Posts from April 15, 2004
The Daily Stern: The profane edition
: THE RIGHT TO PROFANITY: The more I think about this the more I come to believe that profanity — treating the sacred with contempt or irreverence — is what free speech is all about.
And so it is all the more appalling that the FCC — in the post-Bono-F-word era — has moved to censor profane speech. (See Ernie Miller’s illuminating and insightful posts on the topic here, here, and here.)
The FCC has its own definition of profanity.
The FCC: “language that denotes certain of those personally reviling epithets naturally tending to provoke violent resentment or denoting language so grossly offensive to members of the public who actually hear it as to amount to a nuisance.”
The English language: “Marked by contempt or irreverence for what is sacred.”
As Ernie Miller points out, by decreeing Bono’s F-word profane — by decreeing anything profane for the first time in its history — the FCC has opened the door to government regulation (read: government censorship) of speech that goes far beyond sexual and excretory talk.
First, there is the matter of religion. Profanity is usually defined as blasphemy. Sacred is usually defined as holy and religous. The FCC is setting a regulatory precedent that gets dangerously close to religious beliefs and codes that are none of the business of government: a First Amendment double-whammy.
Second, there is the matter of hate speech. Ernie argues convincingly that if the F-word is a “personally reviling epithet” that “provoke violent resentment” then certainly, the N-word fits that description and shouldn’t it be regulated? And the other F-word. And the K-word. And….
Third, I came to realize that this opens the door to regulation of politically incorrect speech — that which offends. And, oh, man, there is so much that offends so many these days.
Finally, look again at that dictionary definition. Tearing down the sacred cows and subjecting them to irreverence or contempt is what free speech is all about!
We have a right to be profane about a President or anyone in power or what they do: F Bush! or F Kerry or F their war or F their taxes or F their laws about the word F! We have a right to be profane about God and church and kiddie-diddling priests. We have a right to be profane and offensive about sex — as Dan Savage pointed out yesterday, it was profane and offensive by the definitions of some — but necessary — to talk about anal sex, for example, at the start of the AIDS epidemic. We have the right to be profane. That is what the First Amendment protects above all. It’s not unoffensive, safe, middle-of-the-road speech it protects. It’s profane speech.
I don’t point this out because it has anything to do with government; it doesn’t. And I do believe that SFGate has the right to set its no-no-word policy (the same way I do) for whatever reason (for me, it’s so I don’t get blocked; for them, I’m just betting it’s advertisers).
I just add this because it indicates the hypersensitivity to F-words out there these days. It’s like “Niagara Falls” in the old Abott and Costello routine: An F-word triggers an autonomic American response today.
: Doc Searls challenges bloggers to get off their duffs and report.
Take the Air America story: There’s nothing stopping a blogger, Doc says, from getting to the bottom of it and calling the station or the guy who took them off their air or their lawyers or their hosts. And when a blogger gets that news, thanks to RSS and Technorati, to name two tools in our bag, that news will be distributed immediately, beating the big boys if (a) they’re waiting for their next edition or (b) they’re too lazy to get off their duffs to report.
Now there are a few speed bumps on the way to a blogger Pulitzer.
First is the matter of time and resources: Unless paid, most of us don’t have the the time or inclination to spend time reporting a story. But many would.
Second is the issue of access; when you call many a source and they ask where you’re from and you say JustMyBlog.com, you may not get far. But I think that will change as sources (and flacks) realize this is a new way to get their stories told around the press. And I’m waiting for the first case of a blogger fighting to get press credentials for some official event; they publish and have a public like any other news media and should win that fight.
Third, there’s the question of inclination. I think many bloggers assume they’re just not reporters. But reporting is nothing more than asking a question and reporting the answers. There’s no reason any of us could not go off seeking those answers.
I’ve spent a month harping on Howard Stern and the First Amendment but it wasn’t until a magazine assigned me to write a print story about it that I contacted a few experts (including fellow bloggers) and the FCC to get answers to questions. At least one commenter challenged me to do it before the assignment. I probably should have taken up the challenge; it would have made for a better argument and a better blog. (By the way, it appears that story will now see the dark of print…. More later.)
Of course, you don’t have to report. That’s the beauty of this medium of links; you can link to the reporting of others and comment on it or just point it out. And that’s still valuable.
But consider Doc’s challenge. The next time you get riled by something happening in your town, there is nothing stopping you from calling the mayor or attending the town meeting or asking fellow citizens when they have to say. Ditto a company. Ditto a university. Ditto Congress.
You can report. Anyone can.
: BlogsCanada got threatening letters from the government of Canada telling them to cease and desist use of copyrighted government logos. It’s ridiculous and offensive on many levels. First, the materials aren’t direct copies. Second, in this country, parody and satire would cover such use as is made here. Third, most important, don’t the people of Canada own what the government of Canada produces? Or is that still the Queen?
How to mismanage a superpower
: The accepted wisdom of the 9/11 Commission hearings has been that the President should have known more and met with more people about the threat of terrorism.
The stupidity — and danger — of that just sunk in.
The last thing I want is for the work of government — the most urgent work: protecting its citizens — to depend upon one man at the top.
That would be mismanagement on a criminal scale.
No, when and if government employees find a threat against America, they should go and with dispatch stomp it out.
The last thing we need is for them to have to go meet with the President. They are and should be empowered by the law to take action.
So all this blather before and around the commission about who met with whom when and who asked for meetings they didn’t get is all a crock of crap; on its fact, it’s nonsensical management.
The issue isn’t whether another meeting in the Oval Office would have stopped an attack. The issue is why and how the structure and communication of appropriate agencies is messed up and needs to be fixed (far faster than Tenant’s five-year timetable!) to prevent the next attack.
Tax cut? What tax cut?
: If anybody on the Bush campaign had thought ahead — and I’m glad they didn’t — they’d have been smart to put up a tax-cut calculator: Put your 1040 in here and see how much you saved. That struck me as I read yesterday’s Times story on how much Bush and especially Cheney saved from the tax cut: smart angle on the story, namely, how the tax cut benefits a couple of very well-known rich guys. I realized that I have no idea what it did or didn’t do for me. It would have been smart of the campaign to put up something on the web telling you what you saved and whom to credit. But, oh, drat, it’s already April 15. Too late.