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Seemed a Harmless Little F*ck...
August 10, 2007 10:28 AM   Subscribe

Why Does AT&T Hate Pearl Jam’s Freedom? Well, of course, they’re all apologies now… But this latest corporate misadventure seems to touch on all the hot buttons: Media consolidation, net neutrality and the future of political speech in America. (Newsfilter)
posted by saulgoodman (72 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
[redacted]
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:34 AM on August 10, 2007 [4 favorites]


But AT&T powers the iPhone, so all is forgiven.
posted by blucevalo at 10:34 AM on August 10, 2007


This was an incredible boner on AT&T's part.
posted by caddis at 10:34 AM on August 10, 2007


This really doesn't have anything to do directly with Net Neutrality, just that it's an example of how the trust that telcos insist be vested in them not to abuse their power when they argue against Net Neutrality is like trusting Ted Bundy to guard a sorority.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:34 AM on August 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


Well since they got their ass handed to them for spying on US citizens, i'm sure this will go far.
posted by chunking express at 10:40 AM on August 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


This is what Pearl Jam had to say about the incident. Lawrence Lessig chimed in as well.
posted by McGuillicuddy at 10:42 AM on August 10, 2007


This really doesn't have anything to do directly with Net Neutrality, just that it's an example of how the trust that telcos insist be vested in them not to abuse their power

PG: Agreed. And at first I found it odd that Pearl Jam apparently decided to use this case as an opportunity to promote awareness of the Net Neutrality cause, but then I thought about it a little more and realized: Suppose AT&T censored the lyrics and then Pearl Jam released the uncensored version on their own website (which they did)--what if AT&T then also had the power to give Pearl Jam's site low-priority treatment and the group couldn't even get the unmodified performance out through its own channels?
posted by saulgoodman at 10:45 AM on August 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


The Seattle-based grunge group

On an unrelated note, it's sad that they will never shake off the grunge label
posted by poppo at 10:48 AM on August 10, 2007


they’re all apologies now…

I thought that was Nirvana.
posted by weston at 10:52 AM on August 10, 2007


who can tell 'em apart anyway--dirty grunge rockers all look/sound alike to me.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:55 AM on August 10, 2007


On an unrelated note, it's sad that they will never shake off the grunge label

Why? The grunge music era was probably the best era for American music since the 50's.
posted by any major dude at 10:55 AM on August 10, 2007 [2 favorites]


It's not censorship if private companies control what people hear you say.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:57 AM on August 10, 2007


It's not censorship if private companies control what people hear you say.

nice try, but as they use public easements for their phone and internet lines, they are being supported and enabled by the government

(besides, that's not what my dictionary defines censorship as)
posted by pyramid termite at 11:00 AM on August 10, 2007 [2 favorites]


"AT&T's actions strike at the heart of the public's concerns over the power that corporations have when it comes to determining what the public sees and hears through communications media."

I'd say "best summary evar", except I'm not sure The Public has any such concerns. Too busy watching The Making of So You Think America Can Pimy My Sweet Top Model.
posted by oncogenesis at 11:00 AM on August 10, 2007


Blazecock: It's not censorship [...]
pyramid termite: nice try [...]

I think BP was being facetious. Is that in your dictionary? (Kidding.)
posted by oncogenesis at 11:03 AM on August 10, 2007


.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 11:04 AM on August 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


Why? The grunge music era was probably the best era for American music since the 50's.

I agree with that, but if you want to ascribe that label to Pearl Jam, I have to be tedious and say that they were the least interesting thing to come out of that era and the only thing grunge about them was that they wore the flannel and long underwear uniform.

