Tag Archives: censorship

SYNDICATED COLUMN: After Charlottesville: If You Fire a Fascist, You Are a Fascist

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No one should get fired for his political beliefs.

Not even a Nazi.

I am disturbed by the news that some of the white nationalists who attended the violent “Unite the Right” hatefest in Charlottesville last weekend are being outted on social media. Attendees have been on the receiving end of threats and doxxing. It was reported that a restaurant worker in Berkeley was canned after he was exposed on Twitter.

Needless to say — it ought to be, anyway — I hate Nazis, Klansmen and the like. Their politics and values are exactly the opposite of mine. Still, no one should get fired for parading around with torches like it’s Germany in 1933.

This isn’t a First Amendment issue. Nothing in our outdated constitution prevents an employer from firing you on account of your politics. In 2004 an Alabama company even fired a woman for having a John Kerry for President bumpersticker on her car.

It is a free speech issue.

A business has the right to control its employees’ behavior in order to protect its image. Particularly in a liberal stronghold like Berkeley but anywhere really, no one wants a waiter wearing a swastika tattoo or spouting racist views. But if Top Dog restaurant can fire a racist dude for racist views he expresses thousands of miles away, there’s nothing to prevent Google from firing a software engineer for sexism — or you for whatever you happen to believe.

Firing a worker for their politics — especially when those politics are expressed outside the workplace — is McCarthyism. McCarthyism is wrong, McCarthyism is immoral and McCarthyism ought to be illegal.

As usual during episodes like this, many of my comrades on the left are gloating over what they see as righteous payback against violent, racist, anti-Semitic thugs. This makes me very uncomfortable, and not just because it feels more like the “human flesh search engine” online vigilantism that occurs in China than the United States, where the MYOB ethos ruled pre-Internet.

I don’t deny that this is personal. My political views have gotten me targeted by a cyberstalker/identity thief, fired by a publication over a cartoon that appeared elsewhere in another venue, and defamed by a newspaper as a favor to the local police chief who’d cozied up to the paper’s publisher. I’ve been working long enough to observe that what’s popular today gets censored tomorrow, and vice versa. Top Dog gets plaudits for firing a fascist; next time the victim could be a garden-variety Democrat.

“Historically it’s more dangerous as an employee to be associated with racial justice and the NAACP, than it was to be affiliated with the KKK,” notes Walter Greason, a historian and professor at Monmouth University.

A sign posted by Top Dog management reflects a common view: “We do respect our employees’ right to their opinions,” the sign read. “They are free to make their own choices, but must accept the responsibilities of those choices.” The question is, should those “responsibilities” include being deprived of a livelihood?

I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve read some variation of “You have the right to be a fascist/racist/sexist/jerk/communist, but XYZ Corp. has the right to fire you too.” Or, as Oli­ver Wendell Holmes, Jr. wrote in 1891: “A employee may have a constitutional right to talk politics, but he has no constitutional right to be employed.”

True, that’s the law. What I’m arguing is that free speech will always be meaningless until the constitution is amended. Workers should be protected from retribution for what they think and say.

We live in a capitalist society. Except for those born rich, we must work or else starve. The U.S. is the only nation with at-will employment. And jobs are hard to find. Under these conditions, without workplace free-speech protections, employees must think twice before they attend a rally, post a controversial memo, join a party or slap a bumpersticker on their vehicle. Are you willing to risk unemployment, poverty and perhaps homelessness — not just you, but also your spouse and children? If the answer is “yes,” God bless you. History is made by people like you.

For many others, though, the answer is “no, I can’t afford free speech.” The upsides of free expression are intangible while the downside risks are terrifyingly brutal. A 2016 Harris poll found that 33% of U.S. employees are afraid to talk about politics at work. Increasingly workers have to worry about losing their jobs as the result of talking about politics outside of work too.

The American workplace is a fascist state. It’s time to overthrow the millions of little Hitlers who think the fact that issuing a paycheck turns their employees into slaves subject to thought control.

Just don’t talk about this around anyone who knows where you work.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: What Happened When I Represented Myself as My Own Lawyer

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For a cartoonist, I turned out to be a fairly decent lawyer. But I didn’t want to represent myself. It took two vicious lawyers to force me into that position.

One of those lawyers was mine.

