The idea police, it seems, are out in force. In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, God help anyone who doesn't fall into pro-war rhetorical lockstep.
Last week the Dallas Morning News reported what happened to Tom Gutting, the city editor of the Daily Sun in Corsicana, Texas when he wrote a column criticizing George W. Bush as a puppet, not a leader. He was immediately fired. The next day, the publisher issued a front-page apology that concluded with "God Bless America."
Gutting's demise follows the firing of columnist Dan Guthrie of the Daily Courier in Grant's Pass, Ore. In his column, Guthrie criticized the president for not immediately returning to Washington, and instead hiding out in a Nebraska bunker.
Rattling the semantics saber, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer warned Americans to "watch what they say" after late-night talk show host Bill Maher offered what was construed as a comment critical of the United States. "This is not a time for remarks like that," said Fleischer during a press conference.
Any words of frustration about government policies and the threat of civil liberties restrictions are, apparently, suspect.
Last weekend, during a 10-minute speech at the Pikes Peace Justice and Peace Center--sponsored Rally for Non-Violent Response in Acacia Park, peace activist Robert Dews spoke of an imminent danger to civil rights, particularly those of Arab and Muslim residents who may become the targets of discrimination. Dews also warned of a backlash against these citizens and the inanity of racial profiling at airports.
He also noted that freedom enables Americans to speak out against war and resist government abuses.
The resulting sound-bites, aired on KKTV Channel 11, he says, made him sound like he believes his government is immoral. Which was, he says, far from what he meant.
"I assiduously, throughout my speech, avoided connecting any of the tragedies that occurred on September 11 to any past foreign policy of the American government," he wrote in a letter clarifying his position. "Yet, that is the very message left in television viewers' minds by the editing done on my speech and interview by the KKTV news department.
"The short news story -- and specifically my contribution to it -- in my view, give the impression I, and by extension, the organizers of the rally, were virulently anti-American and critical of U.S. foreign policy as contributing to the worst ever terrorist attacks in our history."
Still, Dews is willing to give the CBS affiliate the benefit of the doubt.
"I am convinced this result was as unintentional on the producer's part as it was on mine, and I am not suggesting the reporter showed any bad faith," he noted in his letter outlining the misrepresentation.
KKTV News Director Brian Rackham was out of town on his honeymoon when the story aired. On Tuesday, Rackham said he would try to get to the bottom of the complaint.
"I will certainly call [Dews] and talk to him," Rackham said. "If we did interpret his position wrong, we are always willing to correct our mistakes."
It didn't take long for Ivan Middlemiss to splash his way into the headlines again.
A year after El Paso County Sheriff John Anderson fired his second in command for allegedly sexually harassing coworkers, Middlemiss returned to his boyhood home of Fremont County and was appointed to fill out the term of the open sheriff's post there.
Last week, Democrats in the neighboring county to the southwest called for an investigation into Middlemiss's bizarre demand that his detention division commander Don Alter take a lie detector test to prove his loyalty to the sheriff. Alter reportedly failed the test and was forced to resign.
Fremont County Democratic Chair Dan Slater called the lie detector test "un-American" and said that the Republican sheriff "appears to be caught in a McCarthy-era paranoia."
Slater and other Democrats called upon the all-Republican Fremont Board of County Commissioners to launch an investigation into the personnel policies and practices of the Sheriff's Office, as well as a full financial audit of Middlemiss.
"Mismanagement of the department by Middlemiss could result in greater dangers to Sheriff's deputies, and greater costs to the County paid out by employee lawsuits," Slater said.
"[An] exodus of law enforcement officers at the highest levels in Fremont County has reached a crisis situation, and it is no longer appropriate for our party to remain silent," Slater wrote. "We believe it is also no longer appropriate for the commissioners to remain silent about this issue."
As of press time, the three-member board has declined to consider an investigation into Middlemiss's actions.
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