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COM 384: It’s a Wonder We’re Free to Speak At All – Spring 14-15

Instructor: Ron Bishop, Ph.D.

Office: Building 47, Room 107 (aka Neil’s Bar and Grill)

Office Hours: T and TH, 12:30-2, or call so we can set up a time to meet.

Office Phone: 215-895-1823

Cell Phone: 302-598-2667

Email: or

FB Group Page: Fixed Star – Drexel’s COM 384 – friend me ASAP and I’ll add you!

My Website: (You’ll find many of our readings here – not a lot of bells and whistles on the site, but it pays the bills.)

Why We’re Here: Americans talk a lot about free speech; we like to quote the First Amendment to the Constitution, and tell anyone who will listen that one of the great things about living in the United States is that we are free to say anything. This is unmitigated bullshit, and during this course, we‘ll explore why as well as dissect the various forms – some obvious, some not so obvious – that censorship takes. We’ll also explore what folks who hold dissenting views endure as they try desperately to lay out their arguments for the citizens of our fine nation.

Text: Young, R. (2006). Dissent in America: The Voices That Shaped a Nation. New York: Pearson Longman.

A Friendly Nudge: If possible, please visit your favorite independent bookseller, either online or in person, to buy Dissent in America. Online booksellers (,,,, are fine too – and sometimes you can get the best of both worlds (e.g.

Class Projects: You will complete three short (3-5 page) projects during the term –reference the readings as you create them:

First, research and write about an example of censorship that occurred, or is occurring, right here at Drexel. Ask around – you’d be surprised (sadly) how many folks have had, for example, their views squelched by a testy professor, or in some way by the administration. Perhaps this occurred as part of the person’s work with a student organization, or with DU’s most excellent independent newspaper (for which I serve proudly as the faculty advisor). Don’t limit yourself to other students; often, professors censor themselves in order to keep clear the path to tenure, which they believe includes not pissing off students, parents, administrators, and even the media with a controversial view or teaching method. Ask me for examples before you get started.

Interview all the parties (and the villains) to the act of censorship, and include the reaction of your peers and others in the Drexel community to what’s gone on, or is going on.

Note: These projects will form the foundation for the final project – ah, the suspense!

Project 1 is due Friday of Week 3.

Second, research and write about an example of censorship where you never would have thought to look for it. For example, the range of titles you see in your favorite bookstore are controlled by, among other things, publishers responding to market forces. They only publish and promote those books by established authors, and those that have a shot of making lots of money. Thus, new authors, and authors with unpopular or controversial views, are left out of the grand discourse.

Another example: filtering software on library and home computers. In the exaggerated misplaced drive to prevent access to porn, these features block access to information about health-related issues.

And one more: high school and, yes, college textbooks that leave out certain groups or viewpoints, or entire chunks of history.

As part of the project, talk to people who have been impacted by your example of censorship. Also talk to the folks who put the policy, or V-Chip, or filtering software, in place. What’s their take? Why do they feel the limitation on information is necessary? Critically analyze their arguments.

What do you make of all this? Who is the device or policy meant to protect? Is there any evidence that those who are allegedly protected actually need the protection?

Project 2 is due Friday of Week 6.

Third, research and write about the dialogue surrounding a person or group of folks made unpopular because of their views or a cause in which they believe. What are we led to believe about Cindy Sheehan, or Greenpeace, or the Gold Star Families for Peace? About the Occupy Philadelphia protestors? About Westboro Baptist Church members who picket military funerals with signs carrying hateful anti-LGBT messages? First, what do you know about the person or group – be honest. How about your friends? Family? How much are these views shaped by the media, and by journalists? How would the media have you look at the person or group? What’s the “preferred reading” (we’ll talk later) of this person or group? What’s highlighted in media portrayals? What’s left out?

Your project should include the thoughts and perspectives of friends and family, as well as material drawn from an interview with a supporter or representative of the person or group – or the person in person. You should also include photos of the folks you interview, with captions.

Project 3 is due Friday of Week 9.

Reading Reactions: Introduce one or more of the week’s readings from Dissent in America – and the main ideas for the week from our discussions (you can also reference the additional readings) – into a conversation with friends or family members. Take careful note of their reactions. Had they ever read the piece(s)? Had they ever considered the issues raised in the piece(s)? What do they think of the author(s)? How did they react to the ideas – do they believe that they are possibly harmful or too controversial?

