Friday, January 23, 2015

Journalism school dean: The First Amendment ends at insulting Mohammed

Unusual, not because it’s rare to see an American journalist bowing to Islamic sensibilities on depictions of Mohammed but because typically they don’t go so far as to demand legal limits on their own profession. When the New York Times refuses to run a cartoon goofing on Islam, they don’t want the reason to be government censorship. They prefer to be censored by more sympathetic agents, like violent Muslim radicals.

To be precise here, though, DeWayne Hickham, the dean of Morgan State’s J-school, isn’t demanding a “Mohammed exception” to the First Amendment. He’s demanding an exception for all speech that would make the audience so angry that they might react violently — exactly the sort of slippery slope on censorship that people like you and me worry about when images of Mohammed are suppressed. Actual line from this op-ed, regarding the new cover of Charlie Hebdo: “The once little-known French satirical news weekly crossed the line that separates free speech from toxic talk.”

    "The most current issue of Charlie Hebdo again has Mohammed on its cover. This time, he appears crying under a headline that reads: “All is forgiven.” Well, apparently not. Ten people have been killed during protests in Niger, a former French colony. Other anti-French riots have erupted from North Africa to Asia. In reaction to all of this, Pope Francis has said of the magazine, “You cannot make fun of the faith of others.”…

    In 1919, the Supreme Court ruled speech that presents a “clear and present danger” is not protected by the First Amendment. Crying “fire” in a quiet, uninhabited place is one thing, the court said. But “the most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic.”

    Twenty-two years later, the Supreme Court ruled that forms of expression that “inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace” are fighting words that are not protected by the First Amendment.

    If Charlie Hebdo’s irreverent portrayal of Mohammed before the Jan. 7 attack wasn’t thought to constitute fighting words, or a clear and present danger, there should be no doubt now that the newspaper’s continued mocking of the Islamic prophet incites violence. And it pushes Charlie Hebdo’s free speech claim beyond the limits of the endurable."

Amazingly for a J-school prof, none of that is right. The Supreme Court hasn’t used the “clear and present danger” test for First Amendment cases in decades. The test now for inflammatory speech is the Brandenburg test, a strciter standard that allows the state to criminalize incitement only in narrow circumstances — when the speaker intends to incite violence and violence is likely to quickly result. Charlie Hebdo’s Mohammed cartoons may have met the “likely” prong of that test but they sure didn’t meet the “intent” part. The “fighting words” doctrine is still good law but it too has been gradually narrowed over time. Today, for the moment, it’s limited to “direct personal insults” between people who are face to face. That’s the key difference between publishing an offensive cartoon and, to borrow the Pope’s recent analogy, stepping up to a man and insulting his mother. From the Supreme Court’s perspective, those situations are apples and oranges.

I appreciate Wickham’s candor in trying to expand “fighting words” to allow censorship of all kinds of offensive speech, though; I’ve worried about that myself, as longtime HA readers know. If speech can be criminalized because it angers a man to the point where he wants to attack you, why should we limit it to speech said in his presence? “Fighting words” is a potential trojan horse for smuggling all sorts of exceptions for “hate” into the First Amendment. I’m surprised more lefties aren’t as forthright as this guy is in making the case for it.

Someone should poll the media on whether they agree with Wickham’s “heckler’s veto” assumption that it’s Charlie Hebdo’s staff, rather than, say, the jihadis like Al Qaeda who put a bounty on them and ended up murdering them, that’s guilty of “incitement.” I’d be curious to see the numbers


UK: Ofsted director forced into apology on Rotherham abuse failings

An Ofsted director has been forced to say sorry to Rotherham child sexual exploitation victims for the service’s failings.

Debbie Jones, Ofsted director with responsibility for inspecting children’s services, only made the apology after being repeatedly pressed to do so by MPs.

Speaking to the Communities and Local Government Committee this afternoon, Ms Jones initially refused to issue a direct apology for its failures to highlight the scandal during repeated inspections in Rotherham.

She said Ofsted had previously admitted the inspection regime had not been good enough, but that improvements have been made.

However, she was asked repeatedly by Clive Betts, committee chairman and Labour MP for Sheffield South East, to give a ‘straight-forward answer’ and issue an apology.

She eventually said: “We in Ofsted along with everybody else feel that what we have done is not good enough.