I’m suing the Times because they repeatedly, knowingly and intentionally defamed me after firing me as a favor to LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, a thin-skinned pol I’d criticized in my editorial cartoons. The paper responded by turning California’s “anti-SLAPP” law, designed to protect people like me against corporations like the Times and its parent company Tronc, on its head; this $400 million corporation is accusing me — a five-figure income cartoonist — of oppressing its First Amendment rights by using my vast wealth to intimidate them.

Before my case is allowed to begin in earnest, anti-SLAPP requires a plaintiff (me) to convince a judge that, if everything I allege in my lawsuit turns out to be true, I’d likely win before a trial jury. But anti-SLAPP is as confusing as French grammar, so many judges interpret the law much more harshly than it’s actually written.

All the lawyers I talked to told me that I’d almost certainly win at trial if my case survived anti-SLAPP and made it to a jury. Ironically, getting past anti-SLAPP would be our toughest challenge.

The lawyer who took my case agreed with this assessment. But when oral arguments for the first of the Times’ three anti-SLAPPs against me took place on June 21st in LA Superior Court, his firm inexplicably assigned a junior associate, Class of 2013, to take on Kelli Sager.

Kelli Sager, who represents the Times, is a high-powered attorney with more than three decades of courtroom experience, a senior partner at Davis Tremaine Wright, an international law firm that represents giant corporations.

I liked my junior associate. She’s smart and may someday become a great lawyer. But she was no match for a shark like Kelli Sager. Sager talked over her. My lawyer let Sager get away with one brazen lie after another, either too unprepared or timid to respond. She couldn’t even answer the judge’s simple question to walk him through what happened to prompt my lawsuit.

It was a rout. Sager was eloquent and aggressive. My lawyer couldn’t begin to articulate my case, much less sway the judge. I lost that round.

Determined not to lose the all-important important hearing number two, against the Times and Tronc, I asked my law firm to meet for a strategy session. Bafflingly, they refused to confer or to send a more senior litigator to the next one. Another defeat was guaranteed.

Then my firm fired me — days before that key anti-SLAPP hearing. I had no idea that was even a thing, that that could happen.

I swear — it wasn’t me. I was professional and polite every step of the way. I have no idea why they left me hanging.

Normally in such situations, legal experts told me, the court grants a “continuance,” legalese for a delay, to give me time to look for a new attorney and allow him or her to familiarize themselves with the case. But it helps a lot if the opposing side says they’re OK with it.

A continuance is typically freely granted, even during the most ferocious legal battles. After all, you might be the one with a family emergency or whatever next time.

But Kelli Sager smelled blood. Figuring I’d be easier to defeat without legal representation, she fought ferociously against my requests for a continuance. Thus came about the following absurdity:

I found a new lawyer. But he needed a few weeks to get up to speed. True to her standard scorched-earth approach to litigation, Sager refused to grant me the courtesy of a continuance. So I was forced to rep myself in pro per (that’s what they call pro se in California) on July 14th.

My heart was pounding as I approached the plaintiff’s table, standing parallel to Sager. And I’m an experienced speaker! I’ve held my own on FoxNews. I’ve spoken to audiences of hundreds of people. I’ve hosted talk-radio shows. Yet dropping dead of a heart attack felt like a real possibility. I can’t imagine what this would feel like for someone unaccustomed to arguing in public.

The judge asked me to proceed. I nervously worked from prepared notes, explaining why my case wasn’t a “SLAPP” (a frivolous lawsuit I didn’t intend to win, filed just to harass the Times), that the anti-SLAPP law didn’t apply. I attacked the Times’ argument that their libelous articles were “privileged” (allowed) under anti-SLAPP because they were merely “reporting” on “official police records” about my 2001 jaywalking arrest.

If they’d been “reporting,” the articles would have had to follow the Times’ Ethical Guidelines, which ban anonymous sources, require careful analysis of evidence and calling subjects of criticism for comment. They didn’t come close. These weren’t news stories or even opinion pieces; they were hit jobs.

I explained that the records weren’t official at all, the LAPD denied releasing Beck’s unprovenanced audio, which differed from the official one at LAPD HQ. Much of the discussion was about legal minutiae rather than the broad strokes of what my case is about: I wrote a blog for latimes.com, the Times edited it and posted it, Chief Beck gave the Times a blank audio they said showed I’d lied about what I wrote, I had the audio cleaned up and it showed I’d told the truth, rather than issue a retraction when they found out they were wrong the Times refused to change their behavior and continued to insist I’d lied.

