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Open & Shut

A collection of recent funny, fascinating, nonsensical or just notable newsworthy quotations. From the Winter 2002 issue of The News…

A collection of recent funny, fascinating, nonsensical or just notable newsworthy quotations.

From the Winter 2002 issue of The News Media & The Law, page 48.

“You can’t protect the Constitution and respect it without also protecting lives.”

— Attorney General John Ashcroft, defending the Justice Department’s plans to bolster law enforcement tactics after the Sept. 11 attacks.

“To those who pit Americans against immigrants and citizens against noncitizens, to those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve.”

— Ashcroft, testifying on Dec. 6, 2001, before the Senate Judiciary Committee about critics of the Uniting and Strengthening America By Providing Appropriate Tools Required To Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act, known also as the USA PATRIOT ACT.

“The law properly prevents the department from creating a public blacklist of detainees that would violate their rights. They are not being held in secret.”

Ashcroft, explaining on Nov. 26, 2001, why Justice officials refuse to release the names of hundreds of people detained in connection with the Sept. 11 attacks.

“The best friend of freedom is information.”

— Ashcroft, explaining why the Justice Department released videotapes and photographs of five suspected al-Qaeda members.

“If the events of Sept. 11 have proven anything, it’s that the terrorists can attack us, but they can’t take away what makes us American — our freedom, our liberty, our civil rights. No, only Attorney General John Ashcroft can do that.”

— Comedian Jon Stewart from Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show”

“Downtown Houston never smelled so good.”

— Book author Vanessa Leggett upon being released after spending 168 days in the Federal Detention Center in Houston for refusing to disclose confidential book research to a federal grand jury.

“But for the near future at least, maintaining my journalistic freedom will mean sacrificing my personal liberty.”

— Leggett, explaining why she chose to spend 168 days in jail rather than turn over her research on a high-profile murder case to federal authorities.

“We live in a day of evaporating personal liberties and one of the most important of those is that we can read from a press that is unregulated by the government.”

— Mike DeGeurin, attorney for Vanessa Leggett.

“I’ve been trying to tame our press corps ever since I got into politics, and I’ve failed miserably. They get to express their opinions, sometimes in the form of news.”

— President Bush, responding to claims that his administration stifled press coverage after the Sept. 11 attacks.

“If you have any information, any evidence you would like to bring forward about potential wrongdoing, we will do our best to track it down for you. But other than that, I liken it to a fishing expedition — such a broad request, that we will be helpful to provide information about any allegations of wrongdoing. To date, nobody has made any allegations of wrongdoing or has even any suggestions of them.”

— White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, responding to whether the Bush administration would respond to congressional inquiries about possible wrongdoings at Enron.

“Is it banned here?”

— Mahmoud Allam, consul general of Egypt, after hearing of the American Civil Liberties Union for the first time. Allam learned of the group after receiving a letter from the ACLU offering help in guiding foreign nationals detained in the United States through the American court system.

“I had a friend who told me he thought I should plead senility.”

— Wally Wakefield, a 71-year-old sports reporter for suburban weekly newspapers in St. Paul, Minn., who has been ordered by a judge to reveal his sources for a story he wrote five years ago.

“The same thing that happened at the World Trade Center has hit me. I was terrorized by the Frederick News-Post.”

— Frederick, Md., Mayor Jim Grimes, on the newspaper’s campaign for access to a local madam’s seized list of clients, which Grimes had tried to throw away.

“Consider it disbanded. Go crazy.”

Assistant Secretary of Defense Victoria Clarke officially announcing that the Pentagon no longer required American journalists to operate in a pool system to cover the U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Defining the Terms

An occasional collection of terms that have been pivotal to the outcome of libel cases:

public forum n. 1. A place that is open to the public where information is freely exchanged. 2. A public forum “is not limited to a physical setting but also includes other forms of public communication.” 3. A newsletter is a public forum when it is “a vehicle for open discussion of public issues and was widely distributed to all interested parties.” 4. A Web site can be a public forum. — Definitions used by the California Court of Appeals in Riverside in dismissing a libel suit against people who posted Internet messages that contained statements of criticism about a public issue. ComputerXpress v. Jackson (Nov. 15, 2001).