So, as you may know, I've been covering the Chuck Turner controversy here at Blog Against the Machine: Boston. Up until this point I have been an unabashed advocate for the "Stand Behind Chuck Turner" cause.
I've always admired the BALD BOLD & BRIGHT city councilor. He's a Green Party member, which I have strongly supported as an alternative to the corporate corrupted Democratic Party. Turner is not afraid to start a rally in order to smash the state or to shame private interests who take advantage of people.
Last year my good friend Derek Hawkins and I reported a long-form focus piece for the then-Northeastern News. (Hawkins wrote the thing and reported much of it, while I and another young journalist contributed information from our interviews.) It explored Turner's feisty relation's with our school, Northeastern University. Privately, we've shared laudatory remarks about a man we saw practically as Boston's most effective revolutionary around.
When this whole controversy started to unfold, Derek expressed some caution in his continued support for Turner. He cautioned me on my relentless skepticism of the FBI and my ceaseless defense of Turner.
On this blog, Hawkins commented, "I am not content to just intuit the answers to these questions based on a respect and admiration of Turner's populist legacy, nor what some suggest are inconsistencies in the affidavit. ... He deserves fair treatment and due process in this case, as anyone does, and indeed some in the media and political arena have not afforded him this."
"I also believe that Turner's constituents deserve due process in being able to know whether their longtime advocate has betrayed their trust for the sake of some lowly night club owner. In that sense, I stand behind them too."
I brushed this off as what I percieved to be an example of my friend's contrarian tendencies, which tend to fleck his generally radically progressive stance on issues. He's a circumspect guy -- what can I say?
I argued that something was out of whack. Politicians we knew to be blatantly corrupt -- like House Speaker Sal DiMassi, and, on a larger scale, Dick Cheney -- were not being stung by the Feds. DiMassi, for instance, has exhibited far greater manipulations of the public interest and, furthermore, a large waste of tax payer dollars. It was curious to me that Dianne Wilkerson, the center of the investigation, who has often been down and out legally speaking, somehow got other black politicians in the area, including Turner and State Rep. Byron Rushing (who received subpoena, but not accused of anything yet), involved in this bullshit. I still think that this is all just a misunderstanding -- eh, maybe not for Dianne.
Chuck Turner has always expressed support for communities of color when it comes to prosperity. He gives advise to his constituents and tries to lead them to success. But when one of them allegedly hands Turner a wad of cash -- wearing a wire after the FBI recruited him to take down black politicians in the area -- how is the public to decide if this is a bribery scheme and not Turner clumsily accepting what he believed to be a campaign contribution? After all, according to the FBI themselves, Turner refused a second payment and instead directed the stool pigeon to his legal, transparent campaign donation operation.
As I previously expressed, I didn't think the media was being fair to Turner. Nor did they point out contridictions in an interview the Boston Globe did with the stool pigeon, which kind of underminded his credibility in this investigation.
Well now Turner has come out of his face with this belligerent letter to the Governor in regards to the mainstream media's conspiracy with govenment agencies "to implant in the minds of the public the presumption of guilt" when it comes to his and other cases in wich condemning "evidence," or only one version of a story, is disseminated. He wrote that members of the media establishment -- including Adam Reilly of the Boston Phoenix and Joan Venocchi of the Boston Globe -- act with complicity in creating a guilty-until-proven-innocent atmosphere, by validating what could be baseless allegations.
Some said that it was inappropriate for Turner, a member of a party that is unbending in its defense of civil liberties, to voice any opposition to a completely free press, whether or not factions of the mainstream media want to collude with an evil empire.
"Funny how priorities change so quickly and dramatically with circumstances," Hawkins said in an email. "Chuck Turner, innocent or guilty (and let me say up top that I'll lay no claims on either), joins the ranks of the shrewdest and most disingenuous of demagogues in his shameless attempt to harpoon one set of Constitutional rights with another, and in doing so bleed the entirety of the Bill of Rights, all in pursuit of some terrified sense of justice. His invocation the Fifth, Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to restrict the First should come as extremely offensive and arrogant to more than just the legal scholar and journalist. Turner is a public official, and the public deserves justice as much as he does. What 'populist' could stoop so low?"
There has been some interesting discussion about this on the comment board at Media Nation in regard to expected responsibilities and rights of the media. Some folks, although not sold on Turner's hopes of hampering large media outlets' ability to tarnish his name with unproved allegations, aren't impressed by the local MSM and expressed disatisfaction the percieved poor coverage fo the case.
"If the media is within their legal rights under the First Amendment to publish what they have about Turner, that still leaves the question of whether they should," said Ani, in response to a blog post on the letter. "I'm assuming that's what Turner was getting at by referring to other sources on what he labels the presumption of innocence. It does sound from Walker's interview as if the prosecution's story is not coincident with Wilburn's, and if that's so, I would expect the media to pursue that, not merely be content with giving voice to the prosecution's version.
"The media have found that in at least some cases (the Duke lacrosse case, the run-up to the invasion of Iraq come to mind) that there may be more than one version of the story, and the media's reputation suffers when they look as if they don't have a mind of their own.
"So while I'm not terribly sympathetic to Turner's desire for attempts at legislative muzzling of the media, I would love to see more independent coverage of cases like Turner's."
I like that assessment.
But there is still some lingering questions concerning the balance of power bouncing through my mind. Journalism folks and media consumers alike are up in arms about the letter because they believe the 1st amendment is the golden bullet to defend democracy. Relatively speaking, it's not.
What if it is the government agencies who make knowing falsities or reckless disregard for the truth? We all know that if a media organization does so they are liable for libel. The government, on the other hand, has right to place gag orders on those who are believe to have information that is a supposed threat to national security, people like Sibel Edmonds. Who has the power to pull some strings?
We love our freedoms. Turner seems to be opining that the larger media corporations are threats to democracy because of their ability to spread damning allegations that have not been examined in court. He's seems to be trying to outline his idea that the MSM acts as a road block to a new Revolution without actually saying it. But Turner is no Hugo Chavez and this is not exactly economically depressed Venezuela in the 1980s in the throes of a countrywide coup. Turner, buddy, blame the government; not the press freedom. This is big, fat America.
So, it was pretty stupid of Turner to write this letter because it's making some of his far-left, civil liberty-loving base become wary of him. If he's going to write a letter like this his conspiracy theory needs to be far more realized and he needs to show that this is actually bigger than his reputation. I supported every part of his defense prior to this because it was furious and sharp. Now, with the letter, he messed up, again. The common man here does not clearly see his vision of state sponsored oppression of the people, at least not to that extent, through privatization and conglomeration.
I still support Chuck Turner in a special way, I pray for him, but the letter makes him seem like a fool. He's got some 'xplaining -- or, perhaps, apologizing -- to do. The First ammendment protects independent journalist in their dissent (we need it for protection!) just as much as large media organizations could use it to support fabricated government allegations.
Photo of Turner (cc) by Jonathan McIntosh and republished here through a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.