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Bill Donohue Speaks His Mind: “Silence Others”

August 18th, 2008 | by Daniel DiRito |

No doubt election years are trying times for many of us. It’s easy to find oneself drawn into the dog fight…especially if one is passionate about any particular issue. Fortunately, we live in a country that allows us to speak our minds and cast our votes accordingly. Sadly, there are those who want the benefit of speaking their mind in order to silence others. Last time I checked, that’s contrary to the American way.

However, it isn’t contrary to the Catholic League’s Bill Donohue. It seems that Donohue has taken offense to some of the bloggers who were selected to attend the Democratic National Convention…and he’s calling upon the powers that be to “nix them ASAP”.

From The Catholic League:

Over 120 blogs have been credentialed as members of the media for the Democratic National Convention; those who have received credentials are allowed to cover the Convention at the Pepsi Center. While most of them offer legitimate commentary, some do not.

Catholic League president Bill Donohue is protesting two of the blogs:

“The list of credentialed blogs include radical sites like The Daily Kos. Worse are blogs that feature anti-Catholic and obscene material. The two most offensive are Bitch Ph.D. and Towleroad.

“On the home page of Bitch Ph.D. there is a picture of two children: one of them is shown flashing his middle finger. Today’s lead post, which was written August 17, is called ‘Jesus Christ.’ It begins with, ‘I’m a really crappy Catholic who hasn’t been to mass in ages because most parishes around here ‘will’ insist on being aggressively anti-abortion….’ The writer then objects to some children’s toys on the grounds that they are more offensive than desecrating the Eucharist. The toys are actually balloons that have been made to depict Jesus in various poses, including a crucified Christ; one of these images shows Jesus with a penis. Several who commented on this image made patently obscene comments.

“Towleroad describes itself as ‘A Site with Homosexual Tendencies.’ Accordingly, it shows men in jock straps and underwear. It also has a post on Pope Benedict XVI that takes him to task for wearing a cape with ermine. Some of those who commented on this described the pope in a vile and profane way.

“Both of these blogs should be cut immediately from the list of credentialed sites. Neither functions as a responsible media outlet and both offend Catholics, as well as others. To allow them access to the Democratic National Convention sends a message to Catholics they will not forget. We look for Leah Daughtry, CEO of the Convention, to nix them ASAP.”

As I stated at the outset, Donohue is entitled to his opinion. Notwithstanding, he’s not entitled to call on the Democratic National Convention to censor its list of bloggers. Yes, some of the bloggers chosen (this one included) have been critical of the Catholic Church…but we also represent important constituent groups in the Democratic Party. If Donohue wants lockstep homogeneity, there’s another party that more likely to embrace his point of view.

Truth be told, Donohue isn’t apt to vote for the Democratic nominee anyway…which likely means this grandstanding is simply a political stunt designed to outrage those Catholics he believes might be entertaining a vote for Barack Obama and the Democratic Party. Again, he has every right to be heard…but so do the bloggers he’s singling out.

Donohue’s actions are part and parcel of the objections many have to the Catholic Church. History tells us that the Church is predisposed to dictating to its followers…despite ample evidence of its many misjudgments as well as an abundance of inappropriate decisions and behaviors.

While the Church believes in the infallibility of its leader, history suggests otherwise. The fact that men like Donohue still adhere to this mind set simply highlights his and his church’s irrational insistence upon blind faith. That can only work if one lives in a vacuum or has no interest in considering the facts.

In the end, Donohue’s outburst is an attempt to bully those who fail to share his ideology. He’s welcome to offer an opposing view…but he has no standing to demand that those with adversarial views be silenced. This is America…not the Vatican.

Cross-posted at Thought Theater

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  1. 6 Responses to “Bill Donohue Speaks His Mind: “Silence Others””

  2. By Craig R. Harmon on Aug 18, 2008 | Reply

    Donahue isn’t calling for silencing anyone. Saying that the DNC ought not grant official recognition to a certain site does not silence either that site or its writers. To do that, he would have to call for those sites to be removed from the internet altogether.

    Freedom of speech means you get to say or write what you want in some public forum, perhaps subject to certain viewpoint neutral restrictions. That is, unless your speech incites immediate illegal violence, amounts to slander or libel, is fraudulent and or either willfully or negligently endangers someone’s life, you cannot be punished for your speech. It doesn’t mean you get editorial space in the New York Times or a seat with the official press at the Democratic Convention. It doesn’t even mean you get a soap-box from which to speak. It just means you get to speak.

