Vote For Popehat's "Censorious Asshat Of The Year"

Law, Politics & Current Events

As our readers know, free speech — and various enemies thereof — is one of our very favorite topics here at Popehat. After a year of observing various attempts at censorship, I've decided to seek your input in selecting Popehat's "Censorious Asshat of the Year." (I first considered a more generic "Popehat's Asshat of the Year" contest, but soon realized that the eligible posts comprised roughly half of our work product. There may or may not be medication for that.)

Note that big-scale censors — leaders who killed dissidents, national political figures who pushed big and ominous censorship laws, and the like — aren't eligible. "Asshat Censor" requires a certain element of whimsy, fecklessness, and/or lack of actual power.  Also, I only included people on here if we contributed something to the discussion of their asshattery.

Without further ado, here are the candidates. The poll closes at 5:00 PST Friday:

Dr. Karin Calvo-Goller, for pursuing criminal libel charges in French court over a bad book review. In Aggravation: Forum-shopped to France. In Mitigation: Thanked me for my post.

Karen Spears Zacharias, for promoting muddle-headed hand-wringing about how satire can harm children. In Aggravation: Forced me to write poetry. In Mitigation: More a silly Mrs. Grundy/agony aunt figure than a censor, really.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation, for classifying Juggalos as a potentially dangerous gang. In Aggravation: renders assessment of truly dangerous groups properly classified as "gangs" less credible. In Mitigation: as a former federal prosecutor and current federal defense attorney, allow me to assure you that they really, really don't know better. The FBI, I mean. Possibly also the Juggalos.

Tennessee General Assembly Representative Charles Curtiss, for pimping a ridiculous no-mean-pictures cyberbullying bill and then defending it in very, very stupid terms. In Aggravation: he took an oath to uphold the Constitution. In Mitigation: As a state legislator, he is part of an indigenous people with no cultural tradition of the rule of law.

Tennessee State Legislator Joe Armstrong, for pressuring a college bookstore to stop selling novelty mints unflattering to President Obama. In Aggravation: Seriously? Mints? Are you fucking kidding me? In Mitigation: Member of same traditionally oppressed and historically disfavored and probably genetically poorly endowed tribe of state legislators, see above.

Florida Attorney Joel Hirschhorn, for issuing legal threats to critics of his telemarketing client. In Aggravation: criticizes First Amendment defense lawyers for overconfidence while using the web site "www.aquitall.com." In Mitigation: Admits that he knows nothing about First Amendment law and must rely on other lawyers, who are presumably from Florida.

Joseph Rakofsky, for agreeing to defend a murder case as his first trial, doing an appalling job, and then suing critics for defamation. In Aggravation: Sued dozens across the nation for accurate reporting of the contents of a court transcript, sued for "internet mobbing," a tort accepted only by the professionally censorious or the insipidly and self-promotingly contrarian. In Mitigation: increasingly pathetic.

The University of St. Thomas School of Law, for settling with the aforementioned Rakofsky, thus funding his litigation, promoting frivolous defamation litigation, and squandering the heritage of American legal education. In Aggravation: Cowardly capitulation consistent with their touchy-feely let's-reach-consensus approach to legal education, which produces baby seals to be clubbed in the real world. In Mitigation: technically didn't censor anyone themselves; just empowered, promoted, surrendered to, and endorsed censorship.

Froma Harrop, for being part of an organization promoting civility, calling tea partiers terrorists, defending herself by saying that civility means not refraining from such invective but providing everyone with an opportunity to say their piece, and then promptly deleting critical comments on her blog. In Aggravation: No apparent sense of irony or self-awareness. In Mitigation: only censored comments on own blog; went through entire life with a name that sounds like a minor character from the cantina scene in Star Wars.

Sam Houston State Professor Joe E. Kirk, for attacking a free speech wall with a box cutter because one comment on it said "Fuck Obama." In Aggravation: inspired Sam Houston State campus police to threaten the promoters of the free speech wall with disorderly conduct because of the propensity of free speech to cause people like Joe E. Kirk to attack walls with box cutters. In Mitigation: As a university professor, a likely victim of his peer group.

