Chuck Turner, Boston
Rough justice for official who seeks to gag media
The problem with attempting to deny others their right to free expression is that you have no moral standing when others deny the same right to you.
Boston City Councilor CHUCK TURNER found that out in January, when federal prosecutors went to court to stop him from talking about the bribery charges he faced following his arrest last November. The gag order was necessary, they claimed, to prevent Turner from revealing the evidence and witnesses against him.
In a surreal letter to the judge, Assistant US Attorney John MacNeil wrote, "Mr. Turner has held a series of press conferences and rallies since he was charged in this matter, aimed in part at bolstering his character and attacking the government's motives for seeking an indictment against him from the grand jury." Imagine that. It's known as defending yourself.
Trouble is, just a month earlier, Turner had written an equally surreal letter calling for sanctions against news organizations that failed to pay fealty to the notion that a person is innocent unless proven guilty. "Mass-media outlets must be prohibited from spreading information that conflicts with the presumption of innocence," Turner wrote to Governor Deval Patrick.
Turner's letter went nowhere. But clearly this Harvard man lacks a grasp of basic civics. Prior restraint — censorship — is a violation of the First Amendment unless it involves a serious breach of national security, incitement to violence, or obscenity. The presumption of innocence is a vital part of the criminal-justice system, but the media are free to conclude otherwise. It may be journalistically irresponsible for a news organization to act as judge and jury, but such behavior is protected by the Constitution.
Turner, with the help of the ACLU of Massachusetts, is fighting the gag order against him. It should be overturned. The idea that he should not be allowed to defend himself in public is outrageous.
But Turner's notion that the media should be gagged from asserting that he's guilty is every bit as outrageous.