- Associated Press - Saturday, September 3, 2016

Excerpts of recent editorials of statewide and national interest from New England newspapers:

The Bulletin (Conn.), Sept. 2, 2016

Colin Kaepernick, the San Francisco 49ers quarterback whose refusal to stand during the national anthem has inspired intense public criticism, deserves the support of anyone who believe in free speech- including those who feel aversion toward his version of peaceful protest.

Kaepernick’s concerns center on his belief that the country still institutionally oppresses black people, particular by way of police brutality. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media last week. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

Presidential candidate Donald Trump, who rails against political correctness and whose rhetoric routinely paints a bleak picture of a not-so-great America, says Kaepernick should leave the country- presumably because his views and actions are not sufficiently PC for Trump. Such hypocrisy is to be expected from him.

Conservative news hosts also have slammed the quarterback on the grounds that as a rich athlete who was raised by white adoptive parents, Kaepernick is not in a position to complain. Others have suggested that pro athletes have an obligation to be better role models.

On the contrary, we would argue that Kaepernick’s upbringing and public standing put him in a unique position both to understand racial issues in ways that white people and those from black families might not, and to publicize those issues and promote a national conversation on them. Far from being unpatriotic, Kaepernick sustains a proud tradition of peaceful protest, exercising his constitutionally guaranteed right to free expression. That neither the 49ers nor the NFL have expressed strong objection also speaks volumes.

Traditionally, athletes and spectators stand and remove their caps to honor the country and the military during the anthem. That’s also a proud tradition, and one in which we participate. Anyone who thinks Kaepernick’s actions are unpatriotic, or even petulant, is entitled to that opinion, but his right to free expression should not be questioned.

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Online:

http://bit.ly/2chYhBn

The Times Record (Maine), Aug. 29, 2016

Paul Richard LePage should resign. It’s as simple as that.

Since his election, he has repeatedly shown that he does not have the temperament for the job. His desire to duel with a lawmaker after leaving a Nixonesque “expletive- laden voicemail” is just the latest in a string of embarrassments that are the hallmark of the LePage administration.

The voicemail in question was left after a reporter apparently insinuated to LePage that Rep. Drew Gattine, D- Westbrook, called LePage racist. Gattine has denied calling LePage a racist, stating he was referring to “racially charged” remarks made by the governor regarding the state’s heroine crisis.

LePage, never one to take the high road, then tells reporters how he wishes he could have a duel with Gattine, reportedly stating, according to the Portland Press Herald: ” . that’s how angry I am, and I would not put my gun in the air, I guarantee you, I would not be (Alexander) Hamilton. I would point it right between his eyes, because he is a snot-nosed little runt and he has not done a damn thing since he’s been in this Legislature to help move the state forward.”

Then came the calls for resignation, and that pretty much capped off Paul LePage’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week. That week started with his declaration that 90 percent of drug dealers arrested in Maine were black or Hispanic, continued with an attack on Khizr Khan- a Gold Star father of a fallen war hero who had the audacity to criticize Donald Trump -and ended with telling reporters of his desire to literally shoot someone in the face.

Leadership takes passion, especially when one must tack against what is popular in order to do what is right. But leadership also requires a steady hand on the tiller. Time and again, LePage has proven that he does not have a steady hand.

His tirades and personal vendettas against legislators and land trusts, against liberals and those whom he considers “socialists,” against teachers unions, against the state’s attorney general, and against anyone from away does nothing to move the state forward.

Try as he may to lay his latest troubles upon the media, upon liberals, upon the legislature, LePage has only himself to blame. How easily all of this could have been avoided with just a modicum of patience and common sense.

LePage’s public persona is one of anger and deep unhappiness, and it’s easy to imagine him happier in any other line of work other than being Governor of Maine.

We call for his resignation knowing that it’s futile. He recently dismissed similar calls from Assistant Majority Leader Sara Gideon, D-Freeport.

It’s worth mentioning that Mainers witnessed four years of LePage’s rhetoric, and re-elected him anyway. The legislature’s crack at impeachment was an exercise in futility.

