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July 18, 2003 10:11 AM   Subscribe

FBI questions man for reading a critique of Fox News. Marc Shultz, a freelance Atlanta writer was reading a print out of this article in a coffee shop when another patron reading over his shoulder apparently found the content seditious enough to deserve a quick call to the Feds, who sent out two agents to check it out.
posted by jonson (53 comments total)

 
I saw him last night on Countdown with Keith Olberman and he said the FBI still hasn't called him back.
posted by thatothrgirl at 10:18 AM on July 18, 2003


under the spreading chestnut tree, I sold you and you sold me.
posted by crunchland at 10:21 AM on July 18, 2003


O beautiful, for spacious skies
For agents dressed in gray;
For wiretaps, "informal" talks,
If you are left or gay!

America, America, God's turned his face from thee
With Orange Alert
Your rights are burnt
Be careful what They see!

Thank you. Thank you very much...
posted by Perigee at 10:21 AM on July 18, 2003


Talking to a couple of FBI agents sounds like fun. I think I'll report myself for reading that article.
posted by ewagoner at 10:27 AM on July 18, 2003


Put down that article and back away from the counter, citizen.
posted by madamjujujive at 10:34 AM on July 18, 2003


Reporting yourself might seem like a good idea until they turn up. Something tells me screwing with the FBI shouldn't be high on your priority list. On it maybe, but not at the top.
posted by vbfg at 10:45 AM on July 18, 2003


"Something tells me screwing with the FBI shouldn't be high on your priority list."

Something tells me screwing with citizens over what they read shouldn't be high on the FBI's priority list.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 10:46 AM on July 18, 2003


So when is this guy going to do a FOIA request?
posted by trondant at 10:48 AM on July 18, 2003


I love sharing the country with right-wing Stasi agents. Only a liberal elitist would think otherwise.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 10:57 AM on July 18, 2003


Thank goodness I live in Canada. We can read what we want, just not look at erotica. That our government doesn't want us seeing.
posted by drinkmaildave at 10:58 AM on July 18, 2003


"Thank goodness I live in Canada. We can read what we want, just not look at erotica. That our government doesn't want us seeing."

No bootlicking or excessive ejaculation for you!

/soupnazi
posted by mr_crash_davis at 11:01 AM on July 18, 2003


We live in a police state, what a rib-tickler.
posted by squirrel at 11:05 AM on July 18, 2003


This sounds to me like it wasn't so much the FBI's fault here but the fault of whoever it was who decided that Shultz's reading the article was worth calling the FBI about. Look at it from the FBI's perspective - let's say you're an agent and someone informs you of "seditious literature" being spread through coffeehouses in Atlanta. You'd probably go check it out - like what happened here - and decide that it really wasn't worth your trouble to investigate further. And he wonders why they haven't returned his calls...
posted by wanderingmind at 11:08 AM on July 18, 2003


So when is this guy going to do a FOIA request?

Would he be able to find out who reported him? Doesn't the FBI have anonymous tip lines and such?
posted by bshort at 11:17 AM on July 18, 2003


What is "seditious literature" anyways? Are we back to McCarthy witch-hunting?
posted by benjh at 11:18 AM on July 18, 2003


What wanderingmind said. I didn't see any particular fouls in the FBI's behavior... except one thing, and that was the implied threat: "There's no problem so far, we just want to get to the bottom of this, and if we can't, that's a problem, and you don't want that." Other than that, it looks like they really did their job... they got a tip, and they investigated it. Nobody disappeared. Nobody was held without a warrant or charges. Nobody got hurt. Nobody got their mouth sealed shut and implanted by an electronic bug. No property was seized. There are examples of abuse of authority out there, but I don't think this is the poster child.

They really oughta go back to the "tipster", though, and explain the difference between dissent and terrorism.
posted by weston at 11:18 AM on July 18, 2003


I can't wait when other small-minded ignorant morons decide that what I read or say is "seditious."

Heck, I wonder if reading from and posting to this thread counts?

weston: If you haven't noticed, there is no difference. Any dissent is treated as sedition. The problem here is real simple - is the FBI going to be called out every damn time someone decides that your second reading of "The Catcher In The Rye" is suspicious, or that you laughed a little too loud at a Bush caricature in SNL, or that you may be wearing a "Flags of the Nations" t-shirt that has the post-monarchy Iraq flag included on it?

