Unspun

Hazen drew Brugmann's ire over the handling of the annual Project Censored story, which AlterNet routinely carries. Brugmann thinks it's his exclusive province. Hazen disagrees. The matter's still unresolved.

Hazen clearly goofed in allowing his nonprofit institute to be linked to the protest with no consultation whatsoever with its members or board. He claims it was an inadvertent error, and the sponsorship was indeed withdrawn. "They were sponsoring it, but now they're not," says Media Alliance's Andrea Lewis.

There may once have been valid journalistic questions here, but they've long since been buried in a sump hole of personal politics.

Upside's Downside
Clinton Fein's annoy.com Website has Upside magazine, well, annoyed. Fein and his lawyers are using the site as the legal vehicle to challenge the constitutionality for the "intent to annoy" provisions in the Communications Decency Act (see "License to Annoy," Unspun, Feb. 5).

In a scolding column that accuses Fein of being more interested in self-promotion than free speech, Upside writer Tish Williams observes with some disgust that annoy.com includes "epithets," "crotch shots," and "butt crack" pictures. Perfectly true, and maybe even perfectly disgusting, but we fear she rather misses the point. Protecting First Amendment rights for what is nasty, ugly, and politically unpopular is the problem. That's why there are civil liberties lawyers in the first place.

Williams also finds it "curious" that Fein had help from another company in constructing his Website, implying that this somehow diminishes the legitimacy of testing a constitutional issue other CDA critics apparently overlooked. A bit nit-picky, we think. Or maybe just sour grapes. We, by the way, find it curious that none of those famed Silicon Valley libertarians, many of whom are Upside readers, bothered to rise to the challenge.

It's a dirty job, Tish, but somebody had to do it.

Annoy.com's Full Court Press
Fein's attorneys, Bill Turner and Mike Traynor, meanwhile are savoring a small but potentially significant procedural victory in their effort to win a preliminary injunction against the CDA.

In an unexpectedly swift and thorough order reviewing the law, U.S. District Court Judge Maxine Chesney has said that a full three-judge panel should be assigned to hear the case.

"She went way beyond what's required," says Turner, noting that all Chesney needed to do was pick up the phone to ask that 9th District Court Chief Judge Procter Hug assign the additional judges. Instead, he says, "she wrote a four-page order and specifically finds that this is a proper case for having a three-judge court because it legitimately calls into question the constitutionality of the CDA."

Chesney's order came just a day after the Fein case was filed on Jan. 30, but Turner says it will be a month at the very least before Fein actually gets his day in court for a hearing on the preliminary injunction request.

Earlier this week, Turner and Traynor covered the rest of the legal bases by filing a friend-of-the-court brief in a separate challenge to the CDA brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and other First Amendment groups now pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. "This was always a two-pronged effort," Turner says. "We wanted to be heard in the Supreme Court as well." The Supremes are expected to hear oral arguments this spring, and a decision is expected by late June.

Phyllis Orrick and Susan Rasky can be reached at SF Weekly, Attn: Unspun, 425 Brannan, San Francisco, CA 94107; phone: (415) 536-8139; e-mail: porrick@sfweekly.com.

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