Religion: The Internet

Jim Gilliam, cofounder of Robert Greenwald’s Brave New Films, gave this inspiring talk at the Personal Democracy Forum in 2011. It has been called “the best video on the internet.”

Gilliam was raised a Christian fundamentalist. At a young age, he was introduced to computers and soon characterized his life by going to school, going to church and going online. For Gilliam, the internet provided a platform where he was judged by his brain, not discounted by his age.

In his speech, Gilliam recounts his story of struggling with cancer, being denied treatment and turning to the internet for help. According to Gilliam, God is what happens when humanity is connected. The internet proved to be the connection Gilliam needed.

“I have faith in people, I believe in God and the internet is my religion.” -Jim Gilliam

Just watch it.


Shield Laws

Forty-eight states and the District of Columbia provide journalists with a reporter’s privilege, or protection from the state government to subpoena journalists to reveal confidential information. Some states have statues known as “shield laws” which allows whistleblowers and sources to feel safe approaching journalists and leaking the wrongdoings in society.

However, there is no federal law to protect journalists from revealing the identity of their sources. Therefore, many journalists are called to the Supreme Court and forced to testify and reveal the sources and information gathered. Oftentimes, these reporters refuse to testify as a violation to their First Amendment rights of the freedom of speech and press.

This issue was brought up in the landmark case, Branzburg v. Hayes, in which the Supreme Court made its first and only inquiry into the constitutional protection of the relationship between a reporter and confidential source. This resulted in a reporter-focused privilege that is now questionable and inconsistent in its application.

A bill proposed by Senator Dianne Feinstein says that the protection of reporters and their sources should only apply to ‘real journalists.’ This bill excludes an entire class of reporters by defining who is and who is not a journalist. The bill would limit protections to those who fir the description of what Congress considers “the press.”

But there is still hope.

Congressman Alan Grayson introduced an amendment to the FY 2015 Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations bill to provide a media shield for reporters against disclosure of confidential sources. His amendment refers to a journalist that reports on a regular or irregular basis and describes journalism as an act instead of a profession. According to Grayson, a journalist is someone engaged in the act of journalism, including the collection, analysis, dissemination and publication of information. With this amendment, James Risen, Julian Assange, Wikileaks and Glenn Greenwald would meet the definition of a journalist and thus be protected under the media shield law. This would further allow bloggers protection under the First Amendment.

The freedom of our nation relies on the freedom of our press. Without this reporter protection, the fundamentals of journalism are at risk. 


Legal Insurrection

On Monday, The O’Reilly Factor’s Jesse Watters went to Cornell University to interview students about a recent news article claiming that 96 percent of the $600,000 in faculty donations went to Democratic candidates. According to the article, only 15 out of the 323 donors gave to conservative causes. Watters was kicked off campus by the university’s media officials.

William A. Jacobson, a law professor at Cornell and conservative blogger for his independent conservative outlet, Legal Insurrection, found the statistics “completely predictable.” He labeled the event as an example of the Streisand Effect, which, according to Jacobson, is:

“‘The Streisand effect is the phenomenon whereby an attempt to hide, remove, or censor a piece of information has the unintended consequence of publicizing the information more widely, usually facilitated by the Internet.'”

The story has been picked up by both liberal and conservative news outlets nationwide.

Last week, Jacobson spoke to our Independent Media class about Legal Insurrection. In 2008, Jacobson started off with few computer skills and little knowledge of what a blog was. Today, his outlet sees over 45,000 page views per day.

Jacobson worked alone writing articles for the first two years. He hit one million visits after eleven and a half months, and took on the help of one of his undergraduate students. By 2011, Legal Insurrection began to bring on contributing writers and volunteers.

Jacobson discussed the struggles of maintaining his site and the difficulties of generating new readers. Since many conservative websites have gone corporate, Legal Insurrection relies heavily on linking and sharing. Its partner, College Insurrection, serves as an aggregator of news, but rarely sees much traffic.

Most of the profit the website generates comes from donations, fundraising drives and advertisements. When asked if he would ever consider quitting his teaching career at Cornell to focus on Legal Insurrection, Jacobson was hesitant. As of now, Legal Insurrection employs two full-time writers and Jacobson makes no profit.

Legal Insurrection illustrates the essence of independent media. Like other indy outlets we have studied in class, the website fills a niche in society and provides a platform for voices that are suppressed by mainstream media.


Independent Media

A blog is defined as an online website that contains personal reflections and comments, often involving hyperlinks from the writer. But blogs were around before the internet. One of the oldest and most traditional forms of journalism is the blog.

Blogs and bloggers date back to the birth of our nation. The roots of the blog can be traced back to the anonymous pamphlet writers that helped build the foundation of America in its rebellion against Britain. In his article, Are Bloggers Journalists? Let’s Ask Thomas Jefferson, Chris Daley discusses the pamphlets that were crucial to the rebellion. These pamphlets were cheap, provocative and influential. They filled a niche in the mainstream media that refused to report on controversial topics. Blogs continue to do this today.

