Now, I hate hate hate HATE Rush Limbaugh, perhaps the second biggest ignorant doofus on the radio next to Glenn Beck. I like to be informed about current events and politics and hell maybe have a bit of humour or irreverency along with it...but c'mon, Rush Limbaugh's non-stop use of racial metaphors like "reparations" to describe the Obama administration and its programmes such as settlements for black farmers accusing the US Dept of Agriculture of discrimination is just...stupid.
This video clip that I embedded is of the Rev. Al Sharpton interviewed on MSNBC's The Ed Show. Now, there's no doubt that sensible people would be offended (intellectually and sensibly) by Limbaugh's non-stop politically incorrect rhetoric. But to have the FCC police racist speech on the airwaves...I don't know if that'll ever stand First Amendment muster.
Federal law currently makes obscene speech illegal to broadcast: (emphasis mine)
Obscene speech is not protected by the First Amendment and broadcasters are prohibited, by statute and regulation, from airing obscene programming at any time. According to the U.S. Supreme Court, to be obscene, material must meet a three-prong test: (1) an average person, applying contemporary community standards, must find that the material, as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest (i.e., material having a tendency to excite lustful thoughts); (2) the material must depict or describe, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by applicable law; and (3) the material, taken as a whole, must lack serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value. The Supreme Court has indicated that this test is designed to cover hard-core pornography.So that's part of why The Howard Stern Show had to leave FM airwaves after 2005. By that time Stern had signed a contract with a satellite radio company.
The FCC's current indecency policy explains why some of your favourite songs (especially rap and rock music) need to be edited for the radio. Especially all those N-words in rap songs. Before you call Sharpton a hypocrite for targeting Rush Limbaugh instead of Lil Wayne: yes, Rev. Sharpton has spoken out against misogyny and vulgarity in hip hop multiple times...for example at a rally in 2007 after the Don Imus controversy, and in a 2002 editorial "The Hip Hop Generation" (included in Davey D's newsletter from 12 December 2002). In this case however, I don't know if Sharpton also wants urban radio stations to stop playing music that reinforces negative stereotypes about black Americans (such as illiteracy, sexuality, criminality, etc.) Examples of rap songs that create negative stereotypes of blacks:
- Sex: "Every Girl" by Young Money, "What's Your Fantasy?" by Ludacris, "Bojangles" by Pitbull, "Lollipop" by Lil Wayne, "Get Low" by Lil Jon & the East Side Boyz, "Hot in Herre" by Nelly, ooh the list goes on and on and on!!!!
- Crime: "The Boss" by Rick Ross, "What U Gon Do" by Lil Jon & the East Side Boyz, pretty much any song by any rapper who wears bling bling/refers to "rocks"/"blunts"/drugs/etc. and any song that promotes gang fights and stuff like that
- Illiteracy: "Crank That (Soulja Boy)" by Soulja Boy, "Country Grammar" by Nelly, and pretty much any over-popular rap song that uses overly simplistic lyrics and especially Bay Area hyphy rap with all that "go dumb" stuff
While it is noble for Rev. Sharpton and others to speak out against the hateful rhetoric of right-wing bloviators like Limbaugh, making such speech unlawful on public airwaves won't really help much. Limbaugh might as well just move to Sirius Satellite Radio or XM; in fact, disgraced radio host Laura Schlessinger plans on making a comeback on XM next year. Schlessinger, known as "Dr Laura" (even though her doctorate is in physiology she frequently gave relationship advice on her radio show), infamously repeatedly used the N-word towards a black woman caller; Dr Laura apologised and resigned. Former terrestrial radio hosts who moved to satellite, such as Howard Stern, still have substantial followings in their new mediums. Furthermore, the Internet also provides a highly accessible forum for any wannabe Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck.
While the Supreme Court upheld the FCC indecency policy in the much-appealed 2009 FCC v. Fox case regarding accidental obscene language in live broadcasts (but got overturned by a fed appeals court the next year), the court has ruled variously on hate speech:
- In the 1942 case Chaplinksy v. New Hampshire, the high court ruled that fighting words (this case was about a Jehovah's Witness calling a police officer a "racketeer" and "fascist") aren't protected free speech.
- The 1992 case R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul dealt with a city ordinance "punishing the placement of certain symbols that were 'likely to arouse anger, alarm, or resentment on the basis of race, religion, or gender.'" The high court overturned the conviction of Robert A. Victoria, a teenager who burned a cross on a black family's yard. Now regarding hate speech on the radio chances are the Supreme Court could use this case to defend Limbaugh and co. as it's previously found a law banning expression inciting race-based hatred unconstitutional.
- 11 years later, in Virginia v. Black, the court found that a Virginia state law banning cross-burning that had intent to intimidate was constitutional as cross-burning was a "particularly virulent form of intimidation" yet overturned the conviction of a cross-burner due to flawed jury instructions that blurred ideology and intimidation intents.
Better than a "speech code" on the radio would be expanded media presence for the left wing via the Fairness Doctrine, which seeks balance, not censorship! Broadcasters have had since 1987 to be responsible when handling controversial issues...and what do you have? In 2007, a study by the Center for American Progress found: "91 percent of the total weekday talk radio programming is conservative, and 9 percent is progressive," and "2,570 hours and 15 minutes of conservative talk are broadcast on these stations compared to 254 hours of progressive talk—10 times as much conservative talk as progressive talk." In 2010, the top conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh had a weekly listenership of 15 million, about 6 times as much as the top liberal radio host (2.75 million each for Alan Colmes, Ed Schultz). Hate speech is just one of those situations in which the best solution is counter speech not a government ban. There's a reason why bloggers like PZ Myers can criticise and even denigrate religion all they want and not get arrested in the US.