GUESTS: Tom Doyle, Thomas Reese, Edward Landry, Joelle Casteix, Jeff Brantley, Ibrahim Hooper, Armstrong Williams
ZAHN: The battle over the public airwaves is heating up again. Recently during a radio call-in show, radio shock jock Howard Stern confronted FCC chairman Michael Powell, accusing him of being a danger to free speech.
Stern has been cited by the FCC for making indecent comments on his show.
And in an op-ed piece in today's "New York Times," Powell said the law requires the FCC to regulate indecent content on public airwaves. He writes, "We do not watch or listen to programs hoping to catch purveyors of dirty broadcasts. Instead, we rely on public complaints."
Well, the FCC's indecency rules apply to broadcast TV and radio, because they use public airwaves. That doesn't apply to cable. But while explicit content may be out, there is some very offensive programming the FCC can't touch.
Here's Thelma Gutierrez.
THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): From Los Angeles to
Chicago to Seattle, something in the air is making some people squirm.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get 'em all right now.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Go on back to Israel.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you refer to Condoleezza Rice as Aunt Jemima?
GUTIERREZ: It is shock radio, where these derogatory and racial slurs go
beyond the usual controversial talk to build ratings.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: In my view, there shouldn't be any room
for those kind of remarks on the radio.
GUTIERREZ: California Congressman Adam Schiff is not alone. Last month's
presidential election showed some of the country is very concerned about
values and morality, especially over the airwaves.
Who can forget the outrage over Janet Jackson's exposed breasts seen during
the Super Bowl halftime show on CBS? It's clear, sexually explicit material
on air is not tolerated, but most everything else is fair game on the
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Drop the bomb. Kill everybody.
GUTIERREZ: But what about derogatory racist comments? On November 12,
during Yasser Arafat's funeral, this was said against Palestinians on Don
Imus' national radio show.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're all brainwashed, though. That's what it is. And
they're stupid to begin with, but they're brainwashed. Stinking animals.
They ought to drop the bomb right there, kill them all right now.
GUTIERREZ: Los Angeles rabbi Steven Jacobs says he's deeply bothered by
this kind of talk.
RABBI STEVE JACOBS, TEMPLE KOL TIKVAH: If the same attack were to throw a
bomb on blacks or Jews, there would be an outrage in the organized
GUTIERREZ: Johnny Angel has his own radio show in Los Angeles. He says he's
trying to do something about what he refers to as hate on radio.
JOHNNY ANGEL, LOS ANGELES RADIO HOST: I'm not saying I'm the greatest talk
radio host that ever lived, I don't have a bad bone in my body, but I would
never resort to this kind of crap, never.
REV. LEONARD JACKSON, FIRST AME CHURCH: People of like minds must come
together on these issues.
GUTIERREZ: The Reverend Leonard Jackson of the First AME Church in Los
Angeles, Rabbi Jacobs and Hussam Ayoush of CAIR, the Council of
Islamic-American Relations, launched a joint effort to put a stop to hate
JACKSON: We must be concerned when one minority is depicted as the
so-called enemy. OK? We must stand up for the right of all minorities.
HUSSAM AYOUSH, CAIR: Whether it's the Latinos, the African- Americans, the
Jews, the Polish. Today it happens to be the Arabs.
GUTIERREZ: In March, a skit about the Iraqi constitution aired on a Los
Angeles radio station, which later issued an apology.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Section 5: Everybody in the name of Allah should be
given 72 virgins upon entering heaven. The virgins, however, will not be
hairy Iraqi women but lovely Japanese schoolgirls.
AYOUSH: It's extremely hurtful. One has to wonder, isn't there a way to
poke fun at politics and political affairs and current affairs without
having to resort to dehumanizing and ridiculing?
JACOBS: How do we profess values of how we treat one another? Thou shall
not hate another in thy heart.
GUTIERREZ: After complaints were filed, an FCC spokesman told us they have
no jurisdiction over racism on airwaves. Offensive as the slurs may be,
they are protected by the First Amendment, and so those complaints go
SCHIFF: It really is kind of a terrible irony of the current situation,
that you can prohibit the showing of Janet Jackson's breasts on a halftime
demonstration, but you can't prohibit hate filled, racist speech that many
people would find far more destructive.
GUTIERREZ: But the congressman says there is plenty the public can do, like
writing letters to stations and boycotting products. SCHIFF: The only
really effective way of dealing with this problem is organizing the power
of the dollar to force this content off the radio and off television.
ZAHN: That was Thelma Gutierrez reporting for us.
