Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Times Editorial Page Quandary: After He’s Dubbed Free Speech Champion Bloomberg’s Police Suppress Press During Occupy Wall Street Eviction

This weekend the Times ran an editorial that must have posed a fascinating challenge to write. It criticized the suppression of the press when the police executed Mayor Bloomberg’s orders to evict the Occupy Wall Street protesters from Zucotti Park. (See: Editorial, Police and the Press, November 25, 2011.)

Off On the Wrong Track: Reporting That Mayor Bloomberg is Backer of Free Speech
How exactly does the New York Times editorial page get out of a bind like this- The Times in writing about Occupy Wall Street had just dubbed Mayor Bloomberg a champion of the First Amendment and backer of free speech, including running an article that conveyed this assessment in its front page headline. Almost immediately thereafter, and this is what the editorial was dealing with, the editorial page was confronted with a letter written by one of its own attorneys, a vice president and assistant general counsel, that said that the police actions in executing Bloomberg’s orders to evict the Occupy Wall Street protesters were “more hostile to the press than any other event in recent memory.” That letter gained a high profile in that it was signed not just by the Times itself but also by almost every news organization of importance in the city that was conceivably available to sign it.

This article follows up from another angle on others I have already posted here about how off course it has been to promulgate the notion that Mayor Bloomberg is a free speech protector . . .

. . . I have previously written about how the Times suddenly christened Bloomberg a champion of the First amendment and defender of free speech in its Occupy Wall Street coverage. (In fact, I noted that part of this strange behavior included an editorial page buy-in to the notion that Bloomberg was defender of free speech.) The Times was apparently succumbing to recent PR management emanating from Bloomberg’s City Hall since, as I documented, the Times prior coverage of Bloomberg’s attitudes about protesters was strictly at odds with such a characterization. (See: Sunday, November 20, 2011, Question of Truth For The Times: The Meme of Bloomberg as Champion of the First Amendment & Free Speech, Firmly Planted Before OWS Eviction.)

. . . I also wrote about how Bloomberg’s biographer, Joyce Purnick, discussing the OWS protesters (before their removal) proclaimed Bloomberg to be “a firm supporter of the First Amendment,” probably having been influenced by the recent stories in the Times; what appears in her biography is directly contrary to that notion. (See: Tuesday, November 22, 2011, Orwellian Purnick Purge: Bloomberg Biographer Rewrites Billionaire Mayor’s Record On First Amendment Free Speech Rights.) The documentary about the New York Times, “Page One: Inside the New York Times” describes something it terms “The Times Effect” which is that the Times can make something virtually true by reporting it, setting the agenda, and then afterwards everyone imitatingly follows suit, reporting similar things. Perhaps this is an example of that effect.

Bloomberg’s “Free Speech Zones”

The previous articles dealt principally with Bloomberg’s attitude and treatment of protesters wanting to exercise their right to free speech and freedom of assembly. As captured in what the Times and Ms. Purnick had historically written, Bloomberg’s attitude was always one of disrespect for-- at best ‘brusque’ impatience with-- the principles of the rights being exercised. Bloomberg was even impatient with those who might merely wander near to such protesters, to him a stupid mistake. His `pragmatic’ preference was to circumscribe and impede the exercise of these rights to the best of his abilities, particularly so when ideas being expressed were in opposition to ideas he was supporting, as in the case of the 2004 Republican National Convention. One Bloombergian tactic standing out prominently as a symbol for how Bloomberg believed he could regulate protesters’ speech so as to minimize its effectiveness was his creation of “free speech zones” set up as far as possible from the object of the demonstrators’ protest. In other words: “You can speak, but if we can set it up that you are far enough away, maybe you just won’t be heard.”

Bloomberg’s “Freedom of the Press Zone”

The Times editorial, although it dealt with the suppression of the press rather than the suppression of the protesters’ speech itself, dealt with something quite analogous. The Times weekend editorial and the letter signed by the press organizations to which it referred both wrote about how with chilling calculation the police set up a freedom of the press zone to keep reporters far enough away from the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators so that the press would not be able to see what happened as the police moved in to evict the protesters. According to the Times editorial, “Before clearing tents and other structures from Zuccotti Park, for example, a police representative asked journalists in the area for press credentials.” Why? The letter describes the next step complained about by the press organizations:
credentialed media were identified, segregated and kept away from viewing, reporting on and photographing vital matters of public concern. A press pen was set up blocks away and those kept there were further prevented from seeing what was occurring by the strategic placement of police buses around the perimeter.
The Times editorial makes the point that this was a violation of the Police Department’s own policy expressed in a “1999 reforms and policy statement”: “under no circumstances should the press be provided less access than that afforded the general public.” There is a good reason why that is the official policy that has to bind the police. It has to be there because of what is in that First Amendment of the Constitution of which Bloomberg is supposedly a champion. The First Amendment, binding upon New York’s mayor and his police department, says that the government shall make no law abridging the freedom of the press. That is why the Times editorial objected to the use of press credentials as a mechanism to regulate and prevent reporters from witnessing what was going on, saying: “Reporters and photographers do not need credentials to be in a public area. The passes are supposed to give them better access. .”

Suppression of the Press During the OWS Eviction: A Litany

A Gothmist blog headline addressed the gist of what was going on, and the penning in of the credentialed reporters blocks away from the scene of the eviction was only part of a bigger picture: “The NYPD Didn’t Want You To See Occupy Wall Street Get Evicted.”

Other ways the police prevented the press from being witness to the events:
• As noted in the Gothamist article, “Airspace in Lower Manhattan was closed to CBS and NBC news choppers by the NYPD”. Really? Was this done for any other reason except to block images of police routing the demonstrators? Did the police believe that Occupy Wall Street protesters were going to call in air support they had at the ready to resist eviction?

• Credentials were peremptorily and illegally seized from credentialed reporters.

• Police did not want reporters admitted to the interior private space of nearby office buildings to watch the eviction from behind the glass of those buildings from where other members of the public could witness events.

• Reporters were ordered off the streets and kept as far as three blocks away.

• When a photographer close to Zucotti Park raised his camera to photograph police carrying a protester covered with blood two police officers shoved a barricade into the photographer, “screaming” (according to the Times editorial) “that he was not permitted to take pictures even though he was on the sidewalk.”

• Journalists who were clearly journalists were “roughed up” by the police, held in choke-holds, thrown to the ground, pushed to the ground, sent to the hospital for injuries from being thrown and dragged around, and reporters (and in at least on case also that reporter’s camera) were struck with police batons. One chief police spokesman, Paul J. Browne, dismissed what was reported, officially denying that he had personally witnessed any of the multiple incidents of roughing up reported.

• Over 25 Journalists were arrested though never formally charged and many more were threatened with arrest for being in public places.
“Free Speech Zones” and “Free Press Zones” - Never The Twain Should Meet?

The evident Bloomberg philosophy is to suppress the protest and to suppress the coverage of the protest. The cumulative effect is a monumental suppression of free speech. There is undoubtedly a reason the First Amendment nestles its protection for freedom of the press in between its protection of “freedom of speech” and “the right of the people peaceably to assemble.” If you have the other two freedoms but the press can’t report it, it’s like the proverbial tree falling in the forest with no one to hear. In fact, a large part of what the Occupy Wall Street protesters are attempting to communicate in their protests is about exactly what the police actions were attempting to suppress, the response by the “Government” [and those like Bloomberg representing Wall Street and the 1%] to their request via protest “for a redress of grievances” (to employ yet one more phrase in that First Amendment).