Think about it - if a single person calling on something this dumb can get 2 FBI agents to intimidate a single citizen, what happens when you decide to do something that really indicates dissent, like, say, protest the Iraq war? How many people will feel free to speak their minds or read what they want if they know that at any time someone else can turn them in for "suspicious behavior" and end up with a visitation from the federal Gestapo?
posted by FormlessOne at 11:26 AM on July 18, 2003


No, dissent is not terrorism. Dissent is treachery. Protest is terrorism.
Subtle difference, I know, but we must get a handle on these things.
posted by umberto at 11:43 AM on July 18, 2003


FormlessOne, that's called the "chilling effect" (as you probably know) and it works effectively to intimidate people into surrendering rights.

Wanderingmind, weston: the appropriate FBI response to a call from an individual tipster about someone reading something (fer feck's sake) in a public cafe is to say, "okay, thanks for the tip, ma'am," and log it. The (presumed) fact that the agents didn't do more (i.e. tap the guy's phone, surveil his house) doesn't make their behavior appropriate.
posted by squirrel at 11:43 AM on July 18, 2003


Crash's juxtaposition of excessive ejaculation and soup is going to ruin my appetite for the next 2 days or so.
posted by Space Coyote at 11:44 AM on July 18, 2003


Other than that, it looks like they really did their job... they got a tip, and they investigated it.

Nonsense! It would be very easy to insist upon enough information from "tipsters" to eliminate the majority of cranks and crackpots. No way is this sort of fearmongering justifiable. And whoever wastes federal officers' time in such a manner, whether through sheer stupidity or because they think it's funny, should be held accountable. I.e., fined and/or jailed.
posted by rushmc at 11:48 AM on July 18, 2003


(It's a nice thing ya got going over there in the US at the minute.)

How much scope is there here, I wonder, for purely malicious "tip offs?" They could be aimed against a disliked individual, accusing them of reading seditious material, or they could be aimed against the FBI, overloading them with bogus tip offs, making them run around on wild goose chases.

Wonderful.
posted by Blue Stone at 11:48 AM on July 18, 2003


I think it's obvious what is going on here - they were looking for weapons of mass destruction. They didn't find any in this case, but come on, people, it's going to take a little time.
posted by RylandDotNet at 11:56 AM on July 18, 2003


They really oughta go back to the "tipster", though, and explain the difference between dissent and terrorism.

It's worse than that: they ought to go back to the "tipster" and explain to him that the FBI is not a bat you use to whack someone who does something you don't like. I'm kinda with weston on this: we don't know what the FBI was told. They might have been told it was a list of bomb-making materials and/or potential targets. It sounds to me like the fellow patron was out to punish a lefty and used the FBI to do it.

On preview, Blue Stone implied something similar in the first part of his comment.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:57 AM on July 18, 2003


Can anyone else picture a new Fox News ad campaign..

Watch our channel .. or else
posted by Space Coyote at 12:01 PM on July 18, 2003


And just think, Blue Stone, if the reader-/suspect-in-question had a few pot plants in his closet or a mattress with the tag ripped off, they have justification after all. I mean, even if the original tip doesn't pan out, there's still plenty of good reason for an over-excited FBI with too much leash to go after. As current White House posturing reminds us, it's the ends that matter--by any means necessary.
posted by squirrel at 12:03 PM on July 18, 2003


How much scope is there here, I wonder, for purely malicious "tip offs?"

This happens all the time in crappy regimes. You can't watch all the people all the time so you get them to watch each other. The cowards turn on their neighbors, and suddenly everyone is terrified.

Everytime a police sketch of a suspect goes up, there's a flood of calls to tip-lines fingering ex-boyfriends, brothers-in-law and wacky neighbors who don't fit in.
posted by jengod at 12:03 PM on July 18, 2003


Fox News: "Why aren't you watching us, hmm?"
posted by squirrel at 12:05 PM on July 18, 2003


Clearly, this man wasn't "swarthy," so he's innocent. The tipster needs to be taught how to discern between real-live terrorists (dark people) and domestic trouble-makers, like Timothy McVeigh.
posted by drstrangelove at 12:11 PM on July 18, 2003


Crash's juxtaposition of excessive ejaculation and soup is going to ruin my appetite for the next 2 days or so.