There’s also the big picture: if a newspaper’s parent company sells its stock to the police, and that newspaper’s publisher is a crony of the police chief who accepts awards from the police union, how can readers trust that newspaper not to suppress criticism of the police? Do Black Lives really Matter if investigations of police brutality don’t always make it to print, if writers and cartoonists have learned they can get fired and libeled if they annoy the cops?

I will soon receive a transcript of the hearing. I will post it at Rall.com.

Sager’s counterargument boiled down to: newspapers can publish anything they want, even lies, because the First Amendment protects free speech — as if libel and defamation law don’t exist.

Her defense for the Times was not that I lied. The audio makes clear that I didn’t. Her defense, the defense for a newspaper, was that the truth doesn’t matter.

Arguments ran over two hours.

On June 21st the judge ruled against my erstwhile lawyer directly from the bench.

On July 14th, I at least gave the judge something to think about. He took the matter “under consideration.”

I await his decision.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

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Kathy Griffin Matters

We Americans pride ourselves on our supposed respect for free speech. In reality, however, few citizens seem to rally to the cause of freedom of expression when it’s under attack.

The latest major free-speech controversy surrounds the comedian Kathy Griffin, best known for co-hosting CNN’s coverage of New Year’s Eve celebrations at Times Square with Anderson Cooper:

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Earlier this week, it came to light that a Griffin photo shoot with the photographer Tyler Shields included an image of Griffin holding up a (fake, obviously) head of President Donald Trump. The image evokes pictures of ISIS members displaying the decapitated heads of their victims:

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Reflecting America’s history of four presidential assassinations, there is a long-standing cultural and social taboo here against threats real or implied against a president’s life. Federal law prohibits such threats.

Reaction to Griffin’s Trump head photo was predictably swift and fierce. Politicians of both parties called for CNN to fire Griffin from her NYE gig. Trump himself tweeted: “My children, especially my 11-year-old son Barron, are having a hard time with this. Sick!” (It may be time, Mr. President, to monitor Barron’s access to electronic devices.) After Anderson Cooper threw his “friend” under the bus on Twitter (“completely inappropriate“), CNN fired her.

Foolishly, she felt compelled to apologize too.

Griffin hasn’t gotten much support from the creative community. One exception was the comic actor Jim Carrey. “It’s the job of the comedian to cross the line at all times,” Carrey said. “That line is not real and if you step out into that spotlight and you’re doing the crazy things that (Trump) is doing, we’re the last line of defense. The comedians are the last voice of truth in this whole thing.”

Carrey is right. Satire is a high-wire act. If it’s not dangerous, it’s not funny — it’s Jay Leno at worst, Stephen Colbert at best. Pillorying Griffin for being “inappropriate” is ridiculous. She got fired for trying to do her job. So the image was disturbing and offensive. So what? No one would have paid attention to it if had been safe and bland, like most political satire.

Now, a primer on free speech.

For a creator, there is no “line.” When I work as an editor, I tell cartoonists that it’s their job to create and mine to censor. Pitch anything, go crazy, be wild. If I approve a piece, and all hell breaks loose, the person who should be fired for poor editorial judgement is the editor, not the artist. Artists shouldn’t self-censor.

Private companies can censor. The First Amendment is narrow. It only protects us from censorship by the government. But employers like CNN can and do censor. They should be called out when they do, and censorship should always be widely condemned and despised.

CNN blacklisted Griffin. Blacklisting is the practice of firing or refusing to hire a creator for work they did for someone else. Griffin didn’t post her Trump head pic on CNN.com. She didn’t display it on a CNN broadcast. So the Trump head was not CNN’s business. What was CNN’s business was what she did on the air with Anderson Cooper at Times Square, nothing more.

Unfortunately, blacklisting is common. Sports teams have disgusting “morals clauses” that allow owners to discipline athletes for expressing themselves off the playing field; if free speech means a thing, these should be prohibited. Employers have fired employees for the political bumper sticker on their car. Gross! I was fired from a gig drawing cartoons about sex and relationships for Men’s Health by a publisher who didn’t like a cartoon I drew for newspapers about politics — and that I never submitted to MH. Unless you’re born rich, you have to work. No employer should make you think twice about expressing yourself — yes, even if you’re expression is racist or otherwise offensive. Free speech is free speech.