There may be times when the protesters’ absolute right to engage in specific demonstration tactics may be questionable: Remember that one judge (Lucy Billings) issued a court order that said the protesters had a right to remain in Zucotti Park, a court order which the Bloomberg administration blatantly defied for the half day it was in effect, and then a more administration-friendly judge, Michael D. Stallman, was pulled into the fracas to rule the other way. But even when the protesters are with careful calculation choosing civil disobedience such as setting up the preplanned November 17th arrest of a symbolic 99 volunteers to be arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge (in a prearranged and orderly staging) to commemorate the Saturday, October 1st arrest of 700 Occupy Wall Street protesters as they crossed the Brooklyn Bridge with police in the lead, they are doing so as a free speech communication to be noticed and reported upon. Among other things, intentional civil disobedience is a comment that not all laws are good laws. Sometimes it is the way that all those laws converge in their affect that makes them unjust. The press needs to be able to cover such events as part of our public dialogue.

Reconciling Bloomberg Administration Suppression of Press With Characterization of Bloomberg as First Amendment Champion

How did the New York Times editorial page manage to reconcile its complaint about the “numerous inappropriate, if not unconstitutional actions” by police officers during the eviction with the Times’ recent proclamations that Mayor Bloomberg is a defender of free speech and champion of the First Amendment? It concluded with the stern admonition:
It is time that Commissioner Kelly made a serious effort to enforce the department’s own code.
In other words, as serious as the subject was, the editorial never mentioned Bloomberg once, directly or by implication.

Does this mean that despite how the police actions reflected Bloomberg’s trademark traditions Bloomberg might not have been involved? That seems unlikely: The Times reported on the day that Bloomberg evicted the Occupy Wall Street protesters that the police raid was planned in advance, carefully, minutely and in secrecy at the very highest levels with the intention that it be a surprise. (See: After an Earlier Misstep, a Minutely Planned Raid/Operation to Clear Zucotti Park, Carefully Planned, Unfolded Without Warning- the second headline is the Times print edition’s, by Al Baker and Joseph Goldstein, Published: November 15, 2011.)

In fact, there seemed to be coordination between New York City and other similarly timed Occupy Wall Street evictions elsewhere in the country. Then there is the fact that Diana Taylor, Bloomberg’s live-in girlfriend and companion, is on the board of Brookfield Office properties, the company that technically owns the public Zucotti Park space and whose security guards were involved in the police actions the day of the evictions.

If Bloomberg was going for plausible deniablity with respect to the actions taken by his police the question is how could he be doing so and still maintain that he was doing his job, especially after so many years of receiving criticism, including from the New York Times, for the way that he has dealt with protesters in years prior. In 2005, the Times editorial page addressed itself directly to Bloomberg as mayor, in criticizing his administration’s use of agent provocateurs in a “a deliberate effort to incite violence that would in turn justify a tough police response” when dealing with protesters.

LinkBloomberg’s Endorsement of Keeping the Press Away

That being the record how could it be appropriate for the mayor to refrain from the involvement necessary to ensure that similar things not happen again. And that being the record you can see how important it was for the press to be there and observe if similar things were, indeed, happening again.

What most damns the Times editorial’s failure to admonish Bloomberg alongside of his admonished police commissioner is that Bloomberg has already connected himself with the police tactics and endorsed their intent to keep the media away. In essence the Times editorial page was either ignoring or disavowing coverage in two of the paper’s own stories, the first covering the media blackout that day and the other covering the subsequent press complaints about it, each of which ran practically identical versions of the paragraph below:
At a news conference after the park was cleared that day, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg defended the police behavior, saying that the media were kept away “to prevent a situation from getting worse and to protect members of the press.”
(See: November 15, 2011, Reporters Say Police Denied Access to Protest Site, by Brian Stelter and Al Baker and November 21, 2011, News Organizations Complain About Treatment During Protests, by Brian Stelter.)

New York Magazine reported the mayor’s endorsement of the police tactics, following up with a terse comment) this way:
Mayor Bloomberg previously defended the NYPD's actions. "The police department routinely keeps members of the press off to the side when they're in the middle of a police action," he said last week. "It's to prevent the situation from getting worse, and it's to protect the members of the press."

That's all nice and good, but there's a difference between keeping people "off to the side" and launching them into pavement.
(See: 11/21/11, Journalists Protest Police Treatment During Occupy Wall Street Eviction, By Brett Smiley.)

Addressing Unaddressed Complaints

The letter of complaint signed by the news media was addressed to Bloomberg’s Police Department (its full text is here: New York media organizations demand meeting with Kelly, Browne about Zuccotti Park 'abuses' of the press, by Joe Pompeo, Nov. 21, 2011- I can't find the full letter on the Times’ own web site). A second similar letter sent by the New York Civil Liberties Union was addressed first to “Honorable Michael R. Bloomberg, Mayor” and secondly to Raymond Kelly as commissioner of the Police Department. That letter expresses concern about the “media backout” imposed by the NYPD effectively blocking first-hand reporting, details physical abuses and mentions the closing of the airspace over Zucotti Park to prevent news helicopters from documenting the police actions. It goes on to say that it is:
clear to us that the NYPD is aggressively blocking journalists from doing their constitutionally protected work and in some instances is even targeting journalists for mistreatment. That this has happened during a nationally important protest is all the more disturbing.
A copy of that letter is available here.

Who Signed News Organization Complaint Letter? And One Organization That Didn’t

The letter of complaint by the news organizations that the Times addressed in its editorial this weekend was signed, in addition to the Times, by more than a dozen of the most important news organizations and associations in New York, a veritably complete BINGO of everyone conceivably of importance available to sign. It includes the following:
1. The Associated Press
2. The New York Post
3. The Daily News
4. Thomson Reuters
5. Dow Jones & Company
6. The Associated Press,
7. WABC
8. WCBS
9. WNBC (NBC Universal and WNBC-TV)
10. National Press Photographers Association
11. New York Press Photographers Association
12. Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
13. New York Press Club
14. Deadline Club
Although it includes one organization, Rupert Murdoch’s Dow Jones & Company, owner of the Wall Street Journal, that famously reports on Wall Street, it does not include another major company reporting on Wall Street, Bloomberg, L.P. whose “Bloomberg TV” was given a prominent spot on the NYC Time Warner dial by City Hall (Bloomberg) and which publishes BusinessWeek. It seems that if you own the press you might no longer need to worry that it will criticize you.

Owning One’s Journalistic Principles

The Times editorial this weekend doesn’t say so but you should probably infer from it that a press that is free to go where it wants and report what stories it wants is important and a good thing. That, however, is something that the Bloomberg administration and apparently Mayor Michael Bloomberg himself doesn’t want. But if you fight for these rights in principle, what difference does it make to win them if, in the end, you are only going to report things as the administration would like them reported? Isn't that what the Times has done by compliantly passing along the administration’s recent PR that Mayor Bloomberg is defender of free speech and a champion of the first amendment. And it furthers that misguided notion by failing to chastise the mayor for the blatant suppression of the press when the Occupy Wall Street protesters were evicted. Michael Bloomberg may own Bloomberg, L.P. and that may be one of the many ways that he, with various forms of paid speech, ensures that messages he wants promulgated get out (or, alternatively are ignored), but what hold does Michael Bloomberg have on the editorial page of the New York Times that it should be guilty of such a gross lapse in not holding Bloomberg himself accountable?

Friday, November 25, 2011

Pepper Spraying Cop Gets Around: National Notice Found Him Spraying Mayor Bloomberg’s Dogs Bonnie and Clyde at Zucotti Park

If you are at all exposed to the contagions that rage through the social media then you have already been exposed to the ubiquitous meme of the “casually pepper spraying cop.” The image plays off and derives from police Lt. John Pike pepper spraying a line of seated Occupy protesters at the University of California, Davis that was also captured in a video that went viral. The protesters and those witnessing the incident responded by chanting “Shame on you” and “Who do you protect?” (Video below).



One of my more frequent encounters with the CPSC was seeing on people’s Facebook pages an altered version of George Seurat’s “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” below. Another favorite is Christana of Andrew Wyeth’s “Christina’s World” getting a facefull.