Joining me from Washington, Ibrahim Hooper, the communications director for
the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Mr. Hooper's organization
complained to the FCC about Don Imus' November 12 show.
Also joining us from Washington tonight, conservative radio talk show host,
Great to have both of you with us.
ARMSTRONG WILLIAMS, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: That's right.
ZAHN: Armstrong, I'm going to start with you this evening and quickly
review what Don Imus said on his show about Palestinians, calling them
brainwashed, stinking animals: "They ought to drop the bomb, kill them all
Does it make sense to you that nudity or partial nudity is off limits, but
this kind of language can go unchallenged?
WILLIAMS: Yes, it does.
WILLIAMS: The highest form of protected speech in this country is political
speech. It should never be curtailed. I would never use it. You would not.
I find it to be offensive.
But that's the beauty of the freedom of speech. It's what separates us from
any other country in the world is the beauty that we have the freedom to
express whatever we believe, whether it's offensive, whether it's
ZAHN: But Armstrong...
WILLIAMS: ... as the Congressman said, if we don't like it, let the
But when it comes to nudity and indecency, the bar is much lower for that
kind of behavior and activity than it is for political speech.
ZAHN: Would you let that kind of language used -- be used on your show,
WILLIAMS: No, absolutely not. I wouldn't use it. But I would defend someone
else's right to use it, even though I hate it and despise it. That's the
meaning of freedom.
ZAHN: OK. But what if that same guest used slurs against blacks and used
the "N" word?
WILLIAMS: They do it to themselves. Everyone does it. That is nothing new.
We've had these debates where blacks use it against each other. Whites have
used it. Everybody uses it.
But I would fight for their rights just as much as I would for anybody
else. You cannot have where you curtail some freedoms and then allow others
to express theirs. You've got to have a consistent policy on this.
And I think the FCC is right. They should stay out of it. It's no place for
them. They should regulate issues of indecency like Janet Jackson and ESPN
and Nicolette Sheridan.
But when it comes to political speech, we should always fight to protect
that, because that's what gives us the kind of freedom and the kind of
power we have as Americans, free citizens, that separates us from the rest
of the world.
ZAHN: Ibrahim, you just heard what Armstrong had to say. How would you
IBRAHIM HOOPER, COUNCIL ON AMERICAN-ISLAMIC RELATIONS: Well, it's not so
much a matter of policing. We're firm believers in the First Amendment.
But the First Amendment is a two-way street. Somebody is free to be a bigot
or a racist, as we see everyday, but we're also free to protest. We're free
to go to the advertisers. We're free to go to the companies that own these
programs and distribute these programs, as hundreds and hundreds and
hundreds of people contacted the Imus program and MSNBC and NBC to express
ZAHN: Do you think it will make any difference in the debate at all?
HOOPER: It makes a difference. I think when people don't challenge hate
speech, it's perceived as normal. It's legitimized. And unfortunately, in
the post-9/11 era, we've seen the legitimatization of anti-Muslim hate
speech. And that's something we need to speak out about, because silence
ZAHN: All right. But, Armstrong, we also need to make the distinction here
that we're really talking about radio and public airwaves. Cable television
is a different thing altogether.
The bottom line here tonight, Armstrong Williams, is it really a two-way
WILLIAMS: Listen. There are contradictions. There -- there's inconsistency.
Obviously, I would like to see them have the same policy for cable. But
it's different, because they feel that is something you decide to buy and
purchase. It's not open airwaves where just anybody can access it.
I think -- you know, I find it offensive. It upsets me. I get really
disturbed. I hear it. But I would defend their right to say it.
But most Americans are decent. Ninety percent of us would never say those
things because we don't feel that way. But we should defend the right of
the 10 percent that want to say it. It creates a debate.
And like the rabbi -- like the imam said, we should protest. We should go
to advertisers, but I would never, ever not defend their right to say those
bigoted, ugly things that they say. That is a part of being America --
Americans in this country.
ZAHN: In closing tonight, you agree this, obviously, it stokes the debate,
but you also think this could lead to unintended consequences, you think,
like violence? A brief answer on that, sir.
HOOPER: Well, we see it every day. We just saw it near Richmond, Virginia,
a gas station burned down, anti-Muslim, anti-Arab graffiti left at the
scene. And we think they were attacked because they were Sikhs. They
weren't even Muslim, but they wear a turban, so bigots, not being brain
surgeons, think anybody who wears a turban is an Arab or a Muslim.
So we see the results of this kind of rhetoric.
ZAHN: And you see those slurs, you think, being repeated on radio, and
maybe leading people to some of those actions.
Ibrahim Hooper, Armstrong Williams, thank you both for joining us tonight
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