Monday, November 22, 2010

Popular and Unpopular Speech

The First Amendment, of course, was designed to protect unpopular speech – the minority view , if you will, to make sure that ALL voices are heard, particularly in political discourse. At least, that’s the way I see it. A lot of folks think “free speech” means it’s protected only for those who agree with their point of view, and forget the part about protecting the expression of a minority viewpoint. I understand the First Amendment to mean that it gives you a right to say what you want, within certain limits, but it also gives the person on the other side of the equation the same right.

There’s a video going around the internet of West Virginia Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller, at a committee hearing regarding telecommunications, saying “There's a little bug inside of me which wants to get the FCC to say to FOX and to MSNBC: Out. Off. End. Goodbye”.

I understand Senator Rockefeller’s little bug, and admit to having a little bug like that myself. I don’t need to lecture the Senator on what the First Amendment means. I’m sure he knows perfectly well what it means, even though he doesn’t have a law degree, like so many of his fellow Senators do.

Political discourse in this nation, fanned by Fox News on the right and MSNBC on the left, has become so coarse, so divisive, so blatantly partisan and self-serving, that there’s a temptation to do exactly what that little bug is ooching the Senator and me to do: pull the plug on BOTH of them. And tie the can to El Rushbo’s big butt, and Rachel Maddow’s, and Glen Boeck’s, and Ed Schultz’s, and Sean Hannity’s, and Alan Colmes’s, and the whole lot of the partisan talking heads.

The simple solution, of which I’m sure the Senator is well aware, is not to have the FCC (which doesn’t really regulate cable-casting) “pull the plug” on them, but to simply make different viewing and listening choices. But, as we well know, that’s simply not the way it works in the real world. The most-listened-to radio program in the nation, Rush Limbaugh’s, didn’t get to be number one because it caters to the far right. I consider myself an independent, but I listen to Rush occasionally simply to laugh at how far he goes to pander to the ultra-conservatives. A lot of my lefty friends listen to Rush to be enraged. Rush’s program has been going strong in Madison for years, and this is one of the most liberal cities in the nation.

I guess the difference is, I view Rush’s radio show as pure entertainment. Too many people think it’s “news”, and that’s why Senator Rockefeller and I have that little bug.


  1. >> The simple not to have the FCC “pull the plug” on them, but to simply make different viewing and listening choices. <<

    You, of course, don't mean that the FCC should "make" those different choices, right?

    You may or may not know that we're approaching the 50th anniversary (I was tempted to write "50-year anniversary" just to yank your chain!) of Newton Minnow's "Vast Wasteland" speech. It could have been given yesterday:

    "When television is good, nothing — not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers — nothing is better. But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite you each of you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there for a day without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland." - former FCC chairman Newton Minnow, May 9, 1961 speech before the National Association of Broadcasters.

    So, different choices? We've had about every single choice that can be imagined on the boob tube over its lifetime. Asking for more choices is similar to Rodney King asking, "Can't we all just get along?"

    The Town Crank

  2. Thoughtful commentary, as always, Doctor - and no, I don't mean the FCC (or, "FZZ" as Penny Wolf the WSH receptionist would have said)should make the choices.

    We don't need MORE choices, although I firmly believe there's always room for more competition. It's just that I'd prefer it if those who choose to watch and/or listen to the hyper-partisan commentators would spend a tenth as much time listening to or watching what El Rushbo refers to as "state-controlled media."


  3. The equation of Fox News with MSNBC annoys me, because they are simply not the same thing from different sides of the aisle. Fox News is a Republican propaganda organ, programmed to reinforce a specific right-wing political worldview 24/7, with no line between news and opinion. MSNBC has left-leaning programs in prime time, but isn't pushing the same worldview the rest of the time.

    As for Rush, I used to listen to him, too. He's an ex-Top 40 DJ, which was obvious from the comedy bits he used to do. Then the Clintons came to Washington, and his blind hatred of them curdled his humor into the unfunny character assassination he's engaged in for nearly 20 years now.

  4. What distinguishes Alan Colmes from the other hosts you mentioned is that he actually welcomes calls from people who disagree with him, so listeners can hear an actual debate when they tune into his program. It's not always a sophisticated debate but at least more than one side is being presented.