It's called "miso." Get over it.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 12:29 PM on July 18, 2003


drstrangelove: Didn't you read the article? The man was swarthy:
To tell the truth, I'm kind of anxious to hear back from the FBI, if only for the chance to ask why anyone would find media criticism suspicious, or if maybe the sight of a dark, bearded man reading in public is itself enough to strike fear in the heart of a patriotic citizen.
wanderingmind, weston: Are you under the impression there are laws against "seditious literature" in this country? Er, or am I behind the times again? *looks nervously at copy of Constitution*
posted by languagehat at 12:43 PM on July 18, 2003


What squirrel and jengod said. This story, if true, cannot be taken lightly. Once the FBI starts questioning you about your reading habits they can arrest you for any other thing they might see, or think they see. Once people realize they can cause trouble for other people they don't like by calling the FBI or whoever, the tips will come flowing in. It's easier to create a culture of fear where everybody is Little Brother willing to report anything "unamerican." I shudder to think what the FBI would do if they looked through my bookshelves and files. Hell, I could get talked to just for reading metafilter.
posted by elwoodwiles at 1:04 PM on July 18, 2003


when are we going to disband this repugnant institution that is nothing more than a monument to a cross-dressing homosexual-hating bigoted blackmailer who made a career out of bilking the taxpayer? i mean, the fact that the fbi still exists is a pointed indicator of just how sick this society really is.

on preview, elwoodwiles, i would remind you that the primary function of the fbi has always been questioning people about whatever they might see, think or feel that could be used against them or someone else, it has always been the cultivation of an atmosphere of fear. everything else is simply propoganda. the prohibition mobster wars, the commie witch hunts, total self-generated propoganda. they FAILED to make any real headway against mobsters, the shootings of the likes of dillinger (sp?) always followed tips from local law enforcement types. the mccarthy era was fertile ground for fattening their files, and we all know how many actual dangerous commies they uncovered. and they only pretended to pursue modern organized crime until the issue was forced on them by the kennedy brothers and (in my opinion), the result of THAT was the JFK assassination. though they seem to have developed some competence recently in the area of apprehending that most moronic of all criminals, the bank robber, the fbi has been a lie since day one. and whatever DID happen to hoovers files? everyone just sorta shrugs. nixon tried to get them the morning hoover croaked, but got beat to the punch.
posted by quonsar at 1:39 PM on July 18, 2003


now, who could that be at the door...
posted by quonsar at 1:40 PM on July 18, 2003


Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the quonsunist party? Answers, damnit!
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 1:45 PM on July 18, 2003


*sobs*
every night, sir! it all started with that first puff of the magic dragon! then i stole that one book, 'steal this book'. and then...
*collapses into total hysterical self-recrimination*
posted by quonsar at 1:57 PM on July 18, 2003


Once the FBI starts questioning you about your reading habits they can arrest you for any other thing they might see, or think they see.

Yeah, what were they thinking? Don't they know they're sposed to question your LIBRARIAN about your reading habits??
posted by rushmc at 2:05 PM on July 18, 2003


About 15 years ago, I covered a trial in which Hispanic FBI agents were suing the agency for discrimination, and I spent quite a bit of time chatting with agents in hotel bars, their attorneys' offices, in courthouse hallways. What struck me was how friendly these guys were, how they instantly got people to open up.

I recall sitting in a bar with some agents, and a man walked up to ask who they were. This was in Midland, Texas, where several men wearing dark suits in a hotel bar is an unusual sight. They told him they were FBI agents. The guy settled on a stool for a chat. Less than an hour later, he was laughing as he described his small-scale, personal-use, home pot-growing operation to one agent, who laughed and kept pumping him for more info. I shit you not.

I thought about that incident when I read the front page post. I have a hunch that when FBI agents drop by, they can manipulate you into talking. Even if you have resolved not to talk to them.

Maybe I'm ascribing too many persuasive powers to these guys. But I gotta tell you -- as a journalist, I was astounded by the ability of FBI agents to get people to talk, willingly.
posted by Holden at 2:13 PM on July 18, 2003


"It sounds to me like the fellow patron was out to punish a lefty and used the FBI to do it."

For me this is the crux of the matter. Sure, the FBI might have let this one pass, but I think we expect them to err on the side of caution, so this one is a tough call.

*However*, we now have an atmosphere in the US which encourages us to rat out other citizens. Ashcroft and others have actively endorsed this. Many comments in this thread seem to forget that. The informant is a crackpot who wasted the FBI's time, but that's a behavior that the administration is encouraging. Does TIPS ring a bell?