The quality of the censored work or artist is irrelevant. I don’t give a shit about Kathy Griffin and never thought she was that funny, though she offered undeniable random charm in her NYE appearances. (Weird randomness is an essential ingredient of successful humor.) I don’t really understand the humor in the Trump head photo. From what I gather from social media, most Americans agree with me.

But what we think of a comedian’s work is completely unrelated to whether she deserves our support.

Remember when my colleague Garry Trudeau criticized the quality and content of the cartoons drawn by artists murdered by gunmen at the office of the Paris satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo? The effect of Trudeau’s remarks was to support ISIS against cartoonists, and to partially justify the slaughter. Whenever a value as fundamental as free expression is under attack, people of good conscience must rally to defend it, no matter the content. Though disgusted by Islamophobia, I was appalled by the attempt of two ISIS gunmen to murder right-wing anti-Muslim cartoonists in Texas in 2015. I condemned liberal attempts to get right-wing radio hosts Rush Limbaugh and Dr. Laura Schlessinger fired, even though Rush has personally slimed me. When I had my radio show in Los Angeles, I took heat from pro-censorship liberals for bringing white supremacist David Duke on the air for a vigorous debate.

Reading this, some readers will say: you can say anything you want, but you don’t have the right to demand that someone hire you (or not fire you) if you do. This is sophistry.

In a capitalist society, you work or you starve to death. So, under our present system — you can be fired for saying stuff your boss doesn’t like, even stuff you say at home, not at work — your employer effectively has the right to kill you if your expression causes him (or his customers) offense. Most people aren’t rich enough not to have to worry about this. So they censor themselves.

By definition, therefore, we do not live in a free society. We are not free to say what we want, to be who we want to be.

Until we come to our senses and elevate freedom of expression to a true inalienable right that cannot be infringed upon by anyone or any entity, the only way to fight for free speech is to condemn censorship when we see it — especially when it’s incredibly clear and obvious.

Griffin’s situation is such a case.

The expression in question was clearly political speech. (Again, whether you thought it was tasteless or not is irrelevant.)

Griffin was fired by one employer, CNN — her highest profile gig — for something she did far away from CNN. This is blacklisting at its most McCarthyist, and must not be tolerated.

Citing Griffin’s Senator and former comic Al Franken said her “real, fulsome apology” means that, eventually, she may be able to recover from the Trump flap. A society in which a long-time professional comedian could be destroyed by one flop of a joke is not one that ought to be lecturing other countries about how it values freedom of speech.

Finally, Trump has this sort of satire coming. I’m not going to recite the President’s litany of disgusting statements and remarks about women, overweight people, Mexicans, and so on. The man is a colossal asshole. Instead let’s address the quaint notion that images of presidents and gruesome death shouldn’t mix.

Like his predecessors, Trump routinely orders airstrikes and drone strikes against countless innocent people. He has already murdered hundreds, possibly thousands, of people in the Middle East and South Asia. Shouldn’t we fire this guy, who actually causes real people to lose their real, actual bloodied heads, instead of Kathy Griffin?

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Rall v. LA Times: Lawsuit Update

Here’s the latest on my defamation and wrongful termination lawsuit against the Los Angeles Times.

At the first of three hearings to consider the Times’ anti-SLAPP motions against me, the judge in the case chastised both the Times’ and my attorneys for violating court rules governing page counts.

The problem began because Times’ attorney Kelli Sager submitted a 27.5 page anti-SLAPP motion against me, asking the court to dismiss my suit and award the Times’ its six-figure legal bill. Court rules limit the page count to 15.

We adhered to the 15-page limit, but it wasn’t possible to reply to 27.5 pages of argument with 15 pages. So in order to effectively counter the Times’ 27.5 page motion, we used a smaller font size.

According to Law360.com: “At the start of the hearing, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Teresa Sanchez-Gordon announced she was continuing the hearings on all three motions to future dates and asked that the parties respectively submit amended court filings ‘in compliance with court’s rules and without appendices and footnotes.’ The refiled documents should not exceed 20 pages, she said. ‘I just want both of you to adhere to the California Rules of Court, that’s all I’m saying,’ Judge Sanchez-Gordon said. ‘I’m continuing this because I could not get through [them], I’m sorry.'”

Both the Times and I will resubmit revised anti-SLAPP and opposition to anti-SLAPP motions, respectively, to the court for hearings to be held in June and July.

