Thursday, January 11

Protecting Free Speech: ABC/Disney

Believe it or not, the public relations arms of KSFO, ABC, and Disney can learn a lot from Jason Goldberg.

Sure, everyone knows that I tossed in my fair share of communication flack about how Jobster handled its crisis communication situation (not enough, it seems, to warrant a hit), but I also believe in giving credit where credit is due. Although Goldberg seemed to create his own “blogswarm,” largely spurred by his own posts, he didn’t hide from it. He talked about it.

KSFO, ABC, and Disney aren't talking. When Online Media Daily asked, Julie Hoover, a spokeswoman for ABC Radio, declined to comment. Brian Sussman, the KSFO radio talk host under fire, told CBS 5 by e-mail that he is not doing any interviews about the broadcasts. As much as I have searched, none of the stations and companies under fire has really said anything.

Public Relations 101 says “no comment” is an admission of guilt, unless you clarify. There are several instances when it is permissible not to comment, the most obvious that could have been used in this instance: legal counsel has advised against communicating on that subject while the matter is before the courts or pending court action. Unfortunately, they missed it, along with the most basic truth that their misguided nemesis preaches censorship above all else.

If you take the time to read his pained posts, you’ll see a consistent story: this guy has tried everything, including government intervention through the FCC, to shut down one talk show host after the next. Failing to impact the higher-rated hosts, he finally found some wiggle room at KSFO.

As much as I think it was wrong for Internet provider 1&1 to cancel his account for reasons already mentioned, it is equally wrong to think that this “offended” blogger represents the spirit of the First Amendment. I suggest he hit the books and study up, starting with Ray Bradbury:

“… minorities, each ripping a page or paragraph from a book, until one day the books were empty and the minds were shut and libraries were closed.” — Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

While I might not be an attorney, I do know a few things about the First Amendment and have been directly and indirectly involved in several productive free speech cases over the years, including the amicus brief taken up by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in 1996, which was one of the first real landmark actions in preserving a poster’s intellectual property rights from Internet providers by defining them as passive carriers as opposed to publishers. It also prompted America Online to provide a free speech area, monitored by the ACLU, that was not subject to the company’s terms of service.

Back then, a few years before the term “blog” first graced the pages of the Internet, I spent ample free time attempting to educate people on merits of free speech, frequently citing one of the best quotes on the subject by Charles Bradlaugh, who warned us: “Better a thousand abuses of free speech than the denial of free speech. The abuse dies in a day, but the denial stays in the life of people.”

How true is that. And how sad it is that KSFO, ABC, and Disney have yet to make the case that maybe, just maybe, despite their ill-advised legal letter (note: the threat of legal action and actual legal action are light years apart) from a public relations perspective, KSFO needs some First Amendment protection. How interesting would it be to see the Electronic Frontier Foundation and ACLU face off on the issue? I’m all for that as long as the risk doesn’t wack away another piece of "fair use."

Of course, if KSFO, ABC, and Disney are not inclined to wrap themselves up in the Bill of Rights, then they should drop any legal action all together. Sure, some folks will toast to being triumphant for a day, but will quickly become irrelevant without the lawsuit. Or maybe, you can take a page from the AOL case and host a blog for bashing Sussman. (Once AOL folks had a free speech area, few, if any, posted.)

I suspect this guy is the same. Sure, he has a right to complain about this and that with speech that I find no less hateful than his so-called “right wing prosecutors,” but his agenda is hardly pure with today’s post entitled “Their time is over,” meaning people with a contrary view to his own. Likewise, his personal quote — which once read “I just want a piece of the action,” er, until he noticed that being a public figure for 15 minutes isn’t as easy as being an anonymous blogger — revealed. It was deleted this morning. Go figure.

So is the glass half full or half empty? I suggested ice.


Rich on 1/11/07, 1:49 PM said...

Famous Last Words:

"It's entertainment until somebody is attacked. Until it crosses the line, which I think this does." — from San Francisco Chronicle, illustrating he who little Spocko cares about about free speech. Incidentally, he has called for violent action against others on his blog.

Meanwhile, KSFO will chat about it tomorrow, at 3 PM EST, pre-empting their regular schedule.

Rich on 1/11/07, 11:17 PM said...

*Ripley said...

Nicely written but I don't know that I'd try to settle this debate on the issue of Free Speech. As broadcasters, KSFO (or any station) has slightly higher and stricter standards regarding what they can say than you or I do. What's really at issue here is broadcast decency.

Spocko merely took KSFO's own words and allowed the advertisers the chance to hear them (many had not, by the way). Advertisers would not have pulled their sponsorship based solely on political philosophies - but the particular themes of some of the 'conversations' on KSFO's shows were, frankly, quite graphic and quite disturbing. And remember, their two local shows are morning and evening drive slots - the children are awake.

As for Spocko threatening violent action - do you have a supporting citation? I've known him (online) for quite some time and I find that hard to believe. I'll check his site again, though. (Your comment about violent action, ironically, is the kind of thing that can really stir up trouble. I think some fact checking is in order.)

*[Reposted as I believe the audio file link is unnecessary to provide a response.] - Rich

Rich on 1/12/07, 1:07 AM said...

Thank you for the comment Ripley, I appreciate it.

First and foremost, my apologies for reposting your comment; I think there are enough audio links of the show on the web. While I understand the point, there comes a time when I began to ask myself if I wanted to further promote them. I think the link to Spocko's site on an earlier post is enough; I would prefer not to provide the audio clips any additional forum, especially over and over again. I hope you respect that.

On this issue, we may be closer in agreement on some ideas than you think, er, maybe. I have already supported the idea that he was well within his right to comment about the show and present his case to the radio station's advertisers because I believe in the First Amendment. Fair use included.