We’ll just have to live with him for the remainder of his term, unless he runs for and is elected to the U.S. Senate in 2018. Then he won’t just be Maine’s headache any more. He’ll become a national migraine.

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Online:

http://bit.ly/2c5981R

The Standard-Times (Mass.), Sept. 2, 2016

Standing inside the very home of the president whose country he has been maligning non-stop for over a year, Donald Trump must have thought he’d pulled off another brilliant media mission.

The contrast in demeanor of the genuine politician- Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto -and the master showman apparently convinced most pundits and politicians that the showman has climbed one rung higher toward legitimacy.

But we would be surprised if President Pena Nieto was cowed by Trump, intimidated by some innate American superiority, and not merely exercising self-control and discipline in being true to the decorum of his office.

Measured against Trump’s improvisation- surely brilliant in his own eyes, but an utter embarrassment if his clumsiness, boorishness and ignorance were from a President Trump -the only real president on the stage was perceived to have been diminished.

Trump has a way of making dignity look like timidity.

President Pena Nieto’s perceived awe before or acquiescence to Trump’s irresistible, overwhelming charisma can also be seen as the tactics of a cagey hunter and a trap to be sprung. His translated comments included a seemingly toothless rebuke, because it criticized not Trump but current policies that allow the passage of drugs and weapons across the border. Nevertheless, it left the candidate flat-footed, his typical response to issues when discussed intelligently by individuals capable and qualified to do so.

The presumption of a hunter’s tactics is bolstered by the following observations of both the Mexican visit and the prey’s subsequent behavior.

Consider:

President Pena Nieto fact-checked the candidate while standing right beside him, and while he later took a beating from pundits on both sides of the future wall, not many days are likely to pass before the chop of the diplomatic waters whipped up by the fickle gusts of Hurricane Donald settles, and the rebukes are more easily discerned in context of calm;

The candidate’s simple failure to acknowledge in private conversation the president’s promise to never pay for a border wall allowed him to spin, prevaricate and/or misrepresent the conversation. Once the aforementioned bluster dissipates, he may pay dearly in the U.S. press for it (as much as he appears ever to pay for anything he says or does; in fact, the free ride he gets from his followers on veracity and consistency is an apt metaphor for his free rides in business and life);

The stump speech in Phoenix was as threatening and in some ways tougher than anything said before his bewildering “pivot” to lure certain voting blocs to his camp. They will before too long recognize these shenanigans as the equivalent of the boy who cried, “Wolf!” The Trump version? The candidate who cried, “Presidential!”

Pena Nieto’s extension of invitations to both candidates seems more a matter of strategy than cordiality. Trump’s tendency to follow his gut- a habit of those who regularly leap before looking -must have convinced his team of “the best people” that there was a big upside to being the first in Mexico.

Now Hillary Clinton has the luxury of timing. She won the polling after the two conventions by going second, and she now holds trump cards for the game in Mexico.

Ironically, the attractiveness of Trump’s undisciplined leap as an option exists only because of his own butchery of a consistent, albeit, extreme, immigration policy.

It is a poetic justice that the Russians’ use of Trump as a dupe for their diplomatic ends should be balanced by the Mexicans’ use of him for theirs.

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Online:

http://bit.ly/2bTlbhF

Concord Monitor (N.H.), Sept. 1, 2016

Bravo, Chessy Prout.

Prout, 17, still looking like the child she was as a 15-year-old St. Paul’s School freshman, stepped forward Tuesday to say she was the girl raped two years ago by Owen Labrie, a St. Paul’s senior. Labrie, who contends the sex was consensual, was ultimately acquitted of the rape charge but found guilty of three lesser counts of misdemeanor sexual assault, endangering a child and the felony charge of using a computer to entice a minor to have sex.

Victims of rape and sexual assault are not named by the media. Their names may be published if legally obtained, but the press, for a host of reasons, does not do so. It even, as it did in the case of the girl kidnapped and kept as a sex slave in northern New Hampshire, stopped printing her name once it was known that a sex crime occurred.