“Many cartoonists in the States will watch what ensues with interest, considering it a timely test of the First Amendment,” reports Cartoonist Rights Network International.

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You Did It! $75,000 Crowdfunding Effort Succeeds, LA Times Court Bond Filed

YOU DID IT!

746 people.

$75,390.

Thanks to you, we beat back the Times’ despicable attempt to deny me a chance to prove my case in court.

Thank you so much.

Below I am posting an image of the bond filed at LA Superior Court. Amazing that so much money buys you such a crappy piece of paper! I was expecting a wax seal and gold embossing.

Here’s what happens next:

Additional donations up to $80,000 will help cover the 5% GoFundMe fee of $75,000 x .05 = $3750, plus the $1250 bond company fee, for a total of $5000.

Donations over $80,000, if any, will be applied to legal expenses such as flying from New York to Los Angeles to consult with my attorneys and to attend hearings.

At a hearing on Tuesday, August 23, the judge will be informed that we filed the required bond. That means the case moves forward. Thank you!!!

The Times’ anti-SLAPP motion is currently scheduled to be heard in March 2017. (The court could change the hearing date.) We will use the months between now and then to draft our defense to their anti-SLAPP motion.

If the judge rules for the Times, I will be hit with a judgement for the Times’ legal fees, which are expected to reach hundreds of thousands of dollars. The $75,000 bond would be applied toward that balance. The Times will go after me for the rest.

If the judge rules in our favor, the Times has the right to appeal to the Court of Appeals. Given their contemptuous behavior so far, we expect them to do that. We don’t know how long it would take to get a hearing date.

Again, if the Court of Appeals rules in the Times’ favor on anti-SLAPP, the Times will go after me for their legal fees.

If the Court of Appeals rules for me, however, we move forward toward trial in LA Superior Court on the fundamental issues of this case: wrongful termination, blacklisting, defamation, etc. We begin discovery, depositions. Finally, there is a court date.

After a verdict, of course, the  system provides for appeals to higher courts.

I am prepared for a long fight against an intransigent and unrepentant adversary, a corporate conglomerate without a conscience. I am mentally and physically strong. I have stamina and a lot of energy. Most of all, I have the truth on my side.

I want two things:

Accountability for Austin Beutner, Nick Goldberg, Paul Pringle, Deirdre Edgar, the Times, and Tronc. No one should be allowed to get away with what they did.

Exposing the corrupt relationship between the Times and the LAPD, and more generally between the press and the police, and government. In our system, you have to be rich or have (as I do) a public platform in order to get justice. It’s incumbent upon those few Americans who have the chance to fight back to show people what the system is really about: cozy backroom deals by the elites, who are determined to protect their privilege at the expense of the rest of us.

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Here is the court filing document, filed Tuesday at LA Superior Court. When we realized that it would take 2-5 business days for GoFundMe to release funds and perhaps an additional full business day for the bond company to issue the bond and get it filed, a very generous friend of a friend stepped forward with a very short-term loan so we could get it filed by today’s deadline. He was certain that this fundraiser would succeed. He had blind faith — in you, in me, that justice would prevail.

He’ll be repaid by early next week, after the GoFundMe money hits my account.

Bond

BondStamp

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Politics Behind a Paywall: If CNBC Sponsors a Debate, Did It Really Happen?

There are two kinds of media censorship: direct and self-directed.

In an authoritarian regime, nothing gets published or broadcast without state approval. I watched the inner workings of direct government control of the press during a visit to Turkmenistan. Every magazine and newspaper was run out of the same office. Many were edited by the same people, all wearing the same lapel pins, an image of the country’s then-dictator, Sapamurat “Turkmenbashi” Niyazov.

This didn’t exactly make for a bunch of scintillating reads: the “our harvest rocks” stories were direct heirs of propaganda in the Soviet Union, of which the Turkmen SSR was a remote outpost. But it did offer clarity. The Turkmen people have never suffered from any illusions about the nature of their political system. They knew they weren’t free.

Censorship exists everywhere. In the so-called “free world,” however, political and cultural gatekeepers work to try to fool citizens into thinking that it does not. This morning, on NPR, I took note of an in-house ad in which an employee of the network claimed that it reports “unbiased news.”

