Friday, January 12, 2007

Bloggers in Wonderland

[Melanie Morgan and her Disney attorneys out hunting for bloggers.]

Environmental activists have long been familiar with the concept of SLAPPs: Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation. Basically, the idea is to hit citizen activists with lawsuits that, even if they have a solid case, would bankrupt them to fight, especially against the deep corporate pockets of the plaintiffs. It's a way of shutting down those annoying citizens who have enough chutzpah to stand up to moneyed interests.

Now it looks like Big Media is about to fight back against citizen bloggers with the same tactic.

No doubt you've read by now of the travails of Spocko, the little blogger down in the Bay Area who >decided to fight back against the hatemongering being spewed over the public airwaves from the Disney-owned AM station KSFO. He did this primarily by posting excerpts of their spew on his blog, and then writing to the shows' sponsors and asking if they wanted to be associated with that kind of "entertainment."

It was working; at least one major account, from Visa, withdrew from sponsoring programs at KSFO. So just before Christmas, Disney attorneys threatened his ISP with a lawsuit, claiming his excerpts violated their copyright.

As Media Matters notes:
This letter-writing campaign apparently got results, as major advertisers such as MasterCard, Bank of America, and Visa reportedly pulled their ads from the station. But as numerous blogs have noted in recent days, on December 21, ABC Inc., a subsidiary of the Disney-ABC Television Group, apparently issued a cease-and-desist letter targeting Spocko and his blog for copyright violation. Specifically, ABC alleged that by posting brief audio clips of various talk radio hosts on KSFO, the site was "in clear violation" of the station's copyright. The letter demanded that the owner of the site "remove the content immediately." Soon after, according to Spocko, his Internet service provider shut down his blog.

Spocko, fortunately, was able to find another ISP and has his blog back up, though not all the sound files have been restored yet.

Interestingly, Morgan and Co. went back on the air today, claiming that it is they whose free-speech rights are being attacked here:
"We have been under attack here at KSFO radio," Morgan stated on January 11, in response to the increased coverage of the controversy. "It is something that has been quite disturbing to us at a number of levels but we are prepared to fight back against people who are trying to get us fired here at KSFO radio and who are trying to deprive us of a livelihood and who are trying to deprive us of our free speech rights."

Let's be clear: Getting to use the public airwaves to broadcast your opinions is not a right -- in fact, it's a privilege extended to very few people in this country. The rest of us are relegated to such means of exercising those rights the usual way -- writing letters to the editor, making streetcorner speeches, publishing a blog, whatever.

If Melanie Morgan's sponsors decide they don't want to underwrite her hatemongering, that isn't taking away her rights, only her extraordinary privileges. If she wants to continue speaking, she still can, just as the rest of us do. She could, say, start a blog.

But that, you see, is exactly the kind of speech she and her cohorts are trying to silence.

There are all kinds of free-speech issues at stake here -- but nearly every one of them involves Disney's attempts to quash Spocko's free-speech rights. The excerpts he posted clearly fall under classic "fair use" clauses regarding copyright law. More significantly, the posts represent classic political speech, and as such enjoy the fullest constitutional protection the law affords.
Declining to offer any specifics, she claimed Spocko had highlighted "these audio clips which are out of context, old, or in some cases just outright lies."

Can someone explain to me how an audio clip could be "an outright lie"? I understand the whole context issue, but if you say something on air, and it's recorded, then it's incontestable that you said it.
Morgan went on to assert that Spocko "has been joined by some very dangerous and frightening fringe-left groups in this country" and specifically singled out Media Matters. "This is all going through Media Matters," she said.

Morgan further announced that KSFO would be pre-empting its regularly scheduled programming on January 12 to air a live special intended to "hit back against those people who are trying to silence us and take away our free speech rights, get us fired, thrown off the air, because they don't like what we have to say." She explained that she and the other KSFO hosts targeted by Spocko -- Brian Sussman and Morgan's Morning Show co-hosts, Lee Rodgers and Officer Vic -- would host the special program, which she said would last "three hours or however long it takes to answer all the questions." Morgan invited "the public as well as the media as well as bloggers to participate in this."

Morgan's bizarre paranoia no doubt will be onstage for this broadcast. Note what she says about Spocko:
But he thinks that he is a very powerful individual now, and he's had his stalker friends on the Internet join with him, including a man named by the name of Mike Stark, who actually stalked Senator Allen -- Senator George Allen's campaign. This is all going through Media Matters, being coordinated as a strike against us through Media Matters, and by us I mean Lee Rodgers, I mean myself, I mean Officer Vic, and I mean Brian Sussman. I'm not going to get into any more details about this, other than to say that tomorrow morn -- tomorrow at noon [Pacific time], we're going to do something we have never done before here at KSFO.

Of course, we've witnessed Disney's gradual transformation into a right-wing propaganda organ this past year, embodied by their faux "docudrama" blaming Bill Clinton for Sept. 11 and painting the Bush administration as essentially blameless in the matter -- a film created by a right-woing religious organization. When called on it, the network worked hard to cover its tracks.

It's worth remembering just what it was that Morgan and her fellow KSFO talk jocks said on the air that drew the attention of Spocko and sent her sponsors fleeing. As I noted previously, what they've specialized in is vile eliminationist rhetoric that creates a mindset in which violence against liberals and anyone else they disagree with is acceptable:
-- Laughing with Coulter about executing New York Times editor Bill Keller.

-- Agreeing with guest Peter Mulhern as he says, "A great deal of good could be done by arresting Bill Keller having him lined up against the wall and shot."

-- Joking with "Officer Vic" as he imitates Keller being electrocuted.

-- Joking about killing a black man after torturing him. (This clip features co-host Lee Rogers talking about shooting a black man between the eyes and torturing him by attaching electrodes to his testicles while Morgan laughs.)

-- At the end of a shared rant describing their utter loathing for all liberals, her co-host, Rogers, warning that "the day will come when unpleasant things are going to happen to a bunch of stupid liberals and it's going to be very amusing to watch."

It's one thing for these things to be spewed on-air with no consequences whatever. Thanks to Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage, we've grown accustomed to that.

Rhetoric like this is offered as mere "entertainment" and "hyperbole," but it has a much more serious and broader effect. It essentially lodges in the public mind the notion that the solution to their problems is to eliminate liberals violently. It's more than just about encouraging others to act -- when it's broadcast on the public airwaves, it amounts to giving permission for this kind of behavior.

And when a corporate entity seeks, under the color of law, to silence anyone who would stand up against this kind of talk, it amounts to broad, semi-official support for it.

But in Melanie Morgan's own little upside-down Wonderland -- in which she has made herself the Queen, demanding "off with their heads!" -- she is the one being persecuted. And Disney is just her noble protector.

Maybe we bloggers should just stick to singing "It's a Bush Bush World". Or will Disney sue us for that?

TRex at Firedoglake has some suggestions about how you can fight back.

Coming shortly: An interview with Spocko himself.

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