Let the Spin Begin: ABC Downplays Torture of UF Student.

Now that everyone and their mother has seen how free speech is “protected” on college campuses, the mainstream media is lining up to mitigate, apologize, and justify.

Anyone watching ABC 7 (the local Washington, DC affiliate) this morning would have thought the anchors were commenting on a comedy sketch and not a video depicting a student’s free-speech and human rights being violated. I’m referring, of course, to the manhandling and eventual tasering of University of Florida student Andrew Meyer, who dared to take more than his allotted two minutes to ask Senator John Kerry some tough questions. Although the video ended with a handcuffed Meyer screaming each time he is shocked with the taser gun, the most fitting comment one of the female newscasters could come up with was something to the effect of, “One sure way to get yourself tasered is to use the word ‘bro.'” Ha ha ha, ABC 7, you kill me! I almost forgot that I was watching police brutality and the suppression of free speech.

I searched and searched the Web for the ABC 7 segment but I couldn’t find it. Instead, I found a segment from Good Morning America which also shows ABC’s attempts to mitigate. Thirty-four seconds into the video, the ABC commentator clearly feels the need to make us understand that Meyer brought it all upon himself for asking John Kerry “obnoxious” questions. The rest of the video goes on to make it seem as if Meyer somehow deserved to be “forcibly dragged from the campus forum” and get “much more than he bargained for.” Much more than he bargained for? That’s right. Apparently that’s the newscaster’s euphemism for the totally unnecessary close-range tasering of Meyer after he had already been subdued (he was face-down on the ground with his hands cuffed behind him). Lest we think this incident is the huge deal it actually is, ABC reminds us that this was not the first time campus police had used tasers on a student, referring to the tasering of a UCLA student who refused to show his identity card to campus security. Really? Silly me! It’s no big deal after all! This kind of thing happens all the time.

During his narration of the UCLA incident, however, the narrator rediscovers journalistic objectivity and decides to keep his opinions to himself, which is a pity otherwise we might have heard him use words like “excessive,” “brutal,” or “uncalled-for.” Sadly, such adjectives are notably absent from his commentary. Instead, as the video nears its conclusion, he gloats that “The taser may now be the least of Meyer’s worries,” since he has now been charged with resisting arrest and disturbing the peace. You can actually hear the humor in his voice as he shares this last tidbit! Finally, we discover that Meyer is famous for practical jokes and for posting short, funny videos of himself on the internet. Good Morning America ends the segment with the words “But his 15 minutes of fame are from a video that is no laughing matter.” I guess we are now supposed to think this was just a prank that backfired? I don’t think so!

Play ABC News Tasering Cops Put on Leave3.flv

Clearly, this ABC presenter and I live in opposite worlds. When I see the video of Andrew Meyer having his microphone cut, being surrounded and literally carried off by campus security, and finally being shocked with a taser, I don’t see anything trivial or humorous. I see a young American whose First Amendment rights to question a public servant—whatever happened to freedom of speech and the right to petition government?—are denied, who is then violently manhandled although he posed no physical threat to anyone, and finally tortured in plain view of fellow students and a United States senator, who by the way did nothing to intervene.

Accuse me of hyperbole if you will but what happened to Andrew Meyer is torture, pure and simple. Taser guns are designed for long-range use to electrically incapacitate an assailant from a safe distance. The guns shoot small darts that strike the target and deliver an electric shock through connected wires. The shock is usually enough to disrupt the target’s muscle control, rendering him/her temporarily paralyzed. Although taser use is controversial—elderly people and people with heart conditions have died after being tasered—and has been criticized by human rights and civil liberties groups, the argument could be made that they are an effective and non-lethal way to disable a violent or threatening person from a safe distance. Fair enough.

But in the case of Andrew Meyer, the taser was not used for self defense. Meyer was already under arrest and was already incapacitated. Sure, he was still mouthing off but he did not pose a physical threat to the security officers, who were armed and outnumbered him by a factor of about six to one. Even worse, the taser setting for close-range use—as pointed out by Machinist—does not deliver an electric shock powerful enough to incapacitate. Rather, it causes excruciating pain and is used to get the target to comply. In Meyer’s case, the taser was used not to incapacitate him for officers’ protection, but to get him to comply; in other words, to make him shut up and leave the auditorium.

Let’s revisit the scenario. A student asks a question, then he is arrested, cuffed, and tasered. The setting isn’t high enough to incapacitate him and in fact, he doesn’t need to be incapicated because he’s already handcuffed and face-down on the ground. This rules out self defense and leaves only compliance as a motive. Basically, campus security used an electrified weapon to cause excruciating pain to a student in order to get compliance from him. What do you call it when pain is used to make a human being do something? That’s right, torture.

So here we have a student tortured in front of fellow students and a senator who, in an extreme act of callousness and cowardice, continues to speak into the microphone as if nothing was going on. For its part, ABC also tries to spin this by reporting that Sen. Kerry later said he had no idea Meyer had been tasered until after he finished speaking. So what? He should have intervened, or at the very least spoken out, as soon as Meyer was approached by security. Some University of Florida students have redeemed themselves by speaking in defense of Andrew Meyer and free speech, and for organizing an anti-taser rally on their campus. All Sen. Kerry has done is plead ignorance. Shame on John Kerry for not speaking out against the violation of a student’s rights and shame on ABC for attempting to turn a clear case of undue force into a joke. We should all be very worried when newscasters try to use comedy to mitigate the suppression of free speech.

Come to think of it, maybe it’s only fitting that newscasters try their hand at comedy since comedians—like Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Bill Maher, and Al Franken—are doing a much better job of reporting and analyzing the news.


2 thoughts on “Let the Spin Begin: ABC Downplays Torture of UF Student.

  1. Yeah, sure. I guess Andrew Meyer is actually lucky that he was arrested and manhandled, right? This has nothing to do with free speech or civil liberties or anything. It’s actually kinda funny, right?

    I wonder, what would have been too much for you? Where would you have drawn the line? Hooding? Dogs? Live rounds?


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