Post your RRs on the group’s FB page by the end of each week.

Final Project: We’ll work on this one together – we’ll create a website that chronicles and dissects examples of censorship here at Drexel. My goal is that it could serve as a template for students at other universities. We’ll need a site (WordPress or a similar service will work just fine), a name, examples of censorship (everyone should contribute at least 3 in addition to the example detailed in Project 1), and a social media-based marketing and PR plan. We want folks from in and around Drexel to feel comfortable enough to post examples on their own.

A key part of the project is the journey itself: will we run into reluctance from potential contributors, or flack from administrators? Keep track too of your own feelings and thoughts as you go.

It may turn out that a website isn’t enough – perhaps an app can be created, or a form of community outreach developed. We’ll ponder this together as we move forward.

Our goals are to make the site or app usable and to ensure that current and future Drexel denizens will use them.


Attendance: Pretty simple: If you must miss a class, please call or email me to let me know.

Deadlines: Though I’m not the world’s biggest stickler about this, I would be eternally grateful if all work could be submitted on time, if only so that I can get comments back to you in a timely fashion.

Drop Policy: Remember that you have until the end of Week 6 to drop the class. Please let me know before that time if you have any questions or problems with the class material or discussions. I’ll do my best to make sure that our journey is meaningful for you.

FB Page: Feel extremely and very free to contribute ideas, websites, sources, opinions, reading reactions, diatribes, rants, riffs, puns and plays on words to the class FB page.

I also encourage you to share with your colleagues tips and traps about the various class projects as you work on them.

Formatting: Feel absolutely and very free to follow to try an alternative format for your three short projects. You could, for example, shoot and edit a 10-minute video, or create a piece of performance art – it’s up to you, so long as you honor the spirit, if not the letter, of the project guidelines.

Grading: I work with a 100-point scale:

Final Project: 30 points

Shorter Projects: 20 points (each)

Reading Reactions 10 points (1 point each)

We operate with a plus/minus grading scale at the mighty Drexel. That means:

98-100 = A+ 94-97 = A 90-93 = A-

87-89 = B+ 83-86 = B 80-82 = B-

77-79 = C+ 73-76 = C 70-72 = C-

67-69 = D+ 64-66 = D 60-62 = D-

Below 60 = F

Guest Speakers: So far, we have two: Jenny Lambe of the University of Delaware, who’s written extensively on self-censorship and Jeff Rousset of the Media Mobilizing Project; in a past life, Jeff served as media coordinator for the Occupy Philly movement.

In the Classroom: Seems a bit odd to be running this by you in preparation for a class on free speech, but here goes: feel free to toss your ideas into the proverbial ring. Your ideas are extremely important to me, and especially to the dialogue in which we’ll engage.

No idea is too silly, no question too stupid – believe me, I have, at various points during my travels cornered the market on both. Political correctness has run amok, and has no place in a college classroom. Spirited, free debate is vital – essential, crucial, critical – to an informed and thriving democracy, no matter what the FCC, Former President Bush, the Parents Television Council, Bill O’Reilly, Wal-Mart, and the U.S. Supreme Court say.

But even more important: I’m a super flawed human being. As I yammer on this term, I will inevitably send in your direction incorrect information, reach implausible conclusions, and often be convinced that the opinion I’ve just espoused is actual fact. It would please me no end if you called me out when these take place. Part of our common experience will be ensuring that my mistakes do not sneak by uncorrected.

So here’s how we’ll do it: I’ll try my best to set aside time, probably toward the end of each class, and ask you to lay out my mistakes. If you’re a sports fan and watch a lot of ESPN, you’ll quickly see this is a rip-off of the “stat person” segment from Pardon the Interruption. You’ll also have to tell us why I was wrong by providing the correct information, and tell us where you found that correct information.

And finally: how would you teach the newly corrected information? Wanna get up in front of the group and take a shot at it? Just to keep it funky, I’ll purposely mix in some totally incorrect information and now and then offer a totally out there opinion.

Extra credit is available for the brief lectures, all for the incredibly low price of $19.95. Wait, that would be a bribe – never mind.

Plagiarism: If a thought, insight, or nugget or pearl of wisdom in one of your projects isn’t yours, it must be attributed. I won’t waste our time by submitting everything to, NoFriggingWayThat’, HeyJustADoggoneMinuteI’, HolyShitYou’reCheatingI’, or whatever the hell their names are, but if purposeful plagiarism happens, we’ll sit down and talk and try to solve the problem.

