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Bush, Defense Department win 'Muzzle' awards

The Bush administration and the Defense Department are among the winners of the 2007 Jefferson Muzzle awards, given Tuesday by a free-speech group to those it considers the most egregious First Amendment violators in the past year.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The Bush administration and the Defense Department are among the winners of the 2007 Jefferson Muzzle awards, given Tuesday by a free-speech group to those it considers the most egregious First Amendment violators in the past year.

The Bush administration appears on the list, compiled by the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression, for its efforts to discourage, modify and sometimes censor government scientists’ reports and studies to be more in line with the administration’s political policies, notably on global warming, the center said.

“The number of major scientists who have come forward and indicated they were constrained by the administration viewpoint is quite worrisome,” center director Robert M. O’Neil told The Associated Press. “There have been similar concerns arising in other areas but we wanted to focus specifically on climate change as the most invaded or intruded area.”

The Defense Department won a Muzzle for its covert investigations of organizations that conducted peaceful anti-war protests, most of which were against military recruitment for the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the center said. Created in 2003, TALON (Threat and Local Observation Notice) also monitored e-mail messages among members of anti-war groups. Its activities were uncovered last year after the American Civil Liberties Union filed numerous Freedom of Information Act requests.

“We recognize that our government appropriately gathers information,” O’Neil said. “Anything related to genuine terrorist activity is of legitimate concern, but we’re troubled when it extends to innocuous groups that oppose the war.”

Cooney testimony on climate report cited
In citing the Bush administration, the free-speech center noted testimony from Philip Cooney, the former chief of staff for the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Cooney publicly answered questions before the House Government Reform Committee about 181 changes he made to three government climate reports, and defended many of the changes.

Questions were raised about Cooney’s qualifications, including that he was an oil-industry lobbyist before working for the Bush administration. He left in 2005 to work for Exxon Mobil Corp.

Other winners of the 16th annual awards include the Ohio General Assembly for enacting a state-level version of the Patriot Act, which requires state job applicants to answer a six-question survey about potential terrorist activity or affiliation; and U.S. Rep. Pete King, R-N.Y., for calling for a criminal espionage investigation of The New York Times because of its stories about the federal government’s surveillance of international financial transactions.

The targeting of “a newspaper that truthfully brings to light an information-gathering or -seeking program, to me, is frightening,” O’Neil said. “The Times (held the story) for a year to make sure it was accurate and assess the potential impact. Rep. King never acknowledged any of these mitigating circumstances; he just charged right in.”

The Charlottesville, Va., center awards the Muzzles annually to mark the April 13 birthday of its namesake, the third president and free-speech advocate.

NCAA also gets a Muzzle
A Muzzle also went to the National Collegiate Athletic Association for its “politically correct and arbitrary policy” on athletic team logos. The NCAA allowed the College of William and Mary to keep its “Tribe” nickname, but required it to remove the two feathers from its logo. At the same time, Florida State University was allowed to retain its war-painted Seminole mascot, largely because the Seminole Tribe supports the school’s use of its name and symbols.

“What’s problematic is that it differentiates based on acquiescence that can be obtained from some tribes and penalizes those that don’t have identifiable tribes,” O’Neil said.

Other Muzzle winners included Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher, for blocking access to some liberal-leaning Web sites from state-owned computers while permitting access to conservative Web sites; the Maine Bureau of Liquor Enforcement, for banning the sale of three specialty beers because they had labels depicting bare-breasted women and a label showing Santa Claus drinking; and Florida’s Miami-Dade County Public School Board for banning the children’s picture book “A Visit to Cuba” from school libraries after a parent complained that the book was insufficiently critical of life in the communist nation.