Images are collecting at this Tumblr site: Pepper Spraying Cop.

The list goes on, Peanuts characters, Cindy Loo Who, Muppets, Gandhi, an appearance in Picasso’s Guernica, or flipping things, CPSC becomes part of the "Clockwork Orange" gang.

The phenomena has been covered by National Public radio’s “All Things Considered” ('Casually Pepper Spraying Cop' Meme Takes Off: Categories: Technology, National News, by Mark Memmott, November 21, 2011) and in an article of surprising thoughtfulness in the New York Times (Pepper Spray’s Fallout, From Crowd Control to Mocking Images, By Katherine Q. Seelye).

I thought it was time for National Notice to contribute images to the furiously compiling flurry of images. My immediate instinct was to build upon a Photoshop theme I have played with before although it makes for multi-step mental process to appreciate the product rather than what might be achieved by riffing off an immediately recognizable icon: Mayor Bloomberg’s dogs, bizarrely named after Bonnie and Clyde, two bank robbers who, via folklore and a movie directed by Arthur Penn, have become imbued with a certain Robin Hood reputation, robbing from those who have too much.

The dogs are not as quintessentially helpless, nonthreatening, or carefree as some of the images others have composited. Nor are they classic pacifists as in other compositions that involve Jesus and Gandhi. They don’t epitomize American liberty as do the iconic images pressed into service by others.

Originally I Photoshopped the dogs joining the Occupy Wall Street protesters because it seemed that if they were named after Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde the dogs, having more in common with the protesters, ought to be joining them. It also seemed especially absurd that, the way things were originally going to happen, the New York Times was going to run a `Mayor loves (or tolerates) his dogs story’ on the same morning he was going to evict the Occupy Wall Street protesters from Zucotti Park, although it didn’t finally happen that day.

Anyway, I figured that these days the mayor’s dogs, if they could, would still be hanging out with the Occupy Wall Street protesters and that means that the “casually pepper spraying cop” would naturally want to show up to spritz the placid animals.

For more about Bloomberg’s Bonnie and Clyde including pictures see:
• Saturday, October 22, 2011
Occupy Wall Street and the Banks- Messages From Bonnie & Clyde, “They’ve Got Too Much Money”: Ownership of the Public Forum by the Wealthy?

• Monday, October 24, 2011
On NPR, Echo of Coinciding Principles Noticed: What the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street Ought To Agree On

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Orwellian Purnick Purge: Bloomberg Biographer Rewrites Billionaire Mayor’s Record On First Amendment Free Speech Rights

The answer is Orwellian. The question is whether I was wrong. . . Nope! Not at all. . .

I wrote about Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s eviction of Occupy Wall Street’s protesters from Zucotti Park and how the New York Times, with absolutely no basis for doing so, reported in its coverage of the eviction that Bloomberg is a Champion of the First Amendment’s protection of free speech. (See: Sunday, November 20, 2011, Question of Truth For The Times: The Meme of Bloomberg as Champion of the First Amendment & Free Speech, Firmly Planted Before OWS Eviction.)

In that story I wrote about how, once the New York Times had run a story to the effect that Bloomberg is a defender of free speech bolstering that notion with the headline that appeared on its front page (Demonstrators Test Mayor, a Backer of Wall St. and Free Speech, by Kate Taylor, November 3, 2011.) the meme of Bloomberg being a backer of free speech was being picked up elsewhere, including on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer show where Bloomberg biographer Joyce Purnick in a discussion of the protest stated unequivocally that Bloomberg is “a firm supporter of the First Amendment”:
Within days of Kate Taylor’s front page article, the meme was even picked up and incorporated in WNYC’s Brian Lehrer show when Lehrer introduced a segment on the Mayor and the Occupiers with Joyce Purnick and Matt Taibbi guesting. Lehrer said “he’s been supportive of their free speech rights, maybe more than some other mayors” and Bloomberg biographer Purnick moments later emphatically stated that “he is a firm supporter of the First Amendment.” (See: What OWS Tells Us About Mike Bloomberg, Monday, November 07, 2011.)
I realized that was I might have been unfair to Ms. Purnick. What I wrote essentially implied that she, as Bloomberg’s biographer, was influenced in her statement that Bloomberg is “a firm supporter of the First Amendment” by reading the New York Times. I seemed to discount the possibility that Ms. Purnick was basing her statement on the greater intimacy she might have with Bloomberg’s reputation as a civil libertarian based on her own work, including the access and interviews Bloomberg gave her to write a rather complimentary biography about him.

Maybe I was even being unfair to the New York Times: In that earlier article I provided extensive research to show that the Times’ recent assertion that Bloomberg is a champion of the protesters’ free speech rights was completely at odds with the Times’ own past coverage and editorial positions on the subject. But, maybe the Times’ wasn’t relying on its own past paper-of-record coverage of Bloomberg’s record respecting free speech. Maybe it was drawing from another source. . . Maybe rather than Purnick superficially succumbing to the influence of the Times front page it was the reverse and the Times had adjusted its views of Mr. Bloomberg after reading Purnick’s 2009 biography of Bloomberg.

Alas for Ms. Purnick and the New York Times: Not so! There is nothing in Ms. Purnick’s biography of Bloomberg that supports the notion that Bloomberg is “a firm supporter of the First Amendment” free speech rights of protesters. Quite the reverse. Here is what Ms. Purnick writes about Mr. Bloomberg on page 154 of her book “Mike Bloomberg: Money, Power, Politics”:
New Yorkers, most of them still Democrats, objected to Bloomberg’s handling of the Republican National Convention in the summer of 2004, when eighteen hundred people were arrested and held in a large detention center, some guilty of no more than standing on a street during a police sweep. Never a conspicuous civil libertarian, the mayor in a talk with me, brusquely dismisses the issue of treatment of demonstrators, and privacy in general, justifying himself and the Police Department, pitting his pragmatism over the principles of others: “Number one, there’s a camera watching you at all times when you’re out in the street, the civil liberties issue has long been settled,” he says.

As he sees it, those who were arrested put themselves at risk and in effect got what they deserved because the police were reacting to threats. “What are you gonna do, say one yes, one no? I am sorry, if you get caught up in a crowd where everybody’s throwing rocks and you get arrested, that’s just the real world! You have to be stupid to be in that crowd!” There have been no allegations of rock-throwing, but his point is clear. He feels he owes no one any apologies.
Maybe “never a conspicuous civil libertarian,” together with the rest of the above, is strong enough: Could it leave open the possibility that Bloomberg was an inconspicuous civil libertarian? No, because you are not going to find things elsewhere in the book that make that case. Instead, Purnick asserts Bloomberg’s stance on civil liberties is very similar to Rudolph Guiliani’s while saying that Guiliani had “no patience” for First Amendment civil liberties.

On page 78 of her book she says (emphasis supplied):
Guiliani gave New York a needed slap in the face, actually governing the ungovernable city. He went after crime, improved the quality of life, ruthlessly reduced the welfare rolls. But he had no patience for civil liberties of the First Amendment, damaged race relations with his unrelenting ferocity, was constantly attacking somebody or something and governed with a strict top-down discipline that discouraged creativity.
On Page 204 she writes of Bloomberg (emphasis supplied):
Despite his idiosyncracies, he was prudently nonconfrontational, which helped him in the inevitable comparisons with his belligerent predecessor, making it less obvious than it might have been that he shares some of Rudy Guiliani’s autocratic attitudes about he news media and civil liberties.
There is nothing else in Purnick’s book about Bloomberg as a civil libertarian unless you want to go straight to the book’s introductory summary pages where Ms. Purnick writes on page 4 (emphasis supplied):
He doggedly challenged dealers of illegal guns, kept crime rates down, and becalmed race relations despite aggressive police strategies that offended minority communities and civil libertarians.
Verdict? Bloomberg Biographer Joyce Purnick had no basis in her book to assert that Bloomberg “is a firm supporter of the First Amendment,” just as there was no basis in the Times’ previous reporting for the Times to suddenly start asserting, as it has, that Bloomberg is a “champion of the First Amendment” or a “backer” “defender” and celebrator of “free speech.” Ergo, it doesn’t appear that I was unfair to Ms. Purnick at all. It appears that she was, just as my previous article would imply, influenced, not by her own theoretically deep knowledge of Bloomberg as his biographer, but by what she had just read on the front page of the New York Times, the PR message du jour that the Bloomberg administration was putting out as it readied itself to evict the protesters.

