With all the news about Ukraine (formerly The Ukraine), the New Cold War, jetliners that vanish without a trace, and the Quebec election and Canada’s typically Canadian stroll towards disaster (topic for another day), you may have missed a major development in the never-ending battle for media freedom.
No, I’m not talking about the Canadian photographer killed while taking photos of the conflict in Syria. It’s much more important than that.
Thanks to the diligent efforts of lawyers and a number of American media outlets, we can now, at long last, see video of Justin Bieber taking a whiz. Sadly, we cannot see Bieber’s Little Justin, but a blow has been struck for media freedom nonetheless.
I suspect that you are at least peripherally familiar with Justin Bieber. In case you are not (or pretend to not know), a brief introduction is called for. Bieber is a Canadian pop (I assume; I don’t know any of his songs) singer who is an international megastar. When he broke onto the scene, he was a fresh-faced, clean-living, hard-working, raised-by-a-single-mom Christian lad who seemed to take his mammoth success with typically Canadian level-headedness. This kind of niceness can’t last, of course, and now Bieber is a world class asshole, with a whole string of minor crimes and misdemeanors (smoking so much dope on a plane that the pilots had to don oxygen masks, missing shows, assaulting limo drivers, petty vandalism, etc.). In January, he was arrested for drag racing and possibly impaired driving in Miami. Clearly, these were stupid things to do, but the stupidest thing he did was to get arrested in Florida.
You see, Florida — craziest of the American states, and that takes some doing — has a law that says that any court document is a public document. On the surface, this is a good thing. In this anal-retentive country, provincial and federal governments routinely thwart efforts by the media to see government documents. It can take months, and plenty of money, to pry documents out of government hands. But in Florida, the constitution says while everyone has a right to privacy, the public has a greater right to access public records — which includes police mugshots and videos. It is considered the most liberal (the only liberal thing in Florida) access law in the U.S.
In keeping with the law, Miami cops released a mugshot of Bieber, smiling broadly. (If you’re ever in a position of having a mugshot taken, it’s best to smile like you’re posing for a family photo. If you look like Glen Campbell did when he was arrested, as seen in the top photo, that picture will mark you for life.) They have also released shots of Bieber’s tattoos, the usual scattershot collection of scripture and random images. But, they did not release a video of Bieber taking a whiz, captured on police station cameras.
Well, the ever-vigilant media of Florida wouldn’t put up with that. Thirteen media outlets — yes, that’s THIRTEEN, including formerly reputable outlets like CNN and the Associated Press — entered into a lawsuit to force the court to release the video. This means that at some point, there had to be a meeting of hard-nosed editors and skilled lawyers, earnestly discussing whether to devote the time and resources to forcing the court to release a video of a young celebrity urinating.
Complicating the matter was the fact that the video contained a fleeting glimpse of Bieber’s penis. The learned judge (who, I hope, was wondering how the hell his judicial career ended up in such a sorry place) decided that the public’s right to know superseded Bieber’s right to privacy, and released the video — but only after the naughty bits were blacked out.
This, friends, is what the American media has been reduced to — court battles to allow the public to see somebody taking a leak. This is not that unusual, either. Media attorneys in Florida sued to force the state to release autopsy photos of race car driver Dale Earnhardt, who was killed in a crash at the Daytona 500 in 2001. (The state legislature passed a law blocking the release of the photos, so we were denied the right to see the mangled corpse of Dale Earnhardt, dammit!) I like to think that somebody, somewhere in the CNN newsroom or the AP editor’s desk was lamenting the sorry state of the media. Surely, somebody said: “Really? THIS is news? THIS is worth spending time and money on? Are we so obsessed with celebrity that we will go to COURT to force the further humiliation of some punk? Sure, we have the RIGHT to see the video, but do we NEED to see it?”
Pathetic, isn’t it?
By the way, the video is now available. Find it yourself.