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Freedom of Speech Knows No Geographic Boundaries: Strange Behavior at the Black Cow

August 9, 2007

Our Mayor makes no secret of his antipathy to Crotonblog for exercising its right of freedom of speech in criticizing him and his administration. A disturbing incident that occurred as recently as Sunday, July 29th, in the Black Cow coffee house bears close scrutiny.

We have it on reliable authority—from a person who was very much present when the incident occurred—that Mayor Greg Schmidt, speaking in a very loud voice and obviously agitated, “accused Crotonblog and other blogs of leading to the demise of society.” In high dudgeon, the Mayor added, “Crotonblog was tearing up the social fabric of Croton and ruining people’s lives with libelous statements.” According to our informant, “the Mayor was very loud and fast-talking, and people were staring at him. He continued to yell … even as he was leaving and the door was closed and [he] was walking to his car in the parking lot.”

It ill behooves our politically ambitious Mayor, who refuses to acknowledge Crotonblog’s questions and who does not respond to e-mail messages sent to him, to pretend to be a judge of the effect of blogs and other technological advances upon our society. We would also remind the Mayor that the First Amendment is still in force in the Constitution, although one of his supporters has made the extraordinary suggestion that it does not apply to small-town politics.

In a comment to the latest Croton Follies, the seventh in a satirical series, attorney Seth Davis suggested that the First Amendment does not apply in a small village of 7,000 souls. He has made an extraordinary demand—a demand that Crotonblog summarily rejects: Because Croton officials live and work locally, Mr. Davis says that critical comments should not be made about their actions or pronouncement simply to spare their feelings. Is he suggesting that criticism of Mayor Schmidt would be acceptable if he were employed in the city at, say, J.P. Morgan Chase, but that he should be immune to criticism because he is a local chiropractor? Or that Chappaqua residents cannot criticize Bill or Hillary Clinton because they are neighbors and occasionally shop locally?

Crotonblog suggests that the next time the Mayor is pledging allegiance to the flag he should glance to his right at the framed artwork displayed on the wall. It is a copy of Norman Rockwell’s painting from the cover of the Saturday Evening Post of February 20, 1943, exemplifying one of America’s great freedoms, freedom of speech, then under attack by Germany and Japan. We suggest that Mr. Davis as well could also profitably study its message, especially since it was his son at whom the Mayor’s irresponsible and vituperative tirade was directed with the intention of intimidating him.

Crotonblog has no intention of allowing itself to be intimidated or muzzled by any local small-time politician, regardless of where they live or what manner of work they engage in. Any society that would give up even a small measure of its ability to speak freely to spare a politician’s feelings deserves the government it gets as a result.

See also:

On August 11, 2007 10:48 AM, dors said:

Seth, don’t make like a banana and split :-) You know you can’t leave, anyway. It’s too much fun commenting on people’s inane views toward life in our little town. Stay and be part of the wild, wacky world of the Crotonblog. Besides you don’t want to be like our mayor peeking but not posting. Throw your hat back in….we’ll gladly take you back; no questions asked. You’re bigger than an editorial. Let everyone have their say and let the chips will fall where they may. All part of free speech. (Welcome back-lol)

On August 10, 2007 4:47 PM, waffels said:

Sorry Seth, you sound like a bruised blogger and that is shocking…you….seth davis..the comeback king…..you are acting like an immature kid and I think you are setting a horrble example for your very outspoken, fun to have around son…….and you are fun also dammit so cut it out……this is what blogging is all about, let the sh*t fly and have fun doing it….come back on with some great pseudonym, we’ll know it’s you but who gives a crap, this is fun and you should be here…….

On August 10, 2007 12:39 PM, TeaDrinker said:

Apropos bojangles charge that Crotonblog censors comments, we only become aware that a comment has been made after it appears on Crotonblog. We reiterate for the benefit of all readers that we do not censor comments.

On August 10, 2007 11:41 AM, bojangles said:

Seth Please don’t leave. It would be distinct loss. The lessons to learn from this debate are that variety, diversity, and frankness are necessary for honest and open communications.

And by the way, Crotonblog —— why is it ok for you to “censor” people and comments but not ok for individuals to do the same?

On August 10, 2007 11:31 AM, Seth Davis said:

I think we know where we stand.

I despised the Republican tactics in the last election—but I do not think that fighting fire with fire is the way to overcome this problem.

And I will indeed exercise my privilege and cease using this site. Maybe your Paraguayan friends can come up with some ideas to help our Village.

Goodbye.

On August 10, 2007 10:27 AM, TeaDrinker said:

Crotonblog does not usually engage in a running exchange with readers, but we do so here because we feel Mr. Davis should be disabused of some dangerous misconceptions about Crotonblog as evidenced by his recent comment.