That’s what’s Orwellian: George Orwell posited how totalitarian dystopias function by erasing facts and history, by having the public consume as information and accepted reality whatever current fictions the government wanted to on a particular day. Maybe in the future the way that it will work is that all our biographers will wake up every morning and chose to believe that whatever they previously wrote in any of our biographies is simply what they last happened read in the paper that morning.

PS: Note, I provided previous coverage of Purnick’s Bloomberg biography here- Saturday, October 3, 2009, What Purnick Has Purged: The Bloomberg Bio Mysteriously Missing Atlantic Yards.

PPS: I also checked Bloomberg’s own politically self-promotional 1997 autobiography “Bloomberg by Bloomberg”(By Bloomberg- With invaluable help from Matthew Winkler) and found no evidence in it of Bloomberg being a supporter of the First Amendment free speech protections.

And one Final PPS: The situation and Bloomberg’s retrospection on the demonstrators at the 2004 the Republican Convention are far worse than might be supposed. Read my earlier article about the Times’ misleading coverage of Bloomberg as free speech champion. Purnick correctly notes that there never were any reports of people “throwing rocks” despite Bloomberg’s reference to being arrested when you are “caught up in a crowd where everybody’s throwing rocks” Perhaps Bloomberg’s memory, rather than being of crowds actually throwing rocks, is instead his memory of actions his police department tried to make happen by sending agent provocateurs into the those crowds. It’s actually true: Read the prior National Notice article.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Question of Truth For The Times: The Meme of Bloomberg as Champion of the First Amendment & Free Speech, Firmly Planted Before OWS Eviction

You know the old axiom for watching politicians: “Watch what he DOES, not what he SAYS”? Well, here is the axiom that Michael Bloomberg watchers ought to employ: “Listen to what he SAYS and then figure the OPPOSITE.” One opposite to figure: The notion Bloomberg wishes to promote that he is a big `defender of free speech.' But if you are reporting for the New York Times these days maybe you would just like to report Bloomberg's assertion as fact.

Planning (and Planting?) In Advance?

According to one of the articles appearing in the New York Times the day that Bloomberg moved to evict the Occupy Wall Street protesters from Zucotti Park, the police raid that effected the eviction was planned in advance, carefully, minutely and in secrecy at the very highest levels with the intention that it be a surprise. (See: After an Earlier Misstep, a Minutely Planned Raid/Operation to Clear Zucotti Park, Carefully Planned, Unfolded Without Warning- the second headline is the Times print edition’s, by Al Baker and Joseph Goldstein, Published: November 15, 2011.
That article focused principally on police associated logistics, the day and time of night chosen. (Was even the weather watched?) One thing we didn’t learn from the article was about other the planning that took place at the highest levels of the Bloomberg administration, including one thing we will now direct Noticing New York attention to: the planting in the media of a meme. On November 4, 2011, ten days before police were ordered into action for their 1:00 AM November 15th, raid, the front page of the Friday New York Times carried a story with a headline and content laudatory of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s esteem for “Free Speech.” Quoting that article:
Mr. Bloomberg’s evolving response to the protest has come to embody a central tension in his third term, between his celebration of free, and at times cacophonous, speech as a hallmark of New York, and his emphasis on bolstering the city’s economy by improving its appeal to residents, employers and tourists.

* * * *

Mr. Bloomberg has managed simultaneously to be less sympathetic to the protesters’ point of view, and more sympathetic to their right to protest, than some other elected officials around the nation. “There’s nobody that’s more of a defender of the First Amendment than I am,” he has often said.
(See: Demonstrators Test Mayor, a Backer of Wall St. and Free Speech, by Kate Taylor, November 3, 2011.)

Where Do Quotes Come From?

As for the Bloomberg quote, “There’s nobody that’s more of a defender of the First Amendment than I am,” which the Times article describes as frequently stated: I can’t find it anywhere on the web and it appears nowhere on the Times own site except in that same article.

The article was written by Times reporter Kate Taylor. As pointed out in an earlier Noticing New York article, Kate Taylor was one of the two Times reporters who dutifully reported what looked like a direct pass-along for the Bloomberg administration, that the mayor’s staff was “under strict orders from Mr. Bloomberg” not to “lobby the owner of the park, Brookfield Office Properties, about whether to push ahead, leaving the decision up to the company’s management, according to several people involved in the discussions” while simultaneously failing to mention what had been in the Times just the day before, that Diana Taylor, the Mayor’s girlfriend and live-in companion, was on the board of Brookfield.

While reporter Kate Taylor did not let the Bloomberg/Diana Taylor relationship go unmentioned in her new article about Bloomberg as the `backer of free speech,' her reporting makes it sound as if her sympathies are with the mayor, that she considers it a sorrowful misfortune that the very small world of the rich and powerful necessitates uncomfortable disclosures: “At one point, he felt compelled to disclose that he did not talk about Zuccotti Park while in bed with his girlfriend.”

The morning following the eviction of the protesters Bloomberg said in his press conference that throughout the crisis he had been in constant contact with Brookfield Properties. Interesting . . . . Square that with Ms. Tayor’s reporting that staff contact was proscribed and that pillow talk was also avoided. It's possible.

Meme Gets Rolling

Did Ms. Taylor write her front page story because Bloomberg held a press conference the day of her story where he stated he was concerned about “free speech” or was this a theme Ms. Taylor was already working on and getting attached to it before that? No matter, once this story appeared on the front page of the Times the meme was up and running despite the fact that Bloomberg had already been saying that he did not think that what the protesters were doing in Zucotti Park constituted free speech. The meme was even picked up right away in a Times editorial that was otherwise complementary about how the message of the Occupy Wall Street protesters was getting through to the public.

As such, the meme was prophylactically in place and the following wound up embedded in one of the major stories the Times immediately ran covering the eviction.
For the mayor, a champion of the First Amendment who made a fortune on Wall Street and defends its virtues, the decision was even more freighted: just a month ago, he announced that the city would clear the park for cleaning, but backed down after a chorus of political protest and an influx of new demonstrators.

* * * *

Facing mounting criticism from the city’s tabloids and from some business interests for his tolerance of an encampment they found increasingly noxious, he spoke increasingly of the need to balance free speech with public safety.
(See: Jolted, Wall St. Protesters Face Challenge for Future, By David M. Halbfinger and Michael Barbaro, November 15, 2011.)

And the meme was similarly picked up by the Times in another story that day here: City Reopens Park After Protesters Are Evicted, by James Barron and Colin Moynihan, November 15, 2011.

In fact, Michael Barbaro, one of the reporters writing the article with the paragraphs quoted above, let the meme peek through a few days before in an article about how Bloomberg was developing new oratorical skills and was increasingly being inspired to do his own authoring as he addressed grand issues. The puffy article is made up of quotes and information supplied by Bloomberg staff:
Again and again, Mr. Bloomberg celebrates New York’s public disputes, even the two-month-old Occupy Wall Street protest, though he has struggled over how to balance the free-speech rights of demonstrators in Lower Manhattan with the concerns of annoyed neighbors.
(Data-Crunching Mayor Now Sees Power in Words, by Michael Barbaro, November 12, 2011.)

