Words: Censored

 

 

 

 

I wrote a post Friday which caused quite a stir in my home IAFF local, 2068.  On the Local’s Facebook page it generated copious comments and was eventually removed by a local union official.  (The post can be found to the right, here,  in a box entitled, “Recent Posts.”)

The reason for the removal had nothing to do with the message, indeed the message was ignored.  It had to do with words in the title.  Those words were from a soldier’s quote in Stars and Stripes.  They were considered offensive, inflammatory, unprofessional and “National Enquirer like” by at least one local member. (Someone citing a newspaper as a reason to censor is especially ironic.)

I was informed by Joel Kobersteen, the union official who removed the piece, that if one person found something offensive, it would be removed.  To add an element of farce, he then proceeded to post the Stars and Stripes link in which the cataclysmic words were spoken.

It would probably be fair to characterize my post as being anti-sexual harassment and pro-woman in the sense that it detailed how women in the military are treated, especially in a training environment.  It compared the similarity of the fire service drill environment with that of the military.

A recurrent theme in the Facebook comment thread was the applicability of the post to the fire department.  I pointed out that firefighters and paramedics love to “support the troops” and to be publicly patriotic.  Don’t we care that female troops face an atmosphere of constant sexual assault and harassment?  Or does that fall outside the firefighter patriotism rubric?

Those three words (I feel a little like George Carlin here, though not nearly as funny) were not used to characterize an individual but were cited as an example of what women put up with.  They were part of  a discussion, not an attack.  Nevertheless, some apparently felt attacked or somehow diminished by reading three words.

The free speech and First Amendment issues are clear enough and hardly need to be repeated here.  What is really at stake is whether or not the 2068 Facebook page, unarguably our common and central choice of communication, will be rendered effectively impotent as the result of intellectual and emotional fragility borne from a lack of critical thinking and maturity.

The Facebook page should serve as an unfettered platform for the free exchange of ideas as long as they do not recklessly attack others.  Indeed, the entire Labor Movement is based on the fundamental ideal that workers have inalienable rights, chief among them the freedom of expression.  We could hardly now quibble with management taking away that right since we decided to do it to ourselves, first.

Yesterday I wrote a post on the Holocaust that apparently passed the censor’s red pen, at least for now.  It contained the inflammatory word “Nazi”,  had photos of  corpses and discussed an event that even today some find offensive, choosing to believe that it did not occur.  We call them “Holocaust Deniers.”  What if a Holocaust Denier, operating apparently within their right to be offended, notified Joel Kobersteen?  Would he be compelled to take down the post?  If not, why not?

In our society even enshrined rights are ephemeral unless they are constantly renewed.  The road to renewal is seeing the value of unfettered and robust debate and defending it short of a vicious personal attack on an individual.  Many of the things I read I don’t like and may even find offensive.  I try to read anyway in the hope of learning a thing or two.  I would never think of calling for their removal.

Adolph
Sweet Lad

 

 

 

 

In a censored world it is the tyrant and the bully who win.   Der Furher proves the point nicely.

 

 

 

9 Comments

  • Dave Statter says:

    I really don’t want to get into a dispute between two people I know and like, but I will add this to the discussion. I know from my own online experience running a blog that if I used Joel’s standard of even one person being offended there would be virtually no content on STATter911.com. There is always somebody that is upset by something I post. And I am no Eric Lamar who has turned offending people into an art form. Mostly because Eric is willing to take on the topics that most everyone else steers clear of. I don’t always agree with Eric but I admire what he does.

    • Eric Lamar says:

      Hi, Dave. I always appreciate (and think about) your comments.

      You said: “And I am no Eric Lamar who has turned offending people into an art form. Mostly because Eric is willing to take on the topics that most everyone else steers clear of.”

      I will try to be cognizant when I right something about whether or not I am doing it simply to piss people off. It was not the case with the Sex Academy piece but was at least part of the motivation for “The Mr. Ed (and Nemo) Show.” On the latter, I was amazed that people buy into silly secrets that are not secret at all.

      I tend to take the side of the “underdog” which is going to automatically put me at odds with the majority. What I have learned through age and experience is to try and do that gracefully and in a way that respects others. I don’t always make my mark but I am careful about not attacking people. Ideas, however, should be open to testing and comment.

      It is also true that I want the freedom to write about whatever I want, regardless of whether it is popular. That keeps it interesting and fun.

      I have been characterized as “arrogant” and a “know-it-all” often enough to be sensitive about it and to reflect on the truthfulness of those assertions. I am certainly opinionated and I can be forceful but I think that people who know me outside of writing (in person) would not describe me as arrogant or a know-it-all. I am quite candid about how little I know about things.