He's not a crackpot if the Justice Department is encouraging him. Ashcroft wants to make informants like this part of the FBI's network.
posted by y6y6y6 at 2:22 PM on July 18, 2003


I am a card carrying quonsunist.
Gotta dig that crazy FBI dissing styling!
posted by asok at 2:44 PM on July 18, 2003


Let me try to sort out the facts. Someone supposedly snooped over his shoulder enough to see what reading matter he had and to make the decision it was seditious. Then they must have watched what car he drove away in, called the FBI and -? What? What did they say? What kind of sad little hump calls the FBI about something like this?

Then we get to the government. The FBI didn't ask for *details* of what the reading matter was? But they took the license plate, tracked the guy down and sent two suits to talk to him?

What an excellent use of resources, in addition to being an outstanding example of what a Gestapo state we're sliding into.

(Dear Mr. Ashcroft: Please note that calling the US a Gestapo state is not a criticism, as I prefaced it with adjectives such as excellent and outstanding.)

Anyway, I'm wondering if this freelance writer is more of a fiction author than a reporter.

And BTW before we all get completely enthused about Canada, I seem to recall that in the past certain aspects of freedom of the press were not as good as in the States. Wasn't there a lot of fuss about the secrecy surrounding one notorious murder case a few years ago. (I think the accused's name was Paul Bernard?)
posted by NorthernLite at 2:46 PM on July 18, 2003


certain aspects of freedom of the press were not as good as in the States

I suppose it depends on your point of view. I think the details of a case can not be published until the trial is over to avoid tainting the jury pool. And can't we be enthused about Canada vis-a-vis that case? His wife was willing to try group sex, after all.
posted by yerfatma at 3:13 PM on July 18, 2003


MetaFilter: Get your misoejaculation soup here!
posted by billsaysthis at 3:31 PM on July 18, 2003


OK, then.

Everyone get out to the Wal-Mart and catch the special "Reverend Ashcroft" brown shirt sale before your neighbor finds out YOU don't own one.
posted by nofundy at 4:04 PM on July 18, 2003


i just wanted to say the second link was great. i hadn't seen such an incisive critique of Fox News b4. i haven't watched it much (i have a low irrationality threshhold), but it makes me want to know more about this evil media empire.

very scary.
posted by mrgrimm at 4:28 PM on July 18, 2003


a few pot plants in his closet or a mattress with the tag ripped off

ok, can someone please explain to boring straight old me what ripping the tag of a mattress has to do with anything illegal? i take labels off things all the time and i'm flying to the states tomorrow. should i be worried?
posted by andrew cooke at 6:19 PM on July 18, 2003


Sure, andrew cooke, here you go.
posted by rushmc at 6:42 PM on July 18, 2003


ok, can someone please explain to boring straight old me what ripping the tag of a mattress has to do with anything illegal?

Mattresses have a tag on them detailing their composition or fire-safeness or something to that effect.

On the tag it says
"NOT TO BE REMOVED EXCEPT BY CONSUMER
UNDER PENALTY OF LAW"

Or words to that effect. In other words, it's illegal for the store to cut the tag of the mattress and pass it off as something it ain't.

The buyer, being in fact the aforementioned CONSUMER, is free to remove whatever tags or other pieces of the mattress it should suit his dark, perverted heart so to do. But there's a longstanding joke that should you dare to take this tag off, THE MATTRESS POLICE!!!!!! will come and get you.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:05 PM on July 18, 2003


NOT TO BE REMOVED EXCEPT BY CONSUMER

In other words, you take the tag off the mattress, you have to eat the mattress.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:02 PM on July 18, 2003


In other words, you take the tag off the mattress, you have to eat the mattress.

You say that like it's a bad thing.

Why do you hate freedom so much, Senor Spiggot? Is it because you want an abominable snowman to love you and pet you and squeeze you and call you George_Spiggot? I thought so. Pervert.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:25 PM on July 18, 2003


How do I get my FBI file?
posted by Zurishaddai at 11:58 PM on July 18, 2003


ah. i shall subversively snip the label from my hotel mattress.
posted by andrew cooke at 5:41 AM on July 19, 2003


Doing so would be a good thing -- it would keep the hotel from reselling the mattress as new. Turns out that's what the tag is for -- to keep people from selling used mattresses as new, or from just putting new ticking on a skanky ol' mattress and selling it as new.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:50 AM on July 19, 2003


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