April 29, 2004

Fastest Way to Fifteen Minutes of Fame

by PG

1. Write something outrageous for your college newspaper.

2. Have the editors print it under the banner of free speech.

3. Watch everyone foam at the mouth.

Rinse. Repeat. Beats the leading competitor, "Live in your school library and blog about it," by several months of inconvenience.

I say "Rinse. Repeat," because the website for the Universty of Massachusetts at Amherst's Daily Collegian is experiencing such massive traffic that, at the time I am writing this, it asks people to come back later. With such a boost in notoriety, the Collegian's editors are likely to see this as a successful experiment in fostering debate, instead of as the automatic reaction people have to a verbal kick in the groin.

For those who are wondering and haven't heard already, the editorial is by Puerto Rican UMass graduate student Rene Gonzalez, who calls former NFL player and killed-in-Afghanistan soldier Pat Tillman an idiot under the headline, "Pat Tillman is not a hero: He got what was coming to him." Predictably, the rant of a single young man is now being generalized as the opinion of every person identifying as anti-war or liberal.

At least the moderator at Lucianne.com quickly noticed and shut down a thread that featured people wishing Gonzalez in hell, etc. Though rarely a beacon of rationality, Lucianne.com does have the sensible policy of not permitting posts from college publications. Its rules require that articles be from "legitimate on-line newspapers, magazines or news sites only." While this may shut out some useful and interesting pieces from sources deemed illegitimate, such as college publications, it limits the death threats to being made against fairly mainstream writers such Paul Krugman.

Gonzalez himself appears to have gotten a quick lesson in the consequences of being rude to a U.S. soldier killed in action, especially in a war that the vast majority of Americans support, judging by the response now automatically sent to everyone who e-mails him. It can be found at the end of this post.

April 29, 2004 09:15 PM | TrackBack

I only quickly glanced over the article, but from what I gathered it was fairly sophomoric. The gist was that Tillman was stupid for giving up his money for a position that Gonzalez apparently thinks people only take to pay for college or because they can't get any other job.

That's a pretty shallow -- and incorrect -- analysis.

This idiot, and yes I'll say idiot because the article itself lacked little in terms of intelligent commentary (it's only slightly more crappy than the stuff you'd find at newsmax.com) deserves all the threats and flame mail he gets.

People outside of the legal profession just don't get the concept of free speech. If you say something popular and people disagree with you, saying 'free speech' isn't some automatic anti-consequences card you can play. You've had your free speech, now society will have it's free speech labeling you an idiot. Isn't that wonderful, Rene?

It's what Justice Holmes called the marketplace of ideas and, in this case, it looks like you better short sell and get out of Dodge before someone punches you in the nose -- something, I'm afraid to say, the First Amendment won't shield you from.

Posted by: Brian at April 30, 2004 12:09 AM

I haven't read the article (server still overloaded), but I'll assume arguendo that the writer's an idiot, and that the article's views were outrageous and repugnant. But to say he deserves death threats? And a punch in the nose? Such illegal retaliation is itself idiotic and repugnant. It's true that people falsely assume "free speech" should release them from social responsibility for outrageous views, but it's equally false to say a speaker within his constitutional rights deserves to be illegally abused. Social opprobrium and counter speech are the remedy, not violence or threats.

Posted by: Nick Morgan at April 30, 2004 12:54 AM

Was it Justice Holmes who said the First Amendment (speech) does not protect someone who in a crowded theatre showing Mel Gibson's "The Passion" yells out that Mel is an anti-semite?

Posted by: Shag from Brookline at April 30, 2004 07:05 AM

You also can not yell theater in a crowded fireplace.

Posted by: Sean S at April 30, 2004 07:50 AM

Such illegal retaliation is itself idiotic and repugnant.

Well, that's life. Not everyone conducts themselves per Roberts Rules of Orders. Needless to say, if I were Pat Tillman's father, I would punch this guy in the nose.

He had something in an "apology" he sent out saying that while there is freedom of speech there is apparently not toleration of speech -- that, after he admitted his article was inflamatory. This just shows the position this gadfly is coming from. Toleration of speech? Sorry, if you write or say outlandish and hateful things, you'll get outlandish and hateful responses. It's amazing how people can speak from the gutter and then express suprise at how their responses come from the same place.

Posted by: Brian at April 30, 2004 10:15 AM

Define death threat. If it's "I'm going to come to your house and kill you," then no, obviously, no one deserves that for something they've said. However, if people have emailed him saying that he should go to hell or that he deserves to die... uh, excuse me, but isn't that pretty much the essence of the title of his article? Pat Tilleman got what he deserved?

I'm probably in the minority of blog visitors here who actually does support this war. That said, I can understand why many are opposed to it. But I don't understand the vitriol of Rene's article - it's purposefully inflammatory, and probably for precisely the reasons my cousin outlined above in her article. He sure got fame and attention, didn't he? A Columbia professor did something similar a year ago - hoping for another Mogadishu - and he got lambasted as well. And I'm sure that, somewhere out there, some academic institution is dying to have both, because they're controversial and fearless in expressing their ideas.

