Thursday, August 18, 2005


Uglier and Uglier:

The personal assault on Cindy Sheehan reached a new low on NPR. On this day when Cindy's mother suffered a stroke, she left Crawford and her political struggle to tend to a human being. But All Things Considered thought this was the time to broadcast an opinion piece by Stephen Mansfield that accused her of blackening her son's name, among other very unpleasant things. NPR's spokesjellyfish can be contacted at the indicated link. The names of the Board Members who can be contacted directly by e-mail: Cephas Bowles: Bruce Haines: Ellen Rooco: JoAnn Urofsky: Carol Cartwright: Howard Stevenson: The others, with one exception, can probably be reached through their organizations. See the list of Board Members" Listen to it and vote on how what percentage vulture Mansfield is in comments below. Notes added: In fairness, Mansfield probably cut the tape before the stroke was announced. But ATC went ahead and broadcast it. And as my post above shows, even if Mansfield didn't take pleasure in the fact that Cindy's mother had a stroke, lots of Republicans did. I've corrected the spelling of Mansfield's first name. Listening to the segment, and the treacle about how soldiers are "sacrificed on the altar of their nation and their god," I cannot help but think of Moloch worship. Truly there is something satanic in the worship of death one sees on the right.
First of all, just like Cindy can protest whenever and wherever she pleases, NPR can use the same right to allow different viewpoints to be presented. Did NPR know that Cindy's mom was going to have a stroke before they chose to broadcast the piece? No. They couldn't have known until after it happened. To ask them to do so is no better than what the Far Right does to liberals. If you are going to defend our rights, defend them equally, or not at all.
NPRJunkie, I would hazard a guess that I have been defending the right to free speech twice as long as you have been on this earth. Though I'll keep an open mind on the matter, I don't think I need any instruction from you.

But you have certain points wrong here. First, the Mansfield OpEd was probably taped before the news about Cindy's mother came out. But the broadcast of the OpEd could have and should have been deferred.

The way it sounded to a listener was, to paraphrase, "Cindy Sheehan's mother had a stroke and she had to leave the protest in Crawford. Now here's an OpEd to tell you why Cindy Sheehan is a traitor blackening her son's name."

Whatever the intention, the way it sounded to a listener was ugly. Disgusting. Vile. Evil. And given the expanding evidence that the right is programming CPB for political purposes, one might well think that this ugliness was deliberate.

Do the same broadcast a week earlier or a week later and the situation is different. But on the day someone's parent suffers a stroke, common decency should prevail.

Second, you do not seem to clearly understand the nature of rights. Publicly-funded corporations don't have rights in the same way that individuals do. This is doubly true in the case of broadcast media.

Publicly funded corporations, unlike individuals, have a positive duty to the national interest. Yes, the role of federal money grows ever smaller. But NPR has a duty to the public that an individual exercising free speech rights does not.

Now, I would go a step further and say that all media corporations, print, broadcast, or cable also have a duty to the public interest. Their voices are so much louder than the voices of an individual that they have a duty to exercise restraint. But on this, the courts have not yet seen my wisdom, so I will freely grant that newspapers and cable TV stations may be as irresponsible with speech as they wish.

But broadcast media do not enjoy that latitude. The license to use the airwaves is granted by the public. When a broadcast is inimical to the public interest, the public has the right to strip the station of its license. NPR, as the lead organization, has to be exceptionally careful not to so deeply offend the community that it takes that step.

Bill Clinton put it excellently when he said that with rights come duties. You focus on speech rights but seem to want to let NPR evade its public duties.

The decision to let Mansfield's OpEd be broadcast on the day that a woman's mother faced possible death and almost certain disability was irresponsible. Those who think they are defending speech rights in cases this egregious are simply defending what is at best incompetence and at worst a vicious attack on an individual using the power of government.

Now, if you still think I need a lesson on rights, please proceed.
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