Within days of Kate Taylor’s front page article, the meme was even picked up and incorporated in WNYC’s Brian Lehrer show when Lehrer introduced a segment on the Mayor and the Occupiers with Joyce Purnick and Matt Taibbi guesting. Lehrer said “he’s been supportive of their free speech rights, maybe more than some other mayors” and Bloomberg biographer Purnick moments later emphatically stated that “he is a firm supporter of the First Amendment.” (See: What OWS Tells Us About Mike Bloomberg, Monday, November 07, 2011.) Item of disclosure and interest: I can be heard during that segment phoning in to venture my disbelief that Bloomberg is a true supporter of free speech as opposed to merely being an ostensible one.

Better To Accompany Eviction With a Mayor Loves Free Speech Story Than a Mayor Tolerates Dogs Story

Is it true that Mayor Bloomberg is the “backer” of “free speech,” the “champion of the First Amendment”? Certainly the press that Bloomberg is now getting to this effect is lot better than the press Bloomberg might have been getting for his tone deafness if his originally planned eviction of the protesters had gone through, as scheduled, the day the Times ran its `Mayor tolerates dogs’ (“Bonnie and Clyde”) story. (See: Saturday, October 22, 2011, Occupy Wall Street and the Banks- Messages From Bonnie & Clyde, “They’ve Got Too Much Money”: Ownership of the Public Forum by the Wealthy?)

Are reporters doing their job, are they worth their salt if the report that Bloomberg is a “backer” of “free speech,” the “champion of the First Amendment”?

Testing the Times. . . Against the Record That Appears in the Times

Since the media buy-in to the meme that Bloomberg is a “champion of the First Amendment” probably originated or was significantly bolstered by the Times front page article promoting that idea, the best place I could think of to put that notion to the test was . . . the Times itself. What did the Times report about Bloomberg’s positions on free speech and the First Amendment before the Occupiers Occupied Zucotti Park?

Much of it could be summed up by these words from a Times editorial in the spring of 2006:
Mr. Bloomberg's record on free speech took a beating in his first term after he moved aggressively to limit protests, most notably those surrounding the Republican National Convention in New York two years ago. And as a report in yesterday's Times by Jim Dwyer made clear, the Police Department's willingness to subvert free speech in the name of security appears to have gone beyond that one event to an ongoing strategy that included "proactive arrests" of political demonstrators who were spotted as potential troublemakers.
(See: Editorial: The Mayor and the Imam, March 18, 2006.)

Donations From the Wealthy Are Said To Privatize a Great Public Space And Curtail Free Speech

One year later, another Times editorial prompted by a First Amendment lawsuit criticized Bloomberg for his selectivity in denying “the right to demonstrate on Central Park’s Great Lawn” mainly because the wealthy in New York had paid to refurbish its lawn. Apparently, if you want to privatize public space and make it off-limits for political expression (and there is a lot of that going on in New York City) it is no longer necessary for the wealthiest to actually acquire and take legal title to that space. Said the Times:
In the heart of the nation’s largest and arguably most opinionated city, there is no place to hold a large rally. Central Park has long been the site of such gatherings, but the Bloomberg administration insists that its grass is too fragile to permit them now. It’s an inadequate and distressing rationale . .

. . Central Park, at 843 acres of green, is often called the city's lungs. But it is also its vocal cords. The Great Lawn, with 13 acres of open space, is the most suitable site for large rallies in Manhattan. It has been the site of some spectacular events, like the 1982 "No Nukes" rally and the 1995 Mass with the pope, both of which drew more than a hundred thousand people.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants to put an end to such gatherings. Since around the time of the 2004 Republican convention, when the city repeatedly denied protesters the right to gather in Central Park, his administration seems to have had a wild fixation on saving every blade of the Great Lawn.

* * * *

The lawsuit also calls attention to the uneven way the city applies its rules. It’s telling that while the New York Philharmonic and its well-heeled subscribers have had no problem securing the Great Lawn for concerts, there hasn’t been a rally there in years. Classical music fans are just as capable of flattening grass as critics of the White House.

* * * *

The mayor’s solution might make tending the grass in Central Park easier. But turning Manhattan into a rally-free zone is too high a price to pay.
(See: Editorial: The Perfect Lawn, Mowed and Muted, March 12, 2007.)

Bloomberg Politically Motivated As He Curtails Speech

The Times editorial could have been even harsher if it had looked back to evidence of the calculated and politically motivated way that Bloomberg had suppressed speech as reported only months before in its own pages. Here is just the beginning of a very long article presenting such documentation:
When city officials denied demonstrators access to the Great Lawn in Central Park during the 2004 Republican National Convention, political advocates and ordinary New Yorkers accused Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of squelching demonstrations that could embarrass fellow Republicans during their gathering.

Documents Regarding Use of Great Lawn (justiceonline.org) The Bloomberg administration denied being guided by politics in banning the protests. Instead, officials said they were motivated by a concern for the condition of the expensively renovated Great Lawn or by law enforcement’s ability to secure the crowd.

But documents that have surfaced in a federal lawsuit over the use of the Great Lawn paint a different picture, of both the rationale for the administration’s policy and the degree of Mr. Bloomberg’s role in enforcing it.

Those documents, which include internal e-mail messages and depositions in the court case, show that Mr. Bloomberg’s involvement in the deliberations over the protests may have been different from how he and his aides have portrayed it. They also suggest that officials were indeed motivated by political concerns over how the protests would play out while the Republican delegates were in town, and how the events could affect the mayor’s re-election campaign the following year.
(See: In Court Papers, a Political Note on ’04 Protests, by Diane Cardwell, July 31, 2006.)

Rewriting and De-Righting the Constitution

Back at the time of the Republican Convention protests the Times reported that Bloomberg was saying that the protesters instead of having a right of free speech only benefitted from a privilege to speak that would be lost by them if they were, in Bloomberg’s opinion, unreasonable. One person quoted in that article commented that it was as if “the mayor paid someone to rewrite the Constitution.” (See: Behavior May Cost Protesters 'Privileges,' Bloomberg Says, by Jennifer Steinhauer, August 17, 2004.)

Bloomberg: "Let Me Tell You How I Want You To Protest"

For Bloomberg free speech is ideally exercised by others in the fashion he prescribes which is also likely to be less effective. This is pointed out in Times columnist Clyde Haberman’s most recent column:
In February 2003, a few weeks before the start of the Iraq war, antiwar organizers wanted to march along First Avenue past the United Nations as part of a worldwide day of protest. Citing security risks, the city said no. Instead, with a federal judge’s approval, it forced the antiwar groups to accept a visually less engaging rally in Dag Hammarskjold Plaza.
(See: November 16, 2011, It’s Not Just What You Protest, It’s Where, by Clyde Haberman and also Critical of Judge's Ruling, Antiwar Protesters Brace for Rally, by James Barron, February 15, 2003)

This notion of dictating that protest be in the `less noticeable, less offensive, and less effective’ modes that the powers-that-be prescribe is a variation on what Bill Maher has talked about: That the plutocrats want the 99% to stay off the streets and do things the plutocratic way with “lobbyists and suits” because then they will certainly lose (and can be ignored) given that all the “lobbyists and suits” are on the side of the plutocrats. (See: Wednesday, October 26, 2011, Bill Maher: Right Wing, Wanting It THEIR Way, Yearns To Get Occupy Wall Street On THEIR Unlevel Playing Field of Lobbyists and Suits and Wednesday, November 9, 2011, Bill Maher Reiterates Theme of Plutocrats Favored By Unlevel Playing Field of "Lobbyists & Suits": Glenn Greenwald Dittos Advantaging Rules For Elite.

