The Washington Post

Free speech, free movie tickets

Journalist Jeremy Scahill takes a hard look at U.S. covert operations in “Dirty Wars." (Pilar Olivares/REUTERS)

Tuesday’s daily State Department briefing seemed fairly humdrum — until the end, when department spokeswoman Jen Psaki called on Associated Press reporter Matt Lee.

“Apparently the U.S. Embassy in Canberra is offering free tickets to see the movie ‘Dirty Wars’ ” at the Australian capital’s film festival, Lee said, asking whether anyone in Foggy Bottom knew about ticket freebies being offered on the embassy Twitter account to a “documentary about undercover JSOC [Joint Special Operations Command] operations around the world that is not exactly the kind of movie that portrays the U.S. government in a positive light.”

Indeed. As The Washington Post’s review noted of the movie, produced and co-written by reporter Jeremy Scahill of the Nation: “The narrative begins in an Afghan village near the city of Gardez, with Scahill investigating a 2010 raid by U.S. forces that left several civilians, including two pregnant women, dead. Although the U.S. military initially denied involvement, it eventually admitted to its role and apologized for the deaths with the gift of a sheep to the villagers, who refer to the bearded commandos who stormed their home as “American Taliban.” The film doesn’t change gears after that.

Psaki said she would check out the report.

Lee followed up Wednesday, noting that, of course, “one could argue that it is laudable that the embassy would want to, you know, promote divergent views of things.”

“Well, as always, context is important,” Psaki said, adding that the department’s public diplomacy and outreach programs worldwide “promote independent films, promote Hollywood films. That’s something we’re doing here.” The Canberra film festival “has dozens of movies, including 16 U.S. films,” and the department is “providing some funding for that,” she said, and the embassy is offering “a range of tickets for . . . more than a half-dozen movies.”

“We believe in freedom of speech,” she said. “We’re not judging or advocating or endorsing any of the movies, but we are just simply encouraging people to participate in the film festival.”

Besides, it’s not as if they are giving away small American flags for people to burn after the movie.

Fredo’s fabulous new life

Loop Favorite and former attorney general Alberto “Fredo” Gonzales is on a roll these days. When last we checked in on him a couple years ago, there was good news. Gonzales had had a tough time signing on with a law firm because of his controversial Bush administration actions, things like that race to George Washington University Hospital to get an ailing attorney general, John Ashcroft, to approve a highly questionable domestic surveillance program; the controversial firing of some U.S. attorneys; his approval of “enhanced interrogation techniques.” But he landed a job at a Nashville law firm, Waller Lansden. It wasn’t a partnership, only an “of counsel” gig, but it was a start.

The new firm describes him thusly on its Web site: “Whether a client has discovered an issue that requires strategic crisis management assistance, or has received a subpoena or search warrant from a government agency, Judge Gonzales is uniquely prepared to deliver sound guidance and representation.”

“Uniquely prepared”? Seems about right.

And there was more good news. Gonzales, who had been teaching at Texas Tech, was headed to a job as a law professor at Nashville’s new law school, Belmont University, which has since gotten provisional accreditation from the American Bar Association.

Wait — there’s more! This week, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) appointed Gonzales to sit on a panel that nominates folks for the state’s appeals courts and the state supreme court. We recall that as Texas governor, George W. Bush had appointed Gonzales to the state Supreme Court. So it’s all coming together for Fredo.

Listening, not laughing

The National Security Agency has been having some tough times of late, infuriating America’s closest allies — especially German Chancellor Angela Merkel — who are upset over reports that the agency has been engaged in unfriendly monitoring of their electronic skies.

Worse yet, this week it was hit with a lawsuit filed by Public Citizen in federal court in Maryland for one Dan McCall of Minnesota, operator of, which sells “Freedom products for liberty lovers.” The products are humorous T-shirts, hats, mugs, bumper stickers and such with all manner of political slogans.

The NSA, for some reason, did not appreciate a design that used its official seal with the words “Spying on you since 1952.” And then there’s the design boasting that the agency is “The only part of government that actually listens.” The seal is altered a little — the official one doesn’t say “PEEPING WHILE YOU’RE SLEEPING.”

In 2011, the agency notified, which made the products for McCall and operated a virtual store for his site, that federal law made it illegal to use the NSA name or seal that way, the eight-page lawsuit said.

The folks at the Department of Homeland Security weighed in a couple of months later objecting to a design with a version of the seal and the words “Department of Homeland Stupidity.” The DHS warned that it was a crime to mess with the seal of any federal agency that and a violator was subject to “fines and/or imprisonment,” the suit said.

Zazzle withdrew the items. (Another site, CafePress, still sells them, Public Citizen lawyer Paul Levy tells us.) So McCall sued, saying the parodies of NSA listening and DHS stupidity are protected under the First Amendment. He demanded that the agencies back off.

Guess we’ll see who laughs last.

With Emily Heil

The blog:
intheloop. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993.

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Get Zika news by email

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Show Comments
The Democrats debated Thursday night. Get caught up on the race.
The Post's Chris Cillizza on the Democratic debate...
On Clinton: She poked a series of holes in Sanders's health-care proposal and broadly cast him as someone who talks a big game but simply can't hope to achieve his goals.

On Sanders: If the challenge was to show that he could be a candidate for people other than those who already love him, he didn't make much progress toward that goal. But he did come across as more well-versed on foreign policy than in debates past.
The PBS debate in 3 minutes
We are in vigorous agreement here.
Hillary Clinton, during the PBS Democratic debate, a night in which she and Sanders shared many of the same positions on issues
South Carolina polling averages
Donald Trump leads in the polls as he faces rivals Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz heading into the S.C. GOP primary on Feb. 20.
South Carolina polling averages
The S.C. Democratic primary is Feb. 27. Clinton has a significant lead in the state, whose primary falls one week after the party's Nevada caucuses.
62% 33%
Fact Checker
Trump’s claim that his border wall would cost $8 billion
The billionaire's claim is highly dubious. Based on the costs of the Israeli security barrier (which is mostly fence) and the cost of the relatively simple fence already along the U.S.-Mexico border, an $8 billion price tag is simply not credible.
Pinocchio Pinocchio Pinocchio Pinocchio
Upcoming debates
Feb 13: GOP debate

on CBS News, in South Carolina

Feb. 25: GOP debate

on CNN, in Houston, Texas

March 3: GOP debate

on Fox News, in Detroit, Mich.

Campaign 2016
Where the race stands
Most Read


Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Close video player
Now Playing

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.