I’ve actually grown pretty damned tired of this discussion – I get it; cheating happens. But instead of bloviating from our ivory towers about how plagiarism is the end of civilization as we know it, let’s engage each other about it. And anyway, I’m a charter member of the “guilt stays with you” school of punished plagiarists and cheaters. I can still see the face of the guy whose exam I looked at in college a century or two ago. It haunts me, even though I was just confirming the answer I had already put down.

While we’re on the subject, please let me know if you have any questions about proper attribution – MLA, Chicago, Harvard, APA, NBA, NHL, CBS, BFF, LOL – I’m fairly well-versed in most of these (even LOL, now that I know what it stands for).

Quizzes/Exams Unless there is a sudden groundswell of support for having a quiz or a final exam, we will “just say no,” to quote Nancy Reagan.

Revisions: You will revise and resubmit your first three projects, so don’t be alarmed if the first versions aren’t yet complete – someone hasn’t gotten back to you, or you come up with additional questions as our journey unfolds. Revisions are due the Monday of finals week.

Submissions: Email submissions are totally fine, but PLEASE make sure you send your work as a Word attachment, rather than as a huge email, which typically takes forever (in my low-tech world at least) to reformat.

Worthwhile Sites: Visit these sites early and often during our journey – they will be invaluable resources for the projects you’ll work on: the National Coalition Against Censorship; the First Amendment Center; Free Speech for People; the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education; the Free Expression Policy Project; the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression; the American Civil Liberties Union; the Freedom Forum; the Bill of Rights Defense Committee; the American Library Association; Project Censored; and the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Reading, Project, and Discussion Schedule

Week 1

Let’s start close to home: have you ever censored yourself? Are you doing it right now? How about now?

But first, a dramatic reading by yours truly…

Why censor in the first place? What are our motives – and what are the motives of folks who try to limit access to information? What can we actually say, anyway? And where can we say it?

Let’s talk a bit about forums and TPM restrictions.

What are the social conditions that lead to censorship?

Reading: Jenny Lambe’s excellent 2008 paper, “The Structure of Censorship Attitudes” (available on We’ll revisit this when Jenny visits later in the term.

Reading: The original and still champion: Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann’s seminal paper on “The Spiral of Silence.” (

Reading: Thomas Frank, “Why Johnny Can’t Dissent,” in Commodify Your Dissent: The Business of Culture in the Gilded Age, ed. Thomas Frank and Matt Weiland (pp. 31-45). New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 1997. (The version linked to here is complete – it just appears elsewhere).

Reading: Excerpt from Howard Zinn, A Power Governments Cannot Suppress (

DIA Readings: Introduction (p. xxi); all of part one (pp. 1-49).

Visit the American Library Association’s site for more information about last year’s list. How many books from the most recent Banned Books list have you read?

Week 2

Rediscovering the 1st Amendment; what did the Framers really intend? Who the hell knows?

  • Historical antecedents – the marketplace of ideas; for 10 points and control of the board, just who was John Peter Zenger?

  • Differing legal perspectives on the 1st Amendment. Do you think we have too much freedom?

  • Life in the “Sphere of Deviance,” courtesy of Daniel Hallin.

Reading: Milton’s famed “Marketplace of Ideas” speech. What are the potential pitfalls in the application of Milton’s idea?

Reading: Myron Magnet, “How American Press Freedom Began on Wall Street,” City Journal, December 19, 2010. It’s an in-depth but accessible discussion about the trial of John Peter Zenger (

Reading: Excerpt from Anthony Lewis’ book, Make No Law (

Reading: Excerpt from Lewis’ book, Freedom For The Thoughts We Hate ( Check out a video of Lewis talking about the book and related issues. He asks the question, “Should the First Amendment ever lose?” What do you think?

Check out the history of the “Clear and Present Danger” test, along with the Supreme Court cases that produced it.

DIA Readings: Introduction to part eight; Savio (pp. 604-606); Oglesby (pp. 606-621); Weather Underground (pp. 612-614); Kerry (pp. 614-617); Veterans Against the Iraq War (pp. 755-760); Berg (pp. 769-773); Sheehan (pp. 773-780); from part six: LaFollette (pp. 404-410); Debs (pp. 410-416).

