Air America Radio suspends Randi Rhodes for using the "W" word.
In the 1919 case Schenk v. The United States, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech doesn't permit someone to falsely yell "fire" in a crowded theater. That interpretation of our Constitutional rights was brought up to date today when the management of Air America Radio suspended talk show host Randi Rhodes for calling Geraldine Ferraro and Hillary Clinton "whores." Ms. Rhodes' live tirade was not broadcast on the Air America network. We know about it because it was captured on tape and made available for endless viewing on YouTube.
When our Founding Fathers added the First Amendment to the Constitution, they didn't anticipate two things: first, that there would someday be radio and radio talk shows, and second, that there would someday be YouTube. If they had, they would have included a clause like, "Freedom of speech shall not be abridged, except when talk show hosts use foul language when describing a political candidate and the whole thing is captured on video and shown on YouTube."
Surely the owners of liberal talk radio network Air America were thinking of this Constitutional omission when they suspended Ms. Rhodes. But let's be clear about the intent here. No one would argue that these prominent politicos, Ferraro and Clinton, are literally whores in the Elliot Spitzer sense of the term. If you go to YouTube and watch the video (14,907 views as of 2:40 on Thursday) it is clear that Ms. Rhodes was using the term to mean that these women will "sell" themselves to the highest bidder for political advantages. (How else to explain Ms. Clinton's recent decision to appear before Richard Scaife's Pittsburgh Tribune-Review editorial board?) I would argue that that appearance makes Ms. Clinton less of a whore and more of a hooker, but let's not quibble over technicalities.
It is OK to call Ms. Clinton a murderer, a fraud, and other foul names if you are writing for the Tribune-Review (see their coverage of the Vince Foster suicide). It is unacceptable for a radio talk show host to use pejorative language against Ms. Clinton before a small group of appreciative listeners if it is captured on tape and ends up on YouTube. So we have to assume that in this case the medium is truly the message.
Every society has its taboos. Our culture distinguishes "polite" language from "foul" language. The management of Air America Radio would have us believe that this modern taboo trumps any Constitutional rights or privileges we may think we have.