Revisiting censorship and Kristin Henson’s “Dirty Signs”

1stamendment

Now that Kristin Henson’s book, “Dirty Signs,” has been published and outrage is now circulating among the Deaf community on social media, I thought it a good time to reprint the column I wrote in early 2012 about freedom of speech and why it’s so important that we understand the distinction between banning and protesting a book.

People who write negative reviews on the book’s Amazon page are doing the right thing.

People who write protest letters to the book’s publishers are doing the right thing.

People who say it should never have been published are saying the right thing.  

People who say it should have been banned in the first place are saying the wrong thing. 

Henson’s book should never be banned, but I can support protesting a majority group member’s economic exploitation of the endangered language of a minority group. It is immensely unfair that even as thousands of deaf children are being deprived of or actively barred the opportunity to learn American Sign Language, a hearing person with very little connection to deafness is profiting from perverting the language (not only by teaching only dirty signs, but also by doing them wrong). 

I know people are not going to like my position, but I will always, always support our constitutional rights to freedom of speech and the press. So, without further ado, here’s the original column.

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Tough decisions in disaster journalism

(Left) A child is pulled from the rubble of the Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, Okla., and passed along to rescuers after Monday's tornado. By Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press. (Right) A starving infant lies on the ground in Somalia, with a vulture in the background. By Kevin Carter.

(Left) A child is pulled from the rubble of the Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, Okla., and passed along to rescuers after Monday’s tornado. By Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press.
(Right) A starving infant lies on the ground in Somalia, with a vulture in the background. By Kevin Carter.

A friend on Facebook posted about Kevin Carter, a journalist who shot a Pulitzer Prize-winning photo of a starving infant in Somalia, was roundly criticized for not helping her, and a year later – deeply scarred by that incident and repeated experiences of shooting wars and disasters – committed suicide. And that made me think of the media’s coverage of the recent tornado that demolished Moore, Okla.

The ethical dilemma between whether to shoot/cover or to jump in and try to prevent tragedy is a constant in the j-biz, always discussed and debated by journalists and bloggers (such as this one about Kevin Carter), and is often something I muse about. It can be extremely traumatizing for journalists, and Poynter even has guidelines for how to cope. Do you remain an impartial, non-involved observer so that you can report tragedies to the rest of the world, or do you put down your pen and camera and become essentially a volunteer worker? Does your presence contribute to changing the circumstances of the event, thereby placing greater moral responsibility on you to help? Where is the line between these jobs and does it have to be absolute? Is the former equally as important as the latter when it comes to events like the famine in Somalia, Hurricane Katrina and the Moore Tornado? Does “duty to rescue” apply to journalists too?

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