prof. e.

Mass Communication, [multi]media, methodology and much, much more!

Free Speech or Hate Crime?

Posted by prof e on October 29, 2008

Trick or Treaters in West Hollywood, CA may be shocked to find an effigy of Sarah Palin part of the seasonal decorations at the home of Chad Michael Morrisette. A likeness of John McCain is displayed in the chimney surrounded by flames. While some say that it is simply a visual prank, others are calling it a hate crime that should be removed. National media and the blogosphere have begun to take note and according to the LA Times, MSNBC television host Keith Olbermann on Monday gave his “worst person in the world” award to Morrisette.  “This is not the spirit of Halloween, sir,” Olbermann said. “It is the spirit of violence.”

The LA Times story goes on to report on local law enforcement’s reaction. “The sheriff made this clear: This is a country that has freedom of speech, and we protect that right even when we think it’s idiotic and stupid and in bad taste,” said Steve Whitmore, spokesman for the Sheriff’s Department. “If it is nonviolent and doesn’t cause any problems, then they have the right to do it.”

Some have questioned whether a double standard is at work for those who argue that this is simply a free speech issue. To emphasize their point, they question the national response had the effigy been of Obama instead of Palin.

The website includes an online poll asking readers to weigh in on whether the display should be removed. As of Oct 29, respondents to the poll voted 82% in favor of removal of the display. What do you think?

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26 Responses to “Free Speech or Hate Crime?”

  1. Alicia Beaver said

    Honestly, I would be among the 82% in favor of removal of the display. Under the 1st amendment of the Unites States of America Constitution, it states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Clearly, this action is protected under freedom of speech, but I believe that there needs to be a line drawn between what is freedom of speech and what is considered a hate crime. I would agree that this should classify as a hate crime which is “a crime, usually violent, motivated by prejudice or intolerance toward a member of a gender, racial, religious, or social group”. Obviously displaying an effigy of Sara Pailin in a noose is a violent and threatening message. Had the effigy been of Obama instead of Palin, I believe that the media and citizens would have been more concerned of the “harmless Halloween decorations” and tried to press a hate crime conviction.

  2. chris vail said

    This individual has a First Amendment right to hang an effigy of Sarah Palin in his front yard, as the police said. Is it in good taste? Of course not. A person of sound judgement should come to that conclusion. By including Palin in the demonstration, it is considered political speech which has been determined by the Supreme Court to be the United States’ highest form of protected speech. Years ago it could have been considered a crime if it was likely to created a violent crime against Palin due to the effigy. No matter your political affiliation or feelings toward Palin, this individuals actions were unacceptable. We have a right to disagree, and many do with Palin, but that is why we exercise our right to vote this Tuesday to show our dissapproval of a political candidate.

  3. Alex Timmons said

    [Had the effigy been of Obama instead of Palin, I believe that the media and citizens would have been more concerned of the “harmless Halloween decorations” and tried to press a hate crime conviction.]

    This statement is just flat wrong. There are far, far more examples of how ‘citizens’ and ‘the media’ have either directly or indirectly propagated hateful material toward Obama. And in point of fact, Obama could not have called for charges or a ‘conviction’ as you say. His candidacy would only have been negated if he were running as a ‘black candidate’ and that’s why he very artfully ran a campaign for presidency as a man who happens to be black, or biracial as it were.

    When the story of the idiotic white-girl and Mccain campaign volunteer who punched herself in the eye and carved a backward B into her cheek while obviously looking into a mirror was finally proven a hoax, John Mccain had not one word to say. But when the incident was initially reported, Mccain and the right-wing media (Fox news) were the first ones to jump on the bandwagon to express phony horror that an innocent white girl was assaulted by yet another scary annonymous black guy.

    Many people missed another interesting tidbit earlier this summer when Mccain actually gave an apology speech to black people for voting against the Martin Luther King holliday in Arizona. Mccain’s campaign epitomizes the saavy political example of how racism in this country has shifted from a time of explicit hate to a covert style of bigotry. When whites attending a Maccain rally shouted “kill him!” and he said nothing, that was a travesty.

    As far as the campaigns go, there’s no question that the half-dead and brain-dead Mccain/Palin team was willing to use the most incidious and incendiary tactics to deliver their messages this cycle. Their communication style of implicit bigotry and misleading inuendo provided further insight into the modern white-American way of discrete racism. It’s a little early to tell just how well covert narcisism of this form might have worked on the conservative electorate, but my guess is that it did not work as well as the GOP hoped. It did, however, work.

