NYT Movie Critic A.O. Scott Defends Criminal Vandalism of 'Savage' Subway Poster: 'Free Expression' and 'Democracy'

As shown on Times Watch this morning, New York Times media reporter David Carr may pooh-pooh the idea of liberal bias. But he's a stronger supporter of the First Amendment than some of his Times colleagues, like movie critic A.O. Scott, who ludicrously defended a left-wing journalist's vandalism of the subway poster as "free expression" and even "democracy."

In "The Sweet Spot," a weekly videocast featuring Carr and movie critic A.O. Scott discussed controversial advertisements put up in the New York City subway system by anti-Islamist activist Pamela Geller that read: "In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad."

One ad was attacked with pink spray-paint wielded by Egyptian activist and journalist Mona Eltahawy, who was charged with criminal mischief and graffiti and spent the night in jail. Carr found the poster racist but was more offended by Eltahawy's vandalism, saying "Put up your own poster."

The debate was relatively heated for a Times videocast, with Scott bizarrely suggesting that the poster vandalism was free expression and even a form of democracy, while Carr took the principled free-speech line. It begins around the 3:40 mark:

Carr: "Have you been in the subway and seen these posters by Pamela Geller. And they -- how do they read?"

Scott: "About--"

Carr: "In the war between."

Scott: The civilized and the savage, choose the civilized. Stop jihad."

Carr: "Choose Israel."

Scott: "Right. Fight jihad."

Carr: "Fight jihad. So [indecipherable] when I walk by it and I think, hmm, that's racist and dumb."

Scott: "And, you know, done by a known, I think, extremist."

Carr: "And yet what I find more offensive is, there's an Egyptian journalist, quite talented, Mona Eltahawy, I hope I'm saying her name right, who took it upon herself to go, and I'm, maybe you've seen the video where she's like spray-painting. And meanwhile she's telling the person who's trying to stop her from doing it 'This is freedom of expression, this is art.'"

[Brief video clip of the subway incident.]

Carr: "Is it really?"

Scott: "Well, hang on. Because at least if you're talking about the New York subway, I don't think I've ever seen a poster for a bad movie in a New York subway station that didn't have like the eyes ripped out or like Cameron Diaz's teeth blacked out or mustaches drawn on George Clooney. It might not be something that's generally approved of but I think that it is a form of expression."

David Carr: "To paint over words?"

Scott: "Sure."

Carr: "But I can't read them when I walk by and make my own assessment because they've been painted over. Is that–"

Scott: "Well, but that's not, I mean but that's not censorship, is it?"

Carr: "It's precisely censorship. That's exactly what--"

Scott: "No it's exactly not censorship because it's an--"

Carr: "Just a second--"

Scott: "--individual person using, censorship is a centralized, isn't it, isn't centrist--"

Carr: "There's cultural censorship, self-censorship, they're spray painting over the words so they won't, you know, injure my eyes when I walk by. I don't want people protecting what I'm going to see or read. Put up your own poster."

Scott: "But do you think that's the intention to protect your eyes, or to make a counter-statement about the content of the [indecipherable]?"

Carr: "They're not blacking out the teeth of Cameron Diaz. They're spray-painting over the words so I can't read them."

Scott: "I think that the public square is a noisy place where people are shouting a lot and sometimes people shout louder and drown out other people and the other people then shout even louder. I don't think you call that censorship. I think that maybe you call it chaos or maybe you call it democracy."

How would Scott react to someone ripping his movie reviews out of copies of the Times for being offensively liberal? After all, Scott has called left-wing documentarian Michael Moore "a credit to the republic."