Protesters Likened To Terrorists

It is not that Bloomberg never invokes the concept of “free speech” at all. Right after the Republican Convention left town Times columnist Clyde Haberman commented on some strange Bloombergian rhetoric. Bloomberg extolling free speech rights (of the Republicans) likened the protesters to terrorists. Haberman referred to the “less-than-edifying moments on the part of some anti-Bush types who cornered convention delegates on the street, haranguing them with tirades of the four-lettered variety”:
That these protesters were ill-mannered, at best, seems beyond question.

But does that put them in the same league with terrorists? Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg seems to think so. "A handful of people have tried to destroy our city by going up and yelling at visitors here because they don't agree with their views," Mr. Bloomberg said yesterday.

This, he continued, is "the city for free speech if there ever was one, and some people think that we shouldn't allow people to express themselves."

"That's exactly what the terrorists did, if you think about it, on 9/11. Now this is not the same kind of terrorism, but there's no question that these anarchists are afraid to let people speak out."
(See: It's Safe to Return, Girlie Men, by Clyde Haberman, September 3, 2004.)

Bloomberg Ostensibly In favor of What He takes Away

The few times when Bloomberg is extolling the First Amendment or free speech for its own sake have to be distinguished from the times when Bloomberg extolls free speech while at the same time cracking down on its exercise by others. (The OWS-related media management essentially reprises this tactic except for Bloomberg's adroit PR move of getting out the meme about his believing in the First Amendment somewhat before he moved on the eviction.) Bloomberg exercised his own free speech rights as mayor (and soon-to-be-richest New Yorker) by likening protesters at the Republican Convention to terrorists. Thereafter, when the City Correction Department's top chaplain complained that the Bush White House, which had launched a pre-emptive war in Iraq, was “occupied by terrorists” Bloomberg penalized the chaplain, suspending him without pay for two weeks, while at the same time defending his free speech rights. Is that a “political” straddle or is it “Solomonic”? The suspended jail chaplain had also attacked “Zionists of the media.” (See: Mayor Suspends Top Jail Chaplain While Defending Free Speech, by Sewell Chan, March 15, 2006.)

Deliberately Provoking Protesters To Do What Bloomberg Says Will Lose Them Their Rights

After relegating protesters to those protest locations he prefers and warning them that he will take their rights away if he doesn’t consider their protesting reasonably conducted it might be nice if Bloomberg at least let the protesters retain control of their own message without manufacturing interference to make them look bad. He doesn't. In 2005 the Times editorial page chastised Bloomberg for doing the the very opposite, for using agent provocateurs and “underhanded” tactics as the Times said, “to spy on and even distort political protests and mass rallies.” The editorial was based on the “sorry tale" that was " laid out by Jim Dwyer” in the previous day’s Times, a story that was, in turn, based on a forensically analyzed archive of civilian and police videotapes that showed among other things “a sham arrest of a man secretly working with the police” designed by “New York City police officers or people working with them” to “set off a bruising confrontation with demonstrators.” Not pulling any punches the Times editorial said:
Protesters were put on the ground, and at least two were arrested. Meanwhile, the blond-haired man spoke quietly with the police and was quickly led away. The same man was videotaped at an arrest scene a day earlier calling out words that seemed intended to rile the bystanders.

This was a deliberate effort to incite violence that would in turn justify a tough police response.
And it concluded (after describing other objectionable police conduct involving surveillance):
Mayor Michael Bloomberg's record on free speech is already pretty poor. Unless he wants to make a disregard for New Yorkers' rights part of his legacy, he should make sure that the police understand what civil liberties mean in a democracy.
(See: Editorial: Surveillance, New York Style, December 23, 2005.)

No one that I am aware of has yet reported that agent provocateur tactics were used again against Occupy Wall Street but one thing that may need to be investigated is reports that police sent young men being booked for crimes in the direction of Zucotti Park because the park was a place to sleep and get some free food from the protesters. Remember that at his press conference the day of the eviction the mayor said one reason he felt compelled to move in was that there ostensibly issues with safety due to the way some fringe individuals were conducting themselves in the park.

Free Speech Messes at Columbia?

Bloomberg got involved offering a somewhat rambling `rebuke’ to Columbia University about protesters interrupting the free speech of others on the campus. That involved a speech by Jim Gilchrist of the Minuteman Project, which mounts armed patrols to curb illegal immigration. The statement about the free speech right to speak or speak while not being interrupted versus the free speech right to harangue would hardly qualify Bloomberg as a free speech champion. Bloomberg might have been attracted to comment about free speech issues at Columbia University because there had been so much recent high-profile focus at the university respecting free speech issues of interest to the city’s Jewish electorate, harassment of Jewish students by pro-Palestinian faculty members and the question of whether Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, should speak there. After being disinvited Ahmadinejad ultimately did come to speak at Columbia. While the head of Bloomberg's Police Department didn't want Ahmadinejad laying a wreath at Ground Zero, Bloomberg said that Ahmadinejad speaking was free speech but that he personally wouldn't be in the audience.

Another reason for Bloomberg to snipe at Columbia's president Bollinger about free speech issues in the educational environment?: Bollinger had already sniped at the handling of such issues by Bloomberg's City Education Department being run by Joel Klien.

Which First Amendment Rights?

Since the First Amendment to the Constitution also encompasses the prohibitions against Congress establishing religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, it is technically correct to say that Bloomberg is defending the First Amendment when on David Letterman he says that “government shouldn’t be involved” in prohibiting a mosque or Muslim Community Center near Ground Zero. It's true that is championing the First Amendment, but when the Times calls Bloomberg a “champion of the First Amendment” in the context of removing the Occupy Wall Street protesters from Zucotti Park it naturally implies that the Times is talking about the protesters’ free speech rights not their right to freely practice their religion.

Controlling Speech

Bloomberg a free speech champion? Bloomberg likes control. Had the New York City hosted the 2012 Olympic the Bloomberg administration planned to control the content of advertising and control who was going to be allowed to advertise while the Olympics were in town. (See: City Demands the Final Word If It Wins 2012 Olympics Bid, by Jennifer Steinhauer, May 1, 2004.)

In 2006 Bloomberg sought to change the rules respecting public assembly. Rather than just required permits for amplified sound or marching in a public roadway it was proposed to require “police permits for every sidewalk procession involving 35 or more people, every roadway procession with 20 or more vehicles or bicycles, and every procession of two or more people using a roadway.” (See: Op-Ed Contributor: License to Stroll, by Christopher Dunn and Donna Lieberman, August 13, 2006.)

Free Speech of the Sort That Benefits Bloomberg

Bloomberg does champion the way that the First Amendment protects free speech that only he can exercise: Bloomberg is mayor because of the personal fortune he has spent in campaign and other funds to secure that office. The term “personal fortune” should be used advisedly because Bloomberg accrued most of his wealth after going into politics and became the wealthiest New Yorker while mayor and while his company, Bloomberg, L.P. was doing business and selling Bloomberg terminals to almost every company in the city with which the City of New York has significant interactions. When in 2003 two city councilmen introduced a bill to “prevent Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg from using his personal fortune on an advertising campaign asking New Yorkers to abolish party labels and party primaries in city elections,” Edward Skyler, a spokesman for Bloomberg, said: “Such legislation would be illegal, since it would violate the First Amendment.” From Bloomberg’s point of view he can regard the law as safely protecting all of the spending that put him into and kept him in political power as protected “free speech”

Something You Learn In Journalism School: Bloomberg's Money Speaks

Consider this free speech tangle with respect to Bloomberg’s expenditures of money to control how his image is perceived. Understand first that Patti Harris, Bloomberg’s First Deputy Mayor and top political strategist, controls the disbursement, annually, of hundreds of thousands of dollars in “charitable” contributions by Bloomberg’s Bloomberg, L.P. Against that background Bloomberg L.P. hired Tom Goldstein, then the dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia, “to help ensure impartiality in the company's coverage of Mayor Bloomberg.” Mark Crispin Miller, a professor at New York University’s education school quoted in a New York Observer article “called the hiring troublesome because of the conflicts Mr. Goldstein's relationship might pose for Columbia, which has business with the city government.” The Observer article misidentified Miller as an NYU journalism professor: He was actually “a media critic and a professor of media ecology at the Steinhardt School of Education.” Miller “also called a news media tour of the renovated City Hall `improper'’ because it had resulted in front-page pictures that included Bloomberg terminals, which he described as ''product placement.” (This was before Bloomberg’s wealth from terminal sales really skyrocketed.)