Okay, we’ll concede that Mr. Davis is a paragon of civic virtue who has long labored in the vineyards of freedom of expression, but that does not give him the right to censor Crotonblog nor to dictate its standards of editorial conduct. We beg to differ with Mr. Davis on several issues. We simply don’t recognize the Oz-like village Mr. Davis inhabits along with Miss Goody Two Shoes. If he thinks the tactics used by Republicans during the last election (including spreading the false rumor that Ann Gallelli had arranged for the Public Works Department to plow her driveway and the wholesale hijacking of village board meetings) are examples of good neighborliness, then Mr. Davis has another think coming.

Unfortunately for Mr. Davis, Crotonblog is not the narrow conduit of benign and neighborly back-fence chatter he envisions it as being. Because of its wide-ranging content, including the popular Postscripts feature, it has acquired a regular readership in every continent on the planet, including some places as unexpected as China, Turkey, Paraguay and the Fiji Islands.

We were not aware that a good-taste yardstick was applicable to the first amendment. We would remind Mr. Davis that the courts have ruled—as distasteful as these acts were—that Larry Flynt had the right to publish a parody of an advertisement claiming the Reverend Jerry Falwell had his first sexual experience with his mother in an outhouse or that skinhead neo-Nazis have the right to stage public demonstrations in the streets of this republic.

Mr. Davis also naively insists that he will neither acknowledge nor respond to anonymous comments posted on Crotonblog. That’s his privilege, of course, but anonymity is a way of life in the hazardous jungle the Internet has become and for very good reasons, chiefly relating to personal security. In his attitude (and this applies to all readers who insist on identifying themselves publicly in foolish acts of empty bravado), he is being smugly and self-righteously virtuous, and thus ripe for the plucking.

To sum up: Crotonblog cannot and will not trim its editorial sails to fit Mr. Davis’s narrow and archaic concept of what its role should be in both Croton and the world. If Mr. Davis is as unhappy with Crotonblog’s editorial policy or content as he seems to be, he can exercise his constitutional right not to log on. If he does so, both he and we will both lose the benefit of such exchanges, however out of step with wisdom or reality his attitudes may be. We urge Mr. Davis, however, to stay long enough to read our forthcoming three-part series on the uses of anonymity.

On August 10, 2007 1:23 AM, Liam Cotter said:

Personally I do think the man has a right to defend himself BUT such a public outburst is quite frankly ludicrous.

On August 9, 2007 7:04 PM, TeaDrinker said:

Correction: Mr. Davis is correct in asserting that the exchange between Mayor Schmidt and his son Kevin did not take place on Sunday, July 29, 2007. In fact, it occurred on Monday, July 30, 2007.

On August 9, 2007 6:56 PM, Seth Davis said:

One clarification.

When I said “give me a reason to stay” I meant to stay active in Crotonblog. Tomorrow marks the 52nd anniversary of my moving to Croton and I have every reason to stay here.

On August 9, 2007 6:49 PM, Seth Davis said:

Whoa, there. Settle down. And go back and reread what I wrote.

First of all, I am not a supporter of Mayor Schmidt. I haven’t supported him since (I think) 1989.

Secondly, you are in no position to lecture me about the First Amendment. I have litigated the First Amendment. On behalf of the press, in fact. I know the First Amendment. The First Amendment is my friend. And you are misinterpreting the First Amendment.

Freedom of speech is not unfettered. There are boundaries. Of decency, common courtesy, and taste. And just because saying something is not unlawful does not mean it’s acceptable.

Critical comments are fine. Sarcastic, annoying comments about personal habits or appearances are not. I never said, or suggested, that critical comments about village officials actions or pronouncements were taboo. But personal insults are. Freedom of speech, or of the press, does not mean you can level personal insults at your neighbors. And in this village, everybody is your neighbor.

The sillier you get, the further you bury the message you should be delivering. Greg Schmidt is not a good mayor, and his administration is making some very serious mistakes. But, his tirade at my son notwithstanding, he is a good neighbor.

I am not criticizing you as an editor. I am criticizing you as a neighbor. And I am criticizing you from the perspective of one who has gotten up on that dais, who has sat there at meetings lasting past midnight, who has been sued, heckled and God knows what else. This village can be vicious, and we need to make it less so, not more.

When you started this blog I thought we’d have, at last, an alternative to the incompetence of the Gazette and the vitriol of the gang at the mike at citizens participation. But alas, you have disappointed me. Please think about what this blog can be, and think about what it means to live in a community like this. Give me a reason to stay.

And, by the way, you’ve got your dates wrong. On July 29 Kevin and I were at Yankee Stadium and we have 55,000 close friends who will swear to it.

On August 9, 2007 5:45 PM, bojangles said:

Will the real Mayor Schmidtt please stand up? Does he or doesn’t he read the Crotonblog?



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