That said, I agree with Brian - you can't expect to make inflammatory comments using really, really disgusting language and expect to be untouched. People are going to criticize, and they're not going to be polite in doing so. Do I think physical assault is in order? Absolutely not. Verbal assault though? Absolutely. He completely merits being told to go to hell or that he deserves to die - he deserves to be criticzed in the exact manner he has criticized. Does that hurt his feelings? I'm sure the Tilleman's were hurt far worse when they heard about his comments - and hurt that this disrespectful human being's comments will now become part of their son's legacy. He used his free speech - no one's going to arrest him for making the comments that he did, and no one's going to execute him either. And no one's going to prohibit him from finding some outlet to express these thoughts. But free speech does not mean tolerated speech - people will criticize you when they disagree with you. When John Kerry criticizes President Bush, he's not stripping Bush of his free speech, but rather merely exercising his own. And Rene's a hypocrite if he believes that others don't have the same right to use equally inflammatory language to lambast him... he's lost it if he thinks he should get to say this stuff without criticism. And I think it's rather interesting that his emailed apology showed a clearer, more distanced and more coherent defense of his ideas than his article, which was offensive merely for the sake of being offensive.

Posted by: columbian at April 30, 2004 04:44 PM

And one more thing - I just read the UMass Editorial Board's defense of their publication. And while I agree the 1st Amendment protects their right to publish whatever they want, I don't they should be able to hide behind it, as though they HAD to publish this article to uphold the 1st. The 1st protects your right to free speech, not your right to publish that free speech. I can't wake up tomorrow, write an article saying that the dollar bill should be blue instead of green, and expect the New York Times to publish it. If they want to publish, it will be there; otherwise, it won't. That's why we have editorial boards...

UMass Editors - you WANTED to publish this article. Don't try to blame the 1st for your choice and say you HAD to publish this to respect the 1st. You could have published another anti-war or anti-soldier article that was less inflammatory - hell, you could have asked Mr. Gonzales to tune down the vitriol in his article. You didn't. Not the 1st. *You.* You chose to run an article titled "Pat Tilleman got what he deserved" rather than "Pat Tilleman's not my hero" - one that called soldiers "stupid" rather than one that calmly and rationally argued against the automatic hero-worship accorded to soldiers. You wanted contoversy.

So for pete's sake, take some pride or at least responsibility for your choice. I could at least respect you then.

Posted by: columbian at April 30, 2004 04:52 PM

Columbian, I think we probably agree. If you write something horrible and inflamatory, you shouldn't bitch when it backfires, and others are probably within their rights to say "go to hell" or "you deserve to die." But seriously, we don't need to "define threat" in order to see the difference between mere expressions of contempt and a statement like "I'm gonna kill you." The latter is a threat, and I think it's unjustified. Maybe the author didn't actually receive any such actual threats, but I'm guessing he did.

And, by the way, the 1st Amendment does protect the right to publish (which means the government cannot stop your from publishing most things), but there is clearly no 1st Amendment right to compel someone to publish your thoughts--this is probably what you meant, even though you say "The 1st protects your right to free speech, not your right to publish that free speech." I still can't access the article, but it looks like the publication is making the common mistake of assuming that the 1st Amendment somehow blesses or even requires as much speech as possible, which is just plainly wrong as a general matter.

Posted by: Nick Morgan at April 30, 2004 05:55 PM

Hey Nick - that's exactly what I meant. Sorry about the confusion. :P

Posted by: columbian at April 30, 2004 11:59 PM

Let us not forget, incidentally, that the Umass editors are not, primarily to blame. Indeed, to some extent, the author is not, primarily to blame. The author is just stupid. Our culture breeds this kind of stupidity by rewarding it (which I believe the author of this post hinted). This why Michael Moore sells movie tickets and Jason Blair sells books--Americans now refuse to practice standards of any sort. Censorship, done effectively on a cultural level would eliminate such insensitive and unethical speech by ignoring it. The author would lose favor with the audience and no one would take such inconsequential drivel seriously. However in our Springer-culture ignorant, loud-mouthed crap like this receives a huge audience and is then batted about under the auspices of free speech. This is why I don't own a T.V. and I rarely read many news publications. It is amazing how much fame you can gain from an utter lack of standards. (Didn't Socrates say something about this sort of thing in the Gorgias?)

Posted by: John at May 2, 2004 10:49 AM

However in our Springer-culture ignorant, loud-mouthed crap like this receives a huge audience and is then batted about under the auspices of free speech.

The sad thing is they all pale in comparison to the original master: Morton Downey, Jr.

Posted by: Brian at May 2, 2004 04:12 PM
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