Far from the punk/noise/metal blend that more-or-less defined "grunge", Pearl Jam were basically just a 70s rehash arena rock band that wrote sensitive/alienated boy songs.
posted by psmealey at 11:05 AM on August 10, 2007 [5 favorites]


i'm sure he was being facetious, but my point is an important one to bring out anyway ... they are using public resources for private gain and so the usual "corporate libertarian" arguments are flawed
posted by pyramid termite at 11:07 AM on August 10, 2007


LAWLapalooza shouldn't have sold the hell out. You don't need the death star to put on a webcast. Had they cared a lick for net neutrality, they would have taken advantage of it and broadcasted on their own.
posted by cowbellemoo at 11:07 AM on August 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


"The grunge music era was probably the best era for American music since the 50's."

Must. Resist. Derail.
I'm going to go lie down.
posted by 2sheets at 11:07 AM on August 10, 2007


The Making of So You Think America Can Pimy My Sweet Top Model.

I don't know what Pimy means, but it sounds hot! Does this debut in the Fall?
posted by saulgoodman at 11:07 AM on August 10, 2007


Why? The grunge music era was probably the best era for American music since the 50's.

I didn't mean anything derogatory about grunge. I just don't think Pearl Jam is grunge, more like a throwback to classic rock of the 70s. Which I also don't mean anything derogatory about. I don't mean anything derogatory about anything. STOP TRYING TO TRAP ME IN CORNER!!!
posted by poppo at 11:08 AM on August 10, 2007


what do you have against corners?
posted by pyramid termite at 11:09 AM on August 10, 2007 [3 favorites]


nice try, but as they use public easements for their phone and internet lines, they are being supported and enabled by the government

Sorry, I was being facetious. But legally speaking, censorship is something a government does — though I think corporations are ersatz governments and for that reason should be subject to the same obligations as the federal government.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:09 AM on August 10, 2007


The usual corporate libertarian arguments are flawed anyway. Censorship exists as both a legal and moral concept. A 100% private company that controls a person's speech may not be censoring them under the law, but it's still censorship and therefore wrong.
posted by DU at 11:12 AM on August 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


(I shouldn't be so absolutist. Instead of "wrong", let's say "not to be taken lightly".)
posted by DU at 11:13 AM on August 10, 2007


DU and PT are right: It's "censorship" whether it's carried out by a private or public entity, though its debatable whether only the government sponsored kinds are prohibited by free-speech protections.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:19 AM on August 10, 2007


Of course, this has nothing to do with actual network neutrality, other then that AT&T blocked something on their own site, akin to matt deleting a post here.

The network neutrality movement basically won. Now what's important is going on the offense, and making the principles apply to wireless handsets. What would have happened to "the internet" if AOL controlled the software on machines that connected to it, and prevented people from even installing web browsers, and if there were no other way to connect to the internet and no other way to buy a computer.

We need wireless net neutrality now.
posted by delmoi at 11:23 AM on August 10, 2007


I found the quote from the AT&T flack interesting. He said "We have policies in place with respect to editing excessive profanity, but AT&T does not edit or censor performances."

Note that he's contradicted himself in one sentence. "editing excessive profanity", followed by "does not edit". Of course, we expect that PR flacks will lie, but usually it isn't quite that blatent.

What I'd like to know is why anyone bothers contacting corporations for official statements. We all know they won't tell the truth, but will tell whatever lie they think will be most beneficial for them. Why should anyone, including journalists, even bother with them?
posted by sotonohito at 11:29 AM on August 10, 2007


Censorship is when one removes material from speech etc. The First Amendment prohibition against censorship only applies to government action, not private action.
posted by caddis at 11:32 AM on August 10, 2007


oh nevermind, saulgoodman already said it
posted by caddis at 11:34 AM on August 10, 2007


We all know they won't tell the truth, but will tell whatever lie they think will be most beneficial for them. Why should anyone, including journalists, even bother with them?

Every once in a while, with enough information on record, you can catch badguys in a lie. Then, depending on the situation, you can have a nice scandal or even a lawsuit.

