Tag Archives: CNN

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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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Ben Carson: Please Believe Me When I Say I’m Psycho

To echo the current ad campaign by Geico, politicians lie. It’s what they do.

Like when Donald Trump says he’s going to make Mexico pay for a border wall — ain’t never gonna happen. Hillary knew she was lying when she claimed that NSA contractor Edward Snowden was protected by federal whistleblower laws (those are only for federal employees).

Probably because he’s ahead in the polls, attention is currently focused on Ben Carson’s distant relationship with the truth, most interestingly his story of getting offered a scholarship to West Point. It’s a ridiculous tale given the fact that many young Americans try to get into the military academies (I applied to Annapolis), so a lot of people know the real deal. If you gain acceptance after a grueling application process — I remember a battery of physicals that took all day and having to obtain a sponsorship from a member of Congress — tuition, room and board is free. But you’re committed to serving as a junior officer for six years after graduation.

By far the weirdest of Carson’s alleged fibs — the story itself and the media’s reaction to it — is the soft-spoken-to-the-point-of-stoned physician’s description of himself in his 1990 autobiography as a violent young man with a “pathological temper.”

I haven’t read “Gifted Hands” and likely never will, but CNN has: “The violent episodes he has detailed in his book, in public statements and in interviews, include punching a classmate in the face with his hand wrapped around a lock, leaving a bloody three-inch gash in the boy’s forehead; attempting to attack his own mother with a hammer following an argument over clothes; hurling a large rock at a boy, which broke the youth’s glasses and smashed his nose; and, finally, thrusting a knife at the belly of his friend with such force that the blade snapped when it luckily struck a belt buckle covered by the boy’s clothes.”

“I was trying to kill somebody,” Carson has said about his inept act of attempted murder in ninth grade, at age 14.

“CNN was unable to independently confirm any of the incidents,” Scott Glover and Maeve Reston reported. The network tracked down several of Carson’s friends and former classmates. None remembered Carson as out of control or violent.

Stipulated: absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Minor changes in details — “camping knife” or “pocketknife,” is there a difference? — don’t change the basic facts of the story. Just because CNN can’t corroborate Carson’s stabbing attempt doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Maybe they didn’t talk to the right friends or classmates. Carson may well have told the truth about this. That’s not the point.

The point is two-fold:

First — whether Carson told the truth or lied — why is he telling this story now, while running for president? (Among other times, he talked about it at a campaign appearance in September.) A history as a deranged juvenile delinquent isn’t something to brag about when you’re asking voters to give you nuclear launch codes.

I understand the self-confessional bit in his bio. Memoirs that hide the author’s flaws suck. “Gifted Hands” came out 25 years ago, long before Carson thought about politics. But he’s still talking about trying to stab a dude for, by his own account, no good reason.

Yeah, it’s a redemption narrative. After that, he found God (in a bathroom!) and got soooo calm.

I say it’s creepy.

Unlike my September 2001 opposition to invading Afghanistan, I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that I don’t want someone with a predilection for psychotic outbursts running the country.

That’s assuming he’s telling the truth about it. Really, truly, I hope he’s lying.

Which is my second point: Carson’s media critics are in the strange position of accusing him of not being an attempted murderer. Can it be that violence has become so normalized in American society that viciousness is now a requirement for high office?

Reporter: “Is it true, Dr. Carson, that you didn’t try to kill someone for fun?”

Dr. Carson: “Absolutely not. I swear swear swear that I did try to kill the guy, and that it would have been fun, and God damn that belt buckle!”

The way this is going, Carson will soon have to produce the original long-form version of his victims’ death certificates in order to continue as a viable presidential candidate.

(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

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Why Isn’t Organ Donation Mandatory?

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America’s Weird, Enduring Respect for Corpses

This week America’s news media obsessed over the shooting deaths of 12 people in Washington. The usual arguments over gun control seem irrelevant since there isn’t much that could have been done to prevent those particular killings. It was a navy base. Even in England, members of the military have access to automatic weapons. And even if we were inclined to start locking people up for hearing voices or feeling strange vibrations, we can’t build enough mental asylums to hold all of them.

On the other hand, it is estimated that 18 people die every day due to a national shortage of organ donations. This crisis can be solved.

Don’t worry: this is not one of Those pieces calling for you to consider signing the donor section on the back of your driver’s license.

My solution is more radical. When you die, the government should take your organs.

The transplant shortage is acute. Some patients are so desperate that they travel on ethically-dubious “medical tourism” junkets to China, which implants organs from executed prisoners. Others accept D-rate organs. Patients at the University of Maryland recently accepted kidneys that had recently been operated upon for benign or malignant tumors. Better bad kidneys than none at all.

The waiting list system is widely viewed as arbitrary and unfair. In June 2013 a federal judge made news by issuing an order suspending rules that effectively blocked children under the age of 12 from receiving organs from adult donors. Several children who might have died without the procedure benefited. Unfortunately, the court’s ruling probably killed a similar number of adult patients. Like cash, life is a zero-sum game.

