Australian Cardinal George Pell was convicted in Melbourne this week on five counts of child sexual abuse. This made him the most senior official ever found guilty in the Catholic Church’s apparently endless child sexual-abuse scandals. The judge in the case, Peter Kidd, immediately subjected news of Pell’s conviction to a suppression order, the Australian equivalent of a gag order, on press coverage. Australian courts impose such orders to shield defendants from negative publicity that could prejudice future jurors in upcoming trials, and Pell faces another trial next year on a separate set of abuse charges dating to the 1970s. Of course, the more the public knows about how many predator priests the Catholic Church has facilitated, covered up for, and allowed to prey on children, the safer it is. I am not convinced that this suppression of news isn’t a sop to the Church. Judge Kidd told defense and prosecution attorneys that some members of the news media are facing “the prospect of imprisonment and indeed substantial imprisonment” if found guilty of breaching his gag order
Never mind: the web, social media and the Streisand Effect foiled the judge. Pell and the charges against him were quickly the subject of thousands of tweets and shared posts on Facebook. The posts included links to websites and blogs where the news was available, including NPR, the Daily Beast and the National Catholic Reporter.
The Washington Post reported the conviction, but the New York Times did not. The Times’ deputy general counsel, David McCraw, gave the excuse that the newspaper is abiding by the court’s order in Australia “because of the presence of our bureau there. It is deeply disappointing that we are unable to present this important story to our readers in Australia and elsewhere. . . . Press coverage of judicial proceedings is a fundamental safeguard of justice and fairness. A free society is never well served by a silenced press.”
So don’t be silent then.
The Associated Press and Reuters news services also did not report Pell’s conviction. Both services have bureaus in Australia that could face potential liability. Tell me again about how courageous news organizations are.
“That’s your justice system, and mine: a consequence of our culture of servility towards to police and prosecutors.”
—Former prosecutor, current lawyer, and epic blogger Ken White, summing up the outrageous misconduct of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in its attempt to subpoena Reason’s commenter’s identities for potential prosecution, specifically the use of a gag order to prevent the publication from communicating.
Ken White has been following this story, which is a frightening example of how power can be, and is perverted in a supposed democracy that respects a free press. The short version (you can read the posts about this here and here, which link to Ken’s more intense and thorough commentary) is that libertarian publication Reason found itself ordered to reveal the identities of some mean commenters on its website who made obviously hyperbolic and facetious “threats” about a judge, including suggesting that she be Steve Buscemied…
Come on, John, I know you’re out there….
Even if one believes that the refusal of Sweet Cakes to make a wedding cake for a gay couple was a dubious exercise of religion as well as a mean and petty one, the astounding punishment levied on the now defunct bakery’s owners must be condemned as an abuse of power.
Having already lost their bakery business due to mob action online by Gay Marriage Advocate Furies, Aaron and Melissa Klein were walloped by former Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian with a $135,000 judgment for “emotional damages” to the couple. He also issued a gag order on the ex-bakers that forbids the Kleins from explaining to potential customers of Sweet Cakes their anti- same-sex wedding policies.
UPDATE (7/9): This is, I have learned, an overly simplistic description. Ken at Popehat explains what’s really going on as far as the “gagging” goes.
Of course—I guess I can’t really say “of course” if such a travesty can occur—no state can order anyone not to talk about anything in such a situation. The unconstitutional gag order is essentially moot, since to violate it the Kleins would have to still own a bakery and they do not, but it still acts to intimidate others and chill freedom of speech. It must be challenged and overturned. The fine is also unconscionable, and effectively makes villains out of the originally aggrieved couple if they don’t immediately agree to waive it. There is a duty in law to mitigate damages: the couple could and did minimize the harm of their cake request’s rejection by obtaining a wedding cake elsewhere. The Kleins didn’t stop them from getting married, and any harm that came to them from the publicity of their humiliation by the bakery was exacerbated by the couple’s own actions, not the Kleins’. $135,000? That’s beyond punitive. That’s vengeance. Continue reading
The detestable abuse of power represented by the U.S. Government seeking to prosecute blog commenters for obviously hyperbolic criticism of the government was noted in this post, not that it aroused half as as much interest or comment as, say, Caitlyn Jenner’s come-hither glance on the cover of Vanity Fair. Nor did much of the blogosphere take notice, and if any national news media took heed, I missed it. For how can the Obama Administration chilling free speech and harassing a libertarian blog that frequently condemns its contempt for basic rights compete with the secret guest list of the Obama’s 500 closest friends invited to dance a night away to the music of Stevie and Prince?
Now Ken White, the libertarian lawyer/blogger/free speech warrior who honors Popehat with his wisdom has uncovered a further outrage: he believes, and has good reason to believe, that the government has slapped a gag order on Reason, thus stopping the website from alerting the public and the world regarding our government’s unethical and probably illegal conduct. Continue reading