Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Post parody provokes police participation

[Updated below.]

Last winter I wrote about the slightly oddball story through which the First Amendment protection for parody became known as "the Mad Magazine exception."

Parody may have its privilege, but it has to continue to reassert its legal right to be, in the face of the powerful, the connected--and the humorless:

The New York Post does not have a sense of humor about itself, it would seem.

Early this morning, some 2,000 activists affiliated with a group called The Yes Men handed out copies of a 32-page parody issue calling attention to climate change. But when volunteers tried to distribute copies outside the Post's offices, they were detained by police and their papers were confiscated, says an eyewitness.

The Post, if it even needs to be mentioned, is owned by Murdoch's News Corp. The parody tabloid (also available online) features the classic Post-style headline "WE'RE SCREWED". The content is real articles with real, factual information about global warming--but with a Post spin: Page 6 features the obligatory cheesecake picture of Pamela Anderson, but with an accompanying blurb about Anderson's recently-launched line of eco- and animal-friendly swimwear and casual clothing.

The parody issue was distributed today to raise awareness in advance of tomorrow's United Nations talks on climate change. Yes Men co-founder Andy Bichlbaum says the group printed about 1 million copies at a cost of $50,000; the expense was underwritten by a private donor who prefers to remain anonymous.

Last fall, The Yes Men produced a fake New York Times edition about the Iraq War. Bichlbaum says the group chose the Post for its global warming stunt in part because of the paper's denialist stance on the issue. "Unfortunately, they never do real reporting on climate change," he says. "We're hoping this gives them the little kick in the ass that they need."

And as for the run-in between the volunteers and the police and building security:

"They seized the papers that those guys were distributing" and took them inside the building, says Nicholas [photographer Jason Nicholas, who witnessed most of the incident], who has photos of the confrontation. "It seemed they were acting in concert with building security because I noticed them talking before and after." Nicholas estimates the volunteers were held for 15 to 20 minutes. He could not say whether they were handing out papers on the sidewalk or on the concrete apron that fronts the News Corp. building.

A New York Post spokesman wasn't immediately available for comment.

Come on, News Corp.--at least Irving Berlin was classy enough to simply call his lawyer, not the police.

Update: Why did the NYPD decide to get involved in the peaceful exercise of First Amendment rights?

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