Posted by: Laura | July 5, 2009

Shouting Fire: Stories from the Edge of Free Speech

Liz Garbus made a documentary about the first amendment, and I thought it was relevant to our discussion on Monday about media effect. We discussed Bill O’Reilly and whether or not he had the right to paint Dr. Tiller as a such a criminal that it drove a man to assassinate him. Garbus tells a handful of stories about people who found themselves in similar situations on either end. I thought one story was particularly interesting because it tells a similar story to O’Reilly’s, but this time through a different medium which I think changes the effect.

In 2007, New York City was set to open a bilingual public school, Khalil Gibran, the first Arabic-English school. Debbie Almontaser was set to be principal. The way Almontaser tell it, she was essentially followed until the press found a way to take her down. She was a rally for a young Arab women something or other, I don’t remember the organization that she was specifically involved with, but at the rally Arab Women Active in the Arts and Media had a booth selling t-shirts that said “infitada” on them.

In an interview with the New York Post, Almontaser was sort of trapped by the reporter into defining infitada and the article ended up painting Almontaser as a revolutionary and a danger to the city. Almontaser was forced to resign. She tried to see if she would be able to sue for libel, but every lawyer conceded that the New York Post was within its first amendment rights.

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