York University student Sarah Grunfeld, for accusing a professor of anti-Semitic comments based on poor listening skills, then doubling down and arguing that the professor should not have uttered hateful words about Jews even in the context of listing them as examples of unacceptable speech, while uttering the same words herself in order to complain. In Aggravation: Also asserted that there was no basis to accept the professor's statement that he himself was Jewish. In Mitigation: too young, stupid, and Canadian to know any better.

Christopher and Maeghan Maloney, for threatening a science blogger with a SLAPP suit for calling Christopher Maloney a "quack" because he promotes naturopathy. In Aggravation: Ms. Maloney, author of the SLAPP threat, wanted an injunction prohibiting all of the blogger's peers from repeating the "quack" statement, and is a state legislator. In Mitigation: The Maloneys were forced to read a ten-page letter from Ken.

Sarah Deming and her lawyer Martin Leaf, for attempting censorship via class action in a lawsuit claiming the movie Drive was actionably anti-Semitic. In Aggravation: "misleading trailer" and "hurtful content" litigation are both forms of censorship. In Mitigation: those Ryan Gosling internet memes are getting really freaking annoying.

Albin H. Gess of Snell & Wilmer, for threatening bloggers who engage in transparent satire of Meghan McCain. In Aggravation: actually smart enough to know that his threats were premised, legally speaking, on sheer bullshit. In Mitigation: forced to work at a giant firm being polite to Meghan McCain.

Thedala Magee and her lawyer Vicki Roberts, for threatening Amy Alkon with a defamation suit because Amy complained when Magee, a TSA agent, went to third base with Amy. In Aggravation: people who threaten Americans with lawsuits for complaining about government sexual assault are vermin. In Mitigation: Mageee has to touch sweaty business travelers all day, Roberts is apparently addled by television appearances and has a wrenchingly sad IMDB page.

University of Wisconsin-Stout Chancellor Charles W. Sorensen, for defending the censorship of obviously satirical and non-threatening posters on a college campus and disrespecting Firefly. In Aggravation: even when he caved, could not resist justifying his clearly unlawful actions. In Mitigation: did eventually, belatedly, do the right thing. Also, Chancellor job market is awful right now, so unable to get other work.

California Assemblywoman and Speaker Pro Tem Fiona Ma, for this deathless quote: "“We found out later on that, Constitutionally, you can not ban a type of music,” said Ma. “Plus, I, like my opponents said, I didn’t really know what was going on.” In Aggravation: she gets to make laws. In Mitigation: only said what they are all, to use the term loosely, "thinking."

Marc Stephens, for posing as a lawyer to threaten a 17-year-old blogger (among others) because they questioned questionable "science." In Aggravation: fond of bizarre conspiracy theories. Marc Stephens would say that if you follow college football, in light of the Penn State scandal you are probably complicit in child sex abuse. In Mitigation: entertained me in the course of threatening me. And who here hasn't wanted to threaten me?

Ken and Patrick, for calling out scrapers and occasionally banning or ridiculing comenters. In Aggravation: V. snarky assholes. In Mitigation: Not technically state action, authors come from broken homes.

[poll id="2"]

Last 5 posts by Ken White

56 Comments

52 Comments

  1. bluntobject  •  Dec 27, 2011 @11:14 pm

    I didn't vote for either of them, but I have a soft spot in the cold, withered husk I use in place of a heart for Karen Spears-Zahcarias and Dr. Karin Calvo-Goller… not for what they actually did, but for the artistry they promoted on this blog. I mean, the Saga of Marc Stephens was fun to read and all, but it can't hold a candle to "bell hooks defies you, thugs!" or "Oh Karen, my Karen". Those were on a whole 'nother plane.

  2. Gail  •  Dec 27, 2011 @11:21 pm

    Hey girl. I like free speech too.

  3. Lex  •  Dec 27, 2011 @11:24 pm

    Ma narrowly edged out Gess by sticking the Should-Have-Known-Better landing. But, dear God, what a lot of Derp.

  4. Lola  •  Dec 28, 2011 @12:03 am

    I felt compelled to go with Ma. When my teenage cousin glanced over from across the couch as the Reason.TV video about her anti-rave crusade played on my computer, I saw his face contort as he suddenly realized it wasn't a joke. He started ranting about how fundamentally wrong she was. It wasn't even a half-bad rant, for a beginner.

