Star-Ledger columnist Paul Mulshine tees off on the Rutgers adminstration, saying their investigation of a nasty article satirizing a Jewish kid reeks of political correctness. He quotes Aaron Marcus, the target of the satire, who complained that the authors of the satire used his real name and photo. Responds Mulshine:
Didn’t this little knucklehead ever watch “Saturday Night Live?”
That’s how satire works. You pretend to be the person satirized.
Mulshine says the authors are clearly protected under the First Amendment:
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education was set up to combat this sort of thing. I speak quite often to its founders. They’re Jewish, but they belong to the open-minded tradition of their religion. They would be the last people on Earth to support this kid’s claim that his religious status is an excuse for trying to shut up the people who satirized him.
FIRE, which promotes first amendment rights on campus, was founded by Alan Charles Kors, a professorat theUniversityof Pennsylvania, and Harvey A. Silverglate, a civil-liberties lawyer in Cambridge.
When I wrote about the Marcus satire, I called the piece toxic, adding that “nothing Marcus has written or said deserved an attack as lazy, heavy-handed, and culturally tone-deaf as this.” I also think the authors should be protected by the First Amendment.
But at what point does freedom of the press protect assholes from the kinds of things that would get them suspended or censured if they were to do them, say, face to face or in a chat room? If a kid calls another kid a ”Jewish Hitler lover” in the lunchroom, or pastes it on his dorm room door, that would lead to disciplinary action. But because The Medium does it under the guise of satire and publishes it by the thousands, that makes it okay?
To put it another way, Dahrun Ravi was convicted of bias intimidation as a hate crime for having secretly streamed his gay roommate’s romantic interlude over the Internet. But had he published a leering anti-gay “satire” naming Tyler Clementi in The Medium, he’d have been untouchable?
One man’s “p.c” is another’s civility. Has the university no recourse when one group of kids violates written or even unwritten codes of civility?
UPDATE: I put this question to Will Creeley, director of legal and public advocacy at FIRE. He directed me to the Supreme Court’s definition of “peer-on-peer harassment”: discriminatory behavior that is “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive, and that so undermines and detracts from the victims’ educational experience, that the victim-students are effectively denied equal access to an institution’s resources and opportunities.”
The university would have a hard time classifying The Medium piece – clearly labeled as satire — as harassment under this definition, said Creeley, even under the university’s Code of Student Conduct..
“Context counts here,” said Creeley. “Insofar as we are talking about a satirical April Fools post, I don’t think that [amounts to] the kind of fighting words instance that you are describing.”
Creeley referred me to The Onion, a satirical newspaper that often depicts Vice President Joe Biden as a hard-drinking, womanizing redneck. “The Joe Biden we see in the pages of The Onion does ridiculous things, but folks understand it is artificial and clearly not Joe Biden,” said Creeley. “We give satirists a wide berth to do those kinds of statements. Really, context counts here.”