, a federal judge ruled on Monday. In rejecting the government’s motion to dismiss the suit, Judge J. Paul Oetken affirmed that the government cannot arbitrarily restrict journalists, and that the NYPD and the City of New York’s policies for revoking and suspending journalists’ press credentials may be be unconstitutional.

“Arbitrary restrictions on news-gatherers may run afoul of the First Amendment,” Judge Oetken wrote in rejecting the city’s motion to dismiss the case. The plaintiff, he said, “has carried his burden to allege a protected interest in his press credential.”

The lawsuit, brought by freelance photojournalist J.B. Nicholas, stems from an incident in October of 2015, when Nicholas was on assignment for the New York Daily News. A building under construction on 38th Street had partially collapsed, trapping two construction workers towards the rear of the building.

Nicholas (who – full disclosure – has written for the Voice) arrived on the scene with his press credentials. The dead body of one of the construction workers had already been retrieved. While Nicholas waited in a nearby store for the second worker to be retrieved, police rounded up other journalists and corralled them into a “press pen” down the block and out of sight of the action.

But while most of the official press was kept from covering the story, photographers from numerous government agencies and even ConEdison were operating freely inside the police cordon, Nicholas said. When the second construction worker was freed, the complaint states, Nicholas approached, and, without interfering with the emergency workers, photographed him being placed in the ambulance.

Nicholas says getting the shot, which he couldn’t have done from the police press-pen, was important, and not just because it’s his job. “Those photos tell an important story that New Yorkers need to see,” he told the Voice. “There’s a story about the deunionization of construction in New York. Most of these guys are immigrants, legal and not, working for probably $100 a day in cash, all to build multi-billion-dollar condos. And there’s a cost for that exploitation — there have been 31 construction workers killed on the job in the last two years. So if you lose that photo, the impact of that story, the cost that’s paid for all this, it gets lost. The picture might trigger some inquiry. Think of the picture of the Syrian kid on the beach.”

But the press officers for the NYPD weren’t happy with Nicholas getting the shot, which ultimately led the story in the Daily News. As a video Nicholas took during the episode shows, they immediately approached him, confiscated his press pass, and ejected him from the scene.

Nicholas said he wrote to the NYPD repeatedly to discuss the return of his press pass, but was rebuffed. Meanwhile, his career suffered. “To be a photojournalist in New York, you need to have a press pass,” he said. “Without it, you can’t cross police lines, which is the only way to get the shot, you can’t photograph in court.” Unable to perform the basic tasks of spot-news reporting, Nicholas saw his assignments dry up. In December of 2015 he filed his lawsuit against then-NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton. The suit alleges that police violated Nicholas’s constitutional rights to freedom of the press, speech, assembly, and intra-state movement, as well as his rights to equal protection under the law and substantive due process.

As Nicholas’s amended complaint explores in depth, the history of NYPD interference with journalists efforts to do their job is considerable, ranging from freezing out disliked reporters to the violent arrests of credentialed press at protests of the 2004 Republican National Convention to numerous arrests and obstructions of journalists during Occupy Wall Street in 2011 and 2012 to the assault and false arrest of a New York Times photographer documenting stop-and-frisks in the Bronx.

Nicholas has his own stories. He was arrested in 2014 as he was attempting to photograph NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Only after multiple witnesses told prosecutors that in fact it was Goodell’s bodyguard, a former police detective, who had run into Nicholas with his truck, choked him, punched him, and thrown him to the ground were the assault charges against Nicholas dropped. The year before, Nicholas was acquitted in case based on his taking photographs of paramedics in the subway.

FROM LEFT: Craig Ruttle, J.B. Nicholas, and Joe Marino testify at a City Council hearing on the freedom of the press last year.

Nicholas is acting as his own lawyer in the suit. At a hearing before Judge Oetken last May, he got the court to dig into just how the NYPD decides who can and can’t report in the city. Regulations state that if the NYPD tries to revoke a journalist’s credentials, they’re entitled to a hearing to challenge the revocation. “What do the hearings look like?” the Judge asked the city’s lawyer, Mark Zuckerman. “Are the hearings ever done?”

“I don’t have the answer to your question,” Zuckerman conceded. “I can’t tell your Honor conclusively whether it was done or not.”

What about how the police department decides when it’s going to suspend or revoke a journalist’s credentials, the judge asked. “Is there a written standard?”

“I’m not aware of any written standard,” Zuckerman answered. “There’s nothing in the rules about a written standard for what’s necessary to take a summary suspension.”

