As I sat at my son's home watching television the other night, I was struck by how great the United States is when it comes to allowing free speech on any subject.
On one of the channels, there was a program about the Klu Klux Klan, with Mike Wallace hosting the commentary.
The program showed the hatred and bigotry the organization expounds. The commentary pointed out that, while the KKK members have gotten away from wearing white sheets, the vile truth behind the group has not changed.
The portrayal of the organization was not only presented by the comments of the producer and news group that developed the program, but in the words of the Klan leaders and the members. Many of the comments voiced by the KKK representatives were racist and hateful, yet there they were on television for all Americans to see. The program showed the true side of an organization most Americans deplore.
It wasn't the fact the program was presented that impressed me, but that we as a nation allow these types of people to expound their nasty points of view for all to see.
While most of us hate the stance the individuals in the Klan take, we are the better for having heard the viewpoint and having allowed it to be heard in our society.
But for some people, similar programs are upsetting. For them, this type of hatred being espoused by individuals, even in a negative light, should never be allowed.
Yet the ability to express oneself, no matter how repugnant a viewpoint may be to others, is a fundamental principle of our country.
In the case of the KKK program, the producers of the film made the decision to allow the hatred to come through in a direct way. They apparently thought that the verbal viewpoints - from the horse's mouth, so to speak- would aid in showing the true nature of the diabolical organization.
But not every media source would do this, nor should they for any reason be forced to.
Broadcast news, whether it be radio or television, and the print media have a responsibility to audiences to present materials that enlighten and inform. Most media outlets have a viewpoint which they have adopted based on their own dispositions or their audiences' sensitivities.
Free speech is a standing principle of our Constitution, guaranteed in the First Amendment. But the forum in which free speech may be presented is not regulated by law, nor should it be.
The media companies have a right, based on community standards, readers' sensibilities and business considerations, to not broadcast or print any materials deemed inappropriateby them for a publication or news show.
To expect anything else would be ludicrous.
For instance, no one would expect an article about abortion written by a conservative voice such as Pat Buchanan to be presented in a magazine like The Progressive.
The Progressive is a liberal magazine, which picks writers and topics based on its perception of the world and its readers' viewpoints. No one who chooses to read the magazine wants to directly hear what a conservative like Buchanan has to say. The magazine and its readers want any of Buchanan's ideas interpreted by a liberal writer with a progressive slant.
On the other side of the coin, no one would expect Howard Stern's ramblings to be published in a conservative magazine like The American Spectator. Most of the magazine's readers would be repelled by Stern's view of society and the problems it faces.
But both publications would have the right to display the words of either of the individuals if they wished to. The decision belongs to the executives of the magazines and no one else.
Basically, media companies are businesses which must make decisions based on what readers or viewers want and expect.
Many stories that are put together for broadcast or publication, either by staff or free lancers, never make it to the screen or the printed page. This happens for a variety of reasons.
Sometimes, the research on a piece is not strong enough for a media outlet to display it. Sometimes, what initially appears to be a strong story or idea turns out to be a too weak tale to tell. Sometimes, the story either borders on slander or down right attacks an individual with no real facts behind it. Sometimes, the piece just doesn't fit the editorial slant of the product.
There are many, many more reasons why a piece may not make the final cut and be released to the audience of a particular publication or show. Regardless of the reason, a media outlet has the right to pick and choose what it will present in its product.
The principle of free speech does not prohibit media companies from questioning or refusing to carry a piece.
On the other hand, journalists and producers who create work they feel should be seen by a general or specific audience are free to present the material in any forum they can find that will deliver it. As for print journalism, that possibility is always an alternative for a writer who wants to get his or her view across.
The principle of free speech does not guarantee a forum for any point of view. It just gives individuals the right to express themselves, whether it be on a street corner, in a coffee shop or in a self-produced medium.
And if they can find someone who will carry their point of view to an audience, all the better for them.