Ed Markey’s Hate-Speech Bill Earns Him the Top Spot in the 2014 Muzzle Awards

By Dan Kennedy

kennedyU.S. Sen. Ed Markey doesn’t seem like your typical enemy of free speech. Progressive and amiable, the Massachusetts Democrat is known mainly for speaking up on behalf of liberal causes such as fighting climate change and preserving funding for public broadcasting.

Earlier this year, though, Markey sponsored a bill to monitor so-called hate speech on television, radio and the Internet. The bill, if passed, would lead to a congressional report. And though Markey has said his proposal would not lead to censorship of constitutionally protected speech, he should know better than to let the government stick its nose under the First Amendment tent.

Markey is just one of the winners of the 17th Annual New England Muzzle Awards, a Fourth of July (or thereabouts) feature I’ve been writing since 1998 — first at the late, great Boston Phoenix and, since last year, for WGBHNews.org.

Other winners this year include Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, for covering up governmental wrongdoing through confidential settlements; Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, for shrouding school safety plans in unwarranted secrecy; and, for the third year in a row, U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz, this time for ignoring a request from the ACLU of Massachusetts for public records pertaining to the interrogation and death of Tamerlan Tsarnaev associate Ibrahim Todashev.

As always, noted civil-liberties lawyer Harvey Silverglate has compiled a separate list of Campus Muzzles. And WGBHNews.org editor Peter Kadzis, WGBH reporter Adam Reilly and I talked about the Muzzles on The Scrum, a WGBH podcast that you can subscribe to on iTunes.

Sadly, there is never a shortage of Muzzle candidates. We already have an early contender for 2015: Massachusetts SWAT teams, which, according to the Washington Post, refused a request to turn over public records to the ACLU on the grounds that they are administered not by the government but by private nonprofit corporations.

Dan Kennedy is an associate professor of journalism at Northeastern University and a panelist on WGBH News’s Beat the Press. He has been compiling the Muzzle Awards since their debut in 1998. He can be reached at dan.kennedy@neu.edu.

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