Defense lawyers typically try to discredit a victim’s testimony by demanding a complete accounting of past sexual activity, something no one normally shares. Identifying rape victims, given the shame still associated with the act, risks victimizing them again. It can’t help but color, at least in the short run, how others view the victim, male or female.

Coming forward, however, does add power and credibility to the accuser’s charges, and it has for Chessy Prout. It also serves to destigmatize survivors of sexual assault and lead other victims of what is a grossly under-reported crime to come forward.

“I want to stand up and own what happened to me. I’m going to make sure that other people- other girls, other boys -know that they can own it, too, and that they don’t have to be ashamed either,” Prout told a Today show interviewer.

By going public, Prout made her case her own and not about resisting St. Paul’s School’s demand, in a civil suit against the institution filed by her parents, that the senior Prouts forego anonymity.

Prout, whose father and older sister are St. Paul’s graduates, returned to the school for her sophomore year but her treatment by students convinced her that the school still wasn’t taking sexual assault seriously. She transferred to another school.

Prout has made her campaign to prevent rape and counsel victims national by affiliating with the advocacy group PAVE, or Promoting Awareness/Victim Empowerment. She is using the forum to tell other assault survivors that they are not alone. We admire her bravery and applaud her effort to change the mentality that takes sexual assault lightly.

While Prout weighed her decision, the victim of another sexual assault case that generated massive public interest faced the same decision. She is the anonymous young woman who, after getting blind drunk at a Stanford University fraternity party, was raped by Brock Turner, a star school athlete caught in the act by the woman’s rescuers.

The exceptionally lenient sentence Turner received, six months in jail, caused widespread publicity and made the case all the more sensational.

The victim in that case filed a 12-page letter with the court that is public, but she did so anonymously- which is her choice and nobody else’s.

Nothing, not the victim’s dress, past sexual history, marital status or inability to consent or refuse, excuses rape. It is always immoral and always a crime. The decision to name the victims of sex crimes belongs to the victim. He or she has already had enough stolen from them.

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Online:

http://bit.ly/2bK8LIv

The Providence Journal (R.I.), Sept. 1, 2016

Incoming first-year students at the University of Chicago received an unusual welcome letter from their dean of students this summer: A message that stressed tolerance for free speech, open inquiry, and an opposition to censorship. These are, needless to say, essential values for a courageous, free and open society.

“Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called trigger warnings, we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial and we do not condone the creation of intellectual safe spaces where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own,” John Ellison wrote.

“Fostering the free exchange of ideas reinforces a related University priority- building a campus that welcomes people of all backgrounds. Diversity of opinion and background is a fundamental strength of our community,” he added.

Dean Ellison’s statement in defense of diversity, free speech and intellectual inquiry would once have been considered utterly mundane. But it attracted a fair amount of national attention as something out of the ordinary. That is because, while universities have done an admirable job in ensuring that their student bodies have become more ethnically diverse, some have shunned diversity of opinion, effectively blocking opinions of people who are very much in the mainstream of society.

Locally, students at Brown University famously shouted down New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly in 2013, making it impossible for him to discuss his department’s policing strategies. (College leaders rightly deplored the action.) Brown also came in for some ridicule after a 2015 New York Times op-ed described a “safe space” at the university, to which students could flee if they felt the expression of a political idea offended or hurt them, as a room “equipped with cookies, coloring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, calming music, pillows, blankets, and a video of frolicking puppies.”

According to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which advocates for free speech on college campuses, about half of the top 440 colleges and universities in America “maintain policies that seriously infringe upon the free speech rights of students … expression that would be constitutionally protected in society at large.” Students can face disciplinary action for saying something controversial or provocative, though the First Amendment would protect a citizen from being punished by the government for saying the same thing.

At the University of New Mexico, for example, “unduly inflammatory statements” are proscribed. At the same time, there have been ever-louder cries for “trigger warnings” about the dissemination of unsettling ideas. Mainstream commencement speakers have also had their addresses protested- and in some cases scuttled, in the face of campus protests. Some demanded that Emory University students face disciplinary action for chalking pro-Donald Trump messages on campus footpaths. Two Yale University instructors were hounded out of their jobs for questioning a ban on certain types of Halloween costumes.

