It is altogether reasonable, as I have said, for the Administration to insist that "The Innocence of Muslims" does not represent the views of the US Government or those of the American people. Such an insistence is unlikely to do any good, but neither does it do any harm. It is an appropriate disclaimer.
It is neither useful nor appropriate for the State Department to publically pass judgment on the merits of the video or its producers. In the first place, it enhances the status of these yahoos. They have everything to gain by being denounced from high levels of the Administration. What a fundraising tool!
More importantly, it sends an unambiguous message to the militants: because you behave as you do, you get special consideration. We will bend over backward to be sensitive to your feelings.
We might even be pushed so far as to shut the offensive video down (even here in the US). That is clearly what the Administration tried to do when it contacted YouTube. From The Politico:
The Obama administration asked YouTube to review the trailer for the anti-Muslim film 'Innocence of Muslims,' officials confirmed Friday.
White House officials emphasize that their inquiry was not a removal request, simply a review.
The "White House officials" were, of course, being disingenuous. They were obviously hoping that YouTube would take the damn thing off the net. It's hard to blame them and at least they recognize the boundaries of First Amendment protection.
The same cannot be said for the gaggle of authoritarians who appeared on MSNBC. From Jonah Goldberg at RealClearPolitics:
Over at MSNBC, a riot of consensus broke out when contributors Mike Barnicle and Donny Deutsch as well as University of Pennsylvania professor Anthea Butler all agreed that the people behind the video should be indicted as accessories to murder. "Good morning," declared Butler, "How soon is Sam Bacile [the alleged creator of the film] going to be in jail folks? I need him to go now."
Barnicle set his sights on Terry Jones, the pastor who wanted to burn the Koran a while back and who was allegedly involved in the video as well. "Given this supposed minister's role in last year's riots in Afghanistan, where people died, and given his apparent or his alleged role in this film, where . . . at least one American, perhaps the American ambassador, is dead, it might be time for the Department of Justice to start viewing his role as an accessory before or after the fact." Deutsch helpfully added: "I was thinking the same thing, yeah."
Let's get this straight: the pastor and the filmmaker should be prosecuted and jailed for their expressive activities because someone else reacted violently to them. We have seen this kind of thing before. Southern policemen tried to shut down peaceful civil rights marches because Whites reacted violently. This would be a grave threat to freedom of speech and assembly. I would like to believe that these MSNBC numbskulls have as little support as pastor Terry Jones, but I don't believe it.
Putting that aside, what if we did take the video off the net and imprison the goofballs responsible for it? Would that not mean that the terrorists win? All they have to do is burn enough American flags, invade enough embassies, and kill a few of our diplomats, and we will give them what they want.
Ps. Google acted to block access to the video in several Mideast countries. Craig Timberg has a pretty good piece at the WaPo on the issues for civil liberty and the problematic power that such sites as YouTube and Google have over public and private communications. It is an interesting question whether it violates free speech to block communications between an American citizen and persons in a foreign country as opposed to communications between citizens in the United States. Of course, Google is a private firm; however, it may have been acting at the request of the Federal Government. I am inclined to think that Google's action was proper and the Federal Government was allowed to encourage it to take the action. The firewall between domestic and foreign policy is enough in this case to protect First Amendment liberties.