Category: Speech

An Adult Conversation About “Nigger”

By , October 9, 2011 10:16 am

On Monday’s episode of “The View,” a conversation about “niggerhead” written on a stone on property leased by Gov. Rick Perry’s family turned into a discussion about “nigger,” “the n-word” and who should use which.

It’s hypocritical for African-Americans, like Sherri Sheppard, to say “nigger,” but think people of other races are barred from saying it under any circumstances. It doesn’t take into account the intent of the person using the word. Saying it recklessly or maliciously is very different from reporting a story as Barbara Walters was doing in the segment above.

Yes, it’s a very offensive word, but to have an honest and respectful conversation about the word “nigger,” you need to say it. Clarity is important when talking about race. Calling it the “n-word” isn’t protecting the delicate sensibilities of others. It’s immature. If you’re having a discussion with adults, use adult words.

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Don’t Stifle Social Media After UK Riots

By , August 12, 2011 4:15 pm

British Prime Minister David Cameron said Parliament is exploring ways to ban social media during situations of widespread emergencies like the riots that have swept the country for the last weeks.

Speaking in the House Of Commons on Thursday, he said:

Mr Speaker, everyone watching these horrific actions will be stuck by how they were organised via social media.

Free flow of information can be used for good. But it can also be used for ill.

And when people are using social media for violence we need to stop them.

So we are working with the Police, the intelligence services and industry to look at whether it would be right to stop people communicating via these websites and services when we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality.

Logistically, it may be impossible and his statement may have just been “bravado,” but it’s a bad idea to suggest that stifling or banning communication over social networks is a good tool to fight crime.

Laws over speech and expression in the UK are different than in the US. The libel laws are much stricter, and you can’t even make fun of a session of Parliament even when they’re being complimented by comedians like Jon Stewart (see below). Those differences aren’t reasons for a Western democracy to restrict free speech like a dictatorship. Fighting and preventing crime is a priority in any country, but things get tricky when you’re dealing with speech. One person’s threatening language is another’s good idea.

Journalism professor Jeff Jarvis wrote this about Cameron’s suggestion to block social media: “When anyone’s speech is not free, no one’s speech is free…Censorship is not the path to civility. Only speech is.”

A clip from The Daily Show With John Stewart.

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Five Reasons Mark Halperin Was Wrong To Say Obama Was “Kind Of A Dick”

By , July 1, 2011 1:56 am

On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” yesterday, Time magazine’s senior political analyst and editor-at-large Mark Halperin said President Obama was “kind of a dick” in how he “behaved” at his press conference on Wednesday.

Here’s the clip:

A few minutes later, he made an on-air apology. “Joking aside, this not a pro forma apology, it’s an absolute apology – heartfelt to the president and to the viewers. I became part of the joke, but that’s no excuse. I made a mistake and I’m sorry and I shouldn’t have said it. And as I said, I apologize to the president and the viewers who heard me say that.”

Here’s what’s wrong with Halperin’s “dick” remark:

1. Regardless of who’s being talked about, cable or network morning television isn’t the place to call someone a dick. A nighttime show? Maybe, but even then, not the president (which I’ll get to in a moment).

2. Halperin knew he shouldn’t have said it on television because he asked about the seven-second delay. The “joke” wasn’t spontaneous or something said in the heat of an argument. It appears the remark was planned. Between thinking about saying “kind of a dick” and the banter that ensued when they discussed the delay, Halperin had plenty of time to consider the remark and decide not to say it. He decided wrong.

3. An editor-at-large and senior political analyst of the country’s largest news magazine shouldn’t call anyone – the president or an average Joe – a dick. It’s unprofessional for any journalist to do that on-air. Which brings me to…

4. Halperin is an experienced journalist and editor, but he failed here, too. He didn’t edit himself.

5. Finally, the most obvious: Should anyone call the president a dick on TV? Of course not! It’s the President of the United States! It’s our highest and most esteemed elected office. Obama and other presidents have been called worse in homes, offices, the Internet and other places where people talk about politics. But we look to journalists and others who lead political discussions to maintain a certain level of respect for the political process and the people involved in it.

MSNBC was right to indefinitely suspend Halperin. Not only was he disrespectful, he was a bad guest who showed bad judgment.

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When Free Speech Is Offensive

By , March 3, 2011 12:39 am

The Supreme Court ruled yesterday that the First Amendment protects offensive speech.

In an 8-to-1 ruling, the court said the hate-mongers from the Westboro Baptist Church have the right to spew offensive speech under the First Amendment.

Members of the church, led by Rev. Fred W. Phelps, have been picketing near funerals of U.S. troops. They say military deaths are caused by America’s acceptance of homosexuality. The case that was before the Supreme Court stemmed from the 2006 funeral of Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, who was killed in Iraq. Members of the Westboro Baptist Church carried signs at his funeral that said, “Thank God for Dead Soldiers,” “God Hates Fags,” and “America Is Doomed.”

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What these this group is doing is horrible. As you saw from the NBC Nightly News story, they seem filled with rage. Margie Phelps, attorney and daughter for Rev. Phelps who was in the report, also thanked Snyder’s father for filing the suit and “putting a megaphone to the mouth of this little church.” She said, “We’re going to picket more.”

But I agree with the Supreme Court decision and Chief Justice John Roberts. The picketing, he wrote, “is certainly hurtful and its contribution to public discourse may be negligible.” But he also wrote the government “cannot react to the pain by punishing the speaker.”

“As a nation we have chosen a different course – to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate,” Roberts said.

Indeed. In some countries – even democracies in Western Europe – someone can be tried or sued for making hate speech, saying something offensive or even calling someone a derogatory name in a publication. People should act in a civilized manner, but the free exchange of ideas is important. Even if it means some ideas are bad, offensive or hurt someone’s feelings.

What do you think?

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Journalists Who Put Themselves “Out There”

By , October 27, 2010 3:02 pm

Juan Williams joins the ranks of Helen Thomas, Octavia Nasr and Rick Sanchez who were fired or resigned from their respective news organizations for expressing their opinion. As you probably know, Williams was fired by NPR for his remarks on “The O’Reilly Factor” in which he expressed his feelings about seeing people in “Muslim garb” when he gets on a plane. “I get worried. I get nervous,” he said.

Here’s the entire interview.

Thomas, Nasr, Sanchez and Williams were let go for expressing personal opinions in informal settings or places where they were the interview subjects. Because they put themselves in positions where the public was looking for the them to offer insight, perspective and a bit of their personality, their opining put them in positions to get in trouble with their employers.

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