    And, in my opinion, any yahoo who wishes can say that anyone else should do anything the yahoo thinks someone should do. That, too, is free speech. Donahue thinks these two sites should not be given official status. He said so. Good for him. He certainly is entitled to do that.

    Lots of people thought Hillary should have dropped out of the primary race long before she did and they said so, publicly, including in national press and blogs. Free speech means that every American has not only the right but the entitlement to say what s/he thinks about anything s/he wishes to speak about, whether they are likely to vote Democrat or Republican or for the White Supremacist Party’s candidate.

    Actually, free speech means nothing more than that the Government cannot censor your speech except in the very narrowest of circumstances (if some paper intended, say, to publish the date and target of the Normandy Invasion or the movement of one’s troops during warfare or the names and locations of one’s country’s spies in foreign lands). It most certainly doesn’t guarantee DailyKos an official spot at the Convention or disentitle Bill Donahue from saying that DailyKos shouldn’t be given official recognition.

    You’re free to disagree with Donohue, of course and to question his motives. I disagree with him, too although I don’t question his motives.

    And he’s not demanding anything. Saying someone should do a thing is not the same as demanding that someone do that thing. Should implies no more than the sense that some behavior is morally right or wrong or may mean no more than, absent the moral element, that a thing is expedient or inexpedient. In this instance, it seems clear that Donohue intends the moral element to be at issue.

    But even if Donohue DID have standing to demand it — say he were an official member of the steering committee for the press relations of the Democratic Convention — Donohue’s statement would not amount to a demand that these sites be silenced or even that they not be given official status. They would still be no more than the statement of a moral case for not granting the sites official status.

    In short, “they should not” =/= “I demand that they not”.

    Certainly, the Democrats in charge of such decisions are perfectly entitled to ignore Bill Donohue’s moral case. I think they should. However, the first Amendment is all the entitlement Bill Donohue requires to be entitled to make this statement.

  3. By Daniel DiRito on Aug 18, 2008 | Reply

    I anticipated such a response Craig.

    Technically, you have a point with regard to freedom of speech. Practically speaking, with regard to silencing or censoring, not so much.

    First, the definition of censor from Webster:

    cen·sored; cen·sor·ing \ˈsen(t)-sə-riŋ, ˈsen(t)s-riŋ\

    : to examine in order to suppress or delete anything considered objectionable ; also : to suppress or delete as objectionable

    I don’t particularly like hearing Bill Donohue’s opinions, but I’m not asking CNN to refuse to cover his comments. I’m not asking the RNC to ban him from their convention. I’m not asking Google to exclude his writings from their system.

    At the same time, were Donohue able to convince the DNC to ban the bloggers in question, their voice, in terms of the readership they might garner and the exposure they would undoubtedly receive as a result of their credentialing, would likely be limited and the result would in fact be a form of censorship.

    If I’m the editor of the New York Times, and I have a vendetta against an individual…and I use my position to prevent said individual from being published in the NYT…in spite of his or her worthiness to be published…that is a form of censorship. Yes, the individual can find some other platform to be heard, but it doesn’t negate the fact that the actions of the editor are a form of censorship.

    It’s not uncommon to call book banning censorship…and by comparison…the exclusion of these bloggers is the same thing. When television networks bleep out an offensive word, they are censoring said speech…even though that individual can go elsewhere and speak those same words. The same would be true should the DNC delete these bloggers.

    There is a distinction between the freedom to speak and the opportunity to speak and be heard. Clearly being selected to cover the convention provides these bloggers an opportunity to be heard that they likely wouldn’t have otherwise. In that reality, Donohue wants to limit or silence their voices.

    Thanks for your observations.

    Regards,

    Daniel

  4. By Craig R. Harmon on Aug 18, 2008 | Reply

    As you say, free speech =/= providing opportunity. Therefore, disinviting them is not silencing them.

    Even if disinviting them caused their readership not to increase, how does that equate to book banning. Book banning is someone forbidding you or making it impossible for you to read a book. No one is forbidding anyone or making it impossible for anyone to read these bloggers. There’s no comparison, in my opinion.

    Besides, even if the Democrats DID decide to disinvite them, it wouldn’t be Donohues fault. It would be the fault of the Democrats in charge of such a decision. If they are convinced by the moral argument — an eventuality I cannot bring myself to entertain that they might actually be convinced by — then blame the Democrats in charge of making that decision, not Donohue. He’s merely exercising his first amendment rights.

