As our readers know, free speech — and various enemies thereof — is one of our very favorite topics here at Popehat. After a year of observing various attempts at censorship, I've decided to seek your input in selecting Popehat's "Censorious Asshat of the Year." (I first considered a more generic "Popehat's Asshat of the Year" contest, but soon realized that the eligible posts comprised roughly half of our work product. There may or may not be medication for that.)
Note that big-scale censors — leaders who killed dissidents, national political figures who pushed big and ominous censorship laws, and the like — aren't eligible. "Asshat Censor" requires a certain element of whimsy, fecklessness, and/or lack of actual power. Also, I only included people on here if we contributed something to the discussion of their asshattery.
Without further ado, here are the candidates. The poll closes at 5:00 PST Friday:
Karen Spears Zacharias, for promoting muddle-headed hand-wringing about how satire can harm children. In Aggravation: Forced me to write poetry. In Mitigation: More a silly Mrs. Grundy/agony aunt figure than a censor, really.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation, for classifying Juggalos as a potentially dangerous gang. In Aggravation: renders assessment of truly dangerous groups properly classified as "gangs" less credible. In Mitigation: as a former federal prosecutor and current federal defense attorney, allow me to assure you that they really, really don't know better. The FBI, I mean. Possibly also the Juggalos.
Tennessee General Assembly Representative Charles Curtiss, for pimping a ridiculous no-mean-pictures cyberbullying bill and then defending it in very, very stupid terms. In Aggravation: he took an oath to uphold the Constitution. In Mitigation: As a state legislator, he is part of an indigenous people with no cultural tradition of the rule of law.
Tennessee State Legislator Joe Armstrong, for pressuring a college bookstore to stop selling novelty mints unflattering to President Obama. In Aggravation: Seriously? Mints? Are you fucking kidding me? In Mitigation: Member of same traditionally oppressed and historically disfavored and probably genetically poorly endowed tribe of state legislators, see above.
Florida Attorney Joel Hirschhorn, for issuing legal threats to critics of his telemarketing client. In Aggravation: criticizes First Amendment defense lawyers for overconfidence while using the web site "www.aquitall.com." In Mitigation: Admits that he knows nothing about First Amendment law and must rely on other lawyers, who are presumably from Florida.
Joseph Rakofsky, for agreeing to defend a murder case as his first trial, doing an appalling job, and then suing critics for defamation. In Aggravation: Sued dozens across the nation for accurate reporting of the contents of a court transcript, sued for "internet mobbing," a tort accepted only by the professionally censorious or the insipidly and self-promotingly contrarian. In Mitigation: increasingly pathetic.
The University of St. Thomas School of Law, for settling with the aforementioned Rakofsky, thus funding his litigation, promoting frivolous defamation litigation, and squandering the heritage of American legal education. In Aggravation: Cowardly capitulation consistent with their touchy-feely let's-reach-consensus approach to legal education, which produces baby seals to be clubbed in the real world. In Mitigation: technically didn't censor anyone themselves; just empowered, promoted, surrendered to, and endorsed censorship.
Froma Harrop, for being part of an organization promoting civility, calling tea partiers terrorists, defending herself by saying that civility means not refraining from such invective but providing everyone with an opportunity to say their piece, and then promptly deleting critical comments on her blog. In Aggravation: No apparent sense of irony or self-awareness. In Mitigation: only censored comments on own blog; went through entire life with a name that sounds like a minor character from the cantina scene in Star Wars.
Sam Houston State Professor Joe E. Kirk, for attacking a free speech wall with a box cutter because one comment on it said "Fuck Obama." In Aggravation: inspired Sam Houston State campus police to threaten the promoters of the free speech wall with disorderly conduct because of the propensity of free speech to cause people like Joe E. Kirk to attack walls with box cutters. In Mitigation: As a university professor, a likely victim of his peer group.
York University student Sarah Grunfeld, for accusing a professor of anti-Semitic comments based on poor listening skills, then doubling down and arguing that the professor should not have uttered hateful words about Jews even in the context of listing them as examples of unacceptable speech, while uttering the same words herself in order to complain. In Aggravation: Also asserted that there was no basis to accept the professor's statement that he himself was Jewish. In Mitigation: too young, stupid, and Canadian to know any better.
Christopher and Maeghan Maloney, for threatening a science blogger with a SLAPP suit for calling Christopher Maloney a "quack" because he promotes naturopathy. In Aggravation: Ms. Maloney, author of the SLAPP threat, wanted an injunction prohibiting all of the blogger's peers from repeating the "quack" statement, and is a state legislator. In Mitigation: The Maloneys were forced to read a ten-page letter from Ken.
Sarah Deming and her lawyer Martin Leaf, for attempting censorship via class action in a lawsuit claiming the movie Drive was actionably anti-Semitic. In Aggravation: "misleading trailer" and "hurtful content" litigation are both forms of censorship. In Mitigation: those Ryan Gosling internet memes are getting really freaking annoying.
Albin H. Gess of Snell & Wilmer, for threatening bloggers who engage in transparent satire of Meghan McCain. In Aggravation: actually smart enough to know that his threats were premised, legally speaking, on sheer bullshit. In Mitigation: forced to work at a giant firm being polite to Meghan McCain.
Thedala Magee and her lawyer Vicki Roberts, for threatening Amy Alkon with a defamation suit because Amy complained when Magee, a TSA agent, went to third base with Amy. In Aggravation: people who threaten Americans with lawsuits for complaining about government sexual assault are vermin. In Mitigation: Mageee has to touch sweaty business travelers all day, Roberts is apparently addled by television appearances and has a wrenchingly sad IMDB page.
University of Wisconsin-Stout Chancellor Charles W. Sorensen, for defending the censorship of obviously satirical and non-threatening posters on a college campus and disrespecting Firefly. In Aggravation: even when he caved, could not resist justifying his clearly unlawful actions. In Mitigation: did eventually, belatedly, do the right thing. Also, Chancellor job market is awful right now, so unable to get other work.
California Assemblywoman and Speaker Pro Tem Fiona Ma, for this deathless quote: "“We found out later on that, Constitutionally, you can not ban a type of music,” said Ma. “Plus, I, like my opponents said, I didn’t really know what was going on.” In Aggravation: she gets to make laws. In Mitigation: only said what they are all, to use the term loosely, "thinking."
Marc Stephens, for posing as a lawyer to threaten a 17-year-old blogger (among others) because they questioned questionable "science." In Aggravation: fond of bizarre conspiracy theories. Marc Stephens would say that if you follow college football, in light of the Penn State scandal you are probably complicit in child sex abuse. In Mitigation: entertained me in the course of threatening me. And who here hasn't wanted to threaten me?
Ken and Patrick, for calling out scrapers and occasionally banning or ridiculing comenters. In Aggravation: V. snarky assholes. In Mitigation: Not technically state action, authors come from broken homes.