It is widely believed that celebrities and wealthy people, most notably Billy Martin in 1995 and Steve Jobs in 2009, are able to cut the line, moving themselves up the waiting list. Technically, this isn’t true. But practically, it is.

A major factor determining whether or not you will receive a new organ is whether you can afford the $500,000-plus cost of the procedure and its maintenance, or whether your insurance coverage is sufficiently expensive to cover it. Rich people can pay, poor people can’t. “There’s a huge triage involved in getting in,” Arthur Caplan, chair of the department of medical ethics at the University of Pennsylvania, told CNN. “If you’re a homeless alcoholic sleeping on the streets of L.A., and you’re going toe-to-toe with Steve Jobs, you’re going to lose.”

Where resources are scarce, politics get ugly. In 2012 the University of California at San Francisco kidney exchange was accused of denying a kidney to a man because of his status as an undocumented immigrant. A petition campaign changed UC officials’ minds.

This being America and anything more progressive than the collected works of Ronald Reagan being off the table, the mainstream media turns to free-market solutions: paying prospective donors, either while they are alive or after they die, for their kidneys, livers and other body parts that could be used to enhance or save someone’s life. In 2010 The Wall Street Journal published an essay urging that we adopt Iran’s approach, which guarantees a year of health care and a cash payment to donors. A June 2013 Slate piece by Sally Satel, “How to Fix the Organ Transplant Shortage,” called for “providing in-kind rewards — such as a down payment on a house, a contribution to a retirement fund, or lifetime health insurance” to donors.

These merchantilist suggestions have gotten traction. A 2012 poll found that 55% of Americans now believe that selling your organs ought to be legal.

And maybe they’re right. But it’s easy to imagine how the commodification of body parts could corrupt an already flawed system. Do we want to live in a nation where the unemployed resort to auctioning off pieces of themselves to stave off foreclosure?

There’s not much we can do to reduce demand for organs. So let’s focus on the supply side of the equation.

Efforts to guilt Americans into donating voluntarily are failing those 18 Americans a day. But not every healthy person who refuses to sign a donor card is heartless. I know because I’m one of them. I refuse to endorse a system that rewards the rich at the expense of the poor. If the system were more transparent, and treated everyone equally, there’d be more donors.

However, the system being what it is, that’s not going to happen.

Which brings us to the government’s role. I don’t understand why organ donation isn’t mandatory. Why isn’t every corpse harvested for all of its usable organs?

It isn’t a property-rights issue. You don’t own your corpse. Neither does your family. If it did, they could leave your body to rot in the backyard. Laws dictate how to properly dispose of a dead person.

There have been baby steps toward mandatory donation. In 2010 a New York assemblyman introduced a “presumed consent” bill that would have automatically enrolled all New Yorkers as organ donors unless they opted out (analogous to the federal “do not call” list for people who don’t want to get telephone solicitations). Two dozen other nations have similar laws. The bill failed.

If the government can save 18 people a day by harvesting every available organ, why doesn’t it pass a law making it so?

The blogger Stewart Lindsey expresses the most passionate, coherent and logical argument I can find against mandatory organ donation: “If I OPT to donate my liver, kidneys, heart or any other worthwhile organ at the time of my death, I will make that decision known. Don’t we have enough intrusion from the government into our personal lives already? If they can dictate whether or not you should be an organ donor, how much longer before they will be making the choices of where you can live, where you can work, go to church or school, who you can marry, what stores you can shop in and ultimately, how long should you be allowed to live, before your organs are no longer a viable option for harvesting!”

As a student of history, I am sympathetic to slippery slope arguments. And as I wrote above, I despise the way that the current health care system prioritizes wealthy Americans over the less fortunate. But when you boil it down, Lindsey’s argument is purely emotional. It’s my liver, and you can pry it out of my cold, dead carcass…or not.

Anyway, our top government officials don’t care about those concerns.

In the end, it comes down to the power of superstition.

When we die, we cease to exist in every way. Our bodies decompose. Only idiots believe in God, the Devil, Heaven, Hell, an afterlife. Whether your body is harvested for organs, eaten by cannibals, or minced to fertilize topsoil, you will never know the difference. Anyway, no major American religion teaches that what happens to your corpse affects your destiny in the hereafter.

Between our smart phones and amazing technology that allows our government to spy on our every digital moment, citizens of the United States of America feel that they live in an incredibly modern society. But not in our hearts, not in our souls, and certainly not in our brains.

About 2.5 million Americans die every year. Most are burned or planted in the ground, completely wasted. Vast numbers of them rot away, their bodies containing potentially life-saving organs, left intact — or embalmed — for only one reason: politicians are too cowardly to challenge the ancient idea that there is something sacred in a hunk of flesh.

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. Go there to join the Ted Rall Subscription Service and receive all of Ted’s cartoons and columns by email.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL