Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


40 More Years

By Shawn Healy
Mark Twain once said, "The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated." Democratic pundit James Carville is guilty of the same dire forecasts for his Republican counterparts in his new book 40 More Years. Just as conservatives were wrong to predict the collapse of the Democratic Party in 2004, Carville and his compatriots danced prematurely in the aftermath of successive victories in 2006 and 2008.

This book was published over the summer months, and by fall the fallacies of its content were all too apparent. Republican gubernatorial victories in purple Virginia and bright blue New Jersey should temper further grandiose claims and force Carville and his friends on the left to look beyond the exceptional candidacy of President Obama.

True, demographic trends favor the Democrats as the country becomes more racially diverse, and voters under thirty bleed blue. But New Jersey and Virginia are instructive of the fact that young voters remain an unreliable base, and independents are wild cards who cannot be taken for granted. Plus, political parties are not static creatures, but instead adaptive animals who adjust to emerging realities on the ground.

Carville is also guilty of the political trick played by both parties, namely equating correlation with causation. Case in point is his use of economic data to show how Democratic presidents are better fiscal managers, all the while failing to distinguish outliers or detailing the policies that produce superior outcomes.

Moreover, his proximity to the Clinton White House forces him to defend the 1993-2001 span with reckless abandon, blaming all errant trends on the Bushes who bookended the Clinton's two terms. The reality, as President Obama is fast learning, is that presidents don't enter the White House with a blank slate. More than anything, they are left to manage the legacies of their predecessors, particularly during the early years of their presidencies.

The book represents a mass of contradictions. Carville is wont to cherry pick data that justify the conclusions he reaches prematurely, yet he blames the right for doctrinaire policymaking all the while citing the need to bridge the partisan divide. He was an adament supporter of then Senator Hillary Clinton during the 2008 presidential primary, and adheres to his belief that she would have been a better candidate and executive, preferring to play Monday morning quarterback and argue that it was Obama who ran a superior campaign. Yet Obama is the lynchpin of his argument that Democrats will dominate the political landscape for the next 40 years.

Much of Carville's book is dedicated to linking all that is evil with George W. Bush and Republican control of Congress. I was left waiting for him to detail a positive agenda for the Democratic Party, and something resembling a platform for the future emerges in Chapter 13. Dubbed the "Real Deal," Carville's cookbook for Democratic dominance hinges on environmental policy, yet he is overtly vague about what form this might take. Health care and entitlement reform receive brief mention, but more than anything, he urges the Democrats to adopt policies contrary to central GOP tenets, namely supply side economics, neoconservatism, and the social policies of the Christian right. In sum, his "big ideas" were disappointingly small.

It is clear that 40 More Years was written to profit from Democratic successes in 2008, massaging fierce partisans who want nothing more than a generation of dominance, and blinding them from the reality of a polarized, still competitive two-party system. Carville didn't anticipate criticism because this book isn't written to open minds or initiate a dialogue, but rather to cement the beliefs of a flock of folks who march with him in lockstep. It is this ideological echo chamber that breeds political excess, and will likely send our electorate searching for alternatives as soon as next fall. Carville's hypothesis is in danger of extinction even before the ink is dry.

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Who Will Pay for News?