Week 3

Government censorship in its many forms: prior restraint, obscenity, indecency, the FCC, the Hays Code, the MPAA, Janet Jackson, “Nipplegate,” changes in copyright law, SOPA and SIPA, SLAPP lawsuits, the Patriot Act, denial of funding to the arts (and PBS).

Almost forgot: “Don’t taze me bro!!” and the curious case of Anthony Comstock.

Censorship in the arts and entertainment – are you listening, Rudy Giuliani? For background and supporting documents on Giuliani’s attempt to close the Brooklyn Museum, visit

Should we expect less free speech protection when we’re at war? Natalie Maines weighs in, as do Cindy Sheehan and the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Visit and explore the U.S. Copyright Office’s website: Sheila (my wife) will thank you for it, especially if you come away believing that more ideas, not fewer, should find their way into the “public domain.” Pharell Williams will too. Not sure about Robin Thicke.

Check out the First Amendment Project’s anti-SLAPP resource center:

Video: Renowned 1st Amendment Attorney Floyd Abrams talks about what he believes are the five most important 1A decisions.

Video: Abrams talks about his book, Speaking Freely.

Reading: Excerpt from Floyd Abrams’ Speaking Freely (

Reading: Excerpt from Rodney Smolla’s book, Free Speech in an Open Society (

DIA Readings: Guthrie (pp. 473-477); Ginsberg (pp. 542-546); Songs of the Civil Rights Movement (pp. 546-549); Protest Music I (pp. 589-596); Protest Music II (pp. 637-643); Protest Music III (pp. 731-742).

Project 1 due Friday.

Week 4

Do we really have to protect our kids from obscene and indecent material? What about political content – hey, wait a doggone minute; students don’t leave their political opinions outside the “schoolhouse gate,” right?

Censorship in schools and universities, or “It All Depends Where the Money Comes From.”

Some Supreme Court terrain to cover: Tinker v. Des Moines School District; Bethel School District 403 v. Fraser; Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier; and Meyer v. Frederick (otherwise known as the “Bong Hits for Jesus” case).

Don’t forget school prayer and the Constitution’s Establishment Clause and the fact that the latter precludes the former.

Mary Beth Tinker, who started us down this road, is still at it – empowering and enlightening students all across the land about the need to protect their ability to express themselves in schools. Check out an interview with Tinker conducted in 2009 at American University’s Washington College of Law in

Reading: Media Literacy: An Alternative to Censorship by Marjorie Heins and Christina Cho.

Reading: Excerpt from Not In Front of the Children by Marjorie Heins (

Reading: Culture on Trial by Marjorie Heins.

Try This At Home: Just enter the words “Student kicked off” or “Student kicked out” on Google and see how many stories and sites you come up. Marvel at the short-sightedness, overreactions, intolerance, and downright stupidity of some of the nation’s teachers and school administrators.

Week 5

Censorship by corporations – the perils of letting the marketplace decide, especially in politics.

The key Supreme Court ruling here is Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad. Also check out Buckley v. Valeo, where the Court ruled that campaign contributions are constitutionally protected speech.

Which brings us to one of the most damaging (in my opinion) Supreme Court decisions of all time: Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne weighs in; as does our old friend Floyd Abrams and former ACLU attorney Burt Neuborne. Then they debate each other.

Reading: Excerpt from Lawrence Soley’s book, Censorship, Inc. (

Reading: Excerpt from David Bollier’s book, Brand Name Bullies (

DIA Readings: part five: Introduction, Addams (pp. 332-334), Willard (pp. 334-341), Washington (pp. 341-344), DuBois (pp. 344-355), Schurz (pp. 360-363); Bryan (pp. 363-369); Jones (pp. 369-374); Muir (pp. 381-383); Goldman (pp. 383-390), Nader (pp. 711-718).

Week 6

And speaking of corporations, the mass media, specifically journalists, are supposed to be our champions, our watchdogs, our eyes and ears. Uh huh…America turns its eyes to Phil Donahue for an answer; his successful talk show was zapped by MSNBC for failing to include enough conservative opinions. And advertisers have journalists pretty well trained to self-censor.

First, check out Columbia Journalism Review’s feature “Who Owns What” to get the flavor of media consolidation:

Video: In this excerpt from the Canadian documentary The Corporation, former FOX reporters Jane Akre and Steve Wilson talk about how FOX wanted them to reshape a story on bovine growth hormone to favor Monsanto, the manufacturer of BGH.

Reading: Even if you run a blog called Legal Schnauzer, you’re supposed to be able to count on the government not trying to shut you down.