      But I am also aware by now that many people who disagree will automatically default to a personal attack. (I was accused of hating others today by someone who had not a shred of evidence to back up the charge. In fact, his words were the most inflammatory of the entire debate as they were a vicious and personal attack. Of note, not a single person called him out on his behavior. If anything should be censored, it is a vicious and unsubstantiated attack.)

      This has all been a marvelous discussion/experience but I find it deeply ironic that people’s first reaction was to read three words and to focus on their reaction exclusively. Go ahead, have your reaction and be reminded that you just read the words. Women in the military hear them every day and experience much worse. We call that process empathy.

  • Tim Walker says:

    What about all the good things Hitler did?

  • Victoria Huckenpahler says:

    That’s plenty disturbing, Eric. I am constantly alarmed at the erosion of free speech in the name of “political correctness.” We have to fight this, else one of the fundamental rights on which our nation rests will evaporate. I sometimes fantasize (and I hope it is only a fantasy) that many of us will one day leave for the former Soviet Union, finding that speech there now is freer than our own!

  • John Gleske says:

    Well said, Mr. Dave Statter!

  • Duane Tenney says:

    I am responding here instead of the Union FaceBook Page because I no longer trust that medium for discussion. I admit I didn’t think much of the title but after reading the context (don’t judge a book by it’s cover seems appropriate here) I understood what it was about. While it did spark some debate on the point you were making it deteriated into a freedom of speech issue. I found it ironic since the blog acknowledged a problem in the fire service and was in fact pro women that people were offended and had to have it removed. Today Social Media is the meeting place for discussion and ideas. If we expect thise discussions to happen at regular union or executive meetings the issues will be controlled by a small minority. It’s a sad day for our Local 2068.

  • Joel Kobersteen says:

    Since Eric has chosen to take this issue not only to the entire blogosphere, but also to his own Facebook profile, the Local 2068 Facebook group & the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation Facebook group (why NFFF, I cannot tell you since he hasn’t linked his stories there before), I will not be chasing him around, but will rather leave my comments here – at the root.

    First, for those who do not know me, I am the Communications Director for the Fairfax County Professional Fire Fighters & Paramedics – Local 2068 of the International Association of Fire Fighters. In my purview of responsibility is the ensuring effective communication between the leadership and membership and with the “external customer”, namely the citizens and visitors to Fairfax County. I am also a frequent reader of this blog. I find his postings thought provoking and find that the content has spawned many good debates; the topic in question and this topic are testaments to that and no different.

    As Eric can tell you from his time as President of Local 2068, the membership, comprised of over 1,700 active and retired firefighters, dispatchers, apparatus mechanics and fire marshals, can sometimes be a fickle bunch. Anyone that has spent time in a firehouse, knows that line firefighters often push the limits of good taste right up until the supervisor draws the line. Whether the supervisor has the backing of established Rules & Regulations or the supervisors is using a more laissez faire approach and treating each as adults, the line is ultimately drawn. When the line is drawn, there is sometimes discussion about how unfair the rule is or how personal free speech is being crushed, but we, as firefighters, march on and keep that line in the back of our head. Anyone who has worked with me or supervised me knows that I take great pride in pushing the line.

    Enter Eric’s posting entitled “Sex Academy: Slut, Dyke or Bitch.” On the Local 2068 Facebook group, when Eric posts links to his blog, as he has done, without issue, for some time, the following is displayed next to his smiling face:

    Sex Academy: Slut, Dyke or Bitch | Turnout Blog
    turnoutblog.com
    Members of Congress, unable to perform chores of state, called senior members of the US Air Force to testify this week over the Lackland AFB Sex/Training scandal. It may not be more important than a “fiscal cliff” or “debt ceiling” but it is certainly more titillating.

    Within minutes of his posting the link on Friday morning, I began to get phone calls, text messages and Facebook Private Messages making sure I was aware of what had been posted. In the course of the contacts, a few stated that the headline offended them and more told me that they didn’t get the point of the blog entry. Males & females of all ages and colors. I monitored the topic and found very good debate going on, not regarding the appropriateness of the article or title, but about such topics as females in the fire service, their issues and perceptions and recruits in the union. I made the decision to keep it up and, just as someone has the option to turn the channel if something comes on TV that one might not want to see, Facebook has a feature where posts can be “hidden” from the users view. I then wrote a message to the group to that effect. Among the subsequent contacts on Friday, I saw one fire officer, who has the unique position of being both a Local 2068 Representative and the husband of one of the firefighters who was offended by the title, post, “I think that falls right in line with sexual harassment law…you were told it offended someone and chose to ignore that…..shame on you Joel and Eric since it was your post.” While all of this was going on, I sent a message to Eric saying that I enjoy reading his blog, but the title was sensationalism at it’s worst and asked him to please be more cognizant of his headlines if he chooses to link from the Local 2068 Facebook group. I received no response from Eric.