There is, of course, no such thing as unbiased reporting or analysis. I’ve been listening to NPR for decades. In stories about foreign policy crises, never once have I heard an interview with a pacifist, someone who is against all military action. Whether it’s about Iran or ISIS, the “debate” is always between two varieties of interventionism: harsh (sanctions, i.e. “containment”) and harsher (bombs). If NPR’s “Marketplace” has ever interviewed a communist about why capitalism sucks and should be replaced, I missed it. Biased? You betcha. Always. Inevitably.

Here in the United States, censorship is usually self-directed. No one from the State Ministry of Propaganda calls The New York Times to tell them what’s fit to print. They make those decisions on their own. But those calls are informed by who those editors are — the elite schools from which they graduated (Columbia Journalism School), their class background (parents rich enough to send them to Columbia J-School), input from their friends and colleagues (other people whose parents are rich enough to send them to Columbia J-School). Who they are determines what makes it into print.

Which is often motivated by a desire not to offend those in power.

Major American media outlets are run by people who believe that they need access to those in power, which is to say government officials and corporate executives, in order to do their jobs. The Los Angeles Times, where I worked until July, fired me, apparently as a favor to the police. You see, I drew cartoons critical of police brutality and incompetence. The cops, understandably, didn’t like that. So they ginned up an excuse — since disproven — for the paper to get rid of me. Now they’re in a pickle. They know they messed up, but if they admit it they’ll hurt their relationship with the LAPD by revoking their favor to them. That might mean, the next time there’s a big O.J.-type crime story, that the LAPD refuses to feed them information.

A cartoonist colleague working in the Midwest tells me that, after he drew an anti-police cartoon, the cops stopped talking to his paper’s reporters. If the paper wants tips from the police, they’ve let his editors know, all they have to do is fire their cartoonist.

America, land of innovation, has now conceived of yet a third kind of media censorship: economic.

Last night, like millions of Americans, I turned on my TV to watch the third Republican presidential debate. Since I only subscribe to the basic cable package, however, I couldn’t get it. It only aired on CNBC, which where I live is on premium cable. (It didn’t livestream online either.)

I pay north of $120 a month for cable TV and broadband Internet access. This makes me a relatively privileged member of the mediarati. But not privileged enough. To watch a political debate — a civic ritual that used to be, and still ought to be, on every TV channel and radio station, free, by law — I would have to bump that up to something closer to $200. This is really, really wrong.

As a result, I — and other political commentators — are reduced to commenting on a debate as seen through the lens of media elites who have those $200 a month to spend.

Many millions of Americans, particularly young people, have “cut the cord” and watch only streamed television and movies. You can’t accuse them of apathy if you won’t let them participate in a presidential campaign.

Here’s how niche CNBC is. Debates sponsored by FoxNews and CNN averaged 24 and 23 million viewers, respectively. (After CNN offered livestreaming, Fox followed suit.) CNBC’s all-time viewing record is 3.9 million, during the 2002 Winter Olympics.

Economic censorship is gross. But, much like the brazenness of censorship under a dictatorship, putting politics behind a paywall serves as an unintentional signifier. The system is not of, by or for you, the people.

It’s the ultimate triumph of pay-to-play electoral politics: democracy without voters.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for ANewDomain.net, is the author of the new book “Snowden,” the biography of the NSA whistleblower. Want to support independent journalism? You can subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2015 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Where Are the Passionate Editors?

          Stipulated: David Brooks isn’t that smart.

As editor of The Weekly Standard — the neo-con rag that served as the warmongering Der Sturmer of the Bushies — he endorsed the unprovoked U.S. invasion of Iraq.

He wrote a book, “Bobos in Paradise” (the “bobos” are “bourgeous bohemians”) that, aside from having the lamest title in the history of movable type attempted to coin a phrase to alongside “yuppies” and “hipsters” but never stood a chance.

Every now and then, however, the New York Times op-ed writer whose take on things uncannily mimics whatever happens to be the 50.000-yard line of mainstream corporatist politics writes something worth reading. (This distinguishes him from fellow militant centrist Tom Friedman.)

Brooks’ October 23rd column “Lady Gaga and the Life of Passion” is one of his more thought-provoking pieces, though probably not for a reason he might have hoped.

Born of staring-down-a-deadline laziness, “Gaga” came out of that most bobo of activities, sitting on one’s ass at a benefit dinner in a hotel banquet room. The shindig was thrown by Americans for the Arts, but that’s not important.