    The ‘media’ is more often guilty of sweeping the necessary discussion of racism and hate under the rug than people acknowledge. So when someone choses to decorate their yard in a distateful manner in a negative depiction of a white candiate, I say oh well. Keith Olberman got it wrong this time and talked himself into a corner; although, I often agree with him. Halloween is nothing if not a violent holliday. Get real people.

  4. ashley solano said

    This act by Chad Michael Morrisette was first of all immoral and second I think it should be a hate crime. Just imagine if a house was decorated in your neighborhood with a replica of your neighbor hanging from a nuse, I personally would feel threatened and offended. I understand if it does not harm anything it can’t be removed but I’d say an act like this affects people not physically but mentally.If things such as slander can be regulated, I would agree that actually showing something with actual replicas of people in life threatening situations should easily be regulated. I’d feel threatened and afraid of what this person might do. Black, white or whatever race doesn’t make a difference the act is still wrong. This guy and everyone who stands behind him is just using Halloween decorations as an excuse. Imagine if that was someone you really knew hanging there you wouldn’t appreciate it.
    ashley solano

  5. Alex Timmons said

    Wow, it never ceases to amaze me at just how opportunistic of an emotion indignation has become. Of all the atrocities being committed in our country, in the world even, and some of you idiots pick this ridiculous example to rail against. From ongoing acts of genocide in Africa, to the purposeful development of suicidal crop seed designed to expire after only a single harvest, to conditions of abject poverty and hunger in places near and far; you freaks have your feelings hurt over some distateful and unpleasant images on Holloween? Give me a break! Intelligent people cannot be this numb and dumb to the far more serious and grave acts of hate and discrimination that continue to take place year after year, decade after decade. I’ll bet you folks don’t even think about how bad others have it unless you’re suddenly prompted by your television set or blog site.

    [[I understand if it does not harm anything it can’t be removed but I’d say an act like this affects people not physically but mentally.If things such as slander can be regulated, I would agree that actually showing something with actual replicas of people in life threatening situations should easily be regulated. I’d feel threatened and afraid of what this person might do. Black, white or whatever race doesn’t make a difference the act is still wrong.]]

    This was done during Halloween people. You know, the holiday when people dress up like monsters and demons and ghosts and serial killers and just about every other kind of character you can imagine. If this isn’t the holiday for displaying unintended acts of violence, then what the hell is it? I’ll grant you this: If someone hung a doll dressed like Palin from a tree or dressed a dummy that looked like Mccain in devil garb on any other day except Halloween, you might have an argument — barely.

    Obviously, none of you who are crying foul about this retarded example of hate have anything useful to say about the more drastic examples mentioned above nor even the blatant examples of prejudice evidenced in our recent presidential election, which demonstrates that you are most likely blind to what is happening in the larger world. What’s more, your assessment of Chad Michael Morrisette’s lame Halloween joke has no grounding in reality.

    You cannot stick your heads in the sand like a bunch of ostriches and pull them out only when it’s convenient. You cannot legislate your way into a false sense of security in this scary and unfair world, and you cannot protect yourself from all of the perplexing ideas people you may or may not agree with have.

    If your going to pick a cause, pick one with a little more meat and substance. Otherwise, your frail souls might starve to death.

  6. Nader Omar said

    Alex Timmons: “some of you idiots”

    I’d advise for you to calm down. I’m definitely not an alien to online posting as I do so frequently and I am aware that your form of typing isn’t very rare. Even so I’m sure that people don’t appreciate your tone (especially calling them “idiots” over a mere opinion).

    “This statement is just flat wrong. There are far, far more examples of how ‘citizens’ and ‘the media’ have either directly or indirectly propagated hateful material toward Obama. And in point of fact, Obama could not have called for charges or a ‘conviction’ as you say. His candidacy would only have been negated if he were running as a ‘black candidate’ and that’s why he very artfully ran a campaign for presidency as a man who happens to be black, or biracial as it were.”

    Very true. I’m sure I do not need to bring up some of the McCain Supporters during some rallys. But it would be easier to watch the video Sam posted. It starts off with them just barely covering how a skinhead tried to assassinate Obama in like 2 or 3 sentences at most then they go onto this? WTF?

    While I very much agree with the majority of this part of your post the topic at hand is whether or not the display should be taken down. I think what disturbs a share amount of people is that Sarah Palin is an actual (well known) person and politician and some may find the decoration(s)too extreme for one reason or another.