By Timothy J. McNulty
News of the imminent closing of Editor & Publisher, the newspaper industry magazine, is definitely a sign of the times: there’s less and less of an industry to report on.
The staid and venerable trade publication could hardly keep up with the changes in advertising and circulation that have put traditional newspapers and magazines in freefall.
E&P has been around in one form or another since 1884. While it soberly reported on job changes and new technology, the editors also didn’t shrink from taking journalists to task, most notably for failing to question the rationale for the Iraq invasion.
But E&P became part of the story of the demise of the once-monopolistic newspaper industry; how even a trade publication cannot find the correct business model to remain profitable.
For several years now, newspaper and magazines have been laying off staff, paring pages and trying to devise ways to maintain regular readers and, hopefully, attract new ones. More than 15,000 journalists lost their jobs in 2009 alone. The New York Times, the gold standard of newspaper journalism, is reducing another 100 editorial positions by the end of the month.
Publishers and journalists have redesigned, redeployed and reinvented their products to attract younger audiences and entice advertisers who now spread their marketing dollars across a growing field of mostly electronic options. Last year, for the first time, more Americans got their news online than from newspaper and magazine subscriptions.
If the Internet is print publishers’ nemesis, they hope it also will be their savior.
One of the possible sources of revenue they are exploring is establishing pay walls for online access, or as it is often described, “monetizing digital content.”
Whether the fee is monthly or annually, so far only the Wall Street Journal, with its select audience of business readers, has been able to pull that off. Nonetheless, Rupert Murdoch, the owner of News Corp. which publishes the Journal and many other newspapers, is convinced that fees are the future.
“The old business model based mainly on advertising is dead…,” Murdoch told an FCC workshop on journalism and the Internet earlier this month. “In the new business model, we will be charging customers for the news we provide on our Internet sites.”
Back in September, the giant news aggregator Google informed the Newspaper Association of America that it was developing a click-for-fee program, or a “micropayment” system, where subscribers could pay anywhere from one cent to several dollars for individual news stories or other access. (The original micropayment idea was really “micro” in the hundredths or thousandths of a cent form for individual items. Google applied for the patent in 2004.)
Google has the heft to create buzz on new ideas, including this one based on “Google Checkout”. So micropayment thoughts quickly took off among industry writers. Visions of Google not only aggregating news but putting together “packages” of publications and seamlessly charging credit cards danced in their heads.
An analogous model for selling by the piece was Apple’s I-tunes, which developed the idea of paying for a single song for 99 cents that you could download on your computer. That was an amazing step, considering that not long ago, the music industry only allowed these options: turn on the radio or buy a record (or tape or CD) to listen in your own home.
Along the way, the Internet transformation saw computer users downloading music, legally and illegally, in various forms. Now downloading and sharing via MP3 players, laptops and cell phones makes it hard to imagine anything that limits choice.
Choice is the significant word in news as well as music. A major stumbling block to traditional newsgathering publication is that consumers are willing to pay only if there is a no alternative. So far, there are plenty of alternatives.
Despite the hope of finding a viable way to make newspapers profitable, I doubt there will ever again be just one business model to rely upon.
In a report titled “The Reconstruction of American Journalism,” Leonard Downie and Michael Schudson listed several possible avenues to re-energize the industry.
Not everyone will agree with their recommendations, but among the authors’ suggestions:
1. Changing IRS regulations to allow news organizations to operate at non-profit operations and received tax-deductible donations.
2. Encourage private philanthropists and foundations to support local news reporting.
3. Alter the philosophy of public radio and television to include more locally-oriented programming.
4. Encourage more universities and colleges to participate in news reporting activities following the lead of top journalism schools (including Northwestern University, where I teach) that report on community news and conduct their own investigations, what the authors call “accountability journalism.”
5. Create a national fund for local news using money from the FCC or broadcasters and others that use public airwaves.
The report, commissioned by the Columbia University School of Journalism, also suggests that journalists as well as governments increase the use of information collected by all levels of government and show readers how to access their public databases.
There is, obviously, no monopoly on gathering or distributing news. Along with millions of other news consumers, I am now accustomed to discovering for myself what I consider newsworthy.
I used to rely solely on the serendipity of newspaper or magazine editors selecting, editing and publishing. I might hear headlines on the radio or see a brief visual segment on television, but that only drove me to the print version of events for a fuller, more contextual, explanation.
Now I get less from print. I still enjoy the tactile feel of a newspaper, but I no longer think it sufficient and certainly not timely. Instead, I pick up news from alerts sent to my cell phone, from e-mails and links on social networks such as Facebook.
I scan the Internet not only for news but background information. I use links to go to original sources and to read or hear the cacophony of opinion. I suspect I am a fairly typical Internet user and, though the number of news publications has declined dramatically, the number of online newspaper readers has increased.
The overall impact on democracy isn’t yet clear. There is certainly more diversity of news and opinion; interactivity allows more awareness of events and government decision-making.
The Internet’s immediacy broadens an awareness of events around the globe. The protests after Iran’s allegedly fraudulent election, for instance, may have been reported by the correspondents who were still in the country, but they would not have had the “crowd-sourcing” impact of all the cell phone photos and text messages that were sent out while the demonstrations were underway.
Negatively, I believe, the problem of traditional news media’s decline is the lack of a common narrative about events and decisions. Readers and viewers may have disagreed with each other about what they saw or listened to, but they were all exposed to the same reports. The fracturing or diffusion of news and information now has many choosing to read or see only what they already are comfortable reading or seeing.
If nothing challenges beliefs or preconceptions, then the notion of common goals or understanding common threats is in danger.
Established publications seek a model that pays for an infrastructure that already exists, while others are appealing to non-profit and other civic foundations to subsidize or underwrite new, quality journalism. Is there salvation in philanthropy?
The large foundations, including the McCormick Foundation, and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation have been providing grants for many newsgathering operations. The new Chicago News Cooperative received its initial funding from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. These grants and programs are pushing ahead with new journalism models, including online news sites, local investigative projects, community or ethnic news services, and national or statewide investigative news operations.
Many of these may be boutique efforts that I doubt will be a panacea for traditional mass circulation publications, but they are broadening the public perception of newsgathering and the responsibility of citizens to inform themselves.
As for direct government sponsorship, there are many doubters (Murdoch called it a “chilling” suggestion) that governments provide public assistance to keep publications alive.
Still, there may be merit in using tax write-offs, employing the British model for the BBC, or relying on something similar to the U.S. government’s partial funding of public radio and television.
Many business and community models have been tried with limited success. The Pew Center for Civic Journalism funded pilot programs as early as 1993. Still, the search for a new business model is moving to ever newer combinations.
In addition, there is more than one storyline here. While large city newspapers are depressed and dying, a more optimistic picture is seen in community and small town publications. They have suffered reductions, but not near their big-city cousins. The reasons are worth exploring in a later posting.


