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4. Raymond Procunier and Robert H. Schnacke

Turner, William Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

Ray Procunier deserved to be considered a First Amendment villain. He authorized and defended the oppressive California prison censorship rules in Procunier v. Martinez. But he got a chance to redeem himself, and he rose to the occasion.

The occasion was provided by Robert Schnacke, a federal district judge in San Francisco. Schnacke, like so many judges, was a former prosecutor. While a U.S. Attorney, he had even prosecuted a sedition case in the McCarthy era, charging writer John Powell with having accused the U.S. military of using germ warfare in the Korean War. Schnacke was a crusty, conservative Republican known to be hostile to civil liberties cases. But he had a maverick streak as well, perhaps evidenced by his being caught in a noontime police raid of the Market Street Cinema adult theater in the Tenderloin.

Procunier and Schnacke were two curmudgeonly old-timers who found themselves on opposite sides of a very difficult First Amendment issue: whether prison officials can prohibit news organizations from televising executions. No American execution has ever been televised.

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5. Earl Caldwell

Turner, William Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

On June 15, 1969, the New York Times carried a story headlined “Black Panthers Serving Youngsters a Diet of Food and Politics.” It was an inside view of the Black Panther Party’s free breakfast program, and of its revolutionary indoctrination of African American young people in the San Francisco Bay Area. It was full of authentic detail, including the children’s repeating after a Panther leader: “I am a revolutionary; I love Huey P. Newton; I love Eldridge Cleaver; I love Bobby Seale; I love being a revolutionary; I feel good; off the pigs; power to the people.” An observer was quoted as remarking, “Say anything you want, but there is one unmistakable fact: Black Panthers are feeding more kids every day than anyone else in the whole state of California.”

The article was written by Earl Caldwell. It was one of at least 16 Times articles Caldwell wrote that year on the Black Panthers. The Times had hired Caldwell, an African American, because its white reporters had been unable to get access to the Panthers or establish any rapport with them. The Panthers paid no attention to press credentials or customary reporter-source practices. Caldwell was basically the Times emissary to the black radical movement. He had covered riots in several American cities in 1967 and 1968. He was the only reporter actually present at the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis and wrote the Times’s front-page story on it. Caldwell developed relationships with Panther sources and was the only reporter in the Times organization able to do so.

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3. Dannie Martin

Turner, William Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

“I committed bank robbery and they put me in prison, and that was right. Then I committed journalism and they put me in the hole. And that was wrong.” So said Dannie Martin, a convict’s convict. A longtime heroin addict and alcoholic, Martin knew jails inside and out, mostly from the insider’s point of view. Caught red-handed in a bank robbery in a little town in Washington, Martin was sentenced to 33 years in federal prison.

Prison gave Martin plenty of time to complete the education he never got in the “free” world, and he was an avid reader. He started to write, and it turned out that he had a remarkable gift: the ability to write clearheadedly, honestly, and affectingly about life in prison. No self-pity here, no claims of innocence, no macho braggadocio, no prisoner clichès.

In July, 1986, while in the federal prison at Lompoc, California, Martin mailed off to the San Francisco Chronicle an article he wrote on AIDS in prison. It vividly revealed for the public how serious the epidemic was among prisoners. It landed on the desk of Peter Sussman, editor of the Chronicle’s Sunday Punch section. Sussman liked the piece, determined to publish it, added Martin’s byline, and sent a check for $100 as the standard freelancer’s fee. The article ran on Sunday, August 3, 1986, and readers liked it. Martin continued to submit articles, all first-person essays and vignettes of prison life, and Sussman continued to publish them. They covered diverse facets of prison life that captured the imagination of Chronicle readers and made Martin the most popular regular contributor to the Sunday Punch. One of my personal favorites was “Requiem for Mr. Squirrel,” a poignant story of how Martin alleviated boredom and the lack of meaningful relationships by feeding a grateful and friendly squirrel, whom the prison officials soon poisoned.

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9. Clinton Fein and the ACLU

Turner, William Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

Clinton Fein felt betrayed. He thought he had been promised freedom of expression. Instead he got the Communications Decency Act.

Born in South Africa, Fein grew up under Apartheid. As he graduated from the University of Witwatersrand, he was interested in journalism. But the South Africa of the time was not a promising environment for young journalists. Under the repressive censorship regime, one could be imprisoned for quoting Nelson Mandela, who was then in prison for revolutionary activities. Fein emigrated to the United States, studied for citizenship, learned all about the Constitution, and was naturalized in 1994. When he took the oath, he was bemused by the seeming contradiction in having to swear to God to defend a constitution that prohibited any religious coercion. But his primary allegiance, and hope, lay with the First Amendment’s free-speech clause. Then Congress enacted, and President Bill Clinton signed, the Communications Decency Act of 1996. As a result, because his speech was online and subject to the Act, Fein would have had freer speech in South Africa, which by that time was post-Apartheid, than he had in the United States. Fein’s sense of betrayal propelled him to the federal courthouse.

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Contents

Turner, William Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

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