Free speech carries with it the risk of offending and hurting those who disagree, including those who believe they have little power in our society. College administrators have the difficult task of refereeing speech, to some extent, so that threats and bullying do not stop minority opinions or the views of the weak from being heard. Civility and respect for each others’ rights are key to a vigorous exercise of free speech that permits us to learn from each other.

Universities, like newspapers, have a special duty to preserve free speech and intellectual inquiry. Let us hope more college leaders speak out about these essential values.

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Online:

http://bit.ly/2c2NmzF

The Caledonian Record (Vt.), Sept. 3, 2016

Last week a producer for conservative talk show host Glenn Beck said he would not comply with a judge’s order to reveal his sources for a 2013 story that identified Saudi Arabian student Abdulrahman Alharbi as the “money man” behind the Boston Marathon bombing.

According to a Politico report, “U.S. District Court Judge Patti Saris, acting on a defamation suit brought by Saudi Abdulrahman Alharbi, instructed Beck, two of his producers and related companies to come forward by Wednesday with the names of the sources for the accusations Beck persisted in leveling even after senior U.S. officials publicly cleared the student.”

An attorney for Beck producer Joe Weasel wrote to Judge Saris: “Defendants cannot disclose the identities of Confidential Sources 1 and 2 for several compelling reasons. First and foremost, as a matter of fundamental journalistic integrity, Defendants cannot disclose the identities of the Confidential Sources without their authorization.”

The lawyer says those confidential sources are decidedly unwilling to be outed, even though Judge Saris insists she can keep their identities secret.

Meanwhile, a group of New England journalism associations have lined up in support of a journalist’s right to shield sources. The Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association, the New England Newspaper and Press Association, and the New England First Amendment Coalition all signed an amicus brief urging Judge Saris not to compel Weasel and Beck to give up their informants.

“In this particular case, it was a little bit more difficult, just because of the highly inflammatory nature of the accusations and issues here,” says Robert Ambrogi, executive director of the MNPA, in an interview with Boston Magazine. But, he says, “I think the principle that a reporter should be able to report facts based on confidential sources is one that has to be applied across the board, even if you don’t like what the sources are saying or what the reporter is reporting. If you start making judgments like that, you start having standards that amount to censorship.”

We wholeheartedly agree. Glenn Beck is a real twit and, from everything we’ve read, probably deserves to lose the defamation case brought by Alharbi. But as much an affront to real journalism as he is, a ruling against his privilege to protect a source would have a chilling effect on reporters everywhere.

As the brief explains, “journalists regularly confront situations in which sources insist on confidentiality in exchange for providing newsworthy information about federal, state and local officials’ performance of their public duties and other matters of legitimate public concern. Judicial determinations of whether a plaintiff has demonstrated a need for the disclosure of confidential news sources and has exhausted alternative sources of the information sought from journalists therefore has a significant impact on the editorial decisions made in newsrooms every day.”

We understand that Judge Saris is trying to figure out what, on earth, might have compelled to Beck to call Alharbi “a proven terrorist” and “a very bad, bad, bad man,” long after the Saudi was cleared by federal authorities of any and all criminal involvement (in which he was injured, incidentally). The judge may be struggling to make sense of Beck’s seemingly psychotic ramblings, and with that we can sympathize. But the MNPA points to precedent that “mere speculation as to the usefulness of the informant’s testimony to defendant is insufficient to justify disclosure of his identity.”

Beck is admittedly a tough person to defend. But there’s far more at stake than protection for his block head. As an earlier ruling reasoned, “The public interest in non-disclosure ‘rest(s) upon the concern that the deterrent effect such disclosure is likely to have upon future undercover investigative reporting . threatens freedom of the press and the public’s need to be informed.’”

Amen to that.

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Online:

http://bit.ly/2cmTsaE

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