    The New York Times exercises editorial control over their content all the time. Recently, Obama was given op-ed space for an article and then turned around and refused McCain space for one of his own. This is not censorship, at least not in the first amendment constitutional sense.

    I’m afraid that I cannot agree with your analysis. However, I appreciate the conversation.

  5. By Daniel DiRito on Aug 18, 2008 | Reply

    Craig,

    If 10,000 less people are exposed to the message of two bloggers, is that not the equivalent of their voice being silenced to those 10,000 people?

    When a book is banned in a Texas school district, isn’t the voice of that author silenced to those students who may well have read that book?

    The fact that a newspaper editor is able to blackball a writer may be acceptable practice, but that reality doesn’t negate the fact that a voice may have been inappropriately silenced to those who would have otherwise read his or her content.

    If you insist upon suggesting I am arguing a legalistic position with regards to freedom of speech, you do so absent my having stated as much.

    To the extent my argument states that Donohue is a hypocrite and has no standing within the DNC to censor its list of bloggers…as it does equate with an effort to silence another’s voice…I’ll stand pat.

    Thanks for the dialogue.

    Daniel

  6. By Craig R. Harmon on Aug 19, 2008 | Reply

    If 10,000 less people are exposed to the message of two bloggers, is that not the equivalent of their voice being silenced to those 10,000 people?

    That’s certainly not the way I look at it. The voice is not silenced until it is denied a venue for publication. No blogger is entitled to readers and it is not the responsibility of anyone but the blogger to build readership. If I start a blog and have no readers, no one has silenced my voice since I am writing in the single most public space on earth: the internet. If I do the things a blogger must do to build readership, I will eventually gain readers. If I author good and interesting blog posts, word will get around and people will begin making my blog a daily (or so) stop. If I write really insightful posts or, who knows, break a story, I may gain really wide readership. You see? In my view, readership is the blogger’s responsibility. I am entitled to not one more reader than I have at any given time and I certainly am not entitled to readership boosts that might come from being accepted as an official blogger at a political convention so whether I get an official spot at the convention or not depends purely upon other people’s valuation of the worth of my writing AND the value of my writing to the political party’s popularity and future support.

    Let’s conduct a mind experiment. Suppose I have a popular blog and my blog’s name has been bandied around as a possible for being one of the Republicans Convention’s officially recognized bloggers. Great, right? Now suppose that, in investigating my writing, it is discovered that I am a White Supremacist and some diarist on DailyKos discovers this and writes diaries exposing this fact and saying that the Republican Party ought not officially recognize my blog or give me a place in bloggers’ row at the convention lest the Republicans be labeled as officially recognizing my opinions on race as a legitimate position under the Republican umbrella.

    Now, should the Republican Party recognize my blog and give me a place at their convention on the theory that, if they don’t, they will be silencing my voice? Does it seem plausible to you that, in this eventuality, I or someone else should argue that DailyKos is a hypocrite and is trying to silence my voice and that the Republican Party is censoring my opinion? Ought I to complain that the Kos diarist is responsible for denying me 10,000 readers who would have been exposed to my blog if he hadn’t made an argument against the Republicans officially recognizing my blog and giving me a place at the convention? How far, exactly, do you carry your argument?

    No. Not in my opinion. Since I am not entitled to those 10,000 new readers who might have been exposed to my site, the Kos diarist and the Republican Party has not silenced my voice with respect to those 10,000 hypothetical readers by not giving me a place at the convention.

    The Diarist is not only within his rights to investigate my writing and to expose my opinions on race, s/he is entitled to argue that the Republican Party should not be giving me a place at the Convention to cover it. Nor is the Republican Party censoring my voice by denying me a seat that might have added 10,000 readers to my site. Those were never readers that I was entitled to.

    I will go back to blogging. I will have exactly the readership to which I am entitled to at any given time: i. e., those readers who come to my site to read what I have to say. Those who do not come to my site are not going to hear my voice. If that means that, by writing White Supremacist articles, I have denied myself 10,000 readers that I might have had by gaining a place at the convention as an officially recognized blogger, I have no one to blame but myself. Blaming the Kos diarist or the Republican Party may be something I am inclined to do but ultimately, I was denied official recognition because some diarist at DailyKos investigated my writings, as is his/her right, discovered my racist opinions and made those opinions public knowledge and advanced a convincing argument against my blog being officially recognized at the Republican convention, as he/she was perfectly entitled to do, an argument that was so convincing that the Republican Party wanted nothing to do with being associated with my blog or my racial views and the Republican Party wanted nothing to do with my racially offensive opinions, as is their perfect right.