Swinging Senators to Be

By Shawn Healy
Seven more shopping days until Christmas, and a mere forty more until voters must make their Election Day decisions for who will represent the Democratic, Republican, and Green parties on the ballot next November in Illinois. Yesterday's attendees of the Union League Club's Democratic U.S. Senatorial Candidate Forum were treated to a delectable selection of candidates largely in agreement on the issues of the day, but whose words and actions show little evidence that they have been infected by the holiday spirit.

In their respective four corners, the four candidates vying for the Democratic senatorial nomination include State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, former Chicago Inspector General David Hoffman, Chicago Urban League President Cheryle Robinson Jackson, and commercial litigator Jacob Meister. Giannoulias, a mere 33, has served as treasurer since 2007, and before that was vice president of family-owned Broadway Bank. Hoffman was inspector general the past four years and also boasts experience as an assistant U.S. attorney and Supreme Court clerk. Jackson has been with the Urban League since resigning as Governor Rod Blagojevich's press secretary after his first term in office. Meister worked previously as a congressional staffer.

Giannoulias struck early at probable Republican nominee U.S. Representative Mark Kirk by tying him to former President Bush's "failed" economic policies. As state treasurer, he boasts of a record of consumer advocacy and economic development. Giannoulias celebrated his refusal to accept campaign contributions from federal lobbyists and political action committees (PACs), then went on with a story about "Tim and Susan," a husband and wife he allegedly met on the campaign trail who have fallen on hard times and stand as a microcosm of what plagues the country and the rationale for his candidacy.

Hoffman suggests that this campaign is about who voters trust to be a strong and effective leader. In Illinois, he claims, the system works for those with political clout and hefty campaign war chests. Hoffman prods us to examine the character of those who we elect, and touted his credentials as a member of the Illinois Reform Commission, plus that fact that he has no ties to Blagojevich nor his financier Tony Rezko.

