Sunday, December 14, 2008

Throwing the Shoe at the First Amendment

It's hard not to burst out laughing when you see the first part of the journalist throwing two shoes at George Bush at a press conference in Baghdad today, but the second part has some horrible echoes of assassinations (see the video below), and the incident raises some serious questions about the First Amendment.

Muntadar al-Zeidi, the shoe-thrower, is an Al-Baghdadia television correspondent, according to AP as reported by Bloomberg News. Muntadar al-Zeidi was taken into custody, and Fox News reported this afternoon that Al-Baghdadia and other Iraqi journalists have called for his release, on grounds that his shoe-throwing is protected under the First Amendment.

To begin with, it serves little purpose to note, as Fox commentator Julie Banderas said to her colleague Gregg Jarrett, that Iraq has no First Amendment. That's true, but the far more important point is whether shoe-throwing constitutes a kind of speech or press, and therefore deserving of First Amendment protection, if Iraq did have a First Amendment, or if a similar incident happened here.

The answer, I would say, is clearly no. Throwing a shoe may indeed be a political statement, but it is also a form of assault, as Banderas did correctly observe. If the shoe is steel-tipped, it could do serious damage - like taking out an eye.

Here's a handy check list:

"This is the farewell kiss, you dog," al-Zeidi said when he threw the shoe. Protected under the First Amendment.

"This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq," al-Zeidi said as he was being led away. Also protected under the First Amendment.

Throwing a shoe - or, in this case, two? I don't think so. Throw the book at him.

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