Kerry's Best Chance

Committed to the First Amendment
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It wasn't quite a waffle, but there was a load of syrup in John Kerry's careful positioning on the indecency issue in his appearance on C-SPAN last week. The presumptive presidential candidate is sort of for it, sort of against it. We wanted to hear so much more from him; he had such an opportunity.

Several weeks ago, we said it was time for him to step up and make a strong case for First Amendment issues. He didn't. Instead, we would call his interview on C-SPAN a half step in both directions and ultimately in lockstep with the broadcast censors. A shining moment it wasn't.

We applaud Kerry for recognizing that extending the indecency crackdown to cable and satellite services is a bad move. Here is what he said: "I think there is a distinction between public broadcast and the notions we've had historically about family time, family hour, and what you buy privately and personally. I am not in favor of government interference and censorship and restriction of what an individual privately can decide to do in their home, in their own space, so to speak."

Now, if he had stopped there, we would conclude that he was also talking about watching broadcast TV, and we would have begun this editorial with huzzahs and trumpets.

Sadly, he did not stop there. Kerry said he didn't think there had been an overreaction to the Janet Jackson incident. He suggested, though not explicitly, that he supports the indecency regulation. He said he was concerned about situations "where you have children involved, where you have a broader cross-section of the public, where there is sort of a sense of family time or hour." Sounds like a coded message to NAB to reinstate the family hour.

By endorsing the Janet Jackson aftermath, however, Kerry has, by default, embraced all that has happened since, from disc jockey firings to content chillings to bills that would target performers and hike fines dramatically.

Kerry kept talking about balance, using the term six times in one answer. But it sounded more like equivocating to us. We hope we haven't heard him correctly. Or fully. We also hope he has more-formed opinions about media than we've heard so far. The First Amendment is a campaign issue this year, and one on which Kerry could clearly create a distinction between himself and President Bush. We'd like to know where he stands.

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