Jackson, in her position at the Urban League, is "on the front lines and in the trenches." She shifted the organizational focus from social services to economic development, and from this vantage point witnessed the first signs of the recent recession. She listed early childhood education, access to health care, and investment in women as the issues closest to her heart.

Meister has premised his campaign on "experience and purpose," and calls his 2020 jobs plan the "most comprehensive in the race."

What follows is an issue-by-issue synopsis of the candidate's answers to a laundry list of questions posed by Union League Club moderator Chris Robling and members of the audience.

Economic Development
  • Giannoulias: Tax credits for businesses who hire new employees, a pay roll tax holiday for workers.
  • Hoffman: Need to distribute stimulus funding immediately and encourage banks to lend to small businesses.
  • Jackson: Help small businesses with cash flow, focus on job training.
  • Meister: Develop green technologies and industries.
Financial Reform
  • Giannoulias: Create a "living will" for failing institutions.
  • Hoffman: Focus on consumer protection.
  • Jackson: Oversight and regulation a must, would create a consumer protection financial oversight agency.
  • Meister: House legislation a good start, but should also regulate derivatives and further separate banking and securities.
Health Care
  • Giannoulias: Spent the bulk of this segment railing on Hoffman for investing in banks and later critiquing them.
  • Hoffman: Countered with Giannoulias' association with Broadway Bank, one the "worst-performing institutions in the country."
  • Jackson: The health care crisis must be addressed now, as current cost trends are simply unsustainable.
  • Meister: Supports national health care which will help offset some of the legacy costs borne by the flailing auto industry.
Public Option
  • Giannoulias: Supports, and predicts it would create competition and rid system of waste.
  • Hoffman: Supports system of universal coverage, and critiques Kirk's vote against lowering prescription drug costs.
  • Jackson: Yes, to drive down costs and compete with private providers, but also to emphasize outcome-based medicine.
  • Meister: "Absolutely"--lack of competition locks people out of the current system.
Thomson Detention Center
  • Giannoulias: Need to close Guantanamo, and Thomson is largely unused. Must address national security concerns, but we shouldn't engage in fear mongering (alluding to Kirk).
  • Hoffman: Attacks Giannoulias for his youth, the fact that he's held only two jobs, one of them at his family's bank, and the fact that he couldn't protect the peoples' money while overseeing the Brightstar college savings program as treasurer.
  • Jackson: The question is what's best for Illinois, and she responds with an unequivocal "yes."
  • Meister: Touts the creation of 2,500-3,000 jobs, and therefore considers a "win-win" for Illinois and the nation.
  • Giannoulias: Need to extend unemployment benefits.
  • Hoffman: Banks must begin lending again, and the federal government should secure state safety nets.
  • Jackson: Invest in emerging industries, better train our existing workforce, and improve our schools.
  • Giannoulias: Supports the policies of the Obama Administration; cites the need to also focus on Pakistan and pursue an integrated approach in the region that transcends mere military force; considers a timetable for withdrawal "necessary."
  • Hoffman: Against the recent escalation, but admits that the US must remain in the region. Sees Obama's new strategy as an expansion of our mission, with no form commitment for withdrawal.
  • Jackson: Opposed expansion, and considers our national priorities flawed. Invasion is the wrong approach.
  • Meister: Supports our president and the troops, and reminds us not to forget about Pakistan. Withdrawal should protect our "vital interests."
Middle East Peace Process
  • Giannoulias: First priority is the safety and security of the Israeli people; then, isolate Hamas and work to build a moderate alternative organization to represent the Palestinian people.
  • Hoffman: A two-state solution is necessary, and the U.S. must play an active leadership role in this process, prodding both sides to make concessions.
From a global perspective, this debate was clearly a standoff between Giannoulias and Hoffman. The latter's implied barbs drew direct fire from the former, which spawned repeated jabs throughout the balance of the debate that served to distract the candidates and audience from the issues before them. Jackson and Meister preferred to stay above the fray. The proverbial elephant in the room was Mark Kirk, who drew the ire of both Giannoulias and Hoffman.

