Tuesday, September 18, 2007

First Amendment Issue or Publicity Stunt?

I can't believe on a night when I have a million things to do-- several deadlines approaching and classes for which to prepare, I've spent nearly an hour looking over the media coverage of Andrew Meyer's treatment at the University of Florida.

Earlier this evening, I watched CNN air and re-air and re-air (as cable networks do) the tape of Meyer being Tasered during a speech by Senator John Kerry yesterday.

The "Day 2" story was the protest at UF by several students outside the UF Police Department and a newser by UF President Bernie Machen.

The Gainesville Sun gets the BEST COVERAGE award for this story. Their multimedia, up-to-the-minute stories online are quite comprehensive.

One of the things provided on the Sun's Web site is a link to a Facebook page set up by the UF Students who staged today's protest.

Now that I'm on FACEBOOK, I was able to log in and read some of the student comments about the whole case.

One of the UF students, who did his own checking around about what happened at the forum wrote on FACEBOOK:

"It should also be noted that the officers were NOT the ones responsible for having Meyer removed. They were the ones to ENFORCE the rule, but the guy in charge of "Accent presents John Kerry" or whatever it was called, specifically requested that the officers escort him out. That incident was the SECOND TIME that the police had to talk to Meyer about calming himself down and being respectful to the others present at the forum."

Nathan Ogden's comments were the first time I've heard anyone say that Meyer had been talked to earlier in the forum.

Now I have no way from Tuscaloosa to independently verify (as a good journalist would) the detailed minute-by-minute accounting of what took place last night.

But, a late evening report (on the Sun's Web site) notes that the police report suggest that Meyer was playing up for the cameras. The officers filing the report suggested that Meyer himself told the police they didn't do anything wrong.

I say all of this to say when you watch that video on YouTube. I (like many of my colleagues) have viewed the LONG version and the short version, which was posted by CNN-- and one version on Jacksonville CBS affiliate WTEV Channel 47's Web site, it would appear that the tasering is uncalled went WAY over the top.

But, it appears to be a stretch to suggest this is an issue of one's First Amendment rights being trampled.

When a person is removed for being disruptive during an event, the disruption is the issue-- NOT the content of the person's speech. Should the police have tasered him at all? Well, that's another issue.

As a journalist, I'm more concerned about the tendency to attach a "First Amendment" label to ANYTHING that happens to involve someone speaking out.

While we are entitled to the Freedom of Speech, once given the time to speak our mind (ask our question), we also have to remember that our rights should not impede the free speech of someone else.

Some students have suggested Meyer was seeking a bit of publicity. Well, he got it.

I haven't looked at his Web site. But, I would imagine it's gotten a lot of hits as well.

And, I'm going to help ADD to those hits, but providing a link to it in this posting.
The Web site apparently has been updated by his friends.

Whether or not there's a First Amendment issue at play, the whole incident (and the media frenzy) is a GREAT case study for my introduction to journalism class. I certainly intend to use it.

Stay tuned for more developments on this.