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Cohen's Example

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We do not make it a habit to censure, lecture, or otherwise advise other media, local or otherwise, about the content they choose to feature in their pages or on their air. As true believers in the First Amendment, a part of the Constitution that not only upholds our liberties but pays our bills, we give a wide berth to our colleagues and/or competitors in the marketplace.

That does not mean that we condone everything that is said and done in the name of free speech. And, as a corollary, we do not condemn those who are willing to take a stand, at some risk to themselves, against public expressions which they deem egregious and offensive. A case in point was the declaration made this week, on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives by 9th District congressman Steve Cohen that he intended to withhold his billboard advertising this political season from Clear Channel, the mega-corporation which controls a lion's share of such outdoor displays in Cohen's district.

Cohen's profession of intent is based on the fact that Clear Channel's WREC-AM 600 outlet is the local venue for Rush Limbaugh's daily broadcast mix of right-wing bromides, auditory poison pills, and general misinformation. As is fairly widely known, ol' Rushbo went a bridge too far week before last when he chose to refer to a young witness testifying before a congressional committee as a "slut" and "prostitute" who wanted to be paid for having sex. Limbaugh compounded the calumny by insisting that he felt entitled to watch any such act on her part. He kept up the verbal battering for three consecutive days.

What had the young woman done to incur this outrageous characterization and mockery? She, like a formidable number of legislators and other witnesses, had argued in favor of including contraception within the list of medical procedures eligible for federal aid. When the inevitable public reaction to Limbaugh developed swiftly, with the broadcaster's advertisers beginning to disavow him in a domino-like sequence and withdrawing their financial supports, Limbaugh was brought to issue a sort of public apology, one so feeble and insincere that it was denounced as such by fellow broadcaster Don Imus, who was forced off the air some years ago for characterizing a women's basketball team in equally inappropriate (if considerably more light-hearted and less malignant) terms. Imus called Limbaugh's non-apology (for using "inappropriate" words) "cowardly." And such it was.

In the act of announcing his own response in a speech on the floor of the House, Cohen ventured that Limbaugh's true sin was not one of using inappropriate words but one of addressing "an inappropriate topic." As the congressman noted, everything Limbaugh said could just as well have been directed against the procedure of vasectomy. All those, including advertisers, politicians, or radio outlets, who continued to associate with Limbaugh after his unconscionable action could be regarded as "accessories to the crime," Cohen said.

In any case, the congressman, who rather famously has employed billboards in his political campaigns and faces both a primary and a general election challenge this year, is willing to put himself on the line. "It might hurt me a little bit politically, but it's the right thing to do," he said.

We can only commend his example.

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