    The diarist was not a hypocrite nor acting without standing to advance the argument that ultimately convinced the Republican Party to deny my blog official recognition and me a place at the convention to cover the proceedings. No one has silenced my voice, as will be obvious as I continue to blog to whatever readers I have. No one has censored me, as will be obvious as I continue to write my opinions on my various opinions. No one but myself will have been responsible for the fact that I will not have gained the 10,000 readers that I might have potentially gained by having a seat at the convention.

    That should cover it.

    I’m not sure what makes you think that I’m insisting upon suggesting that you are arguing a legalistic position on freedom of speech. I suspect we are talking past one another on that point, since I think no such thing.

    I fail to see how anything you’ve quoted makes Donohue a hypocrite. I don’t get that argument at all. The issue of standing is, in my view, utterly irrelevant since everyone in the world, not just America, has standing to advance any argument, based upon any evidence they think compelling, to anybody to any effect, including arguments to political parties that it would be wrong to officially recognize this or that blogger and to give them a place at the convention. No one needs standing to advance an argument except an opinion and some means of disseminating that opinion. Standing is irrelevant.

    I have read no definition of censor by which anything Donohue has written here can be plausibly considered censorship. He has no power to keep any bloggers out of the convention except the power of his argument. Only some Demcorat leadership members on some committee or another has that power so nothing that is within Donohues power could make it possible to censor the DNC’s list of bloggers and, finally, unless those bloggers are wiped off the web, keeping them out of the convention cannot be plausibly considered being silenced, in my view.

    I think that’s probably as clear as I can be, and as compelling a case as I can make for my point of view on this matter. I will leave this as my last comment (probably) and let the reader judge between your case and mine.

    Thanks for the conversation, my friend.

    Craig R. Harmon

  7. By Daniel DiRito on Aug 19, 2008 | Reply

    Craig,

    The credential process grants the blogger an audience…unless of course you think the parties select bloggers to merely fill empty seats. Removing that access is silencing. If it isn’t, then why does the DNC give such credentials? Aren’t these bloggers selected to deliver the party’s message? If they can’t attend, can they deliver the message they would have had they attended?

    Are you suggesting that if you entered a contest, followed the rules, won the contest, received the $100.00 prize, that it wouldn’t be taking anything away if someone (not even connected to the contest) called for the contest sponsors to take the prize back…because their religious views conflicted with yours? Would you have an argument for damages if they took the prize back? If so, you lost something, didn’t you? How is an audience (whatever number we place upon it) different than the $100.00 prize?

    Further, your hypothetical starts at a point well before the place we are in this particular process. I guess you don’t think that’s relevant? For that matter, the selected blogs have been known since late June. Where has Donohue been the last two months? Pretty sloppy vetting process on his part, eh? But he has standing, right?

    Regardless, I understand your hypothetical…but it’s not what we’re talking about in this case. First, Bill Donohue isn’t an official of the DNC…for that matter he’s not even likely a Democrat. He has an opinion…good for him. Does he have standing with the party to insist they “nix” these bloggers…I think not.

    The vetting process didn’t include Donohue…though he certainly is entitled to voice his opinion at any point. But the process is over and we’re a week away from the convention. I suspect the bloggers have announced their selection to their readers. I suspect they’ve spent money to get to Denver and cover the event. And most telling, I suspect Donohue wants some attention. I guess you think that gives him standing.

    As to being a hypocrite, well let’s see, he thinks Bitch PhD’s musings are offensive…because she’s a bad Catholic and she has an image of a child flipping the bird. He’s defending a church that flipped thousands of children the bird when they were molested by the clergy…a church that then proceeded to silence those children and hide those offenses. But Andy at Towleroad dare not have “homosexual tendencies” and make fun of the Pope’s robes…that’s awful…and it warrants pulling his credentials!?

    See any problem here? Now perhaps you could argue he’s being consistent in wanting to silence somebody…anybody…but it looks to me like he wants his cake and eat it too. Then again, I guess no one dare criticize the church…or you’ll have Bill Donohue to tend with.

    Yes, he can advance any argument he chooses…but that argument has to be looked at in context. I’ve concluded his argument is hypocritical and that he has no standing to insist the DNC do anything.

    I want the Olympics to award the U.S. every gold medal. I can make that argument…but I have no standing to demand such action…and I’ll look like a fool when I do make the argument. Luckily, I have no interest in behaving like Bill Donohue.

    As they say in the phone business, can you hear me now?

    Take care Craig. Always a pleasure to chat.

    Daniel

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