Zuckerman conceded that Nicholas was still entitled to a hearing, and a week later, Nicholas got one, presided over by DCPI’s commanding officer, Edward Mullen, and Lt. Eugene Whyte. Nicholas’s card had been revoked at the direct order of Steven Davis, the Deputy Commissioner for Public Information, who was on the scene that day, so Mullen and Whyte were effectively being asked to rule on an action of their boss. According to Nicholas, he wasn’t allowed to see any evidence against him and Whyte bullied the witnesses he called in his defense. Nonetheless, at a status hearing for his lawsuit a month later, Nicholas learned that he’d be getting his press credentials back.

Even so, Nicholas is determined to forge ahead with his lawsuit. “I did this for my colleagues. I did this for my city,” he told the Voice. “There’s an ongoing pattern of the NYPD keeping journalists away from breaking news scenes for no good reason.”

Efforts to control the press aren’t unique to New York, Nicholas says. They happen everywhere, including the White House.

Norman Siegel, a lawyer who has worked on numerous First Amendment cases and helped shape the current NYPD press credential policies, says the case goes to the heart of questions of press freedom. “The standard by which the NYPD pulls someone’s press pass or denies them renewal cannot be subjective, it has to be objective,” Siegel said. “If it’s subjective it invites discrimination based on the viewpoint or even personality of the journalist. We saw last Friday how freedom of the press can be abused, when [White House Press Secretary Sean] Spicer decided not to let certain media outlets in. Freedom of press is a cornerstone of our system. It’s being undermined not only by the Trump administration, and sometimes by the NYPD.”

The NYPD did not respond to a request for comment.

The case now moves into the discovery phase. Nicholas is still acting as his own lawyer – “It’s an exercise in personal empowerment, I hope to inspire others,” he says – which means that soon he will be personally deposing witnesses, including the the DCPI officers who revoked his credentials and former Commissioner Bratton.

“I’ve got a lot of questions,” he said. “Are there any records of how they handle press credentials, suspensions, revocations? Who keeps notes on this. Where are those notes? Let’s see the logs. How many journalists have been arrested?”

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A Shadowy Website Targets Student Protesters With ‘Classic McCarthyism’

This past July, Thomas DeAngelis discovered that a bizarre website had placed his name and photo next to claims that he was “whitewashing terrorist violence and calling for more.” The site lists where he goes to school and what he’s studied, includes a lengthy description of his political activity, and even links to his Facebook page and Twitter handle.

DeAngelis, 23, is a first year doctoral student in the Earth and Environmental Sciences program at the CUNY Graduate Center and a longtime activist with Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). The profile on his political activities was posted to CanaryMission.org, a website that publishes the names, photographs, and biographical information of students engaged in Palestine activism across the United States.

“I figured it was going to happen at some point,” DeAngelis told the Voice of being added to the site. DeAngelis, who earned his undergraduate degree at Brooklyn College, was immediately concerned about how his employer – CUNY’s Graduate Center — would react.

“I hope they don’t find it because I don’t know how they’re going to take it,” he remembers thinking.

His fears are understandable. DeAngelis’s extensive profile on Canary Mission details the various events he has been involved in organizing, posted under subtitles like “Brooklyn SJP – Spreading lies and hate.” Several photos of DeAngelis are posted on the site along with screenshots of internet pages where his name is posted.

In addition to creating an online database, Canary Mission also employs an aggressive social media campaign, tweeting out information about students and faculty along with their handles, a tactic that inevitably results in a barrage of hate for those at the other end. DeAngelis has received a lot of harassment on Twitter as a result of Canary Mission, although he said that the women he knows who are listed on the site have it much worse.

Shezza Dallal is also listed on the site. She is a recent graduate of Barnard College, where she was a lead organizer with Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine. “There’s no doubt that women have been a primary target of Canary Mission and the consequent online harassment we’ve been witnessing,” Dallal told the Voice.

The website, which was launched in May 2015, now contains profiles of over 600 individuals, most of them people of color. The site targets students and professors at universities across the U.S., in addition to a small number of people employed by Jewish Voice for Peace and other Palestine advocacy groups.

“Canary Mission’s simple interface allows you to easily explore profiles of radical individuals and organizations,” boasts a narrator in a video posted on the site. “It is your duty to ensure that today’s radicals are not tomorrow’s employees.” For many of the students profiled, the site is the first or second site that comes up when their names are googled.

According to advocates, the “blacklisting” of activists on Canary Mission is part of a broader crackdown on pro-Palestine speech, a phenomenon that they say has become particularly acute in New York.

In June, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the nation’s first executive order mandating a withdrawal of public funds from any group or individual that promotes the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign. The BDS movement, which is said to be inspired by the South African anti-apartheid struggle, calls for the economic, political, and cultural isolation of Israel in order to achieve three aims: ending the occupation of Palestine, ensuring the full equality of Arab-Palestinian citizens in Israel, and promoting respect for the Palestinian right of return.

