The First Amendment as a weapon (5×8 – 9/12/12)

When ‘art’ lights a fuse, should reporters stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, gay or nay in Wahpeton, time to ground flying history, and the civic stories of Northfield.



Did a filmmaker abuse the First Amendment when he produced a movie that has resulted in the deaths of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and several other Americans?

Believing that the film insulted their prophet, protesters stormed consulates in Egypt and Libya.

Ambassador Chris Stevens was killed when he and a group of embassy employees went to the consulate to try to evacuate staff as the building came under attack by a mob with guns and rocket propelled grenades, the Associated Press said.

“This is a political movie,” Sam Bacile, the filmmaker, said of his movie that is at the heart of the protests. “The U.S. lost a lot of money and a lot of people in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but we’re fighting with ideas.”

“Islam is a cancer, period,” he said.

Judging by the YouTube clips, it’s a badly acted, poorly written, low-quality piece of work. A nine-year-old with a decent Mac could’ve done better, suggesting that the reaction might well have been exactly what Bacile was looking for.

And yet, there’s this First Amendment thing.

“The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims–as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions,” the U.S. embassy in Cairo said in a statement hours before the protests. “Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.”

That’s a reference to Bacile, and also to Terry Jones, the anti-Islam Florida pastor who appears to be behind the movie.

And that’s where we are today: A dead ambassador, dead Marines, murderous protestors, an international incident, and a couple of Americans pointing to the Constitution.

“Freedom of belief is more important than freedom of expression,” one of the protesters told the Wall St. Journal.

Discussion point: Is it?


Should reporters say the Pledge of Allegiance at events in which it’s recited at events they cover? NPR’s Ari Shapiro writes that he’s uncomfortable joining in. He also wouldn’t stand. And while it was being recited, he tweeted.

I expected a flood of vitriol. Instead, a thoughtful Twitter dialogue unfolded about what it means to be a journalist, what it means to be American, and what role the Pledge of Allegiance plays in our society. Other reporters joined in, including some sitting around me at the rally.

He lists some of the responses he received at the link.

More media: A Star Tribune columnistvia the Star Tribune doesn’t like the way “the media” covered the recent Stanford study on the benefits of organic fruits and vegetables.

“And in discussing scientific disputes, we often fall prey to one of the great perils of journalism — false balance. If some dingbat asserts that the Earth is flat, we wouldn’t insert that claim into a story about a satellite orbiting the planet, but we routinely give overly generous coverage to some assertions contrary to fact.”

Good points, but in some ways, an antiquated view of how information is dispensed. Online, for example, most coverage of the Stanford study carried references to what it didn’t include, and also carried links to the study itself.

And, while there may be disagreement over the study’s limits, it wasn’t from a dingbat asserting the earth is flat.


Was a Wahpeton (ND) football player kicked off his team because he’s gay or because he didn’t acknowledge he was gay?

It’s one or the other, apparently. Jamie Kuntz, a player at North Dakota State College of Science, was caught kissing his boyfriend during a game in which he was assigned to film the game (he was hurt). He told his coach he didn’t and that he’s not gay. Then he acknowledged that he did and he is.

Dan Savage has the story on SLOG.

The letter, which Kuntz shared with me, is signed by NDSCS Head Football Chuck Parsons. It reads in part: “The head coach reserves the right to dismiss any team member for any conduct that is deemed detrimental to the team. This includes, but is not limited to, any criminal charges or convictions; violations of school policies, NDSCS athletic policies, or NDSCS Wildcat Football policies… Lying to Coaches, Teachers, or other school staff [constitute a violation].” The letter continues: “This decision was arrived at solely on the basis of your conduct during the football game… and because you choose not to be truthful with when I confronted you about whom else was in the box with you.”

The kid’s “boyfriend” is 65 years old.

“The age difference mucks up the story a lot,” LZ Granderson, a senior writer at ESPN and a CNN contributor, wrote in an email. Granderson is gay and I contacted him about the story shortly after Kuntz got in touch with me. Granderson passed. A teenager football player with a 65-year-old boyfriend? “On the heels of the Sandusky trial and Penn State, that’s a very high hurdle…. I’m sad for the kid but angry at the 65 year old who should have never put him in that position.”

