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Mar 23 2012

LA Council v hipster misogyny

The Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday urged broadcasters to knock it off with the sexist and racist epithets. Urging is all they can do, because governments can’t mess with free speech, but they did urge. I anticipate panic about a slippery slope, or perhaps Rush Limbaugh shouting a volley of sexist racist epithets at the Los Angeles City Council.

Or perhaps, worse, there will be dozens or thousands of solid citizens who will phone and text and email the Council to point out that mere werds are harmless and that they’re a bunch of pussy-whipped idiots who should be kicked in the cunt for thinking otherwise.

Nevertheless, they do think otherwise. They think words do matter.

The City Council called on TV and radio broadcasters Wednesday to keep their  hosts from spouting crude slurs, citing Rush Limbaugh’s reference to a woman as  a “slut” and KFI’s John and Ken calling Whitney Houston a “crack ho.”

The council voted 13-2 for a resolution urging Los Angeles stations to do “everything in their power to ensure that their on-air hosts do not use and  promote racist and sexist slurs over public airwaves.”

Government has no right to suppress “hateful, vile, despicable speech” but  society should not tolerate it, Councilman Paul Krekorian said. “We can drown  out that hatred with a loud chorus.”

The measure was sponsored by three black council members and supported by  civil rights and minority media groups. It was broadened after originally naming  only KFI-AM and its owner, Clear Channel, which carries Limbaugh and owns  hundreds of stations nationwide.

Burbank-based KFI has 1.5 million listeners on any given weekday, the  resolution said.

At the council meeting, speakers said the focus was on conservative radio  shows such as Limbaugh’s, accusing them of trading in crude stereotypes of  blacks, women and Latinos.

“It’s ugly. It’s violent. They’re inciting others to violence,” said Alex Nogales, head of the National Hispanic Media Coalition.

Noooo, they’re just exercising their gift for poetry.

12 comments

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  1. 1
    Ken

    Ophelia, this is a topic I’ve been preparing to write about: when is government criticism censorship or a threat of censorship, and when is it better seen as a “more speech” remedy to speech we don’t like?

    American law on the topic can be a little confused. Personally, I like the idea of letting government officials run their mouth about how offensive someone else’s speech is. I think it acts as a safety valve that helps them soothe constituencies calling for actual censorship. Done right — when a public official says “Person A has a right to free speech, but is exercising that right like a clownhole and ought to be shunned by decent people,” I think it promotes good free speech values. But it can be problematical when official speech sounds awfully like a threat to censor.

  2. 2
    Ophelia Benson

    And it’s probably pretty difficult for official speech ever to sound very unlike a threat to censor.

    I’m sure I’m being terribly double-standardy here; I wouldn’t be pleased to see the Los Angeles City Council urging broadcasters to keep atheists off the air. But then I’m seldom convinced that I really have to defend a principle no matter what the specifics are.

    Or in other words, like American law, I’m a little confused.

  3. 3
    Ken

    I think it’s perfectly possible for it not to sound like a threat to censor — when the official makes an explicit shoutout to free speech, like “He has a right to say it, but he’s an asshat.”

    Plus, bonus: legislators complaining about speech aren’t writing stupid laws.

  4. 4
    William Burns

    Why hipster misogyny? Is Rush Limbaugh a hipster now?

  5. 5
    Ophelia Benson

    Ken, you’re sure a legislator’s shout-out to free speech doesn’t sound like “the check is in the mail”?

    Limbaugh – he is a right-wing hipster. Is there such a thing? Oh yes, I think so.

  6. 6
  7. 7
    Cuttlefish

    Is Rush Limbaugh a hipster now?

    Oh, Rush was an asshole before it was cool.

  8. 8
    Ophelia Benson

    Ha! That’s exactly it.

  9. 9
    Godless Heathen

    Limbaugh’s not a hipster.

    He doesn’t wear skinny jeans and flannel, bike everywhere, and only like music that no one else has ever heard of.

    Also, I tend to think of hipsters as being much younger than him…

    Wikipedia’s Definiton

    Urban Dictionary

  10. 10
    Billy Clyde Tuggle

    I was really uncomfortable with the proposed resolution from the LA City Council for the simple reason that John and Ken spend much of their time being a thorn in the side of city government. One could easily see how council members under the guise of moral outrage could use the resolution as an excuse to exact some political payback against two of their harshest critics. KFI took them off the air for a week after the Whitney Houston comments, so it wasn’t like they weren’t punished at all. I think the council should concentrate on making sure that the fire department has enough resources to respond to fire calls in a timely manner instead of playing moral police.

  11. 11
    Dave

    Broadcast spectrum is US govt property, the use of which can be regulated for the public good; is that not a fairly well-established fact, give the existence of the FCC? Not that I’m an expert on your funny little country or anything.

  12. 12
    Billy Clyde Tuggle

    @Dave: your correct. Broadcast spectrum in the USA is a public resource regulated by the FCC. Their is established law that local jurisdictions can not pre-empt FCC authority (e.g. a local jurisdiction can’t impose their own “decency” standards on an FCC licensed broadcaster). Thus, the LA council can’t do anything more than pass a non-binding resolution condemming John and Ken. Nevertheless, depending on the political dynamic it seems to me that even a non-binding condemnation could put pressure on KFI management to fire John and Ken. IMO, this comes too close to government trying to silence a vocal critic.

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