But these tactics have come under scrutiny from Israel supporters, like Cuomo, who has called BDS a “hateful, intolerant campaign.” His executive order also requires New York to create a list of companies or entities that support BDS and publish it online, a move that was widely condemned by civil rights attorneys and the NYCLU.

Charges of anti-Semitism in Palestine activism on CUNY campuses also helped snowball a threat to cut $485 million from the city university system last spring, although a recently released, six-month report concluded that these concerns were unfounded. In September, in a separate initiative, the City Council voted 40-4 on a non-binding resolution to condemn BDS.

“The major way that McCarthyism worked was not because the government went in and punished people for the speech that they engaged in,” explains Corey Robin, a professor of political science at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center whose name and photo are also featured on the site. “The bulk of it was precisely through these contacts amongst private employers and universities and non-state institutions that would sanction individuals for their speech.”

For Canary Mission to come up with a list, publicize it, and reach out to potential employers and graduate students “is classic McCarthyism,” he added. “Because what you’re really saying is, we’re going to exile you from all aspects of society.”

A screenshot of a typical tweet from Canary Mission's Twitter account.
A screenshot of a typical tweet from Canary Mission’s Twitter account.

Canary Mission does not list any staff members, funders, or affiliated organizations. In September 2015, AlterNet linked the site to the Orthodox Israeli group Aish HaTorah, which is known for promoting both pro-settlement and Islamophobic political views in the United States. Aish did not immediately respond to a comment request from the Voice about their connection to Canary Mission.

The Jewish Daily Forward also connected the site to the Israeli advocacy group VideoActivism, although they strenuously denied the claim; CEO Jonathan Bash told the Forward that VideoActivism has “no connection to the Canary Mission.” There is no media contact information listed on Canary Mission, although the Voice did attempt to reach the team via Twitter.

“I was really worried about younger people who got put on [Canary Mission],” said DeAngelis, referring to freshman or sophomores who ended up on the site shortly after getting involved with SJP.

Radhika Sainath is staff attorney for Palestine Legal, which engages in training, advocacy, and litigation support to Palestine activists across the country.

“Students call us asking: Should I take down my Twitter account? Should I stop writing articles? How is this going to affect my career?” Sainath said. “They’re terrified they won’t be able to travel on planes, that their families will be affected, that they won’t be allowed to visit grandparents in Israel or Palestine — all for taking a principled stance on a human rights issue.”

The Village Voice reached out to CUNY to comment on whether there are any protections in place for students or faculty posted on Canary Mission. The school did not immediately respond.

Asked a series of questions about how the university system views Canary Mission’s activity, a spokesperson for CUNY emailed the following statement:

“Protected speech and expressive conduct are valued at CUNY.  Diversity of opinions is especially essential in academia, where speech is often provocative and challenging. The First Amendment protects students, including prospective students seeking admission to graduate programs.”

Dallal, the recent Barnard graduate, vowed to continue organizing despite Canary Mission’s efforts.

“At the end of the day, this is work that I will continue to do proudly,” Dallal says. “Not despite but because we are still in a place where a movement of and for human rights can be met by McCarthyite tactics of intimidation that disrespect and violate the standards of freedom, civility, and equality we champion in this country.”

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No Law, All Order: The NYPD Can Arrest AND Prosecute You

Anyone who has killed a few hours (or an entire weekend) watching Law & Order knows that “In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: the police, who investigate crime, and the district attorneys, who prosecute the offenders.”

But two women who were issued summonses during a Black Lives Matter protest in March are finding a different arrangement: It was the NYPD who summonsed them, and it is the NYPD, not the Manhattan DA’s office, that is prosecuting them.

Arminta Jeffryes, 23, was picked up by police on East Houston during a protest march on March 7, detained several hours, and released with a summons for jaywalking. Cristina Winsor, 39, received a summons the same night on East 12th, after police said she stepped off the sidewalk and into the street.

The women challenged the arrangement under which they were prosecuted by police lawyers, arguing that giving the NYPD control over prosecutions is illegal. For one thing, they say, where the district attorney’s only job is to seek justice, NYPD lawyers have a conflict of interest: They are both acting as prosecutors and representing their client, the police department. That’s a problem, they contend. If police make an illegal arrest or summons, a common remedy is for the person improperly arrested or summonsed to sue the police.

That happens, let us say, quite a bit: In the last five years, the city has paid out more than $837 million in lawsuits against the police. In the cases of Jeffryes and Winsor, the NYPD lawyers are offering to conditionally dismiss their charges, but only if they admit that the NYPD acted properly in summonsing them, effectively precluding them from filing civil suits against the police later.