    In a sense, I witnessed Fiona Ma turn an underage boy into a man. For that she got my vote.

  5. tabstop  •  Dec 28, 2011 @12:49 am

    I have to pick just one of these? I'm going to be here a while.

  6. tpp  •  Dec 28, 2011 @6:15 am

    What about Righthavenand their copyright racket on behalf of the Las Vegas Review-Journal and Denver Post?

    Most of your list is pretty small scale to these taint snorters.

  7. PLW  •  Dec 28, 2011 @6:57 am

    I went with Rakovsky because this internet mobbing idea is particularly pernicious and stupid.

  8. C. S. P. Schofield  •  Dec 28, 2011 @6:57 am

    Ken and Patrick should be disqualified. Using or attempting to use the power of the State to suppress free expression of ideas is censorship. Declining to allow others to use one's resources to promote their point of view is thrift.

  9. Kelly  •  Dec 28, 2011 @7:16 am

    I really would like to have 3 or 4 votes on this poll.

    Bonus points to tpp for using Ken's new phrase in context.

  10. tom  •  Dec 28, 2011 @8:28 am

    This is a target-rich environment.

  11. Chuck Norton  •  Dec 28, 2011 @8:42 am

    Wow guys, you have amassed a humdinger of a list to be sure. I painfully, and in a most dedicated and serious manner deliberated over them for almost 15 minutes.

    I have concluded that the combo of the censorship attack complete with a sexual assault put Thedala Magee and her pinhead lawyer Vicki Roberts over the top.

    Some how the whole "I (government) can touch your privates and you will be sued if you dare tell anyone just puts it over the top for me. But I am told that I am told by a report from Homeland Security that I am extreme about such things.

  12. Stoutcat  •  Dec 28, 2011 @8:43 am

    I had to go with Sorensen, because you don't mess with Firefly. Ever.

  13. Matt  •  Dec 28, 2011 @8:43 am

    Ms. Harrop (as well as Ken and Patrick) should be disqualified. Deleting comments and banning commenters on your own blog (or any other private resource of which you are the rightful owner) is not censorship.

    My vote goes to Ms. Magee. All speech is rightly protected. But speech criticizing the actions of the government and its agents is the speech which needs the most stringent protection of all.

  14. Marc J. Randazza  •  Dec 28, 2011 @8:47 am

    I would vote for Grunfeld, but I don't think it is fair to put American style sensibilities on non-americans. And, under Canadian law, her position is somewhat supportable. By somewhat, I mean more than a half a peanut in a pile of shit, but not an entire peanut.

    To TPP, I have as much against Righthaven as anyone – but I don't think that what they are doing is properly described as "censorship." It certainly qualifies as aggravated asshattery, but that is not the same thing.

    I am going to lobby on behalf of (that is against voting for) Joel Hirschorn. I know Joel. He's actually a good guy. His maneuvers in this situation were not how I would have handled things, but the fact is that the man has done a lot for free expression in his long and worthy career. I ask readers to give him a mulligan. You'd love him if you ever met him, and he is more of a natural ally for the forces of free speech than you could imagine.

  15. Professor Coldheart  •  Dec 28, 2011 @8:49 am

    Voted the FBI. The disparity between the power of the censor (the FBI) and the powerlessness of the potentially censored (Juggalos) is pretty striking. Because nobody, and I mean nobody, is in the Juggalos' corner.

  16. Ken  •  Dec 28, 2011 @8:56 am

    For the record, I only included people we talked about substantively. That pretty much excludes Righthaven, since all we did was say "Jesus Christ, look at Randazza kicking the shit out of those guys."

    Marc's recommendation of Joel Hirschorn is entitled to great weight.

  17. Poultine  •  Dec 28, 2011 @9:00 am

    Should have been a runoff vote. But, really, I was hoping the Rochester, NY PD would be in there, partially because it's my home town. Mostly, though, because its actions were so completely loathsome.

