Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Another good decision - that took too long

USA Today today reports that Benson HS Principal Lisa Dale was reinstated after a brief suspension - she was put on administrative leave for letting the student newspaper run with what sounds like a pretty responsible article on student use of "The N-Word." When schools retreat from responsible conversation about controversy and, even worse, try to stop students from having those conversations themselves, they are gutting one of the best institutions we have for building a more civil society. Students at Benson HS certainly hear Imus - and much worse - outside school without any critical conversation about it. In school, they MIGHT get a chance to reflect on whether what's going on in our popular culture is good or not. Kudos to Principal Dale for apparently supporting that and shame on her superiors for needing to suspend her while they figured that out.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

If you sell your speech, you don't have the same rights to "free speech"

On thing that really bugs me about the whole Imus affair is this "concern" I hear expressed, even by very bright people in the media, that this puts a damper on "free speech."

Imus wasn't practicing his 1st Amendment right to free speech, he was SELLING his speech - and making a lot of money. He didn't have a right to free speech in that context, he had the right to say what advertisers were willing to sponsor. If I make a lousy product and you don't want to buy it, I don't get to say my rights have been violated, even if you used to buy it and have suddenly changed your mind.

Maybe all these media people don't want to admit the commercial implications of what they do. Maybe they want to pretend that what they do is pure. But they work for corporate managements, which are only responsible to their shareholders for profit. Maybe they have more independence than the people who write advertising copy, but it's only a matter of degree.

Imus was offensive. That helped make money until it didn't. End of story. If he wants his free speech, he can blog and he can podcast. But if he wants a paycheck for it, it isn't about the 1st Amendment. Same goes for the rest of you who take a paycheck from the corporate-owned media. Get over it.

(And if I could afford to run these media companies, I'd take them private and do the right thing: Drop all trash-talking entertainers from Imus to the rap artists. Pandering to the most base elements of our culture may generate short-term profits, but I think it's bad long-run business strategy as well as bad for America.)