ROSE NOLEN: Clear First Amendment regulations would encourage civil discourse

Tuesday, March 20, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

Too often we allow people to go the extra mile before we try to put a stop to them. That’s exactly what happened in the case of Rush Limbaugh. Limbaugh apparently assumed that his First Amendment rights gave him the privilege to say anything he wanted to over the airwaves and no one had the right to stop him.

The problem, I think, is that no one specifies exactly what the amendment covers. If what the amendment covers was written down and posted in newspapers and in public places, people would be more informed.

But since the Internet has developed at such a rapid pace and there are so many ways to communicate, most individuals are not clear as to what they are permitted to say and what is illegal. There used to be rules governing what could be said on the radio and television. Frankly, I don’t know what those rules are anymore.

Personally, I liked it better in the old days. People knew they were not free to insult people, and they were not allowed to use certain phrases over the airwaves. Those rules were not frequently broken and it seems to me that civil discourse was the order of the day.

These days people seem to go out of their way to be rude. A lot of folks pride themselves on being disrespectful. Some people cannot complete a sentence without using a curse word. Some parents and children curse each other on a regular basis. Teachers curse, students curse and sometimes its hard to realize that these conversations are taking place in a public school.

If we chose to return to civil discourse I’m not sure how we could do it. Probably, we would have to post notices every place much like they do with non-smoking signs. Actually, I’m not certain people want to behave civilly anymore. It would seem the fewer rules and regulations we have for everything, the better people seem to like it.

It would seem like in cases such as Limbaugh’s the only rule that applies is that you can say anything you want about anyone as long as someone is willing to pay money for you to say it. I haven’t heard anyone saying anything about the government stepping in to address the issue of the use of offensive language over the air waves. I guess that means the government doesn’t  care any longer about what kind of language is used in public.

As far as I’m concerned the courts seem to be very selective in the way in which they enforce these First Amendment rights. It would certainly help if they could define these rights in such a way that the average person could understand his or her limits. Some behavior, such as Limbaugh’s, is way over the line. The fact that people can go on the air and tell such outrageous and provable lies about others is just as egregious.

In fact, we need a whole new Bill of Rights about kinds of behavior that should be allowed on the electronic media. Once clear-cut rules are made it would be easily determined when they are broken.

There are always people who will take things as far as they will go. And those that have money or political influence will use it to break the rules. And as long as people like Rush Limbaugh have an audience he will constantly go wherever he needs to keep their attention.

It takes a lot to satisfy audiences around the clock. Some talented people manage to do it by simply following a format created to showcase their particular talent. Others just make stuff up as they go along and call it a program.

Such things can be dangerous when they are allowed to get out of control.

You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen by calling her at 882-5734 or emailing her at

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Mark Foecking March 20, 2012 | 7:41 a.m.

"I guess that means the government doesn’t care any longer about what kind of language is used in public."

In fact they do, Rose. You've heard of the "Seven Words You Can't Say on Television"? They're still illegal (although they do slip through more than they used to). You also can't discuss explicit sex or graphic violence. There have been standards for what can be said for decades.

You're objecting to something else, and this is something I don't think should be regulated. Political discourse has always been emotionally charged and polarizing. I expect politicians and pundits to regularly lie (or at least stretch or spin the truth), and I expect intelligent, rational people to do some fact checking before they accept or reject a claim.

We should no more regulate the content of what Limbaugh says than what Olbermann or Farrakhan says. As long as they stay within the legally defined boundaries of profanity or obscenity, they should have every right to say whatever they want. It is up to the listener to decide whether to accept it.


(Report Comment)
frank christian March 20, 2012 | 8:05 a.m.

All this this about two words from R. Limbaugh. You, nor anyone else that I have heard can mention that a code of decency regarding Ist Amendments speech has prevailed for sometime and is the reason the jerk, (my right) Bill Maher has only HBO from which to mouth his obscenities. Only people willing to pay are allowed to hear him. The networks banned him long ago.

"In fact, we need a whole new Bill of Rights about kinds of behavior that should be allowed on the electronic media. Once clear-cut rules are made it would be easily determined when they are broken."

You mingle with the wealthy (whom you often purport to hate) here. Billionaire, avowed socialist, Geo. Soros is the only other one I have ever heard make such a similar statement. "Our Rights should not be inalienable. We should be able to change them!"

I wouldn't go there but, you always seem to love it.