If you’re both the prosecutor and the NYPD’s lawyer, you can use your power over criminal defendants to dissuade them from suing your client. But the conflict is even more stark than that, points out Gideon Oliver, Winsor’s lawyer (and, full disclosure, a personal friend).

“In many protest situations, NYPD Legal Bureau lawyers are actually out with the police officers at the scene, helping to figure out what crimes to charge people with,” Oliver says. “So you have police lawyers prosecuting cases that police lawyers have had a direct hand in bringing.” In cases like this, then, the police lawyers acting as prosecutors may not just be protecting their client from a civil suit, they could be protecting themselves.

The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office says there’s nothing wrong with this arrangement, and points to a February Memorandum of Understanding between the Manhattan D.A. and the police, which allows the NYPD’s lawyers to act as prosecutors in cases of their choosing in summons court. The D.A.’s office maintains it doesn’t have adequate staff to appear in summons court, and cites a practice common in more remote upstate towns allowing District Attorneys to delegate prosecution responsibilities to local lawyers.

Vance’s office also says that while offering Jeffryes and Winsor the deal for dismissal might prevent them from suing, that’s not the only reason police lawyers might make that demand of the protesters. It could also strengthen the cases against them if for some reason their cases come back to criminal court. Besides, prosecutors argue, courts have seen no problem with upstate prosecutors handing their cases off to town attorneys and sheriffs, who presumably might have similar fears of lawsuits.

Lawyers for Jeffryes and Winsor say the only summons cases the NYPD has chosen to prosecute are against people who were engaged in Black Lives Matter protests, and neither the NYPD nor the district attorney have denied that claim in their court filings. There is a record of which cases the NYPD assumes responsibility for: The Memorandum of Understanding requires the police to send the D.A. monthly reports.

But when the Voice asked Cy Vance’s office to see those reports, a spokesperson demurred, instead directing us to the NYPD. And when we asked the NYPD for those reports, they didn’t give them to us. If the NYPD isn’t selectively prosecuting cases against people because they’re exercising their First Amendment rights, neither of them are doing a good job of proving otherwise.

Selectively prosecuting only those jaywalkers who are involved in protest, Jeffryes and Winsor argue, is a violation of the equal protection clause, which requires the law to be applied to everyone equally. The office of the district attorney didn’t address this issue in its court filings.

Yesterday, Manhattan Criminal Court Judge Guy Mitchell ruled against Jeffryes and Winsor, finding that the D.A.’s arrangement with the NYPD’s lawyers is lawful. Martin Stolar, the lawyer representing Jeffryes, says he is considering filing a petition to challenge the judge’s ruling. The two defendants will go to trial for their jaywalking violations November 7. Stolar says he’s looking forward to the trial.

“The person who signed Arminta’s summons is a captain,” Stolar said. “I look forward to getting him on the witness stand, asking how often he, as a captain, issues summons for jaywalking, and how it came to be that she was held for five hours and then issued a summons for jaywalking. Things like that don’t usually happen. One might think she was singled out, because she’s an organizer.”

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Nat Hentoff Fights On in a Lively, Illuminating Doc

It’s challenge enough to try to fit all the life we have to live into our 80 or so years, so imagine the difficulty of trying to cram one such life into 85 minutes of documentary. Compound that problem a couple hundred times and you can appreciate the task faced by David L. Lewis. The Pleasures of Being Out of Step, his feature-length tribute/study/profile of longtime Village Voice First Amendment defender Nat Hentoff, that brilliant and combative journalist, critic, screed writer, and novelist, must not only cover Hentoff’s own triple-stuffed life but also thumbnail histories of jazz, the civil rights movement, the alternative press, and the multitude of characters knocking about those worlds. What other doc is obliged to show us vintage footage of Charles Mingus and William F. Buckley, both stout, self-possessed, sui generis fellows glimpsed here amid dazzling improvisations: Mingus on bass and Buckley (seen in a TV debate with Hentoff) on bullshit?

Lewis packs in as much as a movie can hold. (For more, see Hentoff’s books, or Lewis’s excellent new oral history from CUNY Journalism Press; it has the same title as the film.) A self-proclaimed “lowercase-L libertarian,” Hentoff wrote for the Voice for more than 50 years, in his youth helping establish the paper’s feisty tone and in his later years often taking on the left itself, especially in a series of columns arguing against the right of women to have an abortion. In Lewis’s brisk and engaging film, former Voice editor Karen Durbin argues that Hentoff’s pro-life stance “doesn’t have intellectual underpinnings.” Columnist Margot Hentoff, Hentoff’s wife, offers some insight, laughing early on about how her husband has always found nothing more fun than a fight; later, she tells us that, in the years before Roe v. Wade, she once went to Cuba to end a pregnancy, a decision her husband supported only because he’s not the kind of man to tell his wife what to do.

