Banned in America

By David Hoffman

One of the most frequent questions I've been asked during my thirteen years of writing for Pravda.Ru is why I write about American topics in a "Russian" Online Newspaper.

The answer is simple:  Because I was fed up with the hypocrisy and censorship of the profit-driven American media.

There is a common myth in America that the people have the right to "freedom of speech" and "freedom of the press."  Neither of these is true.

The right to freedom of speech only protects people against adverse actions by the government:  It does not insulate them from retaliation in the private economic sector.  Therefore, freedom of speech is usually the purview of the rich, whose resources allow them to survive such retaliation.

The right to freedom of the press doesn't necessarily give writers access to the press, and, even when it does, these writers incessantly have to run through a gauntlet of "editors," who ultimately decide if certain works are "worthy" of publication, and, if so, in what form.

This is not a problem when editors are competent and informed, because oftentimes their feedback is instrumental in the success or failure of the written word.  For example, prior to the publication of one of my recent articles, Pledge of the New Republican Party (05/26/16), Pravda.Ru editors astutely advised me that, given the international scope of their readership, some people may not understand that the Ten Point "Pledge" that opens this article is satirical.  This critique encouraged me to expand my article, both to minimize the risk of misunderstandings, and to give some concrete examples that brought this "Pledge" into being.

Unfortunately, many editors are neither competent nor informed, and it is disheartening to think how many worthy creations have been blocked by them.  In addition, the belief that America's corporate-controlled media serves as a "watchdog" against governmental excesses and abuses is also a myth.  In reality, these media are incessantly steeped in cowardice, only condemning such excesses and abuses when it's too late to do anything about them.

For example, during the buildup to America's invasion of Iraq in 2003, I wrote numerous letters and articles denouncing the lies the Bush administration was disseminating to rationalize this criminal action.  The responses I received from countless publications were the same:  "We agree with you.  Unfortunately, we are not able to use your article."  

It wasn't until the war had long ended that many of these same media, predictably employing their "we knew it all along" routine, began calling this invasion an "unpopular war."

One problem I've encountered in dealing with American media is bias based on favoritism.  For example, one of my first cases fresh out of law school was serving as "second-chair" to an attorney who was suing a school corporation.  Since members of this corporation routinely dealt with the press, the local newspaper had assigned the same reporter to cover them.  And, naturally, to gain and retain access, she had to ingratiate herself.

What we began to notice was, no matter how often we spoke to this reporter about our point-of-view, it was never printed.  But perhaps the most convincing evidence of her bias came after the first day of trial.  My colleague had been highly successful in getting some of the school corporation's witnesses to concede that they had not been fair and accurate in their communications to taxpayers.  Yet, the following morning, not a word of this appeared in the paper.

Also, years ago I wrote an article about a man that I believed was wrongfully convicted and imprisoned.  I had no difficulty getting this article published.  But after he was indeed found to be innocent, and subsequently released, I submitted a follow-up article denouncing the "Monday morning quarterbacking" of one of the detectives who had been instrumental in securing this man's conviction, but was now proclaiming she had doubts about his guilt all along.  Yet the same editor who had approved my previous article refused to publish this one.  I later discovered that she and this detective were best friends.

Bias can also be directed against a writer.  In the town where I resided, the local affiliate of a national television station was owned by a private, religious-based university.  This had resulted in several television programs, that were available throughout the rest of the United States, being banned.  And each time a ban was implemented, this university would cite "community values" as the reason.

When I contacted university officials to complain, I received an e-mail response that acknowledged the "values" being used were those of the directors of the university, not the community.  I then wrote a letter to the local newspaper arguing that the university should not own this television station if its directors were not willing to serve the needs and desires of the viewers.

The editor replied that she would not publish my letter because I had no "proof" the university was involved.  Yet, even after I told her about the e-mail, she still refused.

A week later, an article by a different author that expressed the same sentiments was approved by this same editor.  When I asked her why she had printed his but not mine, she stated it was a "judgment call."  But when I asked what criteria her alleged "judgment" was based on, she could give no answer.

This taught me that oftentimes the so-called "critiques" issued by editors in the corporate-controlled media are really nothing more than thinly veiled methods of censorship.  Although they often say that an article will be "reconsidered" if an author reworks it, the truth is they either hope the author will not even bother or they will simply find something wrong with the rewrite as well.

Recently another article I submitted for publication in American media (and which is reproduced below) was denied publication, and for the most ludicrous and hypocritical of reasons.

The first "concern" the so-called "editors" expressed was there wasn't any way for them to "verify" a conversation I had cited, even when I was a direct witness to it.

