Wednesday, September 13, 2017
My assault, the Joplin Globe and the First Amendment
The world is full of people who are at war, starving, or dealing with family members who have cancer or Alzheimer's.
Every day more people fall victim to the scourge of opioids and to the epidemic of violence that has plagued our society.
When you consider that, what happened to me Monday afternoon when someone who was upset with my writing assaulted me at my apartment pales in comparison. Sure, I am going to be sore for several days, I will be limping for a while, and my face, which was never much to begin with, is a mess, but I am back to work, my spirits are good and I have learned a valuable lesson about not opening my door to strangers.
I am going to be fine.
When I opened the door and the man asked, "Are you Mr. Turner?" and I said I was, bringing on the punch that floored me, it was not just an aging blogger who was attacked- it was the First Amendment.
The man waited until he had it confirmed that the person looking at him was the person who had written the post or posts that did not meet with his approval. (Note: Police do have a specific suspect.) Then he attacked.
I have read comments on local media outlets' Facebook pages and many have said words to the effect that "Turner got what's coming to him."
Naturally, I disagree, but thanks to the First Amendment, those misguided people have the right to express their opinions.
The reporters who talked with me yesterday all raised the point of the First Amendment implications of the attack and their stories reflected that.
Randy Turner being attacked is no big deal. Someone being attacked for reporting the facts is. And please, let's drop the negative commenters' self-serving claims that I am writing a bunch of lies. In posts like the ones that brought on the assault, every item in them comes directly from public records.
There is a reason why these records are public, even though sometimes they make us uncomfortable.
Judging from the way, the Joplin Globe reported on the story today, it is apparent that the Globe does not plan on maintaining any interest ... and that is the Globe's right. It, too, can choose how to exercise its First Amendment rights.
And it is not surprising. After all, the Globe has always been picky on when it thinks the First Amendment is important. If something affects the Globe's ability to write a story or to receive information to which it thinks it is entitled, suddenly the Globe's Editorial Board is shouting about "the public's right to know" and waving the First Amendment banner.
Only the record shows the newspaper is selective about when the First Amendment is important.
Ask Brennan Stebbins, the editor of the Chart during a portion of the Bruce Speck era at Missouri Southern State University.
Stebbins, now the sports editor at the Carthage Press, and the Chart staff, under the tutelage of T. R. Hanrahan, were breaking one big story after another and offering hard-hitting editorials about Speck's inept leadership.
Yet when Speck silenced the Chart and fired Hanrahan, the Joplin Globe stood silent.
Well, not completely silent. Globe Publisher Michael Beatty sent Speck an e-mail detailing how he was stopping reporter Greg Grisolano from making any Sunshine Law requests of the university, talking with Editor Carol Stark about nice, positive stories that could be written about the university, and Beatty offered Speck advice on how to control the media.
Some First Amendment advocate.
Thanks to that very amendment and Missouri's Sunshine Law, Beatty's e-mail to Speck became public knowledge. Stebbins received it after a Sunshine Law request. By that time, there was no way it could be placed in the Chart, so it was posted online where the Turner Report picked it up and brought it to the taxpayers' attention.
All thanks to the First Amendment.
And then there's the business of my firing from the Joplin R-8 School District.
A former Globe employee (not a reporter) told me of a conversation she had with the editor. She told the editor the charges against me were not true.
"Have you seen that book?" and then described what an affront my novel No Child Left Alive was to decency. Of course, at the time the Huff Administration was claiming I had assigned the book to my students. As Huff and others acknowledged at my hearing, that never happened and my students had never even heard of the book.
Globe reporter Wally Kennedy did an excellent job of covering my hearing, including printing from the board's final decision, which specified that I did nothing morally wrong.
And if I did nothing morally wrong, then I was fired because I had written a book that C. J. Huff did not like.
Yet there was never any followup, even though that decision clearly has had an impact on the direction of the R-8 School District over the past four years.
Especially since I used my First Amendment rights to inform the taxpayers about what was going on.
You might question why the Globe should lift a finger for a blogger who has criticized the newspaper frequently.
Why should the Globe care what happens to a competitor?
The First Amendment is not just for those who agree with the way you think. If the First Amendment is to work, it has to be for all of us and those of us whose livelihoods depend on it have an obligation to defend it at all cost.
When Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell sued Hustler Magazine for an atrocious "humor" cartoon it ran about him, it was organizations like the New York Times, the Washington Post, CBS, and Time Magazine that filed friends of the court briefs backing Hustler Publisher Larry Flynt. Flynt disgusted the traditional media, but they were not supporting him. They were supporting his First Amendment rights.
When American Nazis wanted to hold a rally in Skokie, Illinois, a city with a high percentage of Holocaust survivors, the American Civil Liberties Union, which hated everything the Nazis stood for, filed an action against Skokie city officials.
The ACLU lawyers hated the Nazis, but they revered the First Amendment.
I am not a Nazi nor am I a pornographer (despite what C. J. Huff claimed long after my hearing).
I am someone who has a deep love for the First Amendment.
As I discovered after my unfortunate incident Monday, most of you agree with me about our most cherished constitutional right, whether you agree with what I write or not.
I also discovered that many area news sources share that deep affection for the First Amendment, something which came as no surprise.
As for the Joplin Globe, the newspaper was not there for Brennan Stebbins and the Chart, it was not there for me four years ago and there will come a day when someone is trying to attack the Globe's First Amendment rights.
Brennan Stebbins will be there to defend the Globe's rights.
T. R. Hanrahan will fight for the public's right to know.
And I will stand up for the Joplin Globe and the First Amendment.
Sadly, the Globe, assuming that an important newspaper should naturally receive the benefit of the doubt, will never grasp the irony.
Thirty minutes ago, I was attacked
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