Stupidity still protected by First Amendment

Published 9:20 am Thursday, November 7, 2013

I woke up this morning to a news report on the Today Show about a college student who was arrested for wearing a particularly distasteful Halloween costume.

He had apparently dressed liked the Boston Bomber. I then turned on my computer and was met on MSN by a story of two British students who dressed as the Twin Towers and won a costume award, setting off outrage by a group in this country dedicated to the memory of 9/11 victims.

Apparently they were not arrested, maybe because they were in Britain at the time. While I can certainly agree that all three young people showed very poor taste, I have a real concern about the response. When did bad taste, even at this level, become an arrestable offense?

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When did the bad taste of 19-year-olds become worthy of international attention? Why, with everything that’s happening in the world, did news coverage deteriorate to the degree that Halloween costumes are more worthy of attention than, for instance, the killing of Christians in Egypt?

I remember thinking, back at the beginning of the Iraq invasion when reporters were “embedded” with military units, that there appeared to be a real threat of government and military takeover of our access to the truth.

As time has passed, this seems to have been accepted as the norm. Reporters in Vietnam forced us to look at the ugliness of war. Reporters covering our latest war — the one that really has hit us at home–have been so restricted in what they can cover that for along time they couldn’t even photograph the return of fallen heroes.

And now, with decreasing numbers of print news — which was held accountable for the veracity of written reports in ways internet reporting does not seem to be — and an increasing dependence on social media as the final word in “what’s happening,” we seem to have decided that Miley Cyrus is more newsworthy than the horrors being perpetrated here at home and on so many in areas of the world where we have an affect, and where we might be able to make to make a positive difference, I think I might be a little afraid.

There’s so much out there talking about protecting Second Amendment rights — but First Amendment rights seem to have been forgotten. A society placed on a permanent gag order really has no way to defend itself without reaching for that second amendment way out.

We need to be able to express ourselves honestly and openly — and in order to do so we may have to put up with some poorly conceived expressions as well. We can survive stupidity as long as we aren’t muzzled.


Ruth Langer