Just when you think you’ve heard the last politically correct, holier-than-thou pronouncement coming out of our university campuses for a while, you open the morning’s newspaper and find more inanities. This morning’s two-minutes-outrage is a rant from campus professors, researchers and administrators criticizing Big Tobacco for giving – and universities for accepting – no-strings-attached grants for health-related research at Boston University, Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of technology, and the University of Massachusetts.
There is a common misconception that society pays a heavy
price for allowing free speech – emotional harm to members of target groups,
leakage of national security secrets, stuff like that. In truth, the substantial
positives deriving from vigorous free speech are pretty clear, while the negatives
are highly speculative and usually ideologically driven.
A report by Boston Globe federal courts reporter Shelley Murphy is as interesting for what it omits as for what it reports.
The story involves what appears to be an allegation that Boston FBI Supervisory Agent Robert Callen either bullied, or harassed, or otherwise acted inappropriately toward an un-named “female federal prosecutor” at a meeting in the federal courthouse in 2006.
I have two articles in the March 13, 2008 issue of the Boston Phoenix. In the first, Jan Wolfe and I criticize the ill-advised arrest of performance artist Milan Kohout and follow up on his case, which was dismissed in Massachusetts court. In the second article, I report on newspapers' annoying tendency to censor swear words even when those words are at the core of the story being reported.
My column in this week’s Boston Phoenix criticized newspapers – and other media outlets that are not subject to the “broadcast indecency” rules of the Federal Communications Commission – for voluntarily “bleeping” out expletives in news stories where the controversial words are central to the story. Why, I asked, do newspapers shy away from full disclosure when the reader’s knowledge of the precise words at issue is essential to understanding what is at stake in the story? Fundamentally, my column attacked the politically-correct circumlocutions engaged in as part of our culture’s obsession with not offending – even at the risk of speaking inaccurately or incompletely.
The Boston Globe reported this morning that although Attorney General Michael Mukasey will still speak at this year's Boston College Law School commencement, the school has decided that it would nonetheless "deny Mukasey the Founder's Medal," which celebrates "traditions of professionalism, scholarship, and service which the Law School seeks to instill in its students."
Writing for the Los Angeles Times (and carried in the Boston Globe), the usually very informative David Savage is a perfect example of the aggravating and puzzling trend whereby newspapers, ranging from national to regional, fail to report adequately on certain stories because stylistic conventions lead them to self-censor