Free speech is vital, even when you don't agree

October 24, 1998|By GRAGORY KANE

I open the envelope, remove the card, and there it is: a horse's rump staring at me.

"Thinking of you," the caption inside reads. Underneath is a handwritten message from the sender who identified himself -- or perhaps herself -- only as L.F.E.

"One column your kicking C. Miles' ass, next column your kissing it. You sure fit the front of this card."

L.F.E. fell into the trap of trying to predict what's going to be in this column. Hell, I don't even know until I've sat at the computer for at least a good hour.

Garland L. Crosby, in a letter to the editor, wanted to know "what gives?" between me and Miles, the Radio One talk show host who was canned this month. Crosby said in one instance I called Miles a "bilious buffoon" and in my recent column I "praise(d) him as if he were the coming of the Messiah. Most would believe there was no love lost between these two."

There isn't. Miles made that clear in our conversation.

"It's not that I like talking to your ass," he said. "You're still a perpetrator."

It's not about love. It was about respect. My praise of Miles was nothing new. Everything I said about him in my most recent column I had said about him two weeks before he was fired. During a taping of former Annapolis Alderman Carl Snowden's radio show, I stated unequivocally that Miles was probably the best talk radio host in America. When Snowden asked if the Miles-Kane dispute had gotten too personal and nasty, I responded thus:

"C. Miles is supposed to get on his radio show and say those things if he disagrees with me. That's his job."

Similarly, when I disagree with Miles I'm supposed to write about it. When I called him a bilious buffoon, it's because I thought he was acting like one. When I thought he said something genuinely horrific -- as when he showed a total lack of compassion for the St. Mary's College students who were raped in Guatemala -- I gave him a verbal pummeling. But at the end of that column I made it clear I'd frown on Miles' being yanked from the air because of what he said.

Even in his last show, when Miles was correctly roasting Mayor Kurt Schmoke and police Commissioner Thomas Frazier, the program degenerated into Jew-baiting toward the end, with callers claiming that Jews "controlled" Schmoke. My hatred of Jew-baiting is surpassed only by my commitment to freedom of expression, no matter how offensive the ideas expressed.

There is, unfortunately, a notion extant in the land that says only the freedom of expression that pleases us and those like us is valid. All other expression has to go. But thank God there are those who realize that the folks who disagree with us are just as important as those who agree with us. In fact, those who disagree with us may be more important. It is they who test our commitment to freedom of expression.

The folks at the Freedom Forum say it better than I ever could. Every year they put out a calendar with quotations from an eclectic group of folks giving their views on the freedoms guaranteed us under the First Amendment. They express eloquently why I rushed to defend Miles' freedom to, as he put it, "talk how I like." All the quotes below are from the Freedom Forum's 1998 First Amendment calendar.

"The right to offend is an important right." Jody Bleyle, record company executive, 1997.

"There is no danger in letting people have their say. There is a danger when you try to stop them from saying it." Helen Gahagan Douglas, writer, politician, 1946.

"We need not fear the expression of ideas -- we do need to fear their suppression." Harry S Truman, 33rd U.S. president, 1950.

"The only way to make sure people you agree with can speak is to support the rights of people you don't agree with." Eleanor Holmes Norton, lawyer, politician, 1970.

"All ideas are equal under the First Amendment." Richard Matsch, federal judge, 1992.

"The First Amendment is more than 45 words about what Congress cannot do: It reflects a core value about respecting differences. It says this nation values opinions, creeds and ideology distinct from the majority." Mark N. Trahant, Moscow-Pullman (Idaho) Daily News publisher, 1997.

"To say what you think will certainly damage you in society; but a free tongue is worth more than a thousand invitations." Logan Pearsall Smith, writer, circa 1930.

"Suppressing freedom of expression is an advanced form of totalitarianism." Christopher Lingle, economist, 1996.

"Thought that is silenced is always rebellious. Majorities, of course, are often mistaken. This is why the silencing of minorities is always dangerous." Alan Barth, writer, 1951.

"We must never be intimidated by another man's ideas, and we must never rush to silence free speech." Kweisi Mfume, NAACP president, 1997.

Pub Date: 10/24/98

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