Here in Orlando we have a “police agency” known as MBI. I am not quite certain what MBI is supposed to do with the taxpayers’ money, but I can report on what they have done.
They recently raided the alternative newspaper, The Orlando Weekly, and arrested three of its employees for accepting advertisements from escort agencies. Quick, go grab your local newspaper and yellow pages and see if you can find the same ads… I’ll wait here….
Ok, you back? Yes, you found the same ads.
So, why has MBI gone after the Orlando Weekly? The Orlando Weekly claims that it is in retaliation for its negative press coverage of MBI. Their article detailing their claims of MBI’s record of corruption and ineptitude is here, and is a must read.
Rick Schreiber, publisher of the Orlando Weekly, staunchly defended his publication and his employees, and asserted that the arrests were made as a form of payback for negative coverage of the MBI that the Orlando Weekly has carried over the years.
“We suspect that the MBI has targeted our company because we are the only newspaper in the area that has been critical of the MBI in a series of investigative articles over the past several years,” Schreiber said.
In an article published following the arrests the paper describes the MBI as “an inept, inefficient police organization, answerable to no one.” (source)
MBI, naturally, denies that the carefully-staged raid (with TV crew in tow) has anything to do with the Orlando Weekly’s gadfly approach to covering the MBI’s misdeeds.
As a matter of Constitutional law, if the MBI’s charges stick, it will be an ugly day for the First Amendment.
“This case raises some significant 1st Amendment concerns,” attorney Lawrence Walters told XBIZ. “We’re talking about the government agency effectively shutting down a newspaper that was critical of its activities. There may be some extenuating circumstances in this case, depending on how the facts play out. But the prospect of a special law enforcement task force taking newspaper employees into custody on racketeering charges based on the content of its advertising is antithetical to the precepts of the free speech guarantee.” (source)
Perhaps the companies advertising in the Orlando Weekly were, indeed, offering illegal services. What if they were? If MBI succeeds, they will not only have succeeded in imposing a horrifying Singapore-esque chilling effect upon the media, but they will create a new precedent that all media companies should fear. If the MBI succeeds, if any publication (or website, for that matter) accepts advertising, it will be forced to investigate the advertiser’s business or worry that MBI will come pounding at their door.
I would like to remain somewhat objective on this case, but I can’t. MBI has not been the most impressive agency to date, (read this), but this is the most outrageous example of thugs targeting their critics that I have seen since the Nixon administration.
I guess this post may get me stuck on MBI’s “enemies list” as well. Nevertheless, all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to remain silent.