Hoffman delivered the most compelling performance of the quartet, though he did come off an unnecessarily mean at times. Giannoulias nailed his talking points and did nothing to undermine his frontrunner status. Jackson, on the other hand, asked the moderator to repeat questions a handful of times, even after the other three candidates has responded, and then proceeded to stammer through her responses. Meister read directly from his briefing book, but showed sporadic flashes of brilliance, all the while invoking hand gestures off kilter with his words.

While voters may have visions of sugar plums currently dancing in their heads, the Senate primary will follow the holiday hangover. It's never too early to pick a horse in this after Christmas sale with well-stocked shelves.


Canvassing in Cyberspace

By Shawn Healy
Via Twitter, Illinois Comptroller and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dan Hynes likes Notre Dame's hire of Brian Kelly as head football coach and hopes he brings the school their first national championship in more than two decades.

On his home page, State Senator Dan Rutherford and treasurer candidate just sent "Bonnie," his Pontiac with 315,000 miles, to the "recycler in the sky" and replaced her with another of the same make, "Pongee."

Current State Treasurer and Senate wanabe Alexi Giannoulias is more direct in his courting of digital voters, urging them to "Get involved in the campaign by donating, volunteering, writing a letter to the editor or suggesting our Facebook page to your friends."

The common denominator here is that the social media tactics critical to President Obama's victory last fall have trickled down to state-level races in Illinois and bridged the partisan divide.

Republicans have scurried to level the netroots landscape in light of the dramatic shift of young voters (18-29) to the Democratic Party. Candidates of all stripes seek low-cost means of mobilizing supporters in a primary season that straddles the holidays and where turnout in the February 2nd election is expected to be lackluster at best.

They negotiate a fragmented media environment where target audiences are elusive and expensive to reach via traditional techniques. More than anything, they exploit an all-of-the-above approach, broadcasting a personalized message that they hope will resonate with faceless partisans on the other end of a wireless connection, the latest manifestation of the candidate-centered campaign.

The jury is still out on the effectiveness of an integrated social media platform, but there are numbers to support the democratizing impact of these tools on political consumers. According to data from the National Conference in Citizenship's 2009 Civic Health Index, the "civic engagement gap" is narrower for those who utilize online tools. They collectively undermine the so-called "democracy divide" where engagement is tied to educational achievement and income, adding to the diversity of political participants. Social media tools provide more organic, less-structured, grass-roots opportunities for civic engagement, and these are especially important during recessional times when formal institutional structures crumble.

On many measures of civic health, Illinois fares poorly in comparison to the national average, but state citizens are 7% more likely to use new media tools to stay informed and get involved. According to the Illinois Civic Health Index, a state counterpart to the aforementioned national survey, 63% of Illinoisans generally follow news about government and public affairs. Nearly a quarter (22%) of state residents report using the Internet on a weekly basis to gather information about politics, a social issue, or a community problem, while 25% have watched a candidates' speech online. Twenty-three percent have watched an online video in support of or opposition to a presidential candidate.

Truth be told, the Digital Age is still in its early reaches, especially as far as political outreach goes, and experimental reigns. By comparison, Ronald Reagan was arguably the first president to master the Television Age even though it was at least thirty years in the making. Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean elevated the promise of digital media during his dark horse and ultimately unsuccessful bid for the Democratic president nomination in 2004. Barack Obama certainly took it to another level and has continued his use of social media tools as a means of governance, from maintaining a White House blog to using YouTube to broadcast his weekly addresses. His meteoric rise shook the political world, and fellow office seekers have since sought to capture the same "lightning in a bottle."