The result of this (perfectly fair) criticism of Bloomberg by NYU Professor Miller? Here’s the lead-in to the Times story from which the quotes in the paragraph above are taken:
Bloomberg L.P., a financial information service that prides itself on philanthropic activity, told officials at New York University last year that the company would no longer support a business journalism program because a professor in its education school had criticized the company and its founder, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, the university said yesterday.
Bloomberg terminated the $26,000 per annum it was contributing to the two fellowships. (See: Bloomberg L.P. Stops Aiding N.Y.U. Fellows After Criticism, by Stephanie Strom, February 21, 2003.)

Prof. Stephen D. Solomon, the founder and director of NYU’s business journalism program, saw a free speech issue in all of this:
''This whole thing is ironic because in addition to running the business and economic journalism program, I also teach First Amendment law to undergraduate and graduate students''
Bloomberg’s defense?:
Edward Skyler, a spokesman for Mayor Bloomberg, said, “The donation of Bloomberg terminals to the mayor's office was cleared by the conflict of interest board, and any pictures of the mayor at his desk are meant to illustrate his work environment and aren't intended to promote that product.”
Stacking Up The Rights of the Monied Individual vs. the Public

How do Bloomberg’s protected free speech rights stack up against the rights of the public not to be overpowered by the expenditures of the vast sums he controls? Bloomberg would not be in office right now had he not, in the middle of the election cycle, changed the City Charter to allow himself a third term. When he made that change to the City Charter a lawsuit was brought where one of the arguments of the plaintiffs’ lawyers was that the public’s “free speech” rights were violated, that:
by changing the limits legislatively, the city had violated voters’ constitutional rights to free speech and due process. They charged, in essence, that the new term limits law annulled a decision that had been twice endorsed at the polls and gave an unfair advantage to two-term incumbents over political newcomers who might have wished to challenge them
The courts did not uphold the proposition that the "free speech" rights of the public had been violated. (See: Judge Rejects Suit Over Term Limits, by Fernanda Santos, January 13, 2009.)

The change to the City Charter in 2009 might have been successfully headed off if, in 2003, a proposed law had been adopted that was “meant to discourage wealthy New Yorkers from using their money to sway public opinion on proposals to revise the City Charter.” The problem with that bill?: It was considered that such prohibitions respecting the wealthy and the spending of their wealth to charge the charter, as Bloomberg eventually did, would have been a violation of their First Amendment's free speech protections. A substitute bill that was proposed but it would have had no effect on Bloomberg because Bloomberg has never needed to take public “matching funds” to promote his causes. (See: Bill Seeks to Discourage Wealthy From Swaying Charter Changes, by Jonathan P. Hicks, September 30, 2003.)

Every Benefit That Goes Around, Comes Around- If You're Rich Enough

It’s funny how things can get turned around in terms of who needs protection from whom and what laws should be resorted to in this regard. When the U.S. Supreme Court decided in Bush v. Gore to intervene and prevent the statewide recount ordered by the Florida's highest court (that ballot counts show, in retrospect, would have given the state’s electoral votes and the election to Al Gore), the justices deciding for Bush ironically cited the equal protection provisions under the Constitution that one would have thought were intended to protect minorities. Thus the justices did the opposite. The same sort of unfortunate irony presented itself in a lawsuit brought in 2008 by the “real estate industry and lobbyists, who together provide millions in campaign cash for city candidates, are trying to overturn a new law that would vastly reduce how much they can donate.” They said that the law's prohibition of their ability to contribute those vast sums “violated free speech and equal protection provisions of the Constitution and discriminated against minorities.” (See: Suit Against New Campaign Finance Law Claims Racial Bias, by Ray Rivera, February 12, 2008.)

Bloomberg Support For The Free Speech That Works For Big Business

What does the future hold for free speech and protection of the public? Assertion of the right to free speech of the particular variety that Bloomberg extols seems to be working well for big business even when weighed against public protection, safety health and welfare. Bloomberg, L.P. was among the companies that aligned itself with Big Pharma asserting the free speech rights of the drug companies to overturn Vermont’s law that was to keep doctors’ prescription records confidential to prevent the doctors from being marketed to with that information. The law got overturned. So, in this regard maybe Bloomberg is a champion of First Amendment free speech rights. But free speech for the rest of us? (See: A Fight Over How Drugs Are Pitched, by Natasha Singer, April 24, 2011.)

Miscellany of Legal Cases and Disputes Involving Bloomberg and Free Speech

As should be expected, you can find in the Times for the period that Bloomberg has been in office a very long list of stories about all the lawsuits, issues and disputes involving the city and Bloomberg as mayor, many of which would inevitably come up no matter who was in office (things like what city employees can say and to whom). None of these stories is individually that important or nor probably determinative in providing insight with respect to Bloomberg as a potential defender of free speech rights. Collectively, you can note that more or less across the board in all these stories the Bloomberg administration is on the opposing side of free speech rights. A certain amount of this is to be expected.

You are welcome to comb these links as I have done already. You won’t find anything in them that would cause one to believe that Bloomberg is a defender of “free speech.” You are likely to find a number that cause you to think otherwise and, depending where you draw your own personal lines with respect to the right to free speech, the number may be greater. They involve things like: artists and book vendors being kicked out of public parks, union disputes over “exorbitant” fines on transit workers who walk out, whether a coalition to stop school closings can protest outside the mayor’s residence, whether artists can carry all their art supplies on the subway, how stingy or not the city can be in “credentialing” those who they wish to treat as having journalist privileges, how tightly shops that sell sexually oriented material can be regulated, shutting down a controversial art exhibit, restrictions on street begging, restrictions on street boxes to dispense newspapers, etc.
Judge Blocks City’s Crisis Pregnancy Center Law
By David W. Chen, July 13, 2011

• July 8, 2010, Artists Challenge City’s Limit on Vendors
By Javier C. Hernandez

Metro Briefing | New York: Manhattan: Transit Union Sues City
By Sewell Chan (NYT); Compiled by John Sullivan, November 24, 2005

Manhattan: Principal of Arabic School Sues City
By Jennifer Medina, November 20, 2007

Metro Briefing | New York: Queens: Rehiring Ordered In Blackface Case
By Julia Preston (NYT); Compiled by George James, December 1, 2004

• November 23, 2009, Artist Arrested for 42nd Time, This Time on the High Line
By Jennifer 8. Lee

Hearing on Limits for Vendors Gets Creative Response
By Javier C. Hernandez, April 23, 2010

• January 15, 2010, Protesters Win Right to March Outside Mayor’s House
By Sharon Otterman

Federal Panel Finds Bias in Ouster of Principal
By Andrea Elliott, March 12, 2010

NYC: Labeled by Their Own Markers
By Clyde Haberman, April 28, 2006

• November 12, 2008, N.Y.P.D. Is Sued Over Denial of Press Credentials
By Sewell Chan

Judges Back New York City's Effort to Curb Sex Shops
By Sabrina Tavernise, April 13, 2005

Comments on TV Are Issue in Police Captain's Conduct
By Al Baker, February 22, 2006

Brooklyn Art Exhibition Comes Down Amid Protest
By Randy Kennedy and Janon Fisher, May 9, 2006

Judge Orders End to Arrest of Beggars
By Jim Dwyer, June 11, 2005

Neighborhood Report: New York up Close; News Box Law Walks a Line Between First Amendment and Public Safety
By Erika Kinetz, August 25, 2002
2006 Bloomberg Says Criticizing Government Is Patriotic: Say Again?