“A student athlete was asked to perform a duty, chose to accept that and did not do that, and when you look to the policy under the possible disciplinary behavior, you can zero in on two: lying to coaches and insubordination,” the school’s president tells the Fargo Forum.


North Dakota pilot Bob Odegaard was killed late last week when his Corsair crashed at Barnes County Airport in Valley City. He was practicing for an upcoming airshow.

People on the ground like to watch the old warbirds fly, but is it time to retire them from flying? Flying Magazine’s former senior editor suggests that they should, for the sake of history if not for the safety of pilots.

This airplane was originally sold by Walter Soplata with the proviso that it never be flown. Admittedly it was just a hulk, but he sold it to a quasi-museum–somewhere in Ohio, I think–that planned to restore it completely but indeed did promise to never fly it. When the “museum” failed and in turn sold it to Odegaard, apparently all bets were off. So now it’s flown, it’s gone, and only one Goodyear FG-1D Corsair remains. That one will continue to fly until it too inevitably crashes. Does anyone care?

Here’s an example: A year or so ago, I got to fly in a B-17 when it made a trip to Saint Paul.

A week later, the plane made an emergency landing in a soggy Illinois field, and burned, leaving only a dozen flying B-17s left.

(h/t: Mike Hilger)


The League of Women Voters in Northfield has unveiled a unique series profiling residents of the area who are the foundation of “political, civic, and humanitarian endeavors in the local community and beyond.” It involved St. Olaf students who asked the question, “What does Citizenship mean?”.

Here’s one of the profiles…

Find the rest here.

(h/t: Locally Grown Northfield)

Bonus I: How to sell your old iPhone.

Bonus II: We miss so much living in Minnesota…


Fifty years ago today, President John Kennedy announced a big national challenge: to land humans on the moon and return them safely to Earth before the end of that decade. Today’s Question: What should be the big national challenge of today?


Daily Circuit (9-12 p.m.) – First hour: Return of Bubonic plague.

Second hour: The presidential candidates (two of them, anyway) on science issues.

Third hour: The economics of the iPhone 5.

MPR News Presents (12-1 pm): “Washington Goes to the Moon” documentary. Today is the 60th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s speech vowing to put a man on the moon.

Talk of the Nation (1-2 p.m.) – The Political Junkie.

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – When it comes to fundraising by phone, many big-name charities use the same telemarketing company. Its phone solicitors say most of what you give goes to the charity. But an NPR investigation has found that it actually goes straight to the telemarketer.

  • JackU
  • Bill

    As repugnant as the film may be (I have no intention of watching it), it did not cause the violence. Radicals in cultures permissive of this type of display are the cause.

    Being insulted is never an excuse for reactions like this. I don’t see mass violence and murder when Jesus, Buddha, or Richard Dawkins get insulted.

    It’s not even a 1st amendment issue – violence has erupted many times from other similar speech that was from outside the US.

  • AKB1

    Although I personally disagree with gratuitous disparagement of religious icons and revered personages, it is worth observing that there is no conflict between freedom of expression and freedom of belief. If an individual ridicules your religion, he does not thereby inhibit you from practicing your religion. These “protestors” seem to believe that they have a right to kill innocent people whenever anyone anywhere in the world says or writes anything that they deem offensive to their religion. The U.S. government should not excuse their actions by incorrect and improper use of the word “incitement”.

  • Fundamentalism — in any form — is dangerous. Nonetheless, in the US at least, the First Amendment is absolute. I have no problem holding firm these two seemingly widely disparate concepts.

    The release valve in cases like this — I haven’t seen the film in question, so I don’t know for sure it its applicable, but I suspect so — is hate speech and incitement, neither of which are covered by the First Amendment.

  • Kassie

    I don’t think that the boyfriend is 65 should matter at all. Who cares? Everyone is a consenting adult then the age doesn’t matter. If you look at a picture of the football player, he doesn’t look like a kid, but like a 20-something. The guy was kicked off the team for being gay. It is hard to come out when you are young and in certain situations, like on a football team, and sometimes young people lie about it. That should be forgiven.

