What would Benito do?

The SE Texas Record Oct. 4, 2008, 12:50pm

Italian strongman Benito Mussolini may be history's most famous fascist.

Among his infamous tactics: Mussolini required a fascist party "certificate of approval" before journalists could ply their trade. His "Blackshirts" thug-militia sought to throttle the press, mandate loyalty to the state, and squelch all opposition to Benito's reign.

We were reminded of these dark days of press freedom after reading the comments of attorney Larry Watts, who apparently thinks of Il Duce when he picks up the Southeast Texas Record.

"You are not a pro-American journal," Watts told our David Yates this week. "(The Record) is a fascist and unconstitutional paper."

Watts just had won a hard-fought, $126,250 jury verdict against Jefferson County on behalf of his client, once-fired Precinct 7 chief constable Larry Roccaforte.

Perhaps that explains his comments: Watts may have been disoriented while throwing the barbs, intoxicated with joy and maybe dreaming about how he'll spend his cut of the action.

If there's another way to understand how a man with a law degree, one actively licensed to practice law in Texas, could call a newspaper exercising its constitutionally-guaranteed right to free speech "unconstitutional," please pass it on.

Is there another article of the Constitution we missed-- one that bans writing about plaintiff's lawyers unless the prose is gentle and fawning?

More ironic is how someone in the same breath could accuse a newspaper of not being sufficiently patriotic while also being fascist.

Mussolini, Mr. Fascist himself, might have accused us of the former offense. More likely he would have already shut this newspaper down. Is that the kind of democracy Watts wants? Would he cheer such a move?

Of course he wouldn't. We recommend Mr. Watts take a time out before opening his mouth next time he's asked, assuming he ever wins another case.

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