    To give my opinion on this well…this is news? I mean this seems more like something that would be the “talk of the town” at most. But national news? WTF? Why do I care about this? Why would I need to know about this? It’s a Halloween decoration. Do they have to take it down? Of course not, it’s their house they are representing. I mean I guess you can look at that angle of “OMG those people are really extreme” but seriously its Halloween.

    Here’s my theory of how this plan came to be.

    Guy 1: “Hey you know what would be funny?”

    Guy 2: “What?”

    Guy 1: “If we like included McCain and Palin in our decorations.”

    Guy 2: “Awesome what should we do?”

    Guy 1: “We should hang Palin with a noose and light McCain on fire!”

    Guys 2: “Awesome I’ll go get the stuff you decorate!”

    So could someone explain to me how the hell is this more news worthy then an assassination attempt on Obama? I mean that could have (present time would have) changed the fate of the country or possibly the world. But a Halloween joke is more newsworthy? Give me a break.

    Also something that caught my eye from the video was this:

    Interviewer: “If the person on the noose was Barrack Obama what would you do?”

    Lady: “I’d burn the house down.”

    Interviewer: “Isn’t that a double standard.”

    Lady: “Yeah *laugh* it’s pretty much the definition of a double standard.”

    Now it is obvious by the way she talked that she was nervous and didn’t want to go into conversation. But no that wouldn’t be double standard at all. If you hung Barrack then it could symbolize something else. While one could easily assume that it still crosses the same lines of the Palin case others would think other of it and that would definitely go in the line of offensive and would paint a bad picture for the community. I know you could say the same with the current Palin on the noose but not as strongly nor in the same light.

    Nader Omar —MCM 101

  7. Nader Omar said

    Ugh I can’t edit posts? Okay well I’ll just put down what I was going to correct.

    |While I very much agree with the majority of this part of your post the topic at hand is whether or not the display should be taken down. I think what disturbs a share amount of people is that Sarah Palin is an actual (well known) person and politician and some may find the decoration(s)too extreme for one reason or another.|

    ^^^That part goes with my first paragraph.

    |But it would be easier to watch the video Sam posted. It starts off with them just barely covering how a skinhead tried to assassinate Obama in like 2 or 3 sentences at most then they go onto this? WTF?|

    This is in relation to how the media ignores negative factors that support Obama (not the best wording but I’m currently in a hurry, sorry)

    Nader Omar —MCM 101

  8. Alex Timmons said

    Mr. Omar, thanks for weighing in. However, while many of your posts exude a sense of level headedness and fairness, I find your insights to be too sedate and mediocre for my taste. If professor Ebersole thinks my criticism too harsh, he’ll quickly delete my post. That said, you plainly have talent and stick out from your cohort.

    I am not an eloquent writer, nor do I care to be. If anything, I strive to be brutally honest in my posts – not “correct”. You can call it what you will, but recognize that antagonism serves a direct purpose. I intentionally criticize harshly because I myself am very thick headed and need a good butt-kickin ever so often. I prefer the sword approach, so you can keep the feather.

    [[I’d advise for you to calm down. I’m definitely not an alien to online posting as I do so frequently and I am aware that your form of typing isn’t very rare. Even so I’m sure that people don’t appreciate your tone (especially calling them “idiots” over a mere opinion).]]

    You’re right, my ‘form of typing’ isn’t rare, but in what way is yours? little of what you have to say is very poignant or even intelligible at times. You’re too pacifistic. Perhaps I’m over-passionate.

    I have a particularly thick skin, as I am fully aware of and responsible for my own shortcommings as a student. I can handle criticism not because I enjoy it, but because my sense of self-honesty demands it. Too many students, in my view, allow themselves to be coddled throughout their education. I welcome a good rhettorical fight and will use the entire available lexicon afforded to me by the American language and freedom of speech. Challenge my views, challenge my character.
    Bring it!

  9. Nader Omar said

    “Challenge my views, challenge my character.
    Bring it!”

    Well that is the point of an argument isn’t it? 😛

    “You’re right, my ‘form of typing’ isn’t rare, but in what way is yours? little of what you have to say is very poignant or even intelligible at times. You’re too pacifistic. Perhaps I’m over-passionate.”

    I simply post of what I am currently thinking of the subject at hand. To me when I post I am simply talking to people therefore I type that way. It seems by comparison your one more likely to count your change, check all your bags, and tuck away all your recites before leaving the store. Meaning that you are sure to firmly establish all your thoughts and points of the topic at hand in one post.

