Last night, Rachel Maddow reported that a conservative group in Michigan is using the Freedom of Information Act to search the e-mails of professors at three different universities. The terms they are looking for: ‘Scott Walker’, ‘Wisconsin’ and ‘Madison’.
Oh yeah, and ‘Maddow’. As in Rachel Maddow.
When Maddow tried to find out why the group was so interested in searching e-mails containing her name, she was told that they included her name because”Ms. Maddow had recently criticised at length Michigan’s governor and his labour-related legislation in a TV segment virally circulated on the Web” and “we are aiming to generate a more narrowly targeted set of e-mails…”
They also said this:
“At a minimum we thought a FOIA investigating professors’ e-mails on these subjects might demonstrate whether state officials should ask questions about this use of tax dollars for public universities. In the worst case scenario we knew these e-mails might suggest that the faculty had acted illegally.”
So, essentially, a conservative group in Michigan is targeting professors, trying to find out if they were doing something illegal simply on the basis of what television show they might be watching.
Maddow, as you might imagine, seemed genuinely frightened by the prospect of members of her audience being arrested simply for watching her show.
“Thank you for watching this show, this year in this era of big intrusive government conservatism. Because what big intrusive government conservatives think that open records laws are for is for finding out which pubic employees, which university professors, watch this show. Or discuss things that happen on this show. Those professors who ever mentioned the word ‘Maddow’ will now have their e-mails gone through with a fine tooth comb by conservatives who say that will go through them to try to find something that could be used to embarrass you. Embarrass you enough to jeopardize state funding for your employer or maybe, maybe if they hit the jackpot maybe they’ll be able to find something in your e-mails that could put you in jail. If you have used the word ‘Maddow’ in an e-mail and they can use government power to get enough leverage over you in Michigan you are on their list and they are coming after you. Watching this TV show and discussing its content should not be an act of bravery. The conservative movement is making sure you know it is. If it feels cold all of a sudden, if that gives you a little shiver, it is supposed to. That’s how they roll.”