Thursday, August 18, 2005
Uglier and Uglier:
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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