Bloggers on the rally in Jena, La.

Bloggers on the rally in Jena, La.

Bloggers on the rally in Jena, La.

The latest chatter in cyberspace.
Sept. 21 2007 5:58 PM

Free the Jena 6?

Bloggers assess yesterday's "Jena 6" protest and an Uzbek-Russian oligarch's success in shutting down a handful of prominent British blogs.

Free the Jena 6? Thousands of protesters turned out in Jena, La., Thursday to denounce what they call the too-severe prosecution of six black students accused of beating a white student to the point of unconsciousness. (The charges were reduced from attempted murder to second-degree battery and conspiracy to commit battery). The story was propelled to national prominence largely thanks to the efforts of black bloggers, who say the "Jena 6" not only were singled out because they're black, but that they were understandably responding to racist provocations, such as the hanging of nooses under a tree at the high school.

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Author Shelley Powers at Burningbird has no love for Al Sharpton, who's leading the protests, but is nonetheless disgusted by the prosecution's tactics: "[T]his isn't a case where these black kids decided to jump this white kid for nothing. Even the town's most fervent supports acknowledge the white kid taunted the black kids. This was a hall fight triggered by anger that got out of control, and should have been prosecuted this way."

Novelist and screenwriter Trey Ellis at the Huffington Post says that hanging a noose is no "prank": "A noose is a symbol the way a swastika is a symbol. A noose hanging from a tree in that context is an almost unimaginably vicious act. Those white teens, instead of being ashamed of their terrorist ancestry, reveled in the evil. The adults who are charged with the education of all the students deemed it merely a prank."

However, Megan McArdle at the Atlantic's Asymmetrical Information blog, thinks the six black students should go to jail since, after all, they "assaulted one, and after he was lying on the ground unconscious, kicked him repeatedly in the head." McArdle adds: "Advocating for racial equality in the justice system need not entail pretending that every defendant is Nelson Mandela."

Calling the rally "noble, but a little misguided," Sandra Rose posts pictures and explains why she is wary of the "Free the Jena 6" plaint: "It doesn't matter if the victim attended his prom that night. He still sustained injuries. Would we be satisfied if he died? It doesn't matter if he was bragging. … Those boys were not oppressed on that school campus. All of this over a tree? MLK is rolling."

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Cara at feminist blog The Curvature was "disheartened to see so few white faces. Of course, whites were there… But I feel like in this day and age, we should be able to do better. — And a hell of a lot better than all of the white residents who say they're not racist and yet still refused to participate in the march."

Read more about the Jena 6.

Usmanov vs. blogs: Uzbek-Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov has been vying to purchase the Arsenal football club in Britain, which led Craig Murray, a former British ambassador to Uzbekistan and now a prominent British blogger, to start posting background information on Usmanov. The oligarch then hired Schillings, a major U.K. law firm, to threaten Murray's network provider with libel. The provider swiftly pulled the plug not just on Murray's blog but on a number of others it hosts, including those of prominent blogger Tim Ireland and London mayoral candidate Boris Johnson.

British journalist Johann Hari threatened David T at social democratic blog Harry's Place with a libel suit for a post he wrote about Hari's controversial review of Nick Cohen's What's Left: How Liberals Lost Their Way. Unsurprisingly, David takes the issue of suing bloggers seriously: "Bloggers cannot operate if they are bullied by rich plaintiffs. Defamation law in the United Kingdom is both farcical and unfair, and is in desperate need of fundamental reform. Errors on blogs can easily be remedied: particularly where they permit open commenting (a libel risk in itself) which allows postings to be criticised, facts corrected, and arguments opposed."

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At football-obsessed Pitchinvasion, Thomas Dunmore is equally irate and nervous: "Usmanov's lawyers are deliberately not going after Murray for his original claims, despite the fact he's begged them to challenge him in a British court of law even with the absurdly strong libel laws there: they're deliberately targeting people, including pitchinvasion.net, hosting or even simply citing Murray's original article, in the full knowledge most websites do not have the means to stand up legally to the 281st richest man in the world."

Scottish conservative Mr. Eugenides says: "We can't defend ourselves the way a magazine or newspaper can. There's no legal budget for us to dip into. And let's be clear on this point; these blogs are down not because Usmanov has been libelled, but because he says he's been libelled, and has a room full of paid monkeys sitting at typewriters firing off theatening letters to that effect."

American sports blogger David J. Warner at AOL's Fanhouse concludes: "If Murray's goal was to make Usmanov look like a thug, then mission accomplished, and it may be why the remaining Arsenal board members are redoubling their efforts to prevent Usmanov from taking over the club. If Murray ever finds his way back to the Internet, this story could get even nastier. Let's just hope nobody finds any polonium-210 in their soup because of this."

Lefty Brit Obsolete has a piece of advice for his countrymen worried about having their blogs shut down by barristers: "[G]et it hosted with a US-based company. Not only are their rates usually remarkably cheaper than anything you'll be offered over here, but legal firms find it difficult to get anything removed, thanks to the good old first amendment. Won't stop them threatening you personally of course, but your webhosts themselves couldn't care less."

Read more about Usmanov's blog bullying.

Michael Weiss is the director of communications at the Henry Jackson Society, a London-based think tank that promotes democratic geopolitics. He is also the spokesman for Just Journalism, which examines how Israel and the Middle East are portrayed in the U.K. media.