Brooks was enthralled by the musician Lady Gaga, who received an award. He quoted her: “I suppose that I didn’t know what I would become, but I always wanted to be extremely brave and I wanted to be a constant reminder to the universe of what passion looks like. What it sounds like. What it feels like.”

Brooks mused: “That passage stuck in the head and got me thinking. When we talk about living with passion, which is sort of a cliché, what exactly do we mean?”

I won’t rehash Brooks’ discourse about living with passion. Click the link if you’re so moved; he’s competent enough at expressing himself.

What struck me was Brooks’ hypocrisy.

Here is a man who, whatever else one can say about him, decidedly does not live his life with passion. He does not take risks. He does not say what he really thinks or really means, because doing so would greatly reduce his income stream. I mean, invading Iraq — seriously? No one with a brain thought that would go well. Even Brooks’ vocal delivery, as seen on NPR and PBS, defines the term “flat affect.”

More damning, he does not endorse the struggles of those who do live with the passion he praises in people like Lady Gaga.

To read him, you’d almost believe Brooks really, truly admires artists and others who take a chance. “[A] trait that marks them is that they have high levels of both vulnerability and courage. As Martha Nussbaum wrote in her great book ‘Upheavals of Thought,’ to be emotional is to attach yourself to something you value supremely but don’t fully control. To be passionate is to put yourself in danger,” Brooks writes.

In this Brooks is absolutely right.

My chosen profession, political satire and commentary, is a high-wire act. To be really funny, to be really incisive, you have to be willing to express opinions that are unpopular — not provocation for its own sake, but in the service of ideas that are necessary to express.

If you’re any good as a political cartoonist, or artist, or singer, you’ll spend your career accumulating enemies. I draw 200 or 300 cartoons and write at least 100 essays a year. That comes to roughly 3500 pieces a decade, each expressing a political opinion. Not too many fans will stick with you through the one or 10 or 100 things you draw or write that really, really piss them off — even if they absolutely adored the other 90% of your work.

If the world needs artists with passion, as Brooks argues and I agree, how do we support them, emotionally as well as economically?

“People with passion have the courage to be themselves with abandon,” Brooks points out. “We all care what others think about us. People with passion are just less willing to be ruled by the tyranny of public opinion.”

Right. For passionate artists to survive or even thrive, then, cultural gatekeepers must themselves be willing to defy public opinion. There is no Lady Gaga without record company executives and concert promoters willing to distribute her music and put on her appearances.

There is no Ted Rall without editors willing to publish my work.

Editors are wimps. Journalists say that all the time. That was probably always true — but there were fewer wimps and more heroes in the past.

One of my first editors, at the Vandalia Chronicle in Ohio, got fired over one of my cartoons, about Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority. I was in high school. When she called to tell me the news, I felt awful. She was cheery. Courage came naturally to her.

I can’t imagine an editor being willing to lose his job over something I drew today. I was fired by The Los Angeles Times last summer over a charge that was quickly proven to have been trumped up — yet no one at the Times spoke out, much less resigned, over an obvious injustice in the service of censorship. Years of budget cuts and downsizing have made editors who still have their jobs terrified of rocking the boat. All they want to do is coast to retirement before getting fired.

Brooks on the passionate: “There’s even sometimes a certain recklessness there, a willingness to throw their imperfect selves out into public view while not really thinking beforehand how people might react.”

True — but this will stop happening when there’s no one left to catch the passionate when they fall.

At the Times, where Brooks works, there has never been a columnist who truly took chances — much less one whose ideology was truly challenging to the status quo. There has never been a review of a truly revolutionary book, or CD, or play. “Experts,” though frequently wrong, are always drawn from among the usual middlebrow elites.

Brooks could dig deep into avant garde culture and politics if he wanted to. Which he clearly doesn’t. Every year around the December holidays, for example, he releases a list of magazine articles he recommends. Never, ever will you find him praising something that didn’t appear in the mainstream media.

There’s something really, truly weird about reading a paean to passion in a paper so dedicated to crushing it.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for ANewDomain.net, is the author of the new book “Snowden,” the biography of the NSA whistleblower. Want to support independent journalism? You can subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2015 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.CO

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Muscle Memory

California police continue to abuse minorities and others in their sights. Since the LA Times fired me at the behest of the LAPD, however, there is no longer commentary directed against them in cartoon form in the LA Times. This is, of course, exactly what the LAPD wanted.

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