  18. SPQR  •  Dec 28, 2011 @10:53 am

    Well of course I voted for Ken and Patrick. Good luck, guys. Hope you win!

    ;-)

  19. discretionary docket  •  Dec 28, 2011 @11:06 am

    It was the trifecta of Calvo-Goller, Firefly censor, and Meghan McCain for me. In the end I went with Calvo-Goller.

  20. Game Kitten  •  Dec 28, 2011 @11:25 am

    Went with the FBI. As I heard it once well said the only things that are in danger from Jugglos are bags of cheetos.

  21. Scott Jacobs  •  Dec 28, 2011 @11:47 am

    Went with the FBI. As I heard it once well said the only things that are in danger from Jugglos are bags of cheetos.

    And younger female relatives.

  22. A.G. Pym  •  Dec 28, 2011 @1:00 pm

    Karen Zacharias was for many years a weekly columnist on my local paper, the Tri-City Herald. I enjoyed her columns, which were humourous and heartwarming, usually about her big southern-origin family. She started to get more religious about the time she was given the chance to explore other employment opportunities, though that didn't really play a large role in her fine first book "Hero Mama," an exploration of the Vietnam war and how her Father's death when she was quite young shaped her life.

    Since, however, she's drifted farther into religio-speak, and has left my circle of interest.

  23. Ken  •  Dec 28, 2011 @1:03 pm

    A.G., I just wanted to point out that I think you are talking about Karen Spears Zacharias, the linked columnist, and not the playwright Karen Zacharias, a college classmate of mine and a fine person.

  24. Mark  •  Dec 28, 2011 @1:11 pm

    It had to be Grunfeld for the simple reason that she alone supported restrictions on speech so draconian that her own discussion of the need for such draconian laws would be prohibited. "They shouldn't even be allowed to tell you WHAT is illegal" is a powerfully stupid position. A low point even in a crowded "Nasoperineal" field.

  25. Scott Jacobs  •  Dec 28, 2011 @1:12 pm

    If she's a friend of yours, how fine of a person could she be?

    I mean, her judgement is already suspect… :)

  26. Will  •  Dec 28, 2011 @1:31 pm

    Joseph Rakofsky gets it, not only can he incompetently represent a client he can try and sue to cover up his incompetent legal abilities.

  27. Laura K  •  Dec 28, 2011 @2:34 pm

    I hold the Firefly-censoring chancellor more accountable than the antisemitism accusing sub-par moron. First of all, he is encouraging students to be like her. Second, he was(I presume) acting as though his position and experience–which Sarah G still lacks–helped him to arrive at the right decision. Idiots and intellectuals like him spawn the Sarah G's of college campus or nurture them in petrie dishes, therefore, I would suggest they are more accountable. That and for Frack's blessed sake, he censored FIREFFLY…

  28. Laura K  •  Dec 28, 2011 @2:36 pm

    Ok and my own ignorance of suggesting that early egyptologist Sir. Flinders Petrie is the same as a the 'petri' of dish (not the same, is it?) just proves that I oughta censor myself….

  29. marvinmartian  •  Dec 28, 2011 @3:53 pm

    Voted rakofsky since the peeps at bannination uncovered his longstanding love of

  30. Pony Felching  •  Dec 28, 2011 @4:06 pm

    Pony Felching. The word you are looking for is pony felching.

  31. Antonin I. Pribetic  •  Dec 28, 2011 @4:48 pm

    Your American jingoistic, parochial, cheap shot against Canadians will neither go unnoticed or unpunished. Have a Happy New Year. ;-)

  32. Ken  •  Dec 28, 2011 @4:57 pm

    I sense I have given offense. Does this mean I have to appear before a commission if I want to go skiing in Whistler again?

  33. Antonin I. Pribetic  •  Dec 28, 2011 @5:04 pm

    Only if you're a lawyer on strike and seeking asylum with the Canadian Skiing Federation. The problem is, of course, the Banff Commission operates at a glacial pace…

  34. Ken  •  Dec 28, 2011 @6:04 pm

    Certain people are concerned that if Rakofsky wins, he will seek to sue me.

  35. Jason  •  Dec 28, 2011 @6:06 pm

    Seems more likely that Rakofsky would interpret that as some sort of validation — i.e. "WINNING!" You should be more "concerned" about him losing.

