Editorial: Let Rush Be Rush

Listeners, viewers should decide whether Limbaugh should be silenced, not government or media companies

Limbaugh’s pillorying of the birth control activist who took her cause to Capitol Hill brings forth a crucial point about the airing of such opinions. But it has nothing to do with whether Limbaugh was right or wrong.

Objectively, there is an ugly edge to some conservative commentary that seems to come from insecurity and the sense that the rest of the world, or media, is liberal and out to marginalize them at every turn. There is more than a grain of truth to that to be sure, but it has been blown up into a boulder at times and catapulted toward unsuspecting victims.

Just as guilty though, are liberals, many of whom do not help their case or cause when they resort to similarly ugly and dismissive characterizations about their political foes. It is the media equivalent of the partisan divide in Congress that has legislative popularity at the level of dog catcher.

But there is a bright side to Limbaugh’s unfortunate bloviation and the ensuing ruckus that reminds us why it is better to give anger and error a voice and an outlet. We are sure there are some folks out there who did not know how often birth control pills are prescribed for things other than birth control, including life-threatening conditions, information offered up to demonstrate that Limbaugh was arguably off-target as well as classless.

But we were still wondering exactly how to frame our take on the issue when we read the on-air commentary of veteran radio station owner and commentator William O’Shaughnessy, “Don’t Hush Rush,” and found it to be thoughtful and to the point.

“We broadcasters are ever alert to incursions against free speech from government bureaucrats. But censorship from corporate timidity in the face of economic boycotts is just as dangerous as the stifling of creative and artistic expression by government fiat, decree, sanction or regulation,” said O’Shaughnessy. “You don’t have to be a First Amendment voluptuary to realize this is just as treacherous as any racism, sexism, bigotry or vulgarity.”

The decision to silence that voice, O’Shaughnessy argues and we agree, should be with the listeners—and viewers when the issue is television—not with government or with media companies frightened by the government’s control over their licenses.

It is sometimes “hold-your-nose hard” to defend the content that makes it on to the air, but it would be more difficult to defend allowing the government to censor it.

We agree with O’Shaughnessy about letting Limbaugh be Limbaugh, with the additional observation that those who pay for and air such commentary must also take responsibility for it.

Sometimes media companies, who are ultimately the editors of their own content even if they delegate that to the talent, appear to view the First Amendment as a mandate to put on speech they themselves don’t approve of. It is not. It is a shield, or should be, from government dictates, so that broadcasters can air what they choose to air, answerable only to the combination of their own consciences and the dictates of their audience.


Editorial: Rush Hour II

It was a busy week in Washington, with spectrum bills introduced from both sides of the aisle, the Senate Commerce Committee holding confirmation hearings on two FCC nominees, FCC reform hearings and more