Free speech means all risk being offended

January 24, 1998|By GREGORY KANE

The most vexing thing about that free speech issue is that we know there will be times we'll hear or read things that are not only uncomfortable, but downright despicable.

Which brings us to the latest outrage emanating from that African-American Fascism Factory, commonly known as WOLB talk radio.

On Tuesday, talk show host C. Miles -- The Buffoon That Roared -- managed to surpass himself on the offensiveness meter, registering at least a 15 on a scale of 1 to 10. The major news story that day was the horrible robbery and rape of St. Mary's College students in Guatemala. The lack of a story about whites oppressing blacks apparently caused The Buffoon to become temporarily unhinged.

He began his tirade by calling the study tour of three professors and 13 students a "party junket." When a caller tried to correct him, telling him that St. Mary's College students are serious about their studies, The Buffoon went into a frenzy.

"You can't tell me it wasn't a party junket!" The Buffoon howled. He temporarily tried to cover himself by claiming he was %J "sensitive to rape." But within seconds he was back in Buffoon Mode.

"My grandmother was raped!" he railed. "Sally Hemings was raped! Africa was raped! This may be a case of the sins of the father being visited on the children." The final sentence came disgustingly close to saying that the young women raped got what they deserved.

What can we do about such talk? Distressingly little. One caller told me she was so incensed she contacted some of the show's sponsors. But as long as Miles' show gets good ratings -- and it does -- sponsors will shove their feelings about common decency aside and watch the bucks roll in. The caller also said she contacted Gov. Parris Glendening's office.

Just what can the governor do about such hate talk billowing forth from the airwaves? And why would we want him to? Given a choice between The Buffoon's verbal broadsides and the governor butting his nose in to tell WOLB owner Cathy Hughes what her talk show hosts should and should not say on the air, I'd take the verbal broadsides.

"We must never be intimidated by another man's ideas, and we must never rush to silence free speech." That quote comes from NAACP President Kweisi Mfume. Folks at the Freedom Forum, a foundation that funds programs to promote First Amendment rights, thought so much of the quote they included it in their 1998 calendar. We would all do well to dwell on Mfume's statement before we rush to silence people like Miles, no matter how offensive the speech.

C. Delores Tucker, the anti-gangsta rap fanatic, has yet to learn this. The evil of gangsta rap must be stamped out, Tucker insists, for the good of Western civilization as we know it. But if we stamp out gangsta rap, Miles' talk show may be next. And even on his worst days -- and for The Buffoon that's nearly every day -- Miles has much more to offer than most gangsta rap acts do.

Living in a society where freedom of speech is a constitutional right, we have all, more or less, made a commitment to being offended. Was Miles' mephitic comment any worse than that of former WABC radio talk show host Bob Grant, who was canned after uttering a statement that implied he was happy Commerce Secretary Ron Brown was killed in an airplane crash? Don't expect Miles to be fired from WOLB. Even if he is, he'll land on his feet and be hired by another station within days. Grant was on a show at WOR in New York within days after he was given the boot from WABC.

Worse even than Miles or Grant was Connie Lynch. For those of you who don't remember the 1960s, Lynch was one of the most notorious white supremacist race-baiters in the country. In a 1964 speech in St. Augustine, Fla., Lynch urged his listeners to "go out and shoot every nigger you see." A race riot soon followed, with mobs of whites attacking the blacks of St. Augustine.

"We kicked the living hell out of the niggers!" Lynch bragged after the riot. A few years later he was in Baltimore, spouting pretty much the same language at a Patterson Park rally. A mob of whites attacked a lone black youth near Patterson Park soon after Lynch's speech. The lone incident paled in comparison to the widespread violence in St. Augustine. If Lynch was expecting the same reaction from Baltimoreans that he got from St. Augustinians, he must have been sorely disappointed. Whatever else may be said about us, we Balti-morons can sniff out a demagogue, whether he be black or white.

If Baltimore can survive a Connie Lynch, we can surely survive a C. Miles.

Pub Date: 1/24/98

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