Wednesday, April 11, 2007

'Oh, How Nixonian Of You, Mr. President!'

The White House Is Cited for Censoring Scientific Reports on Global Warming, While the Pentagon Gets Rapped For Spying on Anti-Iraq War Protest Groups


President Bush greets National Guard troops during a visit Monday to the Texas-Mexico border. The White House and the Defense Department have come under fire by a free-speech group for violating the First Amendment (Photo: Jason Reed/Reuters)

By Zinie Chen Sampson
The Associated Press

The Bush administration and the Defense Department are among the winners of the 2007 Jefferson Muzzle awards, given Tuesday by a free-speech group to those it considers the most egregious First Amendment violators of the past year.

The White House appears on the list, compiled by the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression, for its efforts to discourage, modify and sometimes censor government scientists' reports and studies to be more in line with the administration's political policies -- most notably on global warming, the center said.

"The number of major scientists who have come forward and indicated they were constrained by the administration viewpoint is quite worrisome," center director Robert M. O'Neil told The Associated Press. "There have been similar concerns arising in other areas but we wanted to focus specifically on climate change as the most invaded or intruded area."

Shades of COINTELPRO: Pentagon's TALON Program Spied on Anti-War Activists

The Defense Department won a Muzzle for its covert investigations of organizations that conducted peaceful anti-war protests, most of which were against military recruitment for the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the center said.

Created in 2003, TALON (Threat and Local Observation Notice) also monitored e-mail messages among members of anti-war groups. Its activities -- which critics say are reminiscent of the FBI's infamous COINTELPRO domestic spying program of the late 1960s and early 1970s -- were uncovered last year after the American Civil Liberties Union filed numerous Freedom of Information Act requests.

"We recognize that our government appropriately gathers information," O'Neil said. "Anything related to genuine terrorist activity is of legitimate concern, but we're troubled when it extends to innocuous groups that oppose the war."

Did Former White House Environment Chief Have a Conflict of Interest With Big Oil?

In citing the Bush administration, the free-speech center noted testimony from Philip Cooney, the former chief of staff for the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Cooney publicly answered questions before the House Government Reform Committee about 181 changes he made to three government climate reports, and defended many of the changes.

Conflict-of-interest questions were raised by committee members about Cooney's qualifications for the post, including the fact that he was an oil-industry lobbyist before working for the Bush administration. He left the White House in 2005 to work for Exxon Mobil Corporation, the world's largest oil company.

New York Congressman Blasted for Seeking Prosecution of Newspaper

Other winners of the 16th annual awards include the Ohio General Assembly for enacting a state-level version of the Patriot Act, which requires state job applicants to answer a six-question survey about potential terrorist activity or affiliation; and U.S. Representative Peter King (R-New York) for calling for a criminal espionage investigation of The New York Times because of its expose the federal government's warrantless surveillance of international financial transactions.

The targeting of "a newspaper that truthfully brings to light an information-gathering or -seeking program [being conducted without court warrants], to me, is frightening," O'Neil said. "The Times [held the story] for a year to make sure it was accurate and assess the potential impact. Congressman King never acknowledged any of these mitigating circumstances; he just charged right in."

The Charlottesville, Virginia-based Thomas Jefferson Center awards the Muzzles annually to mark the April 13 birthday of its namesake, the nation's third president and an outspoken free-speech advocate.

NCAA Taken to Task for 'Political Correctness' on Native American Symbols in Team Logos

A Muzzle also went to the National Collegiate Athletic Association for its "politically correct and arbitrary policy" on the use of Native American symbols in athletic team logos.

The NCAA allowed the College of William and Mary to keep its "Tribe" nickname, but required it to remove the two feathers from its logo. At the same time, Florida State University was allowed to retain its war-painted Seminole mascot, largely because the Seminole Tribe supports the school's use of its name and symbols.

"What's problematic is that it differentiates based on acquiescence that can be obtained from some tribes and penalizes those that don't have identifiable tribes," O'Neil said.

A Politically Biased Governor and Other Muzzle Winners

Other Muzzle winners included:

# Kentucky Governor Ernie Fletcher, a conservative Republican, for blocking access to some liberal-leaning Web sites from state-owned computers while permitting access to conservative Web sites;

# The Maine Bureau of Liquor Enforcement, for banning the sale of three specialty beers because they had labels depicting bare-breasted women and a label showing Santa Claus drinking;

# Florida's Miami-Dade County Public School Board for banning the children's picture book, A Visit to Cuba from school libraries after a parent complained that the book was insufficiently critical of life in the communist nation.

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Volume II, Number 18
Wednesday News Extra Copyright 2007, The Associated Press
"The 'Skeeter Bites Report" Copyright 2007, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.



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