The film has its insights, but perhaps its greatest value is in how it offers something of a record of what time with the talkative, tireless Hentoff is like. He beams as he recounts trouble he caused with his columns, just as he beams when speaking of the one subject that engages him as much as civil liberties: the jazz giants of the 20th century. Stanley Crouch turns up in the film to marvel that Hentoff’s notes for Sketches of Spain marked the first time any critic had truly understood the greatness of what Miles Davis and Gil Evans were up to.

Hentoff, indefatigable, served for years as the New York editor of Down Beat, later as a founder and editor (with Martin Williams) of the Jazz Review, the first publication to consider America’s greatest music with anything like academic rigor. Then he even produced jazz records himself, good ones.

The doc breezes through all of this, soaking a bit in the music and the big personalities of Mingus, Miles, and other stars of jazz’s high-water mark, a high-water mark Hentoff was among the first to note. We hear a too-quick snatch of Hentoff’s interview with a young Bob Dylan for Playboy, see a too-short clip of Billie Holiday singing on a jazz TV show Hentoff briefly ran, and get much-too-quick anecdotes about Abbey Lincoln, Max Roach, and a host of other remarkable people. Also fascinating: a rapid tour through some of the First Amendment controversies Hentoff stirred in his weekly Voice column; always principled, Hentoff argued for the free-speech rights of American Nazis.

For a man so given to scraps, one who just this May endorsed Rand Paul for president, Hentoff comes off as an amused, amusing, endlessly fascinating man, one with more stories to tell than he could have fit into his almost three dozen books or his half-century of columns. (Former Voice editor Tony Ortega appears, looking pained, to try to explain the decision to lay Hentoff off at the end of 2008. Hentoff, then 83 years old, was soon contributing to the paper as a freelancer.) Early on, the Voice of 50 years ago gets likened to the bar talk of the Village’s smartest people, and Hentoff has lost none of that rowdy conviviality — he’s a great pleasure to watch, listen to, and read, even when you couldn’t disagree with him more.

The film isn’t the final word on Hentoff, of course. He has thousands left in him. But it is a fine and lively précis, a celebration of a life well lived (and well fought).

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Anti-Islamic Subway Ad Scuffle: Time To Pick Sides

It took just over 24 hours for several subway ads featuring an offensive, anti-Islamic message were vandalized, which, somehow, has led to a debate about the First Amendment, as apparent in the comment section of our story abut the vandals posted yesterday.

The entire debate is a bit of an enigma/completely contradictory — it seems many of the people who detest the ads and want them taken down are the same people advocating for the free speech rights of those vandalizing the ads.

In one case of vandalism (that just happened to be caught on tape by a New York Post film crew), Mona Elthaway spray paints not only one of the ads but also a woman who was trying to protect it. She was not-so-promptly arrested.

The debate is this: Initially, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority declined to approve the ads due to the “demeaning” message they convey. However, a federal judge ruled in July that not allowing the ads violated the First Amendment rights of the American Freedom Defense, the pro-Israel group that paid for the ad. Some say that if the AFD has the Constitutional right to express itself with the ad, then people like Elthaway have the right to express themselves over the ad — with spray paint.

That’s the debate, anyway. The reality is this: vandalism is against the law, as we also pointed out yesterday (while not-so-subtly encouraging vandalism). The ads are the property of the MTA and the ADF, which paid money to put them up. And while we are firm advocates of the First Amendment, there are certain ways to go about practicing it if your goal is not to get arrested. Vandalizing property is not protected by the First Amendment, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily wrong — you just have to be willing to get arrested for it.

Below are some of the comments about the spraying from our post yesterday:

-“Mona has a right to express herself and she did, period.” – rainbowthinks.

-“How is standing in the way of freedom of speech “courageous”? I agree that when it comes to mistreatment of Muslims, Islam is by all means to be considered a race and prejudice as racism. But ultimately, Islam is a philosophy and it’s fair game to make judgements and criticisms on that, and to promote the viewpoint you’re on the side of. Instead of graffiting over these, she should be organising counterpoints, if there are any to be made.” – andrew.moncrieff.

-“My, my, people really do not seem to understand what free speech ic. Sorry, but covering up someone else’s speech is neither 1) a conversation now 2) an exercise in free speech. It is simply attempting to deny others their right to free speech. You might not like the speech, but your rights do not entitle you to trample the rights of others. You have the right to take out your own billboard. You have the right to protest. You have the right to write articles. But tearing up the speech of others, and then calling *that* free speech… is nonsensical.” -eddiewilson.