“Of course we are sorry. We are sorry along with everybody else that has been in front of this committee.

“The frameworks we had at the time did not focus on child sexual exploitation, not to the degree they do now.

“At the time, child sexual exploitation did not have the focus, wrongly, that it does now.”

The independent Jay report published in August revealed at least 1,400 children in Rotherham were abused between 1997 and 2013.

It said Ofsted inspections of Rotherham’s child protection services took place in 2003, 2004, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012.

The 2009 report resulted in Rotherham Council being given a notice improve children’s services. The notice was removed in January 2011.

Ms Jones said Ofsted’s 2014 inspection of Rotherham’s children’s services, which gave an ‘inadequate’ rating proved the inspection regime had improved.

She said: “I hope the people of Rotherham were reassured by what we reported very robustly recently.

“Had we inspected on the current framework before, the likelihood is we would have a different outcome. We have raised the bar.”

However, Ms Jones said she could not guarantee future grooming scandals similar to Rotherham will not occur.

She said: “It would be wrong of me to say there won’t be another Rotherham. I couldn’t possibly say that. I hope the systems that have been put in place will ensure the spotlight is there.

“However, it is wrong to say it could never happen.”


'Degrees don't guarantee jobs – and nor should they'

Last Sunday's Observer ran a piece that asked what higher education could, and should, do to adapt to the modern world. Its assertion that perhaps work experience could be provided as part of a degree course got me thinking, yet again, about the purpose of university.

I refer you to an article I wrote this time last year, having bumped into a piece by Evelyn Waugh in my then-university library. In the piece, entitled 'Was Oxford Worth While?', Waugh concludes that it wasn't, and graduates today might take the same view of their university experience if they have found themselves unemployed after graduation.

The Observer doesn't ask whether university is worthwhile but rather probes the idea that universities should become at one with the modern world, with particular reference to placement years and careers matching.

The idea that universities should provide better careers services is not unknown, but it begs the question of what university is actually for. Déjà vu, much?

The Observer suggests that universities should set students up better for the real world, and it's hard to contest that. But that isn't their primary role. They are not an academic 'mum and dad', ready to catch every student when they can't decide what to do next.

Part of growing up includes learning to do things for yourself. This invariably means preparing yourself for work. It's not rocket science: brush your hair, learn how to make a phone call and make sure your nails are clean. It's pretty basic.

My university education didn't explicitly help me with the only parts of a job specification that are actually essential: being a nice, sensible person who can get up every morning five days a week and come into an office.

It gave me the opportunity to do work experience in the holidays so that I *could* get a job, but I did the rest myself. Because that's what growing up is all about.

People are very quick to blame the establishment, whatever kind it is, for things that they have failed to do themselves. Of late, university education has been consistently blamed for not producing work ready graduates, and there is an element of blame that might fall on colleges.

Ultimately, if you graduate from university with no plans, ideas or ambitions then that's not the fault of your tutors. They are not your parents, and your fees – however much they cost – can only fund your indecision for so long.

Most of my peers that complain about not knowing what they want to do next have never been to the careers office to ask for help.

We live in a continually appalled, offended and precious culture of blame: education suffers as a result of it, as does everything else. Blame is put on everything and anything except ourselves, and this permeates the arena of work ready graduates.

Soft skills are important, but cannot be learnt from a textbook. Most of them fall under the rarely-used-these-days category of common sense. Turning up to a job interview looking presentable and writing a thank-you note after isn't anything but good manners.

If this crisis of ill-preparation actually exists, then how much of it down to the university? Higher education is not a spoon feeding exercise in how to get through the day, it is supposed to line the corridors of potential study, and allows three or so years for you to grow up socially.

This bit you have to do yourself, and getting ready for work is part of that.

It is lazy to suggest that universities must be the sole provider of life preparation for students, whatever the cost. An academic degree is what you get from university, on paper – the question of whether your academic degree is worth the paper it's written on is another debate. The rest, the socialising and ability to turn up on time, is down to you.

People complain that my generation isn't resilient enough, that those younger than me need lessons in 'character' to learn some grit. Such nonsense. The only way to become more resilient is to live, unfettered and without having your yogurt fed to you on a spoon.

To all those that have applied to university this week: good luck. Once you're in, you can make your own.


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