Endangered: The First Amendment
June 9, 2009
At the risk of sounding a bit pompous and presumptuous, I think I know more about the hypocrisy of the way scholars, journalists, commentators, and above all, politicians, talk about the First Amendment. Unfortunately, I know all too well that most people involved in public discourse really believe in the total ramifications of the First Amendment. And before you think I forgot to mention it, no, I don’t believe we are allowed to shout “fire” in a crowded theater!
As far as freedom of speech is concerned, we are allowed to express our political views even to the point of saying we think our political leaders are “stupid” or any other adjective you can think of. Even if you said, “I think all politicians are crooks,” you would not be in trouble. You could not even be charged with slander because you said ALL politicians or even if you said SOME politicians, or MOST politicians you would be immune from legal action.
I do recall back in l973 being sued by U.S. Congressman Ben Rosenthal of New York. He sued on the basis that when a caller said I should be in the Congress and not a coward like the man from the particular district in Queens, which I believe was the 9th congressional district at the time, I agreed!
I even had my producer call Ben’s office to give him a chance to rebut my statement. You see, this occurred before we got rid of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987, so I had to offer him equal time. I didn’t mind offering him equal time. After all, I was doing a radio show.
Shouldn’t a radio program have something spicy to pique the interest of listeners? If I was only interested in avoiding disputation, then I should not be doing a program dedicated to the free and open exchange of ideas and opinions!
The station I was broadcasting for at the time was good old WMCA, owned and operated by R. Peter Straus. Peter was the epitome of the New York liberal Democrat. At heart, I think he was a decent enough guy, but like all owners and operators of radio stations he was paralyzed with fear when it came to politicians threatening any kind of legal action and he was also aware that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) had a laundry list of infractions a broadcaster could be guilty of.
So, although Mr. Straus could have taken the easy way out when the congressman made his intent to bring legal action known, Peter said, “Good luck, Ben.” This was told to me by his sales manager. I had to admit Peter Straus had guts I wasn’t aware he possessed. And even though the broadcast license was the most important thing he owned, he did not like being threatened by anyone, including a politician.
Initially the fine imposed on the station by the FCC, as a result of the suit, looked to mean a victory by the congressman. But upon appeal the verdict was thrown out and it was determined that, “Mr. Grant did offer the Congressman the opportunity to reply, but he refused and therefore no violation of the Fairness Doctrine occurred.” The forfeiture imposed on WMCA was rescinded and that was that.
In the interest of time and space I am leaving out some details, but the essence of the story is what I wrote, and the problem with the supersensitive, arrogant cowardly congressman would never have happened if not for that abomination called the “Fairness Doctrine.” So when they talk about free speech; when they talk about the First Amendment, remember that the all-important First Amendment begins with the inspiring words, “Congress shall make no laws.”
It is my opinion, therefore, when Congress created the FCC and allowed the so-called Fairness Doctrine, they were abridging the First Amendment. And, since Barack Obama wants to remake America, I know he has his eye on the First Amendment!