Tully Center to focus on free speech issues
Speakers at Friday’s inaugural events for the Tully Center for Free Speech at Syracuse University focused on the importance of free speech in today’s society, as the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications hosted the first annual free speech symposium. The keynote speaker was Floyd Abrams, a noted First Amendment attorney, who addressed ‘the state of free speech.’
Dean David Rubin opened the program with a few remarks on the subject.
‘Our goal at the Newhouse school is to educate students’ rights to free speech and press,’ he said. These rights are now imbalanced due in large part to the public’s lack of access to information during wartime, he said.
Rubin then handed the floor to Chancellor Nancy Cantor, who spoke passionately about free speech and Joan Tully’s (class of ’69) contributions to this area.
‘We all know that free speech is the essential thread that is etched into our democracy,’ Cantor said.
Tully understood this concept and pursued her passion for the role of a free press in society, Cantor said.
‘She wanted the Tully Center to bring in noted free speech experts,’ she said.
Tully, who passed away in 2005, left a legacy in her $1 million gift to Newhouse, said Barbara Fought, the Tully Center’s first director.
Troy Ostrander, Tully’s business partner, spoke about Tully as a friend, mother and person.
‘She was a voice for the voiceless; she was an extraordinary woman,’ he said.
Friends of Joan’s were a friend of hers for life. In July of 2004, when Joan was dealing with her brain tumor, she wrote in her diary that she is excited to leave a free speech legacy behind, Ostrander said.
Robert Infarinato, Tully’s husband, was spoke next, talked about Tully’s days at SU and of the legacy she left behind.
‘Joan wrote for The (Daily Orange) and her goal was to find the facts and deliver them word by word,’ he said.
Tully graduated from SU in 1969 with a degree in journalism and English and later attended Fordham University to earn her law degree. After graduating, she was involved in land preservation, protecting the water supply of Onondaga Lake, designing and protecting gardens and selling real estate, Infarinato said.
‘On the Fordham Law Alumni Directory, the description of Joan’s occupation includes writing,’ Infarinato said. ‘Writing was her true passion.’
Keynote speaker Floyd Abrams provided an in-depth analysis of the current state of free speech in the United States today, beginning with current and past presidential administrations.
‘I am not a fan of today’s administration, really I am not a fan of any administrations,’ he said.
The current administration deliberately seeks to criticize, ridicule and threaten those who try to disseminate information, Abrams said. Almost everything in government is kept secret beyond any laws of reason.
‘All of this was true in 1971 and this remains true in 2006,’ he said.
Following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, it was necessary to take steps to prevent further acts of terrorism, Abrams said, adding, ‘Some acts have been lawful, some have been unlawful.’
People must have enough information to evaluate the government and the job it is doing, Abrams said.
‘When The New York Times published its expos on the government’s warrantless wire-tapping, it was a great time but the Bush administration denounced the publication, which is dangerous,’ Abrams said.
Abrams said he recognizes the need for a probing press.
‘A cantankerous, obstinate and ubiquitous press must preserve the values of the freedom of the press, much to the chagrin of government officials,’ he said.
Abrams said that the Federal Shield Law, which protects journalists from revealing their sources, is essential.
‘Forty-nine out of 50 states give some or complete protection to journalists to protect their confidential sources,’ he said. ‘The current administration’s policy changes are in violation of these First Amendment values.’
Abrams cited three trends of the Bush administration, which he said he believes hinders free speech, including over-classification of documents, the scaling back of the Freedom of Information Act and the overall behavior of the administration.
‘There is no better time for the Tully Center of Free Speech,’ he said.
Abrams is best known for his involvement in the Pentagon Papers Case (New York Times vs. U.S.) and his eventual victory for The New York Times regarding the case. The Pentagon Papers Case stemmed from the Nixon administration’s Vietnam War policies and its attempt to conceal information from the public.
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