That supposedly isolated incident of anti-Bush political speech being cut out of AT&T's broadcast of Pearl Jam's Lollapalooza set? Turns out the incident wasn't so isolated after all. Shortly after news broke that AT&T's Blue Room webcast of the PJ set excised several comments made by singer Eddie Vedder that were critical of the president, a spokeswoman for AT&T released a statement saying similar "mistakes" had happened before.
"It's not our intent to edit political comments in webcasts on the AttBlueRoom.com," AT&T spokeswoman Tiffany Nels said in the statement released Friday. "Unfortunately, it has happened in the past in a handful of cases. We have taken steps to ensure that it won't happen again."
Another AT&T spokesperson told MTV News on Thursday that the cutting of Vedder's declaration, "George Bush, leave this world alone!," was an unintentional "mistake" by the third-party company hired to stream the concert (see "Pearl Jam Wonder: Were Anti-Bush Comments Edited From Webcast Really An 'Error'?"). But fans quickly pointed out that similar cuts had allegedly been made to sets by the Flaming Lips and the John Butler Trio at the Bonnaroo festival earlier this summer.
Nels did not say specifically what the "handful" of cases were, and MTV News could not independently confirm the Butler or Lips edits at press time. However, Lips manager Scott Booker told MTV on Friday that the band is working on getting a copy of the Bonnaroo performance. "I'm sure Wayne said something," Booker said of the group's leader, Wayne Coyne, who has never been shy in concert about offering his profanity-laced comments about the administration. Booker said that while he could not recall the exact nature of Coyne's comments that night, they invariably included unkind statements about the White House.
AT&T said the only cuts it makes are for profanity, because the Blue Room has no age restrictions, but a Pearl Jam spokesperson noted that fans forwarded more than 20 incidents of the F-word that got through the Lolla broadcast of PJ's show, while the Bush lines did not. Also getting through were comments critical of oil giant BP Amoco and a strongly worded anti-Iraq war speech about the "criminal occupation" of Iraq from a wheelchair-bound Iraq war veteran and friend of Vedder's, Thomas Young. That speech was followed by the new Vedder song "No More War."
Longtime PJ spokeswoman Nicole Vandenberg also provided a note from a fan who said he attended Bonnaroo this year, who claimed that the performance by noted political flamethrower Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine, performing as his protest-folk alter ego the Nightwatchman, was edited. A spokesperson for Morello could not be reached for comment at press time.
"[Morello's] performance was webcast by AT&T, and when he spoke about being sick of the George W. Bush administration, it was censored from the broadcast," fan Stephen Davis wrote.
In its original statement on the PJ edit, AT&T said, "We've webcast more than 16 free concerts featuring approximately 310 bands and over 350 hours of live music, and this hasn't happened before."
But in a fan forum on the John Butler Trio Web site, fans said they noticed audio gaps during an introduction to the song "Gov Did Nothing," which has lyrics criticizing the White House for its response to Hurricane Katrina.
Reached on Monday, Nels said AT&T is attempting to find and review the other alleged political edits, but because the shows are only archived for 30-60 days after their initial broadcast, she claimed it has been difficult to find them. "We don't know exactly how many [times it has happened]," she said. "It's a handful, anecdotally, from what we understand." Nels said there had been no complaints about politically themed edits before the PJ incident and she reiterated that it is not the company's policy to police political commentary.
She also said she could not discuss the details of AT&T's review, but that the company is speaking to the third-party vendor, Los Angeles' Davey Brown Entertainment, to ensure it doesn't happen again.
MTV spoke to Davey Brown executive vice president Adam Smith on Thursday, when he called the edits an unintentional "error," but he was not available for comment on the revelation of the previous edits at press time. He referred all questions to Nels, who confirmed that Davey Brown was also the company hired to work on previous Blue Room events.
PJ guitarist Mike McCready weighed in on the flap on the group's Web site on Saturday in an essay he called "Thoughts of an American." He wrote, "I grew up in a democratic system of government. This is what was taught all through kindergarten through college. Freedom of thought and expression were hallmarks of my early education. These concepts and theories integrated my belief in an American system of democracy. Consequently, I became a musician because of these inalienable rights. Make no mistake I am an artist and a capitalist because of this system that I believe in and our country.
"I don't however believe that a capitalist corporation such as AT&T has the right to subvert the First Amendment of the constitution to which we all are accountable. This happened on the night we played Lollapalooza. I was dismayed to hear that the act of censoring free speech was used to edit our song 'Daughter' for a webcast. Surely the American listening public can discern for themselves what they deem acceptable to hear. This is a hallmark of our American way! The freedom to listen to what you want or don't want to. The American public was duped as was I in believing that I can speak freely without censorship."
Quoting the line, "If liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear," from George Orwell's classic 1945 satire of totalitarianism, "Animal Farm," McCready added, "Some people don't want to hear our political beliefs in a song but that too is the beauty of America. We can disagree and still function as a democracy. When one person or company decides what others can hear, that is totalitarian thinking! This runs contrary to America and threatens the core of our freedom. We can think for ourselves, AT&T. ... Say no to censorship, it leads to dictatorship!"