Soldotna man, 12 others get dubious 'Muzzle' recognition

Posted: Wednesday, April 14, 2004

RICHMOND, Va. CBS Television, which passed on the miniseries ''The Reagans'' amid conservative pressure, and the Martha Stewart trial judge are among this year's winners of the dubious Jefferson Muzzle awards for suppression of free speech.

Fishing guide Jeff Webster of Soldotna won an award for using physical violence against people who publicly protested the war in Iraq. A federal judge and the Secret Service also earned ''muzzles'' awarded Tuesday.

CBS was cited ''for acts of self-censorship demonstrating both hypocrisy and an unwillingness to stand up to public and political pressure,'' the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protec-tion of Free Expression said in a statement.

CBS also refused to air a 30-second commercial from Move, a group critical of the Bush administration, during the Super Bowl, while it allowed erectile dysfunction commercials and the halftime show featuring Janet Jackson's bared breast, it said.

Other muzzles recipients announced in the 13th annual edition of the awards include Baseball Hall of Fame President Dale Petroskey, who canceled a 15th anniversary showing of ''Bull Durham'' because of opposition to the Iraq war by its stars, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins.

''Although the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, and more recently the war in Iraq have created new pressures on free speech, an examination of this year's and previous Jefferson Muzzle winners reveals that threats to free expression come from all over the political spectrum,'' said Robert M. O'Neil, director of the center.

The autonomous, not-for-profit center is associated with the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Its trustees include Judith G. Clabes, president of the Scripps Howard Foundation, columnist James J. Kilpatrick, and Evan Thomas, assistant managing editor of Newsweek.

Each year, the muzzle awards are handed out on the birthday of Thomas Jefferson. Recipients receive a T-shirt that depicts the nation's third president and First Amendment advocate with a muzzle.

U.S. District Judge Miriam G. Cedarbaum received a muzzle for barring reporters from jury selection in the Martha Stewart trial. An appeals court later said she erred, but by that time jury selection had been completed.

Webster dumped cold water on anti-war protesters in March 2003. Webster was the father of a Marine serving in Iraq. The protesters, mostly women, included 82-year-old Billie Dailey and several pacifist Quakers. They declined to press charges.

Despite receiving a warning from police, Webster did it again a week later. He later distributed a video of the event set to patriotic music by e-mail. He was charged after the second incident.

Webster was convicted of three misdemeanor counts of harassment and violating constitutional rights and was sentenced to 320 hours of community service.

The Secret Service was cited for investigating whether Pul-itzer Prize-winning cartoonist Michael Ramirez of the Los Angeles Times could be charged with ''threatening the life'' of President Bush for a cartoon depicting a man pointing a gun at Bush.

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