If you ask us, we 100-percent approve of what Elthaway did. But it’s not protected — nor should it be protected — by the First Amendment. It was an act of civil disobedience intended to let people know that not everyone thinks the same way as the ADF. And with civil disobedience comes consequences. At the same time, we don’t like what the ADF has to say, but we respect its right to say it — as we respect the rights of people to go fuck up their ads so long as they’re willing to accept the consequences.

We want to know what you think though: should Elthaway’s “expression” protected by the First Amendment?

Cast your vote below.

 

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Bloomberg and Kelly Bust the Press

Since 1958, when I became a reporter at the Voice, I have covered every mayor—including the monarchical Rudy Giuliani—and every police commissioner, but never have I witnessed such brutish contempt for the First Amendment rights of the press (and therefore of us) as the Bloomberg–Kelly arrests and other prior restraints of reporters.

The disgrace to this city has become a national issue. Enter the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, which gives free legal support to thousands of journalists across the country and is a frequent First Amendment litigator in the courts. I joined the Reporters Committee in the 1970s and am on its steering committee.

Charges Executive Director Lucy Dalglish: “It is extremely disturbing that credentialed journalists would be singled out in a roundup aimed at preventing them from witnessing police activity in the disbanding of the Occupy Wall Street camp. What country are we living in?” (Emphasis added.)

When self-anointed First Amendment Mayor Bloomberg insisted that reporters were being kept away from police roundups for their own good, Dalglish said: “As the owner of a major media company, Mayor Bloomberg surely knows journalists cover dangerous situations every day.” This mayor knows everything.

Adds Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, who is running for mayor: “Zuccotti Park is not Tiananmen Square.” (Daily News, November 16) That’s when he got my vote.

In a letter to the Bloomberg–Kelly silencers, the ever-vigilant Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, confronted them with their un-American official occupancy of Zuccotti Park: “Journalists who are already in the park were forced to leave under threat of arrest, while others, even those with NYPD-issued press credentials, were blocked by barricades. . . . When one attempted to remain south of Cortland Street on Broadway, he was told, ‘I don’t give a fuck who you are—you wasted your chance.’”

Added Michael Powell of The New York Times on November 22: “Over several days, New York cops have arrested, punched, whacked, shoved to the ground and tossed barriers at reporters and photographers.”

But this NYPD hoodlum culture has been rife before Occupy Wall Street. Powell reminds us: “At least since the Republican National Convention of 2004, our police have grown accustomed to forcibly pinning, arresting, and sometimes spraying and whacking protesters and reporters.” (Emphasis added.)

The First Amendment still being vigorously alive during the reign of Bloomberg and Kelly, the New York City press has not been subdued. Reminding their censors what country they’re living in, stinging protest letters have been sent to these high officials who purportedly serve us—as well as their puppet spokesman, Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne—by The New York Times; Reuters; the New York Post; TV networks CBS, NBC, and ABC; the Associated Press; the New York Daily News; the Deadline Club; the Newswomen’s club; News Media Guide; and others I don’t have space to include.

What’s the reaction from public servant Bloomberg, but also the man riding high in polls, Ray Kelly? Dig this: They know that with our instant access to ceaseless news and pontificating, few stories stay alive in the public mind for long.

So, the way for officials to defuse smoldering public criticism is to solemnly promise immediate remediation. (“Trust us!”) I doubt that many New Yorkers have full faith in the credibility of our prancing mayor. But the police commissioner has long been widely respected and by some, even almost revered (including by certain journalists).

Get this: Ray Kelly has issued an internal message ordering officers in New York City not to interfere with journalist access during news media coverage. Those who do will be subject to disciplinary action. (New York Times, November 24) Do you believe in Santa Claus?

The New York Civil Liberties Union will remain alert. Donna Lieberman makes the necessary point that there has been a “lack of meaningful oversight over the NYPD.”

Lieberman suggests that it’s “time for the City Council to weigh in and figure whether there is a legislative response.” Surely there should be, but the City Council is not noted for meaningful and sustained real-time action to bring this mayor and his police commissioner into the rule of law. It’s necessary to emphasize “sustained” action.

This and other approaches to accountability are reported in Joe Pompeo’s “Media, civil liberties groups look at legislative options to address NYPD actions during protests.” (Capitalnewyork.com, November 23)

And now let’s hear from candidates to succeed our incumbent mayor and his decidedly selective enforcement of the First Amendment. Would Christine Quinn dare criticize the iconic Ray Kelly?

I am somewhat encouraged by the “Coalition Formed to Monitor Police/Press Relations in NYC.” The NYPC declares: “We are determined to use any means needed to fight such censorship in the future. In the city in which John Peter Zenger fought for and helped establish freedom of the press, we can do no less.”