Rodger Streitmatter’s inspiring book, Voices of the Revolution: The Dissident Press in America, chronicles the journalists who advocated for change in a mainstream society. These independent journalists, much like bloggers, filled a void in society when the media was silent.

We can learn some great lessons from the efforts of independent media. In his article, What Indy Media Heroes Can Teach Us, Jeff Cohen relays what we, as journalists, should strive for in independent media.

Don’t shy away from lost causes… Take advantage of mainstream silence… Take advantage of crisis… Take advantage of new technology… Defend press and media reform… Activate your base…

Perhaps the most important lesson that can be learned, however, is to stay stubbornly independent. If independent journalists and bloggers had fallen silent to mainstream media, the social progress and reformation of our country would not exist.

Blogs · IndyBlog


In January 2013, an anonymous source contacted filmmaker Laura Poitras through encrypted emails. He called himself Citizenfour and promised to reveal sensitive information of secret surveillance programs run by the government.

By June, the stranger agreed to meet up with Poitras and reporting partner Glenn Greenwald in Hong Kong. Here they learned of his true identity: Edward Snowden.

In the hotel room, Snowden reveals to Greenwald and The Guardian intelligence reporter, Ewen MacAskill, the numerous ways in which the NSA has been spying on American citizens. On June 6th, Greenwald broke his first story on the NSA’s collection of millions of phone records.

“I am more willing to risk imprisonment than I am willing to risk curtailment of intellectual freedom and that of those around me.” – Edward Snowden

The next day, Poitras published a second story in The Washington Post revealing how the NSA and FBI have been tapping into U.S. Internet servers. This included Google, Yahoo, Facebook and Skype, to name a few.

Greenwald published a follow up on the defense of whistleblowers and their role in government scandals. According to Greenwald, whistleblowers are fundamental to our democracy.

On June 11, Edward Snowden’s identity was revealed at his request in an article in The Guardian. Despite his decision to be publicly revealed, Snowden insisted that he wanted to avoid media spotlight. According to Snowden, he does not want the story not be about him, but about the NSA scandal.

On June 21st, The United States Government charged Snowden with three felonies, two falling under the Espionage Act, and asked Hong Kong to extradite him. Two days later, Wikileaks organized Snowden’s departure from Hong Kong to seek political asylum in Russia. Snowden has been there since.

“What people used to call freedom and liberty we now call privacy.” -Citizenfour

Poitras documented the entire ordeal in her documentary, Citizenfour, which won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature at the 2015 Oscars.


All you need is (free) love

Until Death Do Us Part

By the 1860s, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and other feminists had begun to question the sanctity of marriage. It was not until the 1870s, however, that reformers focused their attention on improving the union between husband and wife by proposing they should not be bound to an unhappy marriage. These free lovers believed that an individual should be free to move in and out of marriage based on love, or lack thereof.

“Yes I am a free lover, I have an inalienable, constitutional and natural right to love whom I may, to love as long or short a period as I can, to change that love everyday if I please. And with that right neither you nor any law you can frame have any right to interfere.” -Victoria Woodhull

Mrs. Satan

Victoria Woodhull, a leading voice in the dissident press, championed for free love after a failed marriage and remarriage. Financed by the wealthy Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, Woodull and her sister founded Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly, that advocated for women’s rights, proclaiming “Progress! Free Thought! Untrammeled Lives!”

The paper gained massive public attention, reaching 20,000 in circulation within the first six months (six times that of The Liberator or The Revolution).

Woodhull further gained success by running for president and speaking before U.S. Congress to legalize female suffrage. Her efforts were praised by Elizabeth Cady Stanton for advancing the cause of American women.

Censoring the Sexual Reform Press

Anthony Comstock sought to censor obscenity and lobbied for Congress to pass legislation. The Comstock Acts were passed, stating that anyone found guilty of mailing or receiving obscene material would be sentenced to ten years in prison. Eventually, Woodhull had to give up Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly due to censorship, jail time and personal losses.

Although the sexual reform press never succeeded in spawning a social movement, it was successful in destroying the institution of marriage and replacing it with a system where women and men were free to create and dissolve sexual unions at will. According to Roger Streitmatter’s Voices of Revolution, Woodhull’s work provided a venue for conversation that mainstream press refused to hear.

Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly dared Victorian society to rethink the views of sexual behavior despite this censorship and repression, making it one of the most influential voices in the dissident press.


Slow and steady wins The Tough Turtle obstacle race

Climb. Sprint. Crawl. Repeat.

Twelve-year-old Larsson Wing gasps for air as he hurdles himself over the final obstacle. His face is stained with dirt and his body is soaked in mud. As he reaches the finish line, he is greeted with cheers and then sprayed with colored chalk.

“I felt really good,” he said, “and really filthy.”

This is Wing’s third year participating in The Tough Turtle, a 5k-adventure obstacle course along the Cayuga Waterfront and Black Diamond Trails. The race is designed to push your body and challenge your wit, all while maneuvering your way through the mud. Continue reading “Slow and steady wins The Tough Turtle obstacle race”