    I spent most of the day on Saturday fielding calls, talking to people I trust in the membership and keeping up with the topic, all while doing the “dad thing” and taking my kids from Point A to Point B. During the day, the responses turned from “good debate” to “mean spirited” and a period of truly inappropriate. I made the decision at that point that, given what the conversation has degraded to and the fact that I was getting input that the headline was indeed inappropriate from several sources, the topic should be deleted and I posted a message to that effect. Since, I was still in mid “dad thing”, the topic was deleted Saturday night at about 9:00 pm. This step pained me greatly, as it still does, because up until that time I had not deleted any postings or comments.

    After deleting the topic, I posted the group that I had taken Eric’s posting down because of the questionable headline and the chaos that ensued in the comments of the posting. I did indeed link the original Stars & Stripes article that Eric referred to because I feel that Stars & Stripes put a very vital story much more eloquently and purposefully than Eric did. Rather than sensationalizing and using the headline “Sex Academy: Slut, Dyke or Bitch”, they used, “Female Marine vets say sexist culture put them at risk.”

    In regards to the Holocaust article, if Eric had entitled it in such a way as to offend, either intentionally or unintentionally, I am sure members would have similarly beat down my door. The fact is that Eric is comparing apples and oranges in this case.

    We all have bosses. My bosses are the members of Local 2068. If a large majority of my calls are from members that consider something inappropriate or offensive, I owe it to them to consider their common request. If the negative calls far outweigh the positive calls, I owe it to those who pay my paycheck, the members, to take a long serious look at the issue. Since Eric chose to ignore my private message to him and the thread has deteriorated, I did what I had to do. Also, just as any leader must do, I made a decision and I stick by it. Most contacts have been supportive of my decision. Some, like Eric’s covert comparison to Hitler and me, are not. That’s my job and I take it very seriously.

  • Mike Schwartz says:

    I take Mr. Kobersteen at his word that he did what he thought he had to do. I hope he will give it more thought next time and not overreact. To that end, two words come to mind: slippery and irony. Sounds like a pretty slippery slope to me. In fact, next time, absent dad duties, the censorship can occur before most have a chance to read it. As a 62 year old gay man who grew up being told that gay was a dirty word, I am reminded of George Carlin’s skit “Seven Words You Can Never say on Television”. I have to wonder what he would say were he alive to read this discussion. I am guessing he would love it – good comedic grist for highlighting the silliness of this type of censorship. I also see a real irony here. Eric is being censored for an article that argues that there is no place for these words in the military or firehouse and that unions are critical forces in ensuring that outcome. Yet, his own union uses the words to silence his efforts to highlight the problem.

  • Eric Lamar says:

    Mike:

    You know that I love words and tend to choose them very carefully.

    Having said that, I am deeply honored at what you said and your decision to do so.

    Eric

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FE Talk: Humpday Hangout

Comments
Glenn
Some Kimchi Blow Back
I have been contemplating our response to a N. Korean movie maker producing a comedy based movie with a story line about the assassination of our President. I can’t believe that we would hack into their government IT systems. Of wait, we already do that. Never mind.
2014-12-19 14:37:11
Eric Lamar
Some Kimchi Blow Back
S- Nail on the head. Imagine if Iran made a film, comedy or otherwise, about the assassination of Obama. The S@#t would hit the fan. But, somehow, it's OK if we do it. E
2014-12-18 22:54:39
Victoria Huckenpahler
Some Kimchi Blow Back
What's most disturbing about this is that, however great or little their involvement, North Korea has won a cyber-war. This does not bode well for the future, not only for our relations with N. Korea, but with other terrorist states. I agree it was foolhardy to invite the inevitable by making this film.
2014-12-18 22:33:08
Mike
Some Kimchi Blow Back
Well done Mr Kim! I hope the movie is as funny as all the drama it cause. I guess we will just have to wait for it to make its way to the $5 table at Walmart to see it. That were is get to see most movies anyway.
2014-12-18 22:24:23
Smitty
Some Kimchi Blow Back
That's right, Eric. It was the studio who decided they would lose too much money if they distributed the film and nobody came to see it. Besides, you're right on point about a film that never should have been made. Do we ever ask ourselves how we'd feel if the tables were turned?
2014-12-18 21:31:09
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