Yeah, I know. I find it tedious, too.
posted by cowbellemoo at 11:37 AM on August 10, 2007


cowbellemoo Yeah, but this particular flack had a provable lie in a single sentence. The author of the piece not only didn't call him on it when he got the statement, he didn't even mention it in the article. That's what's bothering me. They got a statement from AT&T, the statement contained a provable lie, and they ignored it entirely.

Journalism seems to have the bad habbit of being lazy, that is merely writing down what various flacks say instead of doing any sort of investigation themselves, and the bad habbit of being lazy, that is playing the "he said, she said" game instead of trying to actually find the truth, or even point out when one side is blatently lying.
posted by sotonohito at 11:43 AM on August 10, 2007


Isn't it time a law was proposed that any private business doing work for the government is subject to the same oversight as the government?
posted by any major dude at 11:43 AM on August 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


The First Amendment prohibition against censorship only applies to government action, not private action.

...Which is why deregulation of the public airwaves and other sectors of the public space, coupled with corporate consolidation, and increasingly cozy relationships between the private and public sectors should scare the hell out of anybody who cares about free speech: Who needs government-sponsored censorship if all the potential outlets for expressing protected political views are privately controlled by a small number of entities whose interests mostly coincide with those of the government?

In such a way, you effectively arrive at the same end-result as coordinated government-sponsored censorship, without anyone formally violating the law.

/takes tin-hat off, twists it into shape of a swan
posted by saulgoodman at 11:45 AM on August 10, 2007 [3 favorites]


"George Bush, leave this world alone," he sang. "George Bush, find yourself another home."

this reminds me of how Larry Flynt's lawyers must have felt.

Free speech must be defended, and yet the trite phrasing and sheer lameness of the words in question is almost overpowering. Vedder is so painfully irrelevant at this point that you almost cheer for the censors.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:47 AM on August 10, 2007 [3 favorites]


oh and ps there was no such thing as "grunge." It was a fashion trend.

Poorly recycled Black Sabbath riffs and trite hippie-isms do not make a music genre. Sorry.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:49 AM on August 10, 2007 [2 favorites]


drjimmy11: +1 troll/derail! your favorite band sucks, too.
posted by Mach5 at 11:56 AM on August 10, 2007


MetaFilter: The trite phrasing and sheer lameness of the words in question is almost overpowering.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:58 AM on August 10, 2007 [3 favorites]


Pearl Jam are no Rolling Stones, but I think we can all agree that it sucks that corporations can get away with suppressing speech.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:01 PM on August 10, 2007


"Vedder is so painfully irrelevant at this point that you almost cheer for the censors."
It's hard to think of a free speech case in my lifetime where that wasn't the case.
posted by 2sheets at 12:02 PM on August 10, 2007


oh and ps there was no such thing as "grunge." It was a fashion trend.

Don't believe the hype. I was there, maaaaaaan.
posted by psmealey at 12:02 PM on August 10, 2007 [3 favorites]


There seems to be an odd psychological principle at work here that AT&T et.al (Fox xomes to mind first with “accidentally” labeling contra-doctrine Republicans as Dems) are making use of.
It’s an advantage akin to hitting someone then backing off and apologizing immediately.
I believe Douglas Adams noted this (in a different vein) but imagine if you will the position it puts you in if someone were to bust you one in the chops then immediately and profusely apologize.
This of course along with whatever obfuscative story comes to mind, slick, shoddy or indifferent (I thought you were someone else, I happened to be swinging my fist and you were there, someone else said you blah blah blah, etc. etc. etc).
It would be far worse were it genuine. And even more so if, as is the case in a large group (like a corporation) it can be blamed on someone else.
So if you’re the Pearl Jams, to remedy the situation you’re in an initiatory attack position (a nearly always an inferior one, done openly).
And manifestly - this is what they’re calling for (activism).
So AT&T gets to play the martyr (because hey, it wasn’t company policy, it was some guy who they’ve fired or fined or whatever - if it even goes to that depth beyond the “we don’t edit” lip service), activists expend their time and energy on an inert target, the public - like a referee in this case - only sees the return shots as aggression, and the actual problem - the systemic problem - remains unchallenged.
Gotta snag on ‘em, snicker snag.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:03 PM on August 10, 2007 [2 favorites]


