With the era of repression and secrecy fostered by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney finally over, this should be the best of times for freedom of expression, open government, and civil liberties.
Yet change comes slowly.
Among President Barack Obama's first acts in office were his announcement that the prison at Guantánamo Bay would be closed within a year, and his order that executive agencies comply fully with the federal Freedom of Information Act.
Now, nearly six months after Inauguration Day, Obama is waffling on what to do with the Guantánamo prisoners, even to the point of embracing the odious practice of indefinite detention. And, last month, msnbc.com reported that the new administration was picking up where Bush left off in refusing to release the names of White House visitors, despite a federal-court ruling that those names are public records.
Here in New England, the 12th annual Phoenix Muzzle Awards have taken on a slightly different cast from previous years. This time, there are fewer terrorism-related outrages and more cases related to open government and freedom of the press. Perhaps that represents a return to something approaching normalcy.
Since 1998, the Phoenix has been honoring those who've brought dishonor to themselves by trampling on the rights of free speech and personal liberties in New England.
The Muzzle Awards were inspired by noted civil-liberties lawyer and Phoenix contributor Harvey Silverglate, author of the forthcoming book Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent (Encounter) — and of the sidebar accompanying this article — and are named after similar awards given by the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Freedom of Expression.
This year's edition was compiled by tracking free-speech stories in New England since July 4, 2008, and is based on reporting by the Phoenix newspapers in Boston, Providence, and Portland, as well as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and various news organizations and Web sites — including the Boston Globe, the Boston Herald, the New York Times, the Guardian, Slate, the Associated Press, the Providence Journal, the Portland Press Herald, the Kennebec Journal, the Bangor Daily News, the Sun Journal of Lewiston, the Tech (MIT's student newspaper), and the Boston-based blastmagazine.com.