Is the Times record totally devoid of Bloomberg statements that promote the idea of free speech in the traditional sense? No. I found one story (but only one) where Bloomberg sounds almost exactly like the protesters of Occupy Wall Street. He made the statement in question when he was lobbying the Bush administration for a greater share of Department of Homeland Security aid. That money is often spent on security measures that make citizens feel more constricted with respect to their civil liberties. The remark was made in 2006 when the Bush administration was very unpopular in New York. Also, from a variety of stories in the Times at the time it looks as if Bloomberg may have wanted in 2006, with there being a safe remove in time from memories of the 2004 Republican convention, to rehabilitate the way he was perceived on the issue of free speech. Bloomberg said:
"There is nothing — absolutely nothing — wrong with criticizing our government, on any topic, and challenging it to live up to the democratic ideals."

The mayor added: "It is not unpatriotic; in fact, what could be more patriotic?"
(See: Bloomberg Denounces the Pressure Not to Question Leaders, by Winnie Hu, June 11, 2006.)

That's All The Grey Lady Wrote. . .

All of the forgoing is what a review of Times’ own reporting of Bloomberg’s history reveals when it comes to free speech. So where is the record that justifies the recent reports in the New York Times furnished in connection with the eviction of the Occupy Wall Street protesters that Bloomberg, notwithstanding the protesters' eviction, is confirmed, in any way, to be more than moderate or minimal supporter of free speech rights? Don’t the all the most important things in the record show the situation to be precisely the contrary?

. . . . Except “Bloomberg now wants to dominate a new sphere — the world of opinion.”

Noting that Bloomberg has no receptivity to the views of Occupy Wall Street and doesn’t think that Occupy Wall Street should be promoting their views in the streets, using street demonstration tactics as their figurative public megaphone, and that Bloomberg apparently also would aver that the Occupy Wall Street protesters should be promoting their views the same way he does, I thought I would leave you with the telling information in this New York Times article:
Over the last year, representatives of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg quietly reached out to a handful of the country’s top journalists with an intriguing job offer: Divine and distill his singular brand of political philosophy and disseminate it around the globe for an annual salary of close to $500,000.

After conquering Wall Street in the 1970s, crushing competitors in the information-technology industry in the ’80s and reigning over New York City politics for the past decade, the ever-ambitious Mr. Bloomberg now wants to dominate a new sphere — the world of opinion.

At the mayor’s urging, his giant media company will soon make a splashy foray into opinion, churning out columns and essays on issues as varied as gun control and deficit spending. At the center: up to two editorials a day that channel the views of Mr. Bloomberg himself.
(March 1, 2011, Morning Buzz | Bloomberg’s New Venture, by Daniel E. Slotnik.)

The article above comes up when you do a search of the Times web site for “Bloomberg” + “free speech” but only because of the coincidence that there is another story reporting about free speech that appears on the same page.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Breaking News: 1:00 AM Bloomberg Moves In To Evict Occupy Wall Street Protesters

(Above, a picture of Mayor Bloomberg’s dogs, Bonnie and Clyde, at Occupy Wall Street, explained here.)

Noticing New York and National Notice usually don’t cover breaking news. A breaking news focus doesn’t readily permit the kind of considered contextual articles that seem to be the most valuable addition that can be made to the prevalent media chatter. This article will make this exception to cover important breaking news.

Bloomberg reportedly had the New York Police Department move in at 1:00 AM last night (without warning) to remove the Occupy Wall Street protesters from Zucotti Park. According to one of the protesters who was there, interviewed on the BBC, the police moved in with knives to cut up and shred the property at the encampment. Reportedly about 70 protesters were arrested. (Another report said 200.) On the BBC you can hear protesters chanting to the police: “Who do you serve: Who do you protect?” and “Shame on you.” You can also hear, “Don’t push me.”

The dispersed protesters are now reassembling at a number of other nearby city sites. There were reports that Bloomberg closed down subway stations to divert the public away from the area.

Bloomberg seems to have chosen his time to evict the protesters so as to fold it in into reports of attempted evictions occurring elsewhere in the country. So it will be less noticed? So, with the help of a short public memory, it will hopefully disappear after a quick run through the 24- hour news cycle?

Bloomberg held a press conference this morning to explain his actions. Most notable in the press conference from standpoint of what Noticing New York and National Notice have previously reported were the following:
• Bloomberg cited health and safety reasons (not suppression of the protesters speech) as the principal reason for removing the protesters. In doing so he gave what I believe were inaccurate (and to my mind manufactured) descriptions of the conditions in Zucotti Park. The many times I have been to Zucotti Park while the protesters were there I never found or felt it was unsafe. I never found that it was difficult to enter or use the park except for the impediments in doing so that came from police barricades and sometimes from shoulder to shoulder police. I did not note that the many elderly choosing to be in the park seemed to feel any concern about their safety. A paralyzed protester in an expensive wheelchair and on a breathing apparatus also did not seem in the least perturbed about his safety. Why did Bloomberg feel it necessary to stress multiple mischaracterizations in this regard during his press conference? Why bother to say things like “there were reports of. . [insert inflammatory thing that didn’t happen] . . . but the police could find no evidence of this”?

• Bloomberg also said several times that the protesters had to be removed because they were violating Brookfield’s property rights. That’s something already written about by Noticing New York and National Notice. Brookfield is the theoretical owner of Zucotti Park. Zucotti Park is the kind of quasi-public space we now see replacing and substituting what used clearly to be public space. So Bloomberg is making the case that Brookfield’s ownership private rights were an operative factor justifying constriction of the protesters’ rights to free speech and free assembly. The argument that free speech violates property rights is increasingly easy as the skewing of wealth in this country to the 1% conjoins with a rapid and continuing privatization of what was previously public.

• Bloomberg was very clear that going forward he (together with Brookfield) intends to be in control of exactly how he wants the protesters to exercise their free speech rights in Zucotti Park. He said this will extend to the police searching people entering Zucotti Park, randomly or as the police see fit.

• Bloomberg said that he did not believe that the protesters were exercising their free speech rights. At the same time Bloomberg has been working to have the press report repeatedly that he is a strong believer in “free speech.” Again, one theme of Bloomberg’s press conference was that he is willing to tell the protesters how they may and should express themselves.

• At one point during the press conference Bloomberg mocked the strength of Occupy Wall Streeters’ ideas and their inability to get their ideas out in other ways. Some of their ideas are that a 1% Club, of which Bloomberg (who became the city’s wealthiest man while mayor) is conspicuously a member, exercise too much control in this country. That most certainly extends to control over who gets to say what and where and with what kind of amplification by the media and with what kind of assistance by paid advertising.

• In the press conference Bloomberg said that throughout the crisis he had been in constant contact with Brookfield Properties. This was despite the fact that earlier in the coverage of Occupy Wall Street the Bloomberg’s administration had prevailed upon the New York Times to report that Bloomberg’s staff was under “strict orders from Mr. Bloomberg” not to “lobby the owner of the park, Brookfield Office Properties.” I did not hear anyone at that press conference ask Mr. Bloomberg about the fact that his live-in girlfriend companion, Diana Taylor, is on the board of Brookfield.
Informative background with respect to much of the above is available in an earlier and thorough Noticing New York article written about Bloomberg’s intention to evict the protesters back on October 13th: Saturday, October 22, 2011, Occupy Wall Street and the Banks- Messages From Bonnie & Clyde, “They’ve Got Too Much Money”: Ownership of the Public Forum by the Wealthy?

(Above, another picture of Mayor Bloomberg’s dogs, Bonnie and Clyde, at Occupy Wall Street, explained here.)