Publius of Obsidian Wings has a good post on how this fits into the ongoing net neutrality debate. Here's an excerpt:
That said, I think AT&T is telling the truth when it says it has no intention of blocking content. It’s not so much because they’re awesome people, but because of self-interest. Blocking content is a bad idea for them because (1) it would trigger a massive political reaction; and (2) there’s no money in it.

On Point #1, blocking content (i.e., speech) is something the public would both easily understand and passionately oppose. And so companies have strenuously avoided doing that. As a result, it’s hard to find actual examples of content-blocking. (AT&T, for instance, always responds that opponents have no evidence of blocking). Thus, when you do find examples of content blocking, it’s like finding oppositional research gold. Rest assured that the Pearl Jam song will feature prominently in, oh, let’s say every comment filed at the FCC favoring net neutrality for the next two years. Again, it's an effective political weapon because blocking political speech is so simple and so objectionable -- e.g., “this big evil company blocked political speech.” That’s not hard to understand. And that’s why AT&T will worry about Vedder-gate.

On Point #2, understand that the ability to block content is not AT&T's endgame. It’s not what the broadband companies are fighting about. For them, the endgame in the net neutrality debate is the ability to do access tiering -- i.e., cutting deals with content providers and services to guarantee a higher quality of service (e.g., ensuring Google goes really fast on the high-speed lane). AT&T probably doesn’t care about content -- it just wants money. If the Rah-Rah-Go-Stalin-Go website paid up, I doubt AT&T would much care what they post.
posted by Kattullus at 12:06 PM on August 10, 2007


I'd like to comment on this, but my ISP wants to charge me $50 each to click on these links.
posted by fungible at 12:11 PM on August 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


I bet AT&T isn't censoring any of those phone calls and emails they are recording for the government.
posted by Mr_Zero at 12:16 PM on August 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


drjimmy11: +1 troll/derail! your favorite band sucks, too.
posted by Mach5 at 2:56 PM on August 10 [+] [!]


It's OK, he likes Elton John. ;)
posted by caddis at 12:17 PM on August 10, 2007


I think I'm more inclined to agree with this line of thinking from the post Kattullus cites:

Of course, if you wanted to read more into Vedder-gate, you could argue that it shows these companies' capability to block content. Just because it's not an issue today doesn't mean it won't be an issue down the road. Thus, we arguably should remove all risk by removing the legal right to engage in this type of behavior.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:21 PM on August 10, 2007


I’d argue free speech as a fundamental right. I’d argue that a corporation might not have to carry your message, but they should not legally be allowed to suppress or distort it. Firing you for stating something, for example, would be suppression. Given the reasonable concessions to reality of course - that what you’ve said is the truth, doesn’t reveal trade secrets, incite anyone to violence, etc.
There are in fact whistleblower laws to protect such speech against corporations. Speech not spoken because of fear of retribution - of whatever kind - violates the right to speak freely.
The obscenity there might be some wiggle room. I myself don’t like censorship of any kind (don’t want to hear, or don’t want your kid to hear “fuck”? Don’t listen to or watch Pearl Jam), but I recognize the point as contested.
Where this gets sticky is you have a corporation censoring what is essentially political speech.
I can see no situation in which society is served by such an aggregation of power censoring the political views of the less powerful.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:29 PM on August 10, 2007


What gets me about net neutrality is that they're my lines (and your lines, and his lines) anyway. The telcos got billions of dollars to build lines, with the stipulation that everybody gets last-mile fiber and, therefore, access to very high speeds. Instead, they laid a bunch of fiber and cable according to profitability and simply refused to do any more. The wires upon which these messages travel were paid for with a massive amount of tax money and have become regarded as the private property of the telcos, who have flat-out refused to demonstrate anything like an awareness or an obligation to the terms under which they required them.