Questions remain about the uniqueness of the Obama candidacy and the degree to which social media success can be duplicated at lower levels of office. One could argue that the "rock star" status of our national candidates lends itself favorably to celebrity tweets along these lines, but does a comptroller or county coroner candidate have similar Facebook appeal? On the other hand, given the smaller campaign war chests at the state and local level, not to mention the resonance of "front porch" issues in these campaigns, a personal touch from a hometown candidate may be the modern equivalent of door-to-door canvassing.

While the jury contemplates the verdict on these counts, the candidates continue to post movie reviews and dinner recipes, voting overwhelmingly in favor of Web 2.0.


Flags, Heroes and the Rest of Us

By Dave A
So, to be clear right from the start, I like the result. Actually, I love the result. What's not to love about a highly decorated veteran winning the right to fly the flag for which he fought, in front of his own home, against the preferences of a bureaucratic homeowners association? ( That's a great story that people of all backgrounds and political persuasions can support.

What I worry about is: What happens to someone who hasn't won the Medal of Honor when his or her homeowners association tells them to take the flag down? What if the facts were a little different and a decorated veteran wanted to protest the troop surge in Afghanistan by flying an American flag upside down? What if it was a non-veteran flying an anti-war flag? What if was me flying a Chicago Bears flag (Packer fans can keep their comments to themselves)?

Those of you in-the-know will respond (partially) correctly that the First Amendment doesn't apply to homeowners associations because they aren't state actors. To be precise, Congress passed legislation which allows homeowners in associations to fly the American Flag provided they follow the guidelines of the association (presumably the association must have reasonable regulations permitting American flag flying). Furthermore, the State of Illinois (and perhaps other states) has explicitly incorporated First Amendment protections in its public act which governs condominium associations. It's fair to point out that these are exceptions and, generally speaking, when one buys into a homeowners association, that person freely enters into a contract which subjects him or her to non-governmental oversight. I don't dispute this and in fact, I regularly argue in favor of personal property rights (an association of homeowners has vested property rights which they openly protect with rules, bylaws and declarations). I also believe that people are free to buy into these associations - or not - and to participate in the governance process which can establish & repeal rules, etc.

So, what's the problem? Well, I'm on the board of an association, elected just last week, and I served on another in the early 90s so I have a sense for how they act. Simply put, they act like what they are...governments. There's really no getting around it. They are obligated to tax, spend, legislate and enforce rules, all for the common good. So, if they are a government in fact, without respect to what we call them, then I believe they should be held to the most fundamental principles to which our governing bodies are held. Among these are the five freedoms protected in the First Amendment to the US Constitution. With a nod toward reality, I'd even accept the compromise of enforcing First Amendment protections on political speech, press, petition, assembly and religious freedoms rather than the broader protections of commercial speech, press, etc (enabling associations to regulate the truly important issues like paint color and grass height, perhaps even Chicago Bear flags).

When I ran for my condo board, I was a bit embarrassed by the atrocious quality of my own handwriting on the candidate form that the association distributed, so I drafted my own letter and distributed it door-to-door along with a proxy form. I signed my name, provided contact information and tried to be a good candidate - provide my qualifications without slighting other candidates or making promises I couldn't keep. I was proud of my work and my commitment to participate in the governing body that would, as a practical matter, have the greatest impact on my life. My moment of civic pride was dashed upon receiving an admonishing e-mail from the building manager who, at the direction of the board (my guess is just one or two board members) that my distribution of election material was in violation of the association rules requiring prior board review and approval (known as prior restraint, which is typically severely limited in its usage in the real world). One of the board members who would have had an opportunity to pass judgment on my material was one of my opponents. After my research and overcoming my extreme frustration and because there was no meaningful warning of a fine or other repercussions, I simply reminded the manager (a smart, courteous professional with whom I'm happy to now be working) that Illinois condominium law protects my First Amendment rights and went about my business.