If we had civics classes in our public schools, the new generation would discover how John Peter Zenger’s New York Weekly was hauled into court in 1735 by the haughty royal governor of the state, William Cosby. (No relation to our civil libertarian and civil rights comedian Bill Cosby, whom I once, in conversation, urged to run for president.)

The 18th-century newspaper had sharply criticized the royal governor for incompetence, favoritism, and diverse grave failings. The insulted Cosby charged Zenger with “seditious libel.” The jury rebelled and ruled for freedom of the press.

Said Gouverneur Morris, a leading participant in the American Revolution: “The trial of Zenger in 1735 was the germ of American Freedom, the morning star of that liberty which subsequently revolutionized America.”

How come? Because as I reported in my book, The First Freedom (Dell Publishing, 1981), Gouverneur Morris said to his fellow American colonists that Zenger’s victory “so embodied the philosophy that freedom, both of thought and speech, was an inborn human right.”

When a stenographic record of John Peter Zenger’s first step toward our First Amendment was printed in England, a British editor said “it had made a great noise in the world.”

How many of our New York City students have heard of John Peter Zenger? How many other New Yorkers have? I’d bet the farm, if I had one, that neither Bloomberg nor Kelly have. And I applaud the New York Press Club for bringing John Peter Zenger so relevantly back home.

I suggest that when Donna Lieberman appears before the City Council to get a legislative response to ordering Bloomberg and Kelly back into the Constitution, she remind the Council members of the glorious patriotic New York legacy of John Peter Zenger.

Imagine Zenger’s reaction to this NYPD operation, one of a series of accounts of police busts of the press in a letter to Deputy Police Commissioner Paul Browne by New York Times general counsel George Freeman on November 21:

“A [newspaper] photographer, standing on the sidewalk on Trinity Place was photographing a man the police were carrying from somewhere in the park who was covered in blood. The photographer was standing behind a metal barrier 20 to 30 yards from the scene.

“As he raised his camera to take a picture, two other police officers came running toward him, grabbed a metal barrier and forcefully ran at him, striking the photographer in the chest, knee, and shin. As they did that, they screamed that he was not permitted to be taking photographs on the sidewalk—the most traditionally recognized forum aside from a park.”

Take a bow, Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Kelly—to King George III.

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Information Wants to Be Free, Etc., in Barbershop Punk

There has been a lot of static about the FCC’s new net-neutrality regulations, which would require transparency from broadband providers and prevent them from blocking legal content, and which are currently set to go into effect later this month. The commission continues to get sued left and right, and, as of this writing, Republican senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, of Texas, claims to have collected enough signatures to force a vote on a congressional review.

The advocacy documentary Barbershop Punk, directed by Georgia Sugimura Archer and Kristin Armfield, loosely chronicles the birth of the still-roiling policy debate, arguing in the process that the Internet is essentially a public utility, and that the First Amendment rights of users ought to protect them from Big Telecom dictating what sites and applications they can and cannot access. The more general concern about media consolidation and corporate influence in Washington expressed by talking heads from Janeane Garofalo to conservative pundit/lobbyist Jack Burkman dovetails with the current Occupy message but still feels rather stale—extremely generic shots of cable wires, ocean waves, and television static bridge the predictable interview segments.

Nominally, at least, Barbershop Punk is about Robb Topolski, a genial software tester who exposed Comcast’s practice of data discrimination in a May 2007 post on a broadband forum. The corporation blocked all his attempts to share barbershop quartet music on various torrents; the Associated Press story about the interference broke, incredibly, while Topolski was undergoing a cancer surgery that would save his life. One D.C. policy wonk here refers to the barbershop baritone as an “everyman,” perhaps because he was living way out in Oregon when he compiled his evidence, and perhaps because net-neutrality proponents would prefer a world populated exclusively by such conscientious techno-hobbyists. (Archer and Armfield include footage of Topolski assuring the president of the Songwriters Guild at an FCC open hearing that the uploaded turn-of-the-century harmonies were all in the public domain, to audience applause.) The film forces its point by claiming Topolski as “punk,” an ethos expounded upon here by former Minor Threat and Fugazi frontman Ian MacKaye, who is intelligent and impassioned on topics that don’t always seem entirely germane to the documentary around him.

As the voices of other interviewees drown out the whistle-blower story, Archer and Armfield mostly stick to the agenda: The “punks” typically get the last word. (OK Go’s Damian Kulash immediately follows open-Internet critic Scott Cleland; the transfixingly hyperbolic Henry Rollins comes right after Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn, who sees net regulations as not a First Amendment issue, but a “business issue.”) Barbershop Punk, though, gains what resonance it has not by its familiar arguments but by virtue of its existence: This is precisely the sort of content that so many of those interviewed fear that, given the license, monolithic ISPs of the near future might feel empowered to block.

