Buffalo Journofail and the “Victory” of Steven Kurtz

The piece by Colin Dabkowski in today’s Buffalo News ArtsBeat section is entitled “A clear case of injustice ends in victory for free speech.”  Remember Steven Kurtz?  The University at Buffalo professor of art who awoke in 2004 to find that his wife Hope had passed away during the night of congenital heart failure?   Who spent the next four years in legal hell, first charged with bioterrorism and then, when the grand jury found no evidence to support that charge, with absurd charges of mail fraud?  Steve Kurtz, who was deprived of the opportunity to mourn by a hysterical post-9/11 legal system and the refusal of prosecutors to admit their mistake, until the charges were finally thrown out by a federal court?  What possible feel-good ending could turn this tragedy into a “victory for free speech”?

The “victory,” it turns out, is that the legal defense fund set up by friends and supporters of Kurtz and the Critical Art Ensemble had $108,000 left over and has donated the funds to the Center for Constitutional Rights and the New York Chapter of the ACLU.

Here are the statements from the CCR and NY ACLU, in context:

“The NYCLU is very pleased to receive this generous contribution from the CAE Legal Defense Fund to continue our work in restoring, defending, and upholding our constitutional and fundamental rights, including artistic and academic freedoms,” said Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

Vincent Warren, Executive Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, congratulated the CAE Defense Fund “and its many dedicated and principled supporters for your extraordinary victory—a victory for our country and the Constitution as much as it is for the individuals.” He further stated that, “The CCR is honored to use the tremendous support of the Fund’s donors to continue the fight against repression of dissent and illegal detentions—work which, unfortunately, is still sorely needed.”

This hardly supports the closing of Dabkowski’s piece: “It’s hard to imagine a more harrowing story. But then again, it’s hard to imagine a happier ending.”  The CCR’s Warren cautions that “the fight against repression of dissent … is still sorely needed,” but in Dabkowski’s fairy tale version it becomes “a triumphant victory.”  In fact, Dabkowski’s spin to the denouement of this story only further exploits Kurtz and the ordeal he suffered in the service of another feel-good story for the Buffalo News.


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