I'm an attorney by training, I used to run a museum dedicated to the First Amendment and I stay abreast of First Amendment issues, and even I had to pause to do some research to determine the board had - likely - overstepped it's authority in light of state law. However, even I wasn't sure. What would non-lawyer do? Similarly, how much support would I have had in my fight should it have gotten that far? What support would a non-hero or non-veteran have had in their battle to express their political beliefs - popular or not - whether with a flag or a candidate letter to their neighbors?

It's time to eliminate the distinction, for First Amendment purposes, on governing bodies of homeowners associations and public legislative bodies. Some rights are fundamental and should be applied equally so that the law supports even those among us who haven't won the Medal of Honor.


Speech, speech and more speech

By Kelli
I recently attended my first “un-conference,” the Conscience Un-Conference, co-sponsored by the United States Holocaust Museum and the George Mason University Center for History New Media. The un-conference focused on using social media as tools for doing good – ending genocide, combating hatred, increasing involvement in democracy, etc., and many interesting and varied organizations took part, both in person and virtually. As a newcomer to un-conferences, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised. Because the sessions were more casual, and put together the morning of the un-conference, there weren’t long PowerPoint presentations and multiple handouts and laser pointers. Instead, there was discussion. Lots and lots of useful discussion.

One of the most interesting discussions at the conference (that happened in several sessions) was discussing user generated content, and the scary moment of putting your collections, your materials, your creations, online for all to see, use and comment on. Many of the participants deal with sensitive material, and that material has elicited some disturbing comments in the past, comments filled with hatred, racism, or just plain anger. Is it appropriate to put that content online, leaving those associated with the content vulnerable to attack? It’s a difficult question to answer, especially when the content in question may be photos of Holocaust survivors, but an important one, with many First Amendment implications.

In the course of our discussions about the topic, the old adage “The way to combat bad speech isn’t less speech, it’s more speech” was invoked, and seems very appropriate. Taking away resources and limiting the public’s access to valid and appropriate content because we’re afraid of hate speech only strengthens the power of hate speech overall. As one participant pointed out, showing the general public that hate speech still exists – and in some arenas, flourishes – goes farther in showing the need for institutions of tolerance than any prepared statement ever could. Institutions and organizations of conscience need to shine a light on intolerance and hatred in order to show the world how ugly and real it is, not limit how much we show due to fear and hope to keep things sanitized. Hate speech goes on with our without our posted content, and if we can use that speech for good, to make people more aware of the appalling nature of hate speech, and hopefully inspire them to do something to create more tolerance, we’ve beaten the hate-speechers at their own game. As a comment I made (that was tweeted by none other than Craig of Craigslist himself) succinctly puts it “Without freedom of speech, how will we know who the $#@!holes are?”

Of course, this is an easy thing to say in theory, but a very difficult thing to do when you have the feelings of real people, people who have survived a horrifying event and confronted more hatred than most of us could ever imagine, to take into account. That’s why another initiative the Freedom Project is taking on in 2010 is also very important – media literacy. If we can help people distinguish between valid voices and information, and those just hatemongering, we’ve taken away a critical tool of people who use intolerance to incite violence and more hatred. Knowing who to trust, and where to go if you’re not sure if you should trust someone, is as important in our media adventures as they were when we were going on our first dates, going to college, or renting an apartment for the first time. People need the tools to weed out the unreliable voices or to refute them. Combined with the power of free speech, media literacy will go far in using hate speech for exactly the purposes it was not intended for – education, inclusion and tolerance.

To find out more about the Conscience Un-Conference, visit the official blog at, or search for #conconf on Twitter to see live tweets during the sessions.


Interesting Bedfellows

By Shawn Healy
Among the five five freedoms the First Amendment guarantees is broad protections for a private press. Over time, this has encompassed almost absolute prohibition of prior government review of publication, a high standard to prove libel against public figures, and significant protection for reporters' use of anonymous sources. The private press considers these safeguards fundamental to their performance of the watchdog role critical to the perpetuation of democratic government, and has long cast suspicion on any active government role in propping up their existence.