I'd love to see the DoJ or someone file suit against them.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:31 PM on August 10, 2007 [2 favorites]


I'd love to see the DoJ or someone file suit against them.

Ha! Comic genius.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:35 PM on August 10, 2007


Wouldn't this sort of issue be addressed in the contract between the concert organizer and AT&T? Seems like the shame should be on them for allowing this to happen.
posted by Big_B at 12:45 PM on August 10, 2007


Ha! Comic genius.

*takes a bow*
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:47 PM on August 10, 2007


I'm trying to understand one item...how does AT&T's admission that they have capacity and intent to filter some content, if not this specific broadcast, undermine their status as a common carrier? I was under the, perhaps mistaken, impression that once you did ANY attempt at control, you were legally liable for everything that you didn't catch. Hasn't AT&T made themselves liable for all the kiddie porn in alt.binaries thru this admission?
posted by nomisxid at 12:58 PM on August 10, 2007


nomisxid, even if that was the case -- which I'm not sure -- who is going to prosecute them?
posted by chunking express at 1:15 PM on August 10, 2007


They weren't filtering random internet traffic, nomisxid. This was a webcast run by AT&T (well technically they subcontracted it, but the contract was between AT&T and the promoters to webcast the event). Which is not a common carrier issue, they're the actual provider of the data.

It is exactly like NBC or CBS censoring something (Super Bowl, anyone), it is not about them censoring 3rd-party data like usenet groups, which is what the common carrier stuff is about.

I'm not sure why a message board or webcast or anything has to allow anything people want... if AT&T had reached out and blocked a Usenet posting, as you mentioned, that I would agree is troubling.

But I see nothing wrong with what AT&T did -- the main issue would be their government ties, as above, which is why the actual lines should probably be run by a separate company which is a pseudo-public/gov't entity, and side efforts like this media business should be separate. Then this wouldn't be an issue.
posted by wildcrdj at 1:24 PM on August 10, 2007


(I mean, yeah I think it's lame... and maybe people should not watch AT&T webcasts... but it's not like they have any sort of monopoly on webcasting, so there are tons of alternatives for bands to use).
posted by wildcrdj at 1:25 PM on August 10, 2007


"George Bush, leave this world alone," he sang. "George Bush, find yourself another home."

In other news, a third-grader managed to rhyme "cat" with "hat."

I loved, loved, loved Pearl Jam in 1992. Wha'. The. Fuck. Happen?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:33 PM on August 10, 2007


drjimmy11: It should probably be noted that they morphed from Daughter into Another Brick in the Wall, and then added those lines onto the end. Not exactly genius, but they fit the cadence of the song.

FWIW, Pearl Jam's set was surprisingly awesome that night. I wasn't planning to even stick around, but I'm very glad that I did.
posted by mzanatta at 1:35 PM on August 10, 2007


It is exactly like NBC or CBS censoring something (Super Bowl, anyone), it is not about them censoring 3rd-party data like usenet groups, which is what the common carrier stuff is about.

Right, and that was about broadcasters censoring what might be deemed obscenity (and actually, the controversy was that they didn't censor it, IIRC), which has always been considered a special case of unprotected speech under the law. Censoring a political statement during a broadcast of a public event, on the other hand, seems like a slightly different animal to me, though I don't mean to say it's a clear cut case.

Regardless of where the law comes out on this, it's terrible PR for AT&T and also terrible in a broader, this-reeks-of un-American-activity sense, too.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:36 PM on August 10, 2007


How many other times has AT&T censored information, or shared it with the Feds, or copied it for future use without anyone (anyone without any power, anyway) knowing?

Who died and made these guys the gatekeepers? Who guards the guards?

