AT&T censors Pearl Jam over anti-Bush lyrics

By Martin Bosworth

Craig Aaron from FreePress.Net alerted me to this bit of funny business:

During the performance of “Daughter” the following lyrics were sung to the tune of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” but were cut from the webcast:
– “George Bush, leave this world alone.” (the second time it was sung); and – “George Bush find yourself another home.”
This, of course, troubles us as artists but also as citizens concerned with the issue of censorship and the increasingly consolidated control of the media.

This is a perfect example of why we need net neutrality as a concept. Here we have a corporate sponsor of a concert arbitrarily deciding what content it does and does not want to share with its users. This doesn’t even pass the obscenity smell test by a long shot, and the Internet is not governed by the same standards as broadcast TV. The Pearl Jam forum, as you might expect, is going nuts over this action, and one of the commenters actually nails it on the head:

AT&T did it to themselves. By censoring a few lines here and there they created a big deal and gave it more attention than it would have received otherwise. It’s too bad I missed the webcast…cause I was at the show. The Amoco song ruled. Release a freakin iTunes single for it. “The song AT&T didn’t want you to hear…”

Why would a supposedly rational, free-market entity like AT&T do such a thing, knowing the backlash it would cause? Because corporations have biases like any other entity, and AT&T goes way back with the Republican Party and Bush in particular. Remember that AT&T is one of the prime movers in the Bush regime’s now-legalized warrantless surveillance and data mining program. This company has a legacy of bad action in almost everything it does, and you simply cannot trust them to do the right thing.

I know there’s this knee-jerk tendency among Americans to say “ZOMG FREE MARKETS CORPORATIONS DON’T HAVE TO PROTECT SPEECH,” but corporations are now so closely entwined with government entities that they deserve the same level of scrutiny, oversight, and enforcement. This was a public Webcast over the public Internet, and AT&T simply does not have the right to control the content therein. But as the Pearl Jam crew notes, when one provider is the only game in town, what choice do you have?

If you believe that free speech means speaking truth to power and saying things that need to be said, then net neutrality is the obvious and only solution. We can’t afford an Internet future that doesn’t have it.

UPDATE: Sam was kind enough to provide me a link to the video itself. Check it:

8 replies »

  1. I’ve been a PR guy for a big telecom. And I’ve been in the war room when the company I worked for did something stupid. Not THIS stupid, but close.

    I’m guessing that right now that AT&T PR war room is one of the last places you’d want to be. They’ve done so much hard work trying to beat NN down, and now the company goes and PROVES the other side’s point.

    Amazing. Just amazing. But I can tell you from experience – just because somebody is a C-level exec in a big company like this, it doesn’t mean that person isn’t an idiot.

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  3. Sam,

    That’s exactly what I’m saying. If they’d left well enough alone, they could have simply written it off as a typical anti-Bush remark from a very left-wing rock band. But instead the fear overtook them and they used the heavy hand of censorship, and now they look like assholes.

    All censorship is about fear. In AT&T’s case, it was fear that letting this remark go unchecked would get them in hot water with Bush, in whom they’ve invested so much and have tied themselves to closely to. That’s what happens when you bet on a loser.

  4. What wonderful lyrics for Pearl Jam!!!!!! I love them and I am disgusted with AT&T’s Bush loving ass-kissing. Pitiful is a good word for them.