[sidebar] The Boston Phoenix
August 10 - 17, 2000


Conservative tactics

Joseph Lieberman is no friend to advocates of free speech. Plus, Providence police get out of line, and a new plan for Fenway Park.

camera With the selection of Connecticut senator Joseph Lieberman as his running mate, Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore has assembled a ticket even more moderate than the one he created in 1992 with Bill Clinton.

It goes almost without saying that the conservative Democratic ticket is a far better choice for Americans than the reactionary one assembled by the Republicans. After all, who do you want picking the next four Supreme Court justices -- Al Gore or George W. Bush? But Lieberman's conservative values should give even the most practical liberals pause. This past May, for example, Lieberman teamed up with Republican senator John McCain to file a bill that called for video games to be banned from the marketplace unless the game industry started using a ratings system to warn consumers of violent content.

Also in May, he joined McCain, Republican Sam Brownback, and Democrat Robert Byrd in another moral crusade: the four senators sent a strongly worded letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) asking whether broadcasters were meeting their obligation to provide beneficial programming for the nation. They also called on the FCC to revisit the way broadcast licenses are renewed -- which could be read as a thinly veiled threat to the industry -- and study whether guidelines about sexual and violent content could be imposed on broadcasters.

Last year, Lieberman even allied himself with Bill Bennett, the self-appointed arbiter of cultural taste, in giving out a "Silver Sewer" award to media mogul Rupert Murdoch for Murdoch's raunchy Fox TV shows Get Real and Action. Lieberman is no reactionary -- he's pro-gay, and in 1999 he voted with the liberal Americans for Democratic Action 95 percent of the time and with the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League 100 percent of the time. But his impulse to speak out against cultural elements that offend his sensibilities -- even to use his position in the United States Senate to threaten censorship, however subtly -- should worry civil libertarians of every political stripe.

Playing the faith card
and Some tough questions might dent Lieberman's halo

Relations between the media and the police are usually strained. It's not hard to see why: one side feels it's never getting the full story, while the other feels it's constantly being misrepresented. In Providence this past weekend, the police department violated its relationship with that city's media in a way that will take years to recover from.

In a move that can only be described as breathtakingly stupid, officers roughed up a news photographer who had snapped photos of the man who shot four people during a Puerto Rican festival on Sunday. This photographer, mind you, had sought out an officer immediately after the commotion died down to tell him that she thought she had a photo of the suspect, and had asked him to meet her at the paper's offices so she could give him copies.

According to a report published Tuesday in the Providence Journal, the officer radioed his supervisor for guidance as he drove to the newspaper's offices. The supervisor ordered him to seize the camera and film as evidence. When the photographer, Rachel Ritchie, arrived at the Journal with the officer, the officer said he wanted the film. Ritchie tried to enter the building but was restrained by the officer, who used his shoulder radio to call his supervisor. About half a dozen police cars answered the call. As the argument heated up, someone twisted Ritchie's arm behind her back and pushed her to the ground. Officers then walked her over to a patrol car, where they took her cameras and film and drove her to the police station -- though she had done nothing wrong and was not under arrest.

At the police station, another supervisor showed the second sign of common sense that day (the first, of course, being Ritchie's offer to share her photos with the police) and ordered Ritchie's gear returned to her. In the end, Ritchie did what she originally agreed to do: give the police the photographs they needed.

The disturbing episode was a gross exercise of police power that displayed an institutional mean streak and an insensitivity toward the Constitution. At minimum, the Providence Police Department should educate its employees about the law: you can't take what isn't yours -- even if you're a cop.

This week, the Fenway Community Development Corporation unveiled designs for a new Fenway Park that would sit in the footprint of the old park (see "Field of Dreams," This Just In). Designed primarily by architect Philip Bess, who is working with the Florida Marlins on their new park, each plan is well thought out, creative, and workable. The models, which will be on display for the public tonight and tomorrow from 6 to 8 p.m. at Simmons College (300 The Fenway, Room L308), show just how forced and artificial the process of moving toward a new Fenway Park has been.

At the same time, CDC advocates have proposed turning the park into a national landmark district. This would still allow for development of the park, but would make it eligible for federal tax subsidies -- possibly as much as 20 percent. Surely this is one of the more creative financing schemes we've heard to date. So how come it took a community organization to coordinate these ideas? How come the political "leaders" who pushed through financing for the Sox' plan never demanded to see alternative ideas? The designs currently on display in the Fenway expose the process by which the Sox gained approval for their plan for what it was: a diabolical sham orchestrated by politicos operating outside the public's best interests.

What do you think? Send an e-mail to letters[a]phx.com.