Free speech, misunderstood speech and my election-time speech

This diatribe will focus on three things: a national issue – the $107 million fine against an antiabortion group that ran a Web site called the Nuremberg Files; and two local issues – the now-famous “niggardly” comments and the soon-to-begin Student Association elections. Take a deep breath and let’s begin.

The Nuremberg nuts

The Feb. 4 issue of this fine publication featured an editorial that presented an interesting paradox. In “The Nuremberg Files” (p. 4), The GW Hatchet’s view was that the verdict was correct because the Web site’s “sole purpose is to stir up greater violence.” The editorial said that “constitutional right aside, certain aspects of the site went too far.” The key being that the First Amendment didn’t apply in this case because the message being promulgated was “morally disgusting.” This is scary logic.

If moral disgust were the defining criterion for determining what could be said, read and broadcast, Larry Flynt would be unemployed and the Starr Report would never have been published. Who is responsible for determining what qualifies for the moral disgust designation and what passes muster? That is left unanswered.

But back in October, The Hatchet had an editorial on a lawsuit against Oliver Stone for his film “Natural Born Killers” (Oct. 22, “Misdirected blame,” p. 4). At that time, the argument was that the film was just a film. Though the film provided viewers with ways of killing people, The Hatchet argued that it was protected under the First Amendment from lawsuits by families of victims killed by some deranged person after studying the film.

So what is the difference between the two cases?

Personally I thought the film was disgusting. Morally disgusting in fact. But that doesn’t mean it should be banned from video stores. I also think the Nuremberg Files is disgusting. But for a newspaper – one of the main beneficiaries of free speech – to be saying that speech some might find unpopular or wrong should not be protected is an oxymoron. Either speech is free or it is not. You can’t go around choosing specific cases when it is and when it is not.

The niggardly affair

By now most people have heard the story of David Howard. Howard was the head of the District’s Office of Public Advocate. While discussing his small budget, he said he was going to have to be niggardly with the funds. The rumor mill went into overdrive saying he had used a racist word (niggardly means miserly or cheap) or that he had used the N-word. He was shown the door by Mayor Anthony Williams, but now has been offered his job back.

What struck me about this whole affair was the amount of national attention it received. A white man unjustly loses his job because some African Americans – incorrectly it turns out – took issue with something he said and the country is up in arms. Yet when the connections between Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.) and the Council of Conservative Citizens became clear, not much print was spent on it, except for a few black columnists.

The CCC, for those who avoid the news, is a group of conservative white folk who hold such enlightened views as advocating the preservation of the white race in the United States, calling for a renewal of segregation and preventing interracial marriage.

What gets me is that no huge outcry arose over Lott and Barr being all buddy-buddy with the CCC, but the niggardly comments caused a huge stink. Now why is that? Could it be that people just assume that folks like Barr and Lott have the same attitudes as the good ol’ boys of the CCC? Or could it be that white America will get all up in arms when one of its own is the victim of a couple of oversensitive minority members? I don’t know. You decide.

SA essay

Now that was a nifty little header, don’t you think? That’s the sort of stuff I’ve been learning in my quest for an international affairs major.

Most students who are interested in public service positions have been plotting, I mean, planning, for quite some time. A few latecomers will become suddenly inspired by a “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”-type fervor and decide they too want to help their fellow students. Here are some areas I think need some fixin’:

1) Student group funding – In a report produced by Sarah Hirschman, SA vice president of student activities, focus groups were used to figure out what student groups wanted from the SA. Some of the main demands were a more efficient funds allocations process and an “objective process to determine the size of groups’ initial allocations.”

Most groups are never satisfied with the amount of money they receive. Rumors always persist that funds were doled out to certain favored student groups. Change the way the whole funding process is done. I am not going to pretend I know how to do such a thing, but that’s because I am not a finance or accounting major. I’m an international affairs major, remember? I just come up with nifty little headers.

2) Campus diversity – This University educates students from all over the country and world. Yet it still seems that the following happens when two people meet:

Person #1: “Hi. Where are you from?”

Person #2: “New Jersey.”

Person #1: “Wow! Me too!”

People always complain about the segregated diversity at GW. But it seems no one ever tries to change that. Sure we have different events that bring people from different cultures together every once in a while. But the challenge is to do this on a consistent basis.

3) Accountability – Whether it is the University, the Student Association or any of the myriad student groups, when something goes wrong and it’s time for someone to be held accountable, the buck is passed around to somebody else more times than freshmen at Tequila Grill. Why is it the people in charge just can’t admit they were wrong, even when presented with overwhelming evidence of their mistake?

So for those who want to lead, don’t be afraid to admit that you make mistakes. We all do. You’ll get more respect owning up to your errors than wasting time pointing fingers at everyone else.

Students are concerned about other issues – everything from constantly increasing tuition and the GW Bookstore’s monopoly, to cramped classrooms and academic advising. So for those who have not yet experienced a GW campaign season, put on your boots because it’s going to get messy soon.

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