Indeed, the industry abides by three mantras that constitute their very own version of the "separation between church and state":
  1. A wall between business interests (paid advertisers) and newspaper content.
  2. Strict boundaries between reporting and editorializing (these have eroded in recent years).
  3. Fierce independence from the public figures and government bodies they report upon.
I'll leave aside mantras one and two for future posts, and center my attention on the third.

Yesterday, the Federal Trade Commission sponsored a conference considering government assistance to the ailing newspaper industry. One option presented would ease antitrust exceptions that prohibit media organizations to own multiple entities in the same market. Others, namely Rupert Murdoch of Wall Street Journal and Fox News fame, lamented about the scavenging of "free content" by online aggregators like the Huffington Post. Ariana Huffington responded with a lengthy defense of new media, taking offense to the us versus them mentality, yet labeling Murdoch and his denizens the "horse and buggies" of the Information Age.

Other concrete proposals for government assistance have surfaced in recent months, including Maryland Senator Ben Cardin's idea to enable newspapers to operate as tax-exempt organizations. Let's not also forget that government support of the industry is nothing new, the Newspaper Preservation Act of 1970, which created joint operating agreements in two-newspaper towns, the most prominent example.

Geoffrey Cowan and David Westphal of the Online Journalism Review recycle an important argument made by Herbert Gans and others: the federal and state governments have subsidized journalism since the founding of the Republic. Reduced postage rates, preferential tax treatment, and significant government print expenditures of public notices in private papers are the holy trinity of "church-state" syndicalism.

Cowan and Westphal offer three notes of caution as the "brave new world" of government-newspaper cooperation encroaches:
  1. Do No Harm: Government support should not retard necessary innovations in the industry. The Newseum in Washington is a wonderful archive of the industry's past, and any potential partnership should be forward-focused...
  2. Encourage Experimentation: The authors elevate the Pentagon's investment in what evolved into the Internet as case in point.
  3. Avoid "Excessive Entanglement": Broad protections like those highlighted above are preferable to government support of specific "news outlets, publications, or programs."
I would offer a fourth note, one that places the First Amendment front and center.

Broad press protections were embedded in our governing charter back in 1791 based on a basic concern: historically, the government and the press were one, and this parylzed self-government, for citizens were unable to gather the information necessary to evaluate candidates for public office (assuming competitive elections) and hold those elected accountable.

I am confident that the press will survive in one form or another, but fear that the word "free" that does and should precede press is in increasing peril.


Managing Director

McCormick Freedom Project

Shawn is responsible for overseeing and managing the operations associated with the McCormick Freedom Project. Additionally, he serves as the in house content expert and voice of museum through public speaking and original scholarship. Before joining the Freedom Project, he taught American Government, Economics, American History, and Chicago History at Community High School in West Chicago, IL and Sheboygan North High School in Wisconsin.

Shawn is a doctoral candidate within the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he received his MA in Political Science. He is a 2001 James Madison Fellow from the State of Wisconsin and holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science, History, and Secondary Education from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

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About Fanning the Flames and the McCormick Freedom Project

Fanning the Flames is a blog of the McCormick Freedom Project, which was started in 2006 by museum managing director Shawn Healy. The blog highlights the news of the day, in hopes of engaging readers in dialogue about freedom issues. Any views or opinions expressed on this blog represent those of the writers alone and do not represent an official opinion of the McCormick Freedom Project.

Founded in 2005, the McCormick Freedom Project is part of the McCormick Foundation. The Freedom Project’s mission is to enable informed and engaged participation in our democracy by demonstrating the relevance of the First Amendment and the role it plays in the ongoing struggle to define and defend freedom. The museum offers programs and resources for teachers, students, and the general public.

First Amendment journalism initiative

The Freedom Project recently launched a new reporting initiative with professional journalists Tim McNulty and Jamie Loo. The goal is to expand and promote the benefits of lifelong civic engagement among citizens of all ages, through original reporting, commentary and news aggregation on First Amendment and freedom issues. Please visit the McCormick Freedom Project's news Web site, The Post-Exchange at