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I am a grouchy, bald headed old fart filled with opinions and not the least bit shy about sharing them.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Cory Doctorow and a story just too good to fact check

Indianapolis, IN - I got to meet and talk with Cory Doctorow at Penguicon a few years ago. At the time I knew there many things we would disagree on. His politics lean somewhere just to the left of Nancy Pelosi. Doctorow's stance on copyrights and freedom to share anything digital, music and movies included, are immature and unrealistic. But even with all those differences in it was still a pleasant and fascinating chat.

I used to believe Doctorow was way out of left field but pretty much straight up when it came to his facts and his arguments. It is possible to disagree with someone and still respect their position on the matter.

Doctorow's reaction to a recent incident at the Port Huron border now leads me to believe otherwise. His friend, Canadian author Dr. Peter Watts was pepper sprayed and arrested after an altercation with border guards while trying to leave the country.

So far, everyone can agree on the following facts:

  • Dr. Watts drove a rental car to the Port Huron border crossing.
  • The US border patrol selected him for extra screening.
  • Dr. Watts exited the car to ask why he was being singled out.
  • Border patrol officers told him to get back in the car.
  • A struggle took place, Dr. Watts was pepper sprayed and arrested.

The above facts are outlined in news reports:

Jones said Watts was crossing into Michigan from Point Edward when he was selected at random for a secondary Customs inspection. Watts exited his vehicle "angrily" and border officers began checking the black sport utility vehicle he was driving, Jones said.

Border officers ordered Watts back into the vehicle, and when he refused, officers attempted to handcuff him, Jones said. At that point, Watts began to resist and pull away from the officers "and became aggressive toward officers," Jones said.

Jones said a border officer used pepper spray to subdue Watts. Jones said Watts "choked" an officer during the struggle.

Jones said Port Huron police were called to the scene after the scuffle and took Watts into custody.
The Times Herald: Writer faces assault charge

And in Dr. Watts own blog:

Along some other timeline, I did not get out of the car to ask what was going on. I did not repeat that question when refused an answer and told to get back into the vehicle. In that other timeline I was not punched in the face, pepper-sprayed, s___-kicked, handcuffed, thrown wet and half-naked into a holding cell for three f___ing hours, thrown into an even colder jail cell overnight, arraigned, and charged with assaulting a federal officer, all without access to legal representation (although they did try to get me to waive my Miranda rights. Twice.).
Dr. Watts' Blog (Not work safe for language)

I was concerned that Doctorow might be over looking the extreme possibility there may be more to this then being told on Dr. Watts' blog. (The Times-Herald story had not hit the street by that time.) I suggested through a comment on BoingBoing that Doctorow have a look at the reports and video of the event:

Cory, you made part of your career out of gaining access to public records. I would like to see the arrest and detention reports published here unedited.

Additionally, in the post 9/11 world our border crossings are bristling with recorded video cameras. If I remember the rules correctly, that video will also be public record.

All I'm asking is that the entire story be told. It would trouble me deeply to see some use you and your reputation to complain about a spanking they actually earned.

Doctorow's response was that he was speechless at my use of the word "spanking" in reference to what happened to Watts. He rightfully pointed an error I made in writing that leaving the country is a privilege. (I meant entering, but for some reason typed "entering or leaving.") Then he more or less told to file my own FOIA because he didn't approve of my statements.

This shows me that Doctorow is not interested in what really happened. Like almost all of those who delight in bashing the United States Government, he is only interested in promoting the cause. Confusing the validity of their complaint with facts is something to be avoided at all costs.

There is no getting around it. For these people, this is one story that is just too good to fact check. They are going to get all they can out of it. What Dr. Watts really did or did not do is irrelevant as long as the incident can be used to further bash policies and laws they disagree with.

I think this story needs telling for a couple reasons. BoingBoing has a huge following. It is troubling that other comments saying pretty much the same thing I did were deleted from the article. My last response to Doctorow suggesting this story was "too good to fact check" was deleted as well. It is their board, the moderators have that right. But it shows where the moderators and/or Doctorow are coming from. That reflects badly on everything else written there.

The other is equal time. Maybe the half dozen of you reading this will take a minute to think over the actual facts we have as of right now. We all know there are bad cops out there. But 99% of the time, the pepper spray and smack down come out only after numerous ignored warnings. Logically, the events do not make sense as described by Dr. Watts. When adding to the equation all the cameras now present at border crossings, it makes even less sense. The Border Patrol agents know their actions are being recorded.

So what is the truth here? Did the Border Patrol from Hell assault Dr. Watts for having the tenacity to politely and respectfully question their authority and motives? Or did he come flying out of the car cussing a blue streak, ignore repeated warnings to get back in his car before he got run over and then attempt to resist arrest with violence after the border patrol ran out of patience with his antics?

I don't know. I wasn't there. Neither were Cory Doctorow or all those people looking to lynch the Border Patrol agents and various government officials including George W. Bush to avenge this outrage. (Yes, several blamed the whole thing on President Bush.)

I suspect the truth is somewhere between those two extremes.

Last note: If Dr. Watts is truly an innocent victim here I will be at the front of the line to help protest what happened to him.


If your mother tells you that she loves you, check it out.
- Painted on the wall of the old Chicago News Bureau.

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