Where I differ in my opinion is that the First Amendment should not be treated as a convenience, applied to “broadcast decency” and “blog decency “ as some people feel fit. Neither do I subscribe to the idea that any of this was done to protect children during “morning and evening drive slots” given Spocko’s blog makes them available 24-7 with much larger reach. Not to mention, many of the blogs that carry these clips now are posted by kids, the same kids he is reportedly protecting. Ho hum. He’s succeeded only in giving them a global audience, without any consideration that some people might use them to insight violence or further their own cause of hate.

That aside, I also departed from Spocko’s case in that he does not take a high or objective road to present his argument, but rather resorts to the same polarizing statements as his opponents, using the same, if not similar comments, including (to Brian Sussman) “Frankly I wish we could vomit you out;” (about Tom Cruise) “They could have just as easily squirted him with pepper spray, blood, urine, toxic chemicals, bleach or acid;” (about the Chinese) “If you don't like their products go buy something else like an IBM Thinkpad NOT MADE BY THE CHINESE!” All of these comments are equally violent or hateful or bigoted as he has defined, not me. Fact checked.

Where I also departed from Spocko’s case is as I read his recent headline “Their time is over,” among others, it became crystal clear he has cloaked himself in the First Amendment, but seems to have little regard for it. His plight, pure and simple, based on his own writings, is to censor an opposing viewpoint at the expense of the very document protecting him to do it.

I find that both ironic and insulting as someone who has worked to protect the First Amendment. No sir, this time, I find that I am not on any side. It seems to me that everyone made a mess of it. And just as I have asked KSFO, ABC, Disney, I would ask Spocko to step up and make it right before our liberties are further eroded.

In closing, if you would like to comment again and re-link your name, you are welcome too (it was lost in reposting), but I’d rather not have another link to a string of the same clips. One is enough.

Ripley on 1/13/07, 8:18 PM said...


I appreciate your concern about spreading the link to the audio - I left it for you to follow but I could have e-mailed it. Sorry about that, it's habit when commenting on sites.

I think we may end up dancing around the Free Speech issue; you're not alone in your view, either. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, it's an amorphous topic, and anyone could come up with a host of hypotheticals to prove their point.

I'm as ardent a protector of the Bill of Rights as anyone and, frankly, my language is regularly quite salty, but I suppose I hold Media Professionals to a higher standard than I do citizens. And while I generally give blogs a pass (it's the Wild West and all) I would hope not to see calls for torture and murder on blogs, either.

I think part of the reason people are upset about KSFO's broadcasts is not just what they're saying, but the seemingly gleeful enthusiasm that's expressed for violence and harm. And, in my opinion, the KSFO folks could just as easily, and just as emphatically, express their outrage and concerns without resorting to the kind of threatening rhetoric you'd expect from a drunken bully.

I suppose we're right back to the question of 'When does Free Speech shift from a beautiful thing to something ugle and dangerous?'. Again, it's in the ear of the beholder but I'd think there were some instances when it's pretty obvious.

Thanks for your e-mail, as well.

Rip -

Ripley on 1/13/07, 8:19 PM said...

Um, yeah... obviously 'ugle' is supposed to be 'ugly'. Can you tell I didn't preview?

Rich on 1/13/07, 11:02 PM said...

Hey Ripley,

Thank you again for the comment and your understanding why I removed the audio link. Also, I don't split hairs over typos in responses; I think we all do it from time to time. No worries.

You know, when I wrote about polarizing issues in regard to global warming, and more recently about the public relations radio show debacle at KSFO, one might surmise that I agree in principle with the idea that extreme rhetoric makes for non-communication, my own "salty" comments from time to time not withstanding.

It is painfully hard for me at times to defend some of the things KSFO hosts have said, though I stand firm in my conviction they can say it.

If anything, extreme rhetoric has a way of stripping people of credibility over time because when they use it, it allows others to appreciate their ignorance. In fact, maybe it's better to hear them yell, than to see hateful souls sneak in with a smile, call you a friend with a laugh and handshake, and then secretly plot your demise.

Between you and me, when it comes right down to it, we might find that we agree on principle in regard to extreme rhetoric, but we differ on technique. I think we ought to be careful, holding those media professionals at a higher standard because they too are citizens with equal rights. The Bill of Rights does not discriminate. And we all forget that sometimes.

I also think we forget all too often that a whisper carries more easily in the wind than a shout. Though sure, shouting is fine too, I guess, when we have to. At least we know then who hates us. But that's me. And that is a personal preference.

So when does free speech shift from a beautiful thing into something ugly and dangerous? That's easy. It's when there is no speech at all.

Best to you in finding your way. - Rich

Brian on 3/9/07, 11:12 AM said...

"(note: the threat of legal action and actual legal action are light years apart)"

Not under the DMCA. The ISP has to decide quickly whether it has a spine, or it's potentially in deep trouble. It's a significant flaw in the DMCA.

Rich on 3/9/07, 11:36 AM said...

Hi Brian,

Thanks for the comment. To clarify, my point was more in line with idea that people threaten lawsuits with no intent to file them.

I'm not sure how you would apply the DMCA in this case, unless you're saying there were grounds for copyright infringement, which I don't think there were, eg. "An author notes that a company or individual infringed his or her copyright in publishing material without receiving their permission first, paying a fee or crediting the source of the information (plagiarism)."

In this case, there seemed to be clear credit for the source of the information. In fact, that was the point of Spocko posting the material.

Personally, I don't agree with the fact that many of those clips were indeed taken out of context, but offering fair comment on published material certainly seems protected to me (though I am not an attorney).

So, I still think the ISP would have been better off maintaining that they were a carrier. That's not to say you didn't raise an interesting point though ... that there are flaws in the DMCA.


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