(Report Comment)
Bob Hill March 20, 2012 | 8:39 a.m.

I agree with the previous comments. The title of this article should have been "Limiting Speech for People I Don't Agree With" (yes, yes, a dangling participle). Rush, Rush, Rush. That's the ONLY person you can give as an example!!!

Also, I would leave the country if we charge the current crop of "leaders" to re-writing the Bill of Rights or creating a new one. Fairness rules would destroy this country.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams March 20, 2012 | 9:18 a.m.

I'd take Rose's yearnings more seriously if she had taken keyboard-in-hand when Bill Maher called Sarah Palin two names for female body parts, beginning with a "c" and a "t". And that's just one example.

Civility is two-sided and I'll not support your missive if you only cry when your favored ox is gored. You have to cry when ANY ox is gored, else your agenda is suspect. I'll not support you if the only time you speak up is when Limbaugh or some other ill-favored conservative goes over the line.

Limbaugh was an ass when he said what he said. So was Bill Maher. Care to publicly agree with both statements?

(Report Comment)
John Schultz March 20, 2012 | 9:31 a.m.

"The problem, I think, is that no one specifies exactly what the amendment covers. If what the amendment covers was written down and posted in newspapers and in public places, people would be more informed."

It's pretty simple, Rose. Congress shall pass no law. It doesn't get any clearer than that.

(Report Comment)
Gary Straub March 20, 2012 | 10:06 a.m.

Well this is something we agree on. There are laws against libel and slander, and that is enough. Free speech is the flag pole of our society no matter what flag is flying from it.

Mark, could you give some reference to what law you are referring to. I am not aware that it is illegal to say certain words or talk about explicit sex or graphic violence on TV. There is sure plenty of it! I assumed it was self regulation by the networks.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking March 20, 2012 | 10:10 a.m.

Here's a link with some other links in the sidebar, Gary:


(Report Comment)
Gary Straub March 20, 2012 | 10:10 a.m.

However, I do agree with Ms. Nolen, there is definitely a preponderance of incivility lately.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams March 20, 2012 | 10:53 a.m.

Gary Straub: However, I do agree with Ms. Nolen, there is definitely a preponderance of incivility lately.

I also agree. Two things:

(1) It does not help matters when one group cries foul and complains while that same group is committing the same fouls.

(2) Many comedians like Maher think they are "immune" to criticism of their incivility, even those who stray bigtime into the political arena. Sorry, that doesn't wash. You can't be political for a while and then retreat into the safety of a comedy world when the going gets tough.

(Report Comment)
Holly Henry March 20, 2012 | 11:03 a.m.

The First Amendment says GOVERNMENT can't tell you what you may or may not say (though that has been refined somewhat through judicial decisions over the years), who you may or may not associate with, and what religious beliefs you may or may not profess. While broadcast airwaves are subject to some government regulation as a public good as Mark noted, civility is not covered by the First Amendment and, aside from the strictures of that regulation, the corporate owners of the respective stations on which Mr. Limbaugh's program are aired get to determine what views and language they will and will not allow.

It is something of a pet peeve for me that so many people over-interpret the First Amendment to mean that it applies to non-governmental actors. How many times have the editors here heard the cry that removing a post from a comment thread is a violation of the First? Similarly, how many times have we heard that calling for a boycott of Limbaugh's advertisers over this recent broadcast is a violation of his First Amendment rights? As John rightfully points out, neither of these examples are violations because they do not involve Congress passing a law that says, "Missourian editors must publish all comments" or "individuals [must/may not] boycott advertisers." Such a law WOULD violate the First Amendment, and one would expect the Supreme Court to invalidate it post haste if such a thing ever actually got passed.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams March 20, 2012 | 11:29 a.m.

Holly: I agree. I would not want to live in a place able to do what Ms Rose is proposing.

Speaking of giving up rights, did you note Sweden is moving towards a no-cash system? Everything will be handled will be worthless. Can you imagine the potential for abuses and control over you? I wish we weren't headed in the same direction.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro March 21, 2012 | 4:02 p.m.

Political correctness is the new whip of the liberal progressive, whenever it fits their agenda.
Beat the drums when a non-liberal progressive dares to speak out, or just gets sloppy, and all hell breaks loose.
All the while, the Al Sharptons and the Jesse Jacksons get their passes.
Ban gangsta rap. It's porno.

(Report Comment)

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