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Joseph Sarno, the Chekhov of Softcore

Infidelity timed around the LIRR schedule. Key parties and sloppy boozing among the split-level set. Swappers, cheaters, hookers, and go-go girls. This was the world of filmmaker Joseph Sarno, who died in April of this year in his Manhattan home, age 89, living long enough to see his fecund output celebrated far beyond Times Square.

Not among the sexual-revolution opportunists who self-advertised as First Amendment Freedom Riders, Sarno’s soft-core psychodramas have been reappraised in the past decade on the merit of their own earnest, low-rent artistry (and through the efforts of home-video labels Something Weird and Retro Seduction Cinema, and writer Michael J. Bowen, at work on a Sarno biography). In the years following a retro at 2003’s New York Underground Film Festival, the owl-browed eminence was fested and feted across Europe. His work now returns stateside, to Anthology, for a five-film farewell.

Brooklyn-born in 1921, Joseph W. Sarno and his family emigrated with the first big wave of Long Island suburbanites to the middle-class commuter country that would be the setting of his defining work. Before becoming an avid chronicler of female erotic reaction, Sarno lived a certified red-meat Greatest Generation life: high school boxing and football, the Navy in World War II, a couple of marriages. Then, during a professional lull while making industrial films and writing ad copy, the nearing-40 Sarno wrote a sex movie at the suggestion of a friend. Co-director on that 1961 artists-and-models peek-a-boo, Nude in Charcoal, Sarno wrote and directed all of his 75-plus films that followed.

Sarno brought rare rigor to nil-budget shoots with schedules of a week or less. Actors—schlubby men and a menagerie of females with fascinating dimple chins and overbites—look out from the itchy-tight cell of a master shot. Choreographing down to the meaningful arch of a plucked, penciled-in eyebrow, Sarno got responsive performances in edged-with-desperation scenes that were mostly repetitive build-ups and delays rather than actual sexual calisthenics. (The “money shots” in Sarno’s ’60s nudie cuties are generally girls shucking bra straps off to reveal their bare shoulders.)

From Nude’s Village nightspot “Bongo Tom’s,” Sarno took the beat of bump-and-grind jazz quartets into the suburbs. He shot exteriors in hometown Amityville for his first color film, Moonlighting Wives (1966), the tale of Clairol-redhead Tammy Latour building an empire of play-for-pay housewives. Also in that year’s bumper crop was The Bed and How to Make It!, with broad-hipped Lolita Francine Ashley fermenting revolt in Aunt Patricia McNair’s motel, and scenes shot inside a Brooklyn bar called Cocoa Poodle. It’s this period that Andrew Sarris was thinking of in 1971 when appreciating in these pages the “suburban Italian look” of Sarno’s actors, and the “cramped compositions and flat perspective [that] were the ideal stylistic expressions of a charmingly naive Satanism.” 

Sarno’s filmmaking, including a Florida vacation, remained East Coast–vernacular until the late ’60s. Then, in the heyday of “Scandinavian permissiveness,” Sarno decamped for Sweden at the behest of producer Jerry Gross. In 1968, Inga, the first of Sarno’s many runaway Swedish productions, began the flashing meteoric sex-stardom of Marie Liljedahl, playing the titular orphaned 17-year-old. Monica Strömmerstedt plays Inga’s guardian aunt (yet another), still trying to make the scene at 33, conspiring to auction her charge’s virginity so as to maintain an expensive affair with a sullen young writer-gigolo. The movie opens on Liljedahl playing with wind-up toys, then cuts to automaton kids jerking their hips to a pop song that blares about how “Everybody’s so hung up to do what they really feel.” Free love is in fashion, and Sarno’s swinging Stockholm is trapped in lockstep “liberated” beat. The filmmaker always recognized the pitfalls of the scene he celebrated.

Inga was one of many all-in-the-family scenarios that Sarno filmed through the years. In 1974’s Confessions of a Young American Housewife, fine-boned swinger Rebecca Brooke wanders among bare-limbed trees and trickling acoustic guitar, wondering how to liberate ripe-to-bursting widowed mother Jennifer Welles, who ends up almost too free when visiting a lesbian shaman. So many of Sarno’s last acts emphasize loss, abandonment, and punishment, but this shouldn’t brand him a closet prude. Desire in these films is a painful-ecstatic delirium, just too powerful to ever be casual.

Come the release of Confessions, the market for soft-core blocked out like Uncle Vanya was disappearing. Throats deepened, censorship laws loosened, and sex flicks without gross anatomy became antique. Sarno began doing hush-hush hard-core shoots, buried quietly under a mountain of pseudonyms such as “Irving Weiss,” “Monica Fitta,” and a dozen others. But when he was just Joe Sarno, there was nobody quite like him.