Left In Lowell

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November 21, 2012

Political Hyperbolae

by at 4:44 pm.

I’ve been literally running around in circles all day trying to finish prep for hosting of the Thanksgiving Day festivities. With a 24lb turkey to get into my Alton Brown brine (I even found candied ginger today, in my second MarketBasket in two days), a house to clean, and a lot of guests coming, it’s been hard to be online much. (PS: if you do not get your fresh turkey from Elm Turkey Farm you are missing something!)

But obviously there’s some to-do in the state of Lowell blogistan. So I am taking really precious time out of my day (vacuuming! washing floors! mashed sweet potatoes with cream, cardamom, and maple syrup yet to start!) to address it.

If you’ve read the online article from the Lowell Sun by reporter Sarah Favot (who has the GLTHS beat) you’ll know what I’m talking about. At issue is a comment I made on Jack’s post from November 18th. (I’m snipping out the irrelevant part at the beginning addressed to the Anonymous comments.)

I admit to not knowing (or having paid attention to) all the details of this crazy ass “harassment” stuff. But I smell bullshit. And if someone - a person in LEADERSHIP - calls wolf on harassment like this, I want her head on a platter. Women have it tough enough without assholes using it as a political tool, making a legitimate harassment claim harder to believe.

Seriously, if this is what I believe it to be, it’s absolutely disgusting, and totally unethical, and she should be hung for it.

Apparently, Mary Jo Santoro decided to construe this as some sort of personal, physical threat, and reportedly went to the Lowell PD, who referred her to the Tyngsboro PD, where she was supposedly heading to today to file a complaint.

First and foremost, and I do believe this is pretty plain within the context of my comment, of course I meant absolutely no personal physical threat to Ms. Santoro. Anyone who knows me – or heck, reads my blog, knows I’m about as physically threatening as the mice that make their way into my house in the cold fall weather that I insist upon trapping humanely so I can release them in a nice field away from human habitation. (This year it was a mom and her three half grown meese children.) But even if you don’t know me at all or have never read a word of my blog, the comment totally does not meet any standard of threat that can be reasonably argued. Specifically, the use of very common phrases to denote “accountability” like head on a platter or hung (usually elongated as “hung out to dry”) could hardly be argued to be actual threats of harm. They are hyperbole.

Furthermore, political hyperbole is protected first amendment free speech. To quote:

Consistent with judicial construction given to other federal threat statutes, § 875(c) applies only to “true threats” which are not protected by the First Amendment. This requirement was established by Watts v. United States, 394 U.S. 705 (1969) (per curiam), which held that a threat statute “must be interpreted with the commands of the First Amendment clearly in mind,” and therefore be construed only to reach a “true threat” and not “constitutionally protected speech.” Such protected speech includes “political hyperbole” or “vehement,” “caustic,” or “unpleasantly sharp attacks” that fall short of true threats.

When assessing whether a communication constitutes a true threat, context is important. Various factors must be considered, including the following: the reaction of the person who received the threat; the history and relationship between the defendant and the victim; whether the threat was communicated directly to the victim; and whether the threat was conditional. By properly assessing these factors at the investigative and charging stages of a case, federal prosecutors can avoid, minimize and overcome defense arguments to the trier of fact that the defendant was purely exercising free speech rights protected by the First Amendment.

My comment is very obviously political hyperbole. Which of course I engage in on a regular basis. It’s fun. It’s protected. It’s even cathartic, but that’s not why I do it. I do it to point out injustices, bad political actors, and misuse of the public trust, its funds, and the abuse of power in general.

In other words. Protected speech.

Also, consistent with that quote from www.justice.gov, is that Ms. Santoro and I have zero personal interaction. In fact, and I quote her from the Lowell Sun article online today, “But I wouldn’t know this woman if I saw her in a parking lot.” Pretty much proof positive that we have no personal relationship or history whatsoever.

Furthermore, the speech was delivered not personally, not even with any knowledge whether or not Ms. Santoro would ever read it, but on a blog. Publicly. Not in a personal phone call, email, or any other delivery system direct to Ms. Santoro. It’s probably the least “direct” a communication could ever get, frankly. Excepting the Lowell Rumor Mill™.

Another point in the quoted legal paragraph above is whether the threat was conditional. As in, “if x happens, then y.” If a statement is conditional, it does not meet the standard of threat. Let me quote my own comment again, this time with italics where the conditionals exist:

I admit to not knowing (or having paid attention to) all the details of this crazy ass “harassment” stuff. But I smell bullshit. And if someone - a person in LEADERSHIP - calls wolf on harassment like this, I want her head on a platter. Women have it tough enough without assholes using it as a political tool, making a legitimate harassment claim harder to believe.

Seriously, if this is what I believe it to be, it’s absolutely disgusting, and totally unethical, and she should be hung for it.

Lots of ifs there. I didn’t directly state that Santoro is falsifying her harassment case against Eric Gitschier. I stated that if that was the case, I would be very angry about it and, in hyperbolic phraseology, would want her held accountable for such an act. Furthermore, I support that view with a very compelling reason – that of the plight of a real woman in a real harassment/bias situation in a real workplace whose case may be undermined by any falsified harassment claim someone in such a high profile position makes.

Such protected speech includes “political hyperbole” or “vehement,” “caustic,” or “unpleasantly sharp attacks” that fall short of true threats.

Was I unpleasantly sharp? Caustic? Vehement? Sure. Was it a threat under these conditions outlined? Absolutely not. This falls so far below the level of threat, that it honestly is a waste – of taxpayer dollars – to “investigate.”

I will not in this post question her motives for this action. I’m sure you can come to your own conclusions. I only hope, for all our sakes, that she is not doing this to suppress free speech or thwart legitimate questions or criticism about her tenure as a public servant who works directly for the Greater Lowell Technical High School Committee, whom we, as voters, taxpayers, and citizens, elected to represent us.

I can also assure you, my free speech will not be impinged. I will continue to ask the tough questions, and yes, sometimes my language is colorful. I write sarcastically at times. I use political hyperbole. This should come as no surprise to anyone, considering I’ve been here since 2005 doing the same thing and writing the same way as I always have.

I’m not going anywhere. Lowell, you’re stuck with me.

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