Committed to the First Amendment

Can you tell them where to go?

Today's editorial brought to you by the letter T for tolerance.

Since there are no plans for an HIV-positive Muppet in the U.S., how about introducing a red-faced elephant with a blue trunk who sticks it where it doesn't belong? We'd call him Mr. Shut-'em-up-agus if that weren't disrespectful to the Republican lawmakers who might find some slight resemblance in the characterization.

A small herd of House elephants demanded last week to know whether public money was being funneled through PBS to introduce the HIV Muppet here or abroad. Turns out there weren't plans for a U.S. character, and no PBS money goes to the South African incarnation. But it also turns out that the government is helping introduce the character abroad. In fact, a government agency, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), was helping fund the African version, according to PBS President Pat Mitchell, and was squarely behind the new character, according to a USAID executive. Good for it.

By week's end, the trumpeting had died down, the lawmakers assured that our children are "safe" from TV exposure to an HIV-positive Muppet (though something calling itself Concerned Women for America was trying to nix the South African character). Mitchell bent over backwards to explain to the lawmakers that their fears were groundless. We wouldn't have minded if she'd told them to butt out, too.

What business is it of the government's what content choices programmers make, other than to applaud education wherever they find it?

In the real world outside Pleasantville, kids get AIDS and cancer and have to deal with poverty and domestic violence. If adding a character helped a 4-year-old cope with any of those realities or taught a lesson about tolerance to other children, why isn't that a good thing?

One problem with all those marble halls on the Hill is that the sound of fear and ignorance carries a long way.

Let him in

Senator John McCain said last week that there remain "enormous challenges facing the telecom industry today and nobody is more important to furthering the economy of this nation than the Federal Communications Commission." We agree, which is why it should be running at a full complement of commissioners. We don't expect to agree with the new commissioner on a lot, although we suppose he could surprise us. The fact remains that the White House has nominated Jonathan Adelstein and the Senate endorsed him for the vacant chair. McCain needs to get out of the way and allow him to be confirmed.