  36. VPJ  •  Dec 28, 2011 @8:27 pm

    I have to give the edge to Magee/Roberts. A TSA agent even threatening to sue for hurt feelings because of legitimate criticism is very disturbing.

    Also, even though Magee (and Roberts, for that matter) may have…issues, they don't strike me as completely bonkers. Bonkers in an ALL CAPS plaintiff is OBVIOUSLY out of his TINY LITTLE MIND, I-am-the-god-of-Popehat-you-twit sort of way. In other words, they "win" by virtue of at least seeming to know exactly what they are doing.

  37. Frank  •  Dec 28, 2011 @9:15 pm

    Can't we nominate Tanya Treadwell again this year and every year?

  38. Michael Hawkins  •  Dec 28, 2011 @11:07 pm

    While my heart wants to vote for the Maloneys on this one, I just can't let my bias color my decision. Or, at least I want to avoid that. I've got to go with Sarah Grunfeld. Not only was her complain censorious, but it was an utter abuse of language. It's that latter part that really irks me.

  39. Michael Hawkins  •  Dec 28, 2011 @11:08 pm

    *typos, such as "complain" instead of "complaint" do not count as abuses of language, for the record.

  40. Tam  •  Dec 29, 2011 @6:37 am

    I gotta hand it to Rakofsky. Never before has self-immolation been quite so hilarious.

  41. deadcenter  •  Dec 29, 2011 @10:20 am

    Can't stop the signal Mal, can't stop the signal.

    Even though it appears that UWS Chief of Police Lisa A. Walter is the one guilty of the actual censorship and Sorensen appears to be more guilty of "I support the University Administration right or wrong".

  42. Graham Shevlin  •  Dec 29, 2011 @1:53 pm

    This list is a good start, but where are RightHaven, the Burzynski Clinic and the TSA?

  43. tarylcabot  •  Dec 29, 2011 @11:28 pm

    Is there an associated award? Perhaps it's been mentioned before, but did not notice it here.

    I voted for the FBI in the belief that an institution should have checks-and-balances (as opposed to individuals lacking super egos) so should be held to a higher standard – didn't they watch the video for 'Miracles' before making their statement?

  44. Douglas Muth  •  Dec 30, 2011 @8:58 am

    My vote is for Christopher and Maeghan Maloney. As a lawmaker on the state level, Maeghan Maloney simply should have KNOWN better than to pull a stunt like that. Furthermore, I'm holding her to a higher standard here because she is an elected official and holds a position of trust.

  45. Ken  •  Dec 30, 2011 @9:01 am

    Douglas, I am torn on that proposition: torn between the simple, childlike belief that state legislators sworn to uphold the Constitution would actually do so, on the one hand, and the crushing weight of everything I've ever seen or experienced about state legislators, on the other hand.

  46. Adam Steinbaugh  •  Dec 30, 2011 @9:21 am

    Voted for Rakofsky to tempt turning this thing meta.

  47. Ken  •  Dec 30, 2011 @9:43 am

    From reader Malaac.

  48. Ophelia Benson  •  Dec 30, 2011 @10:01 am

    How convenient, I can just say ditto what Douglas Muth said.

  49. meddyhat  •  Dec 30, 2011 @3:49 pm

    How about a nother one? The judge who told me (during my divorce trial) that it was impolite of me to post stories of my being abused by my ex because it put him in a bad light. Um, hello? I was the victim here. So the posts were censored, even though the abuse occured. If anyone tells you women's lib is alive and well – they are wrong.

  50. Ken  •  Dec 30, 2011 @3:52 pm

    Meddyhat, imposing legal consequences on you might make the judge censorious. Threatening — perhaps even implicitly — to do so would make the judge censorious. The judge's expression of opinion is not censorious.

  51. Scott Jacobs  •  Dec 30, 2011 @4:04 pm

    Yeah, the judge said it was impolite, not legally wrong.

    Hell, half of what this blog is ABOUT is "impolite".

  52. Ken  •  Dec 30, 2011 @4:12 pm

    Fuck you, "only half."

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