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The 13th Annual Muzzle Awards

A look at the dishonorable enemies of free speech and personal liberty in New England
By DAN KENNEDY  |  July 5, 2010


READ: "2010 Muzzle Awards on campus: Harvard and Yale once again lead the way . . . for academic censorship," by Harvey Silverglate

Past Muzzle Awards:
1998 | 1999 | 2000 | 2001 | 2002 | 
2003 | 2004 | 2005 | 2006 | 2007 | 2008 | 2009

A year and a half into the Age of Obama, we are learning a lesson we should have figured out long ago — that repression, once in place, is rarely rolled back all the way, and that liberals no less than conservatives are reluctant to give up power.

There is no better example of this basic truth than the president's nomination of his solicitor general, former Harvard Law School dean Elena Kagan, to replace Justice John Paul Stevens on the US Supreme Court.

Kagan, like Stevens, will no doubt prove in most respects to be a solid liberal voice. But whereas Stevens, a courtly Republican of the old school, cast a wary eye on expansive claims of presidential power during the dark days of the Bush-Cheney era, Kagan, based on her record, appears likely to embrace executive authority. No president, not even Obama, wants to undermine his own prerogatives.

The abuse of authority at the local level is the theme of the 13th Annual Muzzle Awards, our Fourth of July round-up of outrages against free speech and personal liberties in New England. First, though, some good news.

In 2008, a Muzzle was presented to then–secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and then–secretary of homeland security Michael Chertoff for banning South African scholar Adam Habib from the United States, thus forcing him to cancel an appearance in Boston. As best as anyone could tell, Habib's only offense was speaking out against the war in Iraq.

This past January, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton cleared Habib and a fellow scholar, allowing Habib to travel in the US, as he had on numerous occasions before he was banned. His victory tour hit Harvard Law School in late March.

The Muzzle Awards were inspired by noted civil-liberties lawyer and Phoenix contributor Harvey Silverglate, author of Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent (Encounter) and of the sidebar accompanying this article. They are named after similar awards given by the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Freedom of Expression.

This year's edition, as always, was compiled by tracking the previous year's free-speech stories in New England (since July 4, 2009), 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 Providence Journal, the Portland Press Herald, the Cambridge Chronicle, the Newton Tab, Robert Ambrogi's Media Law blog (now LawSites), the Forecaster of southern Maine, the New England Center for Investigative Reporting, the Washington Post, the Associated Press, and NBC's Today show.

The envelopes, please.

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    A year and a half into the Age of Obama, we are learning a lesson we should have figured out long ago — that repression, once in place, is rarely rolled back all the way, and that liberals no less than conservatives are reluctant to give up power.
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    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.
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 See all articles by: DAN KENNEDY

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