These are questions of vital importance. They need to be addressed in detail, especially now that Dumbya is pushing for blanket immunity for companies that violate citizens' privacy rights at the behest of the government.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 3:18 PM on August 10, 2007


My fave part is the "What happened to us this weekend was a wake up call."

Bit late to be sleeping through the corporatization of media, no?
posted by mediareport at 6:55 PM on August 10, 2007


I loved, loved, loved Pearl Jam in 1992. Wha'. The. Fuck. Happen?

They got over writing songs purely for top 40 radio and got really good.

During Daughter, the band always does an extended ending. Eddie will chant whatever lyrics are on his mind, or whatever point he wants to make.

So the line isn't exactly profound or anything, but at least it's not an official lyric.
posted by jragon at 11:01 PM on August 10, 2007


Bit late to be sleeping through the corporatization of media, no?

That line is part of a greater point where they explain that corporations have essentially been saying "sure we have a lot of power, but just trust us".

Pearl Jam is pretty politically active. They're hardly sleeping, they're making the point (again) while it's hot.
posted by jragon at 11:04 PM on August 10, 2007


AT&T May Have Censored Bands' Political Speech in the Past
posted by homunculus at 11:15 PM on August 10, 2007


It is exactly like NBC or CBS censoring something (Super Bowl, anyone), it is not about them censoring 3rd-party data like usenet groups, which is what the common carrier stuff is about.

No, CBS is broadcast TV which is prevented by law from transmittting cursing or nudity. No similar rule governs webcasts. Of course, even on broadcast TV censoring out the political portion would be bad form.
posted by caddis at 12:20 AM on August 11, 2007


"cool papa bell" - at one time you seemed to be a reasonable voice.

Lately (has your account been hacked?), you're just coming across as a troll.
posted by porpoise at 12:32 AM on August 11, 2007


psmealey writes "Don't believe the hype. I was there, maaaaaaan."

You didn't need to tell us, psmealey, it was obvious.

People *always* think that the music of their adolescence/early adulthood is the most significant ever to be produced. It has nothing to do with the music, and everything to do with their nostalgia for the period when life was exciting and filled with promise.

Hence nobody will *ever* top the vocal stylings of Rudy Vallee.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 6:11 AM on August 11, 2007


People *always* think that the music of their adolescence/early adulthood is the most significant ever to be produced.

I don't think I've ever lacked perspective on that issue. Clearly there were far more significant periods for pop music, and truthfully "grunge" was not much more than an amusing little blip (not to mention a raucous good time for those of who were too young for the punk era) on the landscape, but yes, living in the Pacific Northwest during that time was a incredibly exciting and promising.

My recollection of that time was that PJ just never seemed to fit into what was happening, other than the fact that Stone and Jeff went to high school and played with a lot of folks in that scene, and they definitely *looked* the part. They aspired to something a bit bigger and catered to a completely different crowd.
posted by psmealey at 7:23 AM on August 11, 2007


I'm trying to understand one item...how does AT&T's admission that they have capacity and intent to filter some content, if not this specific broadcast, undermine their status as a common carrier?

it hasn't been 100% determined that common carrier status exists for ISPs or the rest of the internet

if it did, we wouldn't be having this debate about net neutrality
posted by pyramid termite at 9:31 AM on August 11, 2007


Bit late to be sleeping through the corporatization of media, no?

Better late than never. There's still hope.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:27 PM on August 11, 2007


Lately (has your account been hacked?), you're just coming across as a troll.

That's a rather lame callout given the context of the topic, the reasonable level of MeFi snarkiness, the fact that I didn't stick around to continue hurling invective, and the unabated, conspiracy-laden, perspective-lacking jackassery from others in this thread that pollutes MeFi on a daily basis.

But, your criticism seems well-intentioned, nevertheless. Thanks.

So ... Oh well. Whatever. Nevermind.

shit, wrong band
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:38 PM on August 11, 2007


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