Innocent until proven guilty may be a thing of the past if an investigation itself is punishment.
An investigation by government authorities can be quite damaging, even if that investigation turns up nothing in the end.
Investigations can be used as a warning to the target and others that Big Brother is watching.
Investigations can insinuate guilt, serving as a punishment in the court of public opinion.
And each of these scenarios can cause economic damage to the target by making others (customers, partners, sponsors) flee because they are afraid to be associated with a targeted individual, whether because they think them actually guilty, because they don’t want to be targeted themselves, or because they fear the public backlash stemming from one of those two scenarios.
A perfect example is Hillary Clinton. Yes, she was probably actually guilty and only escaped due to corruption, but the investigation did officially turn up nothing. This means her prospects of becoming President were impeded by an investigation and not a conviction.
The same goes for Trump and the Russia probe. Again, regardless of the actual merit of the investigation, it alone damaged his public image and took the wind out of the sails of his first 100 days.
And last year, many called for gun control legislation which would disallow anyone under FBI investigation to own firearms. Since basically all civilians are under FBI investigation in some way, this would effectively outlaw guns. Clever.
Then there were the IRS audits of Tea Party groups, which were costly for the leaders’ businesses and chilled the movement. Why would you paint a target on your back if you are a business owner or wealthy? Better to not publicly express support for the Tea Party.
It is hard for the government to directly attack free speech. They need to come at it from the side. They need to attack “hate speech” and “fake news.”
Investigations which the government knows will turn up nothing, in the end, are one outlet for suppression of freedom of speech.
“I Disapprove of What You Say, But I Will Defend to the Death Your Right to Say It”
-Evelyn Beatrice Hall and/or Voltaire
Stephen Colbert is crude, not particularly funny, and deserves the freedom of speech to say crude unfunny things. He made a joke about Trump, meant to suggest he is a pawn of Putin, and now the FCC is investigating him.
The joke aired after 10 p.m. with certain words bleeped out. This time-frame is within when the FCC kindly allows free speech on the air. But not really. The FCC claims:
Obscene content does not have protection by the First Amendment. For content to be ruled obscene, it must meet a three-pronged test established by the Supreme Court: It must appeal to an average person’s prurient interest; depict or describe sexual conduct in a “patently offensive” way; and, taken as a whole, lack serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.
When the government gets to define words it doesn’t matter what rights are enshrined in the constitution. The ones who interpret the words will have dictatorial power.
Even when the FCC defines obscene content, it still could be debated endlessly the meaning of the definitions themselves! Basically, the government can always make the case that something is not free speech because it is obscene, fake news, hate speech, incitement etc.
It seems unlikely that anything will come of this investigation, officially. But unofficially, this sends a message to comedians and activists–Big Brother is watching and disapproves of your jokes about Trump.
Think twice about who you criticize.
Stephen Fry was also recently investigated in Ireland for a blasphemy law still on the books. The investigation was dropped, but again, the investigation alone is the message and slap on the wrist.
But in this case, where Fry made derogatory comments about God not being compassionate, the message seems to be: Your neighbors are watching.
Fry’s comments were reported to the Gardai by a man who claimed to be doing his ‘civic duty’, saying they breached the Defamation Act.
…’This man was simply a witness and not an injured party. Gardaí were unable to find a substantial number of outraged people.
‘For this reason the investigation has been concluded.’
The man who made the report told the newspaper he was happy the matter had been investigated, stating: ‘I did my civic duty in reporting it.
‘The guards did their duty in investigating it. I am satisfied with the result and I don’t want to comment further.’
He said he had not personally been offended by Mr Fry’s remarks.
It is one thing to be investigated by the government you offended; obviously, they are annoyed that you have stepped out of line and must be intimidated back into submission.
But it is actually more terrifying when a fellow citizen turns you in to the Gestapo, not because he wants to see you punished, but because he simply realizes you broke a law, any law.
And further horrifying is that had a mob been angered over Fry’s comments, he would have been lynched by the system. If they had found a substantial number of outraged citizens, the investigation would have continued. This means your fate is left up to the masses to decide if you can speak freely, or not.
Perhaps there should be more evidence of actual wrongdoing required to even open an investigation, since the investigations themselves have turned into the punishment, not for breaking the law, but for offending the ones with power, or the societal mob which has far too much say in your fate.
A good sign, however, is that each of these investigations only made the target more popular. As they say, there is no such thing as bad publicity.
The real problems come when it is not the famous targeted by these investigations.