  • Tyler

    Here in the US, we’ve pretty much mastered the converse of the First Amendment: “I have the right to ignore anything you say.” It seems like the Arab Spring hasn’t mastered that concept yet, despite whatever other freedoms they’ve gained.

  • jon

    What’s the old saying “Sir I disagree with what you say, but I will fight to the death to defend your right to say it.”

    Sam Bacile just put the sentiment to the test, it passed, Sam Bacile however, by testing it, failed.

  • Heather

    Yes, we have freedom of expression. That doesn’t mean we should act like jerks. Also, the idea of a Jewish guy condemning people based on religion? Wow.

  • CHS

    Re: #4

    My initial thought is to agree, these aircraft should be grounded before they are gone, but then I start to think a bit more critically about it. I’ve always been of the mind that things that aren’t used rot and decay. If you’ve left your old motorcycle or ATV in the garage unused for a season or two you know exactly what I mean. Even when stored properly things don’t age as well when they are left to sit versus when they are used as intended. Granted, stripping an aircraft for a museum piece is different, but there really can’t be that much demand/space for all of these aircraft. Should they be grounded some will undoubtedly be left to rot away in some warehouse waiting for that few times it gets shown on display. These things are still around because someone cares enough to keep them flying.

    Also, speaking for myself, the memory of seeing the B-17 fly over my hometown and feeling the ground shake will forever be a better way to have seen and witnessed a small piece of history than seeing it idle in a museum.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Religious fundamentalists of any flavor are by definition irrational, and in the extreme, potentially dangerous.

    At this point in history the most dangerous whack jobs happen to be Islamic.

    The fact that there is any question as to whether freedom of speech should be subjugated to the freedom to hold irrational beliefs should be disturbing to all thinking individuals.

    But I guess we have to be careful what we say, or these god fearing psychopaths might kill us.

  • Bob Collins

    There are limits on inflammatory rhetoric — hate speech laws, for example. Where is the line?

  • BJ

    “Where is the line?”

    It is somewhere around where people die because of it, unfortunately that is very near the need to die for it.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Bob – regarding hate speech:

    I hate the fact that the Roman Catholic hierarchy has protected pedophiles, treats women as second class citizens, and hypocritically speaks out against equal rights for homosexuals when close to half of the priesthood is gay.

    I wish their behavior could be changed through appeals to human decency and logic, but due to the extreme unlikelihood of that occurring, the world would be a better place without them.

    I hate the fact that Muslim extremists treat women as second class citizens, and believe that they have a right to kill people who says things that they don’t like.

    I wish their behavior could be changed through appeals to human decency and logic, but due to the extreme unlikelihood of that occurring, the world would be a better place without them.

    I hate the fact that Jewish extremists treat women as second class citizens, and justify their apartheid treatment of Palestinians based on the belief that their god is a big real estate broker who gave them title to some land in the middle east.

    I wish their behavior could be changed through appeals to human decency and logic, but due to the extreme unlikelihood of that occurring, the world would be a better place without them.

    Am I using “hate speech” and calling for a Holy War against the self appointed “holy”?

    Only metaphorically.

    In the words of local hero Bobby Zimmerman, “Don’t hate nuthin’ but hatred.”


  • David Poretti

    Regarding #3:

    What business is it of the school or the coach to even ask a student/player about their sexual orientation? Punishing the student/player for either being gay or withholding information regarding their orientation is a shameful part two of this story. That the student/player was with someone older is simple sensationalism, and distracts from the first question – what right does the school have to even ask?

  • Susan WB

    RE: #3. The question I would ask is, “If he were up in the booth kissing his girlfriend instead of filming the game, and then lied about it, would he also have been kicked off the team?” If yes, then fine – the punishment is for lying and failing to carry out an assigned task. If no, then they have an equal rights problem, since his sexuality is the cause of the punishment. And that’s not ok.

  • John P.

    “Freedom of belief is more important than freedom of expression,” … Discussion point: Is it?

    No. Freedom of belief is a subset, a natural extension of freedom of expression. What good would freedom of religion be if you couldn’t express it? Even in the most repressive societies you can belive whatever you want if you just keep it to yourself.