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Is this man’s “free speech” worth protecting?

stevensThe self-described “author and journalist” whose dogfighting videos were given the Supreme Court’s seal of approval this week, has at least three “pro-dogfighting videos” to his credit as well as an instructional book for aspiring dogfighters, the Humane Society of the United States says.

Robert “Bob” Stevens, a 69-year-old resident of Virginia, produced the videos “Japan Pit Fights,” “Pick a Winna,” and “Catch Dogs and Country Living.” He has also sold other dogfighting videos, including “The $100 Keep.”

Stevens, the first person tried and convicted under the now-defunct federal Depiction of Animal Cruelty Act, is also the author of “Dogs of Velvet and Steel.”

Stevens’ was convicted under the 1999 law in 2005 and sentenced to 37 months in prison. A decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit overturned the conviction, and the Supreme Court agreed with the appeals court decision this week.

velvetsteelWhile Stevens has claimed to be merely a pit bull lover with no interest in dogfighting, HSUS says the evidence points to the contrary. In “Dogs of Velvet and Steel,” he declares, “I attended many pit fights” and gives graphic accounts of several.

“Japan Pit Fights” includes a series of graphic dogfights. In “Pick-a-Winna,” Stevens invites viewers to pick the dog they think is going to win the fight. He goes on to act as commentator for each match, providing analysis on which dog is the better fighter. 

“Theeeere they go!” he shouts as each new pit bull match launches.

Stevens’ final video, “Catch Dogs and Country Living,” is geared toward training dogs for hog catching, an event in which pit bulls commonly latch onto the faces of pigs. Sometimes the pigs go down, sometimes the dogs do.

During one scene a pit bull named Katie is shown doing “catch work” by latching onto the face of a  farm hog. “In about three minutes there is no bottom jaw on that hog.  Stevens says. “Katie took that, and good part of his throat and his nose out…”

(Photo: Stevens, in a scene from Pick-a-Winna)


Comment from Anne’n’Spencer
Time April 22, 2010 at 9:22 am

I would be the last person on earth to want to abridge our freedoms of speech and the press. I believe very firmly that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. This is a huge question.

There ought to be a way to define, in carefully written laws, just when an activity ceases to be protected free speech. In the case of the dogfighting and other animal killing publications and films, it seems pretty obvious. To me, it’s just as obvious as the prohibitions against child pornography. Abuse, which is a crime, is actually taking place and being filmed. That implicates the person doing the filming in the crime itself.

This whole thing needs to go back to Congress to be carefully re-worked in light of what the Supreme Court is saying. And that needs to happen pretty quickly before countless more animals are tortured. I’m also beginning to believe that the Supreme Court justices are completely out of touch with real life as most of us are living it.

Response: As a journalist, I’d be the second to last, and I would uphold a news organization’s right to film and show something, anything, going on that is illegal, letting taste prevail — even though taste seldom prevails nowadays. But there’s a huge difference between that and taking part in/encouraging/promoting the illegal activity.

Comment from MJJean
Time April 22, 2010 at 9:41 am

Yes, his Freedom of Speech os worth protecting! The whole point to Constitutional Rights is to protect those who may disagree with the majority. The spirit of the law was to protect people who felt a need to voice political opinions from prosecution. Since Pits, Dog Fighting and using animals to hunt or help with farm work is the subject of much political debate and legal debate this man’s views on the subjects should definately be protected.

Comment from Gus ‘n Wally ‘n Ms Jan
Time April 22, 2010 at 11:56 am

Two really excellent websites to read understandable analyses of the underlying law and the ruling overturning it are at animal law coalition dot com and care2 dot com. There were reasonable ways the Supremes could have handled this. Film and photos prepared in exposing dog fighting, any animal fighting for that matter, abusive hunting practices and the like, were actually protected under the previous law. This is not a free speech ruling, it is lip service paid to that Constitutional amendment. What it is is akin to the recent rulings such as that by Clarence Thomas re the food industry and such as that recently to allow corporate political (massive) donations: if you follow the money, an investigation that pretty much always works, you will see what this ruling is “really” all about. It is all about the NRA. Read the ruling, the analyses, and the underlying law and as much of the proceedings as you can stomach, and draw your own conclusions – I did. Ignore the media rants praising the protection of “free speech.” Those rants IMHO are designed to deflect “superficial readers” from learning the real truth.

Comment from Anne’n’Spencer
Time April 22, 2010 at 2:38 pm

John, you are so right, and I should have expressed myself more clearly. This is also wrapping itself into a big, fuzzy ball in my head with the recent hate speech of the “God Hates Fags” people who delight in wrecking funerals.

If I stand on the corner with a sign that says “Get Your Illegal Drugs Here!! Reasonable Prices, Free Delivery!” the authorities will take an interest, and rightfully so. That’s clearly promoting and taking part in an illegal activity. If WJZ places a hidden camera on a streetcorner and films illicit drug transactions as part of a report, that’s clearly legally protected free speech. We had a neighbor who delighted in standing on his front porch in the afternoons spewing the “N” word at small schoolchildren, scaring them to death. When I talked to the police, I was informed that he was within his rights as long as he was on his own property.

I suspect that “we, the people” need to have some serious discussions on this subject, and for the sake of these animals, we need to do it soon. Until then, I’m going to take the position that the films constitute participating in an illegal activity.