This, of course, is utter nonsense, especially since, when it fits their agendas, American media routinely cite statements from second-hand and anonymous sources.  They also routinely conceal the identities of certain crime victims, yet print the allegations these alleged victims make, even before a trial has been conducted to determine their veracity.  Yet a first-hand, eyewitness account of a conversation I had personally participated in was somehow insufficient.

Another concern was my article didn't state when this conversation occurred.  Yet I clearly define two recent events that make it relevant:  a dissenting opinion of a Supreme Court Justice, and the Department of Justice's report on the machinations of Ferguson, Missouri's legal system.  It is the epitome of idiocy to focus on the timing of a conversation when the wrongdoing the conversation addresses continues to occur.

Next, these editors argued that I was casting "aspersions" on all "city courts" (the principal subject-matter of my rejected article), and the municipalities that utilize them, because I don't single out any particular court or municipality for condemnation.

It's insultingly easy to discern the mendacious strategy behind this alleged "concern."  If I had named a specific court, these editors would simply refuse to print my article by claiming that just because one court is corrupt, it doesn't mean all of them are.

But isn't a free press supposed to give taxpayers the right to express concerns about how the branches and departments of government are operating as a system, not just as individual entities?  I guess these editors never got that memo.

But, perhaps the most egregious "concern" was when I was told, by people who run a newspaper and are supposedly informed, that they were uncertain whether any "city courts" still existed.

Apparently these editors never heard of something called the Internet, because, if they had bothered to enter the same search terms I did prior to writing my article, they would not only have been given the names of all the "city courts," but also their locations.

So the reason Pravda.Ru has become such an important and necessary vehicle for me to express my concerns about corruption in America's legal system is because America's corporate-controlled media are not going to do it.  They might look at a few isolated cases of corruption, if it will enhance ratings and profits, but they are never going to examine the system as a whole.  There's too much money in "true crime" cases, too many ubiquitous talking heads "analyzing" such cases, and too many people profiting from this corruption.

So Pravda.Ru readers, before you continue further, please be warned that the article below, save for a few minor adjustments to make it more appealing to an international readership, is being reproduced verbatim.   And it has been BANNED IN AMERICA.

If there is one silver lining in the United States Supreme Court's continuing erosion of the Fourth Amendment, it can be found in this perceptive dissenting opinion from Justice Sotomayor in Utah vs. Strieff:  "This case allows the police to stop you on the street, demand your identification, and check it for outstanding traffic warrants-even if you are doing nothing wrong."  To negate the Court majority's dismissive and myopic belief that such abuses aren't likely to happen, Sotomayor further notes that, "[I]n the town of Ferguson, Missouri, with a population of 21,000, 16,000 people had outstanding warrants against them."

One prevalent, yet little discussed, reason for this is the plethora of so-called "city" courts.  Ostensibly created to reduce the caseloads of county courts that would otherwise have to deal with traffic violations, infractions, and misdemeanors that occur within a city's boundaries, far too many of these courts have become nothing more than fundraisers for local municipalities.

When I practiced law, clients and prospective clients would often tell me stories of how public defenders assigned to city courts would advise them to plead guilty and pay the recommended fines, because otherwise the judge would simply find them guilty, make them pay an even larger fine, and possibly send them to jail.

Several years ago, I befriended a City Court judge, and this caused me to look askance at these stories I had been hearing.  This judge took the ideals of "guilty beyond a reasonable doubt" very seriously, and defendants always received a fair hearing in her courtroom.

My viewpoint changed, however, when she asked me to attend a meeting with her.  At this meeting, the city's mayor argued that her court needed to be shut down because it wasn't profitable enough.  In response, another city court judge said, "If money is the issue, then just have your city council pass more ordinances.  That way you can fine more people for more things."

It doesn't take much imagination to realize that guilt or innocence quickly becomes irrelevant when judges view defendants as nothing more than dollar signs.  Also, as Sotomayor points out, the fact that these courts only deal with "minor" crimes doesn't negate the reality that an arrest and/or misdemeanor conviction can create "the 'civil death' of discrimination by employers, landlords, and whoever conducts a background check."

In addition, since the wealthy often live in suburbs removed from the jurisdiction of these city courts, the poor, who are the most ill-equipped to pay these fines, often bear the brunt of them, and, as Sotomayor further states, the inability to make such payments will invariably result in a judge issuing a warrant making a person "arrestable on sight."

To avoid more Ferguson-type situations, it is time, indeed past time, for the United States Department of Justice to conduct a study of, and investigation into, the practices and procedures of city courts to ensure they are not eschewing justice in the name of profit.  The Supreme Court's recent ruling in Strieff makes this more essential than ever.

David R. Hoffman

Legal Editor of Pravda.Ru

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Author`s name David R. Hoffman