Opinion

Free speech, right? More like scripted uproar

Free speech or staged stunt?

That's the $64,000 question this week after University of Florida student Andrew Meyer shouted questions at Sen. John Kerry during a UF forum on Monday, exceeded his allotted time at the microphone, threw a tantrum while being led away, and then got Tasered while resisting arrest.

And we mean "The $64,000 Question," as in the old TV show.

Monday's episode was caught on video — hardly surprising in this day and age — and has been seen by millions on the Internet and television. Now there's an uproar about free speech rights.

Let's recount what happened.

At the forum, Meyer walked up to the microphone and peppered the Massachusetts Democrat with questions about impeaching President Bush and about why Kerry didn’t challenge the 2004 election results. Meyer also asked if he and Bush were members of the secret society Skull and Bones at Yale University.

But Meyer went over his time limit and his microphone was shut off after he uttered a sexually explicit term. He loudly and repeatedly refused to walk away.

Campus police began pulling Meyer from the hall, but the 21-year-old student resisted, flailing his arms and screaming for help. His demeanor smacked of someone mugging for the cameras while playing the "they're violating my rights" card.

Officers finally tugged him to the floor and ordered him to stop resisting. Meyer continued struggling, though, and yelled, ‘‘Don’t Tase me, bro!’’ That's when he got the shock.

Meyer's credibility certainly comes into question.

The telecommunications major has his own Web site that features homemade videos, with one showing him standing in a street while holding a sign that says "Harry Dies" after the final Harry Potter book came out. The site also sports an image of Meyer licking a woman's face, and lists his pursuits as "getting wasted" and "being ridiculous."

Published reports point out that before reaching the microphone on Monday, Meyer handed a video camera to another student and asked her to record his questions. The woman captured the entire episode and uploaded in to YouTube afterward.

The police report of the incident alleges that Meyer's ‘‘demeanor completely changed once the cameras were not in sight.’’ It also notes that he was ‘‘laughing’’ and ‘‘lighthearted’’ en route to jail.

Meyer, released following a night in jail, has clammed up. He's also lawyered up. His attorney, Robert Griscti, went on national TV this morning to read a statement — allegedly written by the student but in so very polished terms — about how Meyer was merely exercising his First Amendment rights.

Hogwash.

Did Meyer deserve getting Tasered? On the video, Meyer is clearly resisting arrest, but was that enough cause? That's a question for authorities to answer.

But the shock clearly stoked outrage.

Who are the true victims here?

Kerry, for one, who said in a statement Tuesday that he had never had a dialogue end that way in 37 years of public appearances — "through wars, protests and highly emotional events." While the incident was playing out, the senator can be heard saying, "That's all right, let me answer his question."

University of Florida President Bernie Machen, who called the incident "regretful" and requested a state probe of campus police actions. He's been deluged with calls and e-mails about the arrest. He's also said Meyer is welcome back in class.

The two officers who used the stun gun on Meyer, both placed on paid leave.

Whether Meyer will next head to court is up to the State Attorney’s Office. Police have recommended that he be charged with resisting arrest with violence, disturbing the peace and interfering with school administrative functions. The first charge is a no-laughing-matter felony.

We wonder if Meyer will invite Court TV to air his trial, if it gets to that. But then a judge wouldn't stand for any antics.

Seen the video? What are your thoughts about the Andrew Meyer incident? Share your views below.

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