    I’m not trying to offend just trying to advise you that some may take your posts a little too seriously and end up replying in an unsatisfactory manner.

    Nader Omar —MCM 101

  10. Alex Timmons said

    I wasn’t offended in the least. I too post my views on the given subject, and I try to dig at a larger, encompassing truth — though often missing the mark I’ll admit. Many posts, however, are often too concise to be meaningful or even useful. Noam Chomsky would argue that concision is more often an enemy to discourse and debate. Examples of this abound in posts from students who clearly do not think broadly about the concepts they address. What you end up with is, in effect, the statements of stupid people who refuse to acknowledge just how stupid they really are.

    Regardless of how you perceive the tone of my postings, I am aware of just how stupid I am, and my embarrassment toward this stupidity forces me to deal bluntly with those innefficiencies.

    Again, call it what you will. But some of the issues presented by Sam in this blog are very serious indeed and deserve far more contemplation than what is usually expended by some of the ‘thinkers’ in your cohort.

  11. Nader Omar said

    Ahh. I think I understand now Alex.

  12. Amanda Casey said

    I believe that the Halloween decorations of Sarah Palin and John McCain should be considered a hate crime, “Any of various crimes (as assault or defacement of property) when motivated by hostility to the victim as a member of a group (as one based on color, creed, gender, or sexual orientation).” I would consider my self among the 82% of people who say the decorations should be removed. Even though some may say this is an act of freedom of speech, i believe that it could still lead to violent acts. There are better ways to express the way you feel about a politician. I doubt parents want their children, who are more than half of the tricker treaters on Halloween night, to be exposed to such vulgar decorations.

  13. Megan Kane said

    Okay, I understand that the home owner does not favor the republican candidates but this is just flat out tasteless and wrong. We all have free speech under the 1st amendment and it is our right to exercise it in America but actions like this make a person look stupid, not politically concerned.

    In a point in the blog the point is brought up that “Some have questioned whether a double standard is at work for those who argue that this is simply a free speech issue. To emphasize their point, they question the national response had the effigy been of Obama instead of Palin.” It is an interesting point and very valid. If this would have been Obama instead of Palin the country would have been in an uproar. I think there are still a lot of double standards in society when it comes to race, politics and how we relate to people in general.
    I am writing this comment from a different perspective than the comments before me because I know the outcome of the election. Reading back on this blog I hope that in the future the 1st amendment will be used tactfully, not ignorantly.

  14. David Laird MCCNM 101 said

    I would remove the display as well, not because I want to limit free speech, but because I’m not a real big fan of saying would should burn someone because they are a public figure that someone may or may not like. People have taken elections and celebrity violence of this kind too far. Broadcasters can only mention this as news, but taking a side on this subject could cause them to lose their job or at least lose listener ship by not appealing to all audiences.

  15. George Morant said

    This is one of the most wasted stories for actual news around the world, but i must say it was a stupid hateful way to present their beliefs.I am certanily with Obermann and the masses to take it down, but it shouldn’t go any further than that.i also belive that if this was Obama and Biden that it would be still talk about today, so lets thank god that it wasnt’t because politics are only good for a limited amount of time.

  16. Brandon Dazzo said

    Brandon Dazzo
    MCCNM 101
    Blog Discussion

    Free Speech vs. Hate Crime

    The issue concerning free speech and hate speech is a very fine line. As we discussed in class, it is clear that the 1st amendment protects the freedom of speech, and hate speech, libel/slander, and obscenities are very difficult to distinguish when say it goes to far. In this case, it is being discussed if the figure of Palin and McCain should be removed from the house, left to stay, and if it would be any different if it was of Obama. At this person’s particular house on Halloween, it is clear that they are testing the freedom of speech by having a figure of Palin on their doorstep, and McCain against the chimney with lights around him that makes it look like fire. So far, police are saying that this is fine because it is not causing a clear and present danger to citizens. However, we can observe that the county does not find it appropriate. The question was then asked if the figures would have been of Obama if that would have changed the public’s reaction. A poll was taken by those online if they thought this was uncalled for and if it should be removed. 82% of people said they felt it should be removed. I find this very neat when the majority of the population voted for Obama and yet the majority still feel that this is wrong.

