Saturday, August 09, 2014

Banned In Britain!

A post I wrote six years ago just got blocked in the United Kingdom. This is at once infuriating and amusing, and oddly it's still vaguely relevant.

It also triggers in me a reaction best summed up by the term "Streisand Effect,"
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.

It is named after American entertainer Barbra Streisand, whose 2003 attempt to suppress photographs of her residence in Malibu, California inadvertently generated further publicity of it.  
Step into my time machine and let's republicize.

Here is the original article.

In May 2008 Peter Teahen was the favored candidate in a three way Republican congressional primary for the right to to take on fluke freshman Democrat Dave Loebsack. The other two contenders were some eye doctor with a long hyphenated alliterative name, and a Some Dude named Lee Harder.

(By sheer coincidence, Harder, who in between has lost a state senate primary, filed as an independent yesterday in House District 84 against long time GOP incumbent Dave Heaton.)

Teahen was trading on his name ID as a Cedar Rapids funeral director and his work in disaster relief around the world. I was writing professionally at Iowa Independent at the time and interviewed all three candidates (the Harder discussion proved useless). Teahen told me:
"Last year in Darfur, I was 25 feet away from a truckload of Janjaweed rebels. That's the group responsible for murdering 200,000 to 400,000 men women and children. And you look into the eyes of those terrorists, and you look into the eyes of the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka, you know that their only goal in life is to destroy everything the United States stands for,” he said. If we pull out of Iraq, where the war is really going on right now against terrorists, we're going to lose the much broader war. This is a war of survival."
Around the same time an email started floating around from a British disaster worker who had served in Darfur with Teahen. It even cited my interview. The man, whose litigious name I am VERY carefully avoiding, charged:

"Some of (his) recent claims about Darfur are complete fantasy -- like looking into machine guns and being physically close to the Janjaweed bandits. He wants us to see him as an Indiana Jones replacement, swashbuckler, universal hero and amazing international humanitarian. His claims and ambitions are very enticing and impressive -- but what if his true reality is more like that of a Walter Mitty character?"

The Englishman also charged that Teahen had padded his résumé and credentials, and was demanding - in Darfur?!? - high-end hotels and, very specifically, "ice cold Diet Pepsi."

This email started making the rounds of the rumor mill and surfacing on Republican blogs. It was becoming a sidebar issue in a tightening race. So I did the professional thing: I took the rumors above ground and - this was my big mistake - I sought comment from Teahen. And he took it over the top.

"I consider him a threat to my life and to the safety of my family," Teahen said of █████ ███████, who worked with Teahen last year in Darfur. "It is irresponsible of the Miller-Meeks campaign to be distributing this information." Teahen said ███████ had called the third candidate in the race, but "Lee Harder knew better than to touch it."

"For Mr. Teahen to attempt to claim that our campaign is directing this individual's actions is completely false," said Miller-Meeks campaign manager Todd Versteegh, who said ███████ himself distributed the charges. "But, as we've seen so clearly in this campaign, Mr. Teahen is quite capable of promoting his own falsehoods, so this comes as no surprise."

Democrats have joined the fray, too, charging Teahen with résumé padding and improper commercials.

Teahen said that he is working with the FBI and Great Britain's Scotland Yard in dealing with ███████ and that he has no-contact orders against ███████. "It's lies," Teahen said. "If you read it, it doesn't make a lot of sense. It's the comments and words of someone that's not being rational."
The story kept boiling around, along with some other negatives on Teahen, most notably that he'd committed heresy in 2002 by donating to a Democratic candidate. On election night, Marianette Miller-Meeks claimed a 109 vote lead over Teahen for an upset win and a career that's now on its third try against Loebsack.

So the story is, in a small but interesting way, still relevant. Now let's take the time machine back to the present.

Six years later, a month or so ago, Mister ███████ finds me via LinkedIn and says that this story is showing up number one in search queries on him, is embarrassing him, and he asks me to take it down. I look back at the story, I think it's fair and accurate. Sure it's He Said He Said, but that's how it happened. Journalism as the First Draft of History. I ignore and forget.


Yesterday I get a notice from Google that the story's been taken down and blocked - but apparently only in the UK. "Google has been notified that content in your blog contains allegedly infringing content that may violate the rights of others and the laws of their country." The "infringing content" is, it seems, my verbatim quotes from a candidate for public office. The UK has some concept of "right to be forgotten." I prefer our First Amendment.

But then again, being banned in Britain may the most punk rock thing I've done in a very long time. Sure puts me in good company.

The really funny thing is, Mister ███████ comes off as the reasonable person in the story, and the candidate is the one who looks wacky. And yes, the MMM crew did good work coming from behind to make it dead even. But this guy's Teahen Is A Phony story, not my write up but the story itself, almost certainly swayed a few votes in a VERY close race. So he should be patting himself on the back. His goal was to see Teahen defeated, and that's what happened.

But I'M the bad guy here, because I did the journalist thing and sought a response. Which just makes me retell the tale.


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