More muzzles

Letters to the Boston editor, August 6, 2010
By BOSTON PHOENIX LETTERS  |  August 4, 2010

More muzzles
I question whether "soft censorship" is actually a form of literal censorship. This term likely resembles "verbal combat" in that the second word of this phrase should be taken figuratively instead of literally. If Harvard Law Dean Martha Minow declared "that certain ideas (or even questions) are off limits" under threat of legal or formal punishment, then she is guilty of censorship or advocacy of censorship, but she is not guilty of these offenses if she simply meant off limits as a matter of civility or politeness. Her e-mail did not seem to me to involve any literal censorship.

My point here is more than a matter of splitting hairs. I've recently noticed many debates in which insinuations of censorship (or false charges of "political correctness") are aimed at mere verbal resistance to offensive words.

Tim St. Vincent

Harvey Silverglate's article in the 2010 Muzzle Awards package has a slight error due to information which I provided him. Harvard employees are not in fact required to assent to the "Employee Loyalty Oath" described in the article. I was originally under the impression that when we were asked to agree to Harvard's "Confidentiality Agreement," that was a polite word for "required." However, I have come under no pressure to assent to it, in spite of my explicit refusal. Other than that, the description in the article is accurate.

I apologize for the confusion.

Gary McGath
Digital Library Software Engineer,
Harvard University Libraries
Nashua, NH

Harvey Silverglate responds:
I had interviewed a second Harvard employee, besides Mr. McGath, before I included the confidentiality agreement in my Muzzles piece. That employee, too, was given the oath to sign, but, unlike Mr. McGath, he signed it. In both cases, there was no explanation by Harvard to the employee that it was "voluntary," and so that employee, like Mr. McGath, naturally assumed that it was required. It is not surprising that Harvard has put no pressure on Mr. McGath to sign, since it would presumably be embarrassing to the university to have to defend, in public, such a muzzling of its employees.

But it is uncontested that the university did try to obtain an oath of silence by its employees. I am nonetheless delighted that Mr. McGath's refusal to sign has been honored by the university.

Mixed signals
Although the Phoenix has traditionally done excellent work reporting on issues important to the city, we were disappointed to see that Chris Faraone’s article “Static at BNN” contains many inaccuracies. While it is inappropriate for us to speculate on the motivations of former employees, it certainly appears that Mr. Faraone’s sources are either mistakenly or intentionally misleading in many instances.

It is not news that media organizations — from the Boston Globe to Boston Neighborhood Network — have faced tough times in recent years adjusting to the digital age and that many have had to cut or realign staffing. It’s also not news that nonprofit organizations have been hit extremely hard by the recent recession and that many have taken big hits on fundraising efforts. Despite this, BNN successfully raised over $2 million in donations to create an award-winning new digital media production facility.

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