  17. Jeremy Romero said

    I think people are making too big of deal about this. It was done on Halloween and I think that makes it okay. However if they put someone else in the nuse such as, Barack Obama, I think that people would consider it to be a hate crime. They would consider it to be lynching because Obama is black. It would be a much bigger story if that would have happened. I think no matter who was in the nuse or burning in the chimeny, it was all in fun because they were just decorations for Halloween as opposed to it being put up in the middle of June.

  18. Brittany said

    Absolutely this is a hate crime. It’s too personal with someone looking like MCcain and Palin..not even them and some random person.. He has a right to free speech unless it is hateful or unlawful. But putting up Halloween decorations is not free speech.It is a nonverbal act. Where do we draw the line? And absolutely if it was Obama it would be a hate crime, people would freak out so why is it even questionable that it is a hate crime for one person but not another? The person who put up those decorations can go door to door and say McCain sucks if he wants but he should remove the decorations out of respect.

  19. Adrianna Fernandez said

    Even if most of us do not approve of this the fact remains that the person whop put this up is protected by the first amendment. As much as it makes me mad it is amazing to see how far people stretch their rights! I mean where exactly do we draw the line for what is acceptable and what is not?

  20. JDraper said

    I agree entirely that this person has terrible taste, and what he did in unacceptable. I also agree that there should be no question if this is a hate crime. Of course it is! Make Palin any sort of minority (other than female), and he would be on his way to jail. He would be receiving death threats and all sorts of negative feedback. Why then, is it a possibility for this to be acceptable? Just because Palin and McCain are white should not make this any more excuseable. It makes me sick that people are even questioning the concept.

  21. Allyson said

    This whole act is just another “spirit of halloween”. Even though i believe it’s 101% wrong and disturbing…it’s still in the spirit. Halloween is celebrated by blood, knives, horror, and murder; so what’s the difference between what this man did and halloween? if that was obama, it would have been a story all over the world…the man would have probably been claimed a racist and been sued. it’s jsut all stupid. i believe it’s wrong, yes, but we tend to pick and choose out stories, which are important and why. Im sorry, but this was done protected by law. You want to cause an uproar? Then Barack Obama would have been the one on the nuse..it would have been so much bigger. but hate is hate. we will never escape it.

  22. Lindsay Wolking said

    Hate crime? Well this citizen may have been just peacefully putting up halloween decorations. Do we draw attention to scarecrows in a nuse hung from a house? of course not, the scarecrow does not depict a real person. I believe that if he had hung Obama instead of Palin he would have been forced to move it and been charged with a hate crime. yes, we do need to be sensitive as the African Americans were not treated right 100+ years ago and it took us a long time as a nation to recover from that. Yes, I do believe that the homeowner should have taken this down.

  23. Corinne Meyerson said

    As tasteless as what Chad Michael Morisette did, he unfortuneatley has every right. This is a free country remember, and it’s something that I think every American is proud of. Yes, sometimes people will take that freedom to the ultimate limit and do so in a rude and ill-mannered way but we will just have to deal with it and try to ignore them as they are entitled to their own beliefs and opinions. I’m sure Mr. Morisette will get what he deserves as I’m thinking his neighbors won’t extend too many more dinner party invitations his way.

  24. John Young said

    Yes, I believe this is a hate crime, and Yes, I believe It should be taken down. Although I do agree that people should express themselves however they see fit. When you google the house It appears that the two figures account for the majority of the houses decor. I believe if they wanted to put this up for halloween they would have a better argument if they had combined it with other halloween stuff. I just think it is obnoxious that this became a national issue with so manny other things going on in the world.

  25. Deandra said

    Yes, Chad Morisette has the right to put this display in his yard. Is it moral or ethical? No. But is it legal? Hell yeah. I know that I personally do not find it in good taste. At all. But people are people and I’m sure to them, this was just a huge joke. They probably can’t believe they got on tv for it. Because it’s ridiculous with how many seemingly more important things going on in the world that THIS got on tv. Oh well…

  26. Brad Dick said

    I feel the display of Sarah Palin that Chad Michael Morrisette had at his home was absolutely atrocious. The fact that Keith Olbermann, a strong and vocal liberal, said that this display is wrong, shocked me. And there is an obvious double standard concerning this event. If I were to hang an Obama manikin with a noose around his neck on the front of my house, people would be calling for my execution. However, I do agree with Officer Steve Whitmore, “If it is nonviolent and doesn’t cause any problems, then they have the right to do it.” In this case, the display should be protected by our First Amendment right. The event did not cause any violence and is simply an exercise of Morrisette’s freedom of speech. Although the act was very low class and horrific, he should have the right to express his opinion.

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