Reading: Robert McChesney saw this coming; check out this 1998 article from The Boston Review. And so did Ben Bagdikian.

Suggested movies: The Insider, Good Night and Good Luck.

Reading: Excerpt from Glenn Greenwald’s book, No Place to Hide (

Reading: Excerpt from James Risen’s book, Pay Any Price (

Reading: Check out how censorship of journalists happens in various places around the world, thanks to the fine folks at the Columbia Journalism Review.

Project 2 due Friday

Week 7

Moving someday to frank and open dialogue about race and gender: what have we learned since Imus? – probably only that dumbass bigots seem to land on their feet (see Week 5, the perils of letting the marketplace decide). The myth of the post-racial society and the rise of “reverse racism.” And why did female newscasters (those I watched, anyway) mispronounce Betty Friedan’s name when she died?

Finally: Is The Help a real advancement in the discussion of race? See what author Melissa Harris-Perry has to say – trust me, it’s great. And check out her column from The Nation on the Trayvon Martin tragedy. Author and social critic Toure’ adds his perspective.

On the current attack on women’s free speech: Kelly Diels from Salon. I think Erin Gloria Ryan has it just about right in this piece from Jezebel. And Anita Sarkeesian continues her work to enlighten us about the misogynistic content of some video games, writes Sean Collins of Rolling Stone. Check out a video of Sarkeesian addressing the All About Women conference in Sydney, Australia.

DIA Readings: Randolph (pp. 429-431); Garvey (pp. 431-434); Sanger (pp. 434-443); Hughes (pp. 449-450); Goldman (pp. 464-473); Redding (pp. 477-481); Yasui (pp. 490-497); King (pp. 549-563); Malcolm X (pp. 566-567); Carmichael (pp. 567-577); Black Panthers (pp. 577-580); Friedan (pp. 585-589); Steinem (pp. 649-654), Chavez (pp. 656-660): The American Indian Movement (pp. 660-666-669).

Week 8

Frank and open dialogue about religion (or lack of same), abortion, and sexual orientation.

Check out Diana Pearl’s piece from The Atlantic about how recent court decisions and scores of new state laws have made the space in front of women’s health care centers even more turbulent than they had been. And thanks to the Supreme Court, pro-life protestors can now get even closer to women who are simply trying to exercise a Constitutionally protected right.

We’ll also revisit the recent Charlie Hebdo tragedy – two perspectives: Scott Sayare from The Atlantic and Justin Peters from Slate. Pair these with a story from The Guardian on Kurt Westergaard, the cartoonist whose cartoon for the Danish publication Jyllands-Posten angered the Muslim community around the world.

Should criticism of religion be limited? The Pope seems to think so. Could we ever see a law here that would punish what some religions consider “blasphemy?” Famed British novelist Ian McEwan weighs in.

Then we have the ACLU’s 2012 report that details efforts by public school districts to prevent students from learning about folks from the LGBTQ community.

Some Supreme Court cases to consider: West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette; Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District; Snyder v. Phelps.

Reading: Excerpt from Joan DelFattore, The Fourth R: Conflicts Over Religion in America’s Public Schools (

DIA Readings: Mencken (pp. 444-450); Coughlin (pp. 450-455); Stonewall Documents (pp. 654-656); ACT UP (pp. 679-686); Gay Liberation (pp. 694-703).

Week 9

The current state of dissent in America: Hootie Johnson, the Occupy movement, NOW, protest zones, the media’s uneven coverage of activism.

DIA Readings: Leary (pp. 617-624); Hoffman (pp. 627-631).

Reading: Frank Dardis, “Marginalization Devices in U.S. Press Coverage of Iraq War Protest: A Content Analysis,” Mass Communication and Society, 2006 (

Project 3 due second session.

Week 10

The current state of dissent in America, continued.

Reading: Ronald Bishop, “Now Fit For Public Consumption: An Ideological Analysis of “The Protester,” Time Magazine’s 2011 Person of the Year,” 2012 (

I’ll also share some ongoing research into media portrayals of Pete Seeger, who’s a hero of mine.

As we wrap up: what are you going to do to stop the spread of censorship and the marginalization of dissent?

THIS JUST IN: The instructor (which only for the purposes of keeping the books is me) reserves the right to make changes, wholesale, retail, miniscule, or minor) to the syllabus. I promise to give you a heads up when I do.

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