He's got them fired by the no-good, low-down, parasite-on-society's ass mass-media blues

>> Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Things I learned today: today I learned that a man I'd never heard of was fired by his employer for writing a blog.

This isn't an unheard of story. In fact, this kind of thing has happened before. What is unusual, and interesting, is that the blogger in question is a 16-year television veteran and his employer was CNN.

Now, at this point a lot of people would talk about freedom of speech. And I suppose I'll end up mentioning it too, but there is something fairly crucial that needs to be said up front. CNN firing this guy isn't a First Amendment issue. The First Amendment prevents state actors--specifically the Federal government--from restraining your freedom to express yourself. Technically speaking, the First Amendment doesn't keep any of the fifty States from restricting speech, or at least it didn't used to: the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution is now understood to apply the Bill Of Rights to the States through the Due Process clause:

No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
Unless you happen to work for the government, your employer can attempt to censor you in all sorts of ways and fire you for noncompliance with company policies that affect your ability to say what you'd like. Your employer can, for instance, fire you for saying nasty things about the company or for leaking the company's trade secrets. (It might be noted as an aside that things can get complicated even if you're a government employee, depending on whether your employed directly, at-will, under contract, or as a member of the armed forces.)

Contrary to what some folks believe, you're also not entitled to First Amendment protections when it comes to private forums: of course the moderator of a blog can delete your witty and clever post. Of course the owner of that house can tear your flier off the tree in his yard. No, the newspaper isn't obligated to print your letter to the editor in full, or at all.

But I digress. The point was that CNN is almost certainly within their rights to fire someone because they don't like what he says at home. Unless the employee's contract specifies otherwise, or the employee is covered by some other legal protection (e.g. a whistleblower statute).

That said, it's more than a little ironic when the press decides to fire someone who expresses controversial opinions outside of work without referencing his employer or claiming to represent the company with his opinions. I don't know if any of you have had the, ahem, "pleasure" of dealing with the press. Never will you find a group of people who feel more entitled to say and do whatever the hell it is they want without regard for any other human consideration, running to hide beneath the skirts of a Constitution they haven't read and hardly understand to hide whenever someone dares to challenge their sacrosanct right to sandwich gossip, tragedy, scandal and humiliation between advertisements for hygiene products and car dealerships. And heaven help you if you think they're going to report on something significant to the Republic like liars in the executive branch and pandering incompetent tools in the legislative branch when there are dead models and wasted pop singers visiting the halls of the judiciary.

Because the public has a right to know, even if it endangers someone's right to a fair trial or humiliates someone who might have expected a moment of privacy in their shame. (No specific Amendment to cite there--I'm a penumbra of rights kind of guy, myself, I'd cite them all right there.)

No, CNN didn't violate anyone's rights. But it was the bad form one might expect from a bunch of whiny losers who spend most of their time failing to justify their existence.

I don't have cable, so I guess there's no sense in saying I'll boycott CNN. Hey, CNN, I'm still not watching you, so there! (And I suppose I might have to visit their site for news sometime--I'm not going to cut my nose to spite my face--damn them!) But I did go take a look at the former CNN employee's blog, and it looked kinda neat and I added it to my RSS reader. Apparently he's mildly famous or something--but if he's new to you as he is to me, you can check out his blog here.


Nathan Wednesday, February 20, 2008 at 9:40:00 PM EST  

No CNN. Not a Huffington Post reader. Never heard of the guy before this.

That said, Yo, CNN, how fucking stupid can you be. You just fired a guy in a completely moronic fashion and he's got an audience of his own already.

Wow! Good luck with that.

Thanks for this one Eric.

Janiece Murphy Wednesday, February 20, 2008 at 10:17:00 PM EST  

Eric, what kind of law do you practice?

Not that it matters - you're light-years more qualified to discuss this issue than anyone I know (I don't know any lawyers) - I'm just curious.

Eric Thursday, February 21, 2008 at 12:56:00 PM EST  

I'm an assistant public defender in North Carolona, banging my head against the walls with little more to show than a dented head and blood-flecked bricks....

Sorry. Bad morning. Assistant PD, to answer your question, and while I'm not bothered by your asking, let's talk about Star Wars or what's your favorite Nick Cave album.

(Tender Prey if I have to make a list, tho' Henry's Dream comes close even if Cave supposedly hates it. And I have Abbatoir Blues on while I eat lunch and type this, because it's a good time for loud and somehow melancholy things.)

Jim Wright Thursday, February 21, 2008 at 2:05:00 PM EST  

Eric, good post - and it answered a number of questions I had about this subject. Thanks.

CNN has been devolving into yellow journalism for going on a decade now. It is just plain sad, and what's even sadder is that I can't stop watching it. I'm a creature of habit, I guess. I used to live and die by CNN, and so did most of the military. But those days are long past.

I think the downfall began when they stopped using the James Earl Jones voiceover: "This is CNN."

What I find amazing is that inaccurate reporting, sensationalism, gossip, and Nancy %@@#ing Grace are now the trademarks of CNN, but they'd fire a guy over expressing his opinion on a personal blog.

Yeah, sorry dude, we're going to have to let you go, you damaged our credibility on that whole Britney Spears/OJ Simpson hookup story...

Jim Wright Thursday, February 21, 2008 at 2:23:00 PM EST  

I posted that last comment before reading the actual HP link.


Since you're a Dire Straits fan, I'm sure you'll understand when I say I've got the lyrics from Industrial Disease running through my head at the moment.

Eric Thursday, February 21, 2008 at 3:26:00 PM EST  

Yeah, in my focus on the ironic part of the story, I kinda left out the way CNN gave the guy an all-around raw deal--when you read his HP entry and blog posts, they speak for themselves.

Guy goes in with his ideals, compromises them to get along as he gets older, compromises them a little more when he finds out he needs a health plan that will cover pinball-sized brain tumors, starts a blog to help deal with being in spitting range of death, and gets shitcanned because CNN is concerned the "nature of what he's writing" might offend shareholders.

Industrial disease is an apt diagnosis.

Janiece Murphy Thursday, February 21, 2008 at 3:41:00 PM EST  

*rasp, rasp*

I'm your father, Luke...

*rasp, rasp*

Come to the dark side...

Eric Thursday, February 21, 2008 at 4:48:00 PM EST  

Thanks, Janiece, that made me crack a smile when I got home.


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