Shut up and play

Politics and other mistakes
By AL DIAMON  |  March 14, 2007

I’ve been fired for saying stuff like this. So, if I’m not occupying this space next week, you’ll know why.

Just kidding. This publication would never dismiss someone for exercising his First Amendment rights.

I hope. Like I said, my experience has been otherwise.

Also, this doesn’t seem to be a good time to be outspoken. The Legislature is currently considering a bill to limit protests at funerals, so when Uncle Oscar, the child molester, finally croaks, you won’t be able to stand next to his cemetery plot with a sign that says, “I’m Glad He’s Dead.” The bill’s sponsor is apparently unconcerned that there’s never been a funeral protest in Maine (a group of anti-gay psychos threatened to hold one, but never showed) and doesn’t seem to realize that if one occurred, it would provoke such a backlash against the organizers as to be self-defeating. Like flag burning, this is a problem that corrects itself, even without a law.

Meanwhile, the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices has told a Superior Court justice it has the right to fine a legislative candidate for what it considers misleading campaign material. In a 2006 brochure, Republican Michael Mowles of Cape Elizabeth used old endorsements from US senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins. Careful readers would have noticed the quotes were dated 2004, but the ethics commission seems to think free speech ought not to require careful reading.

So, let me put this disclaimer in capital letters: SOME STUFF LATER IN THIS COLUMN HAPPENED MORE THAN A DECADE AGO.

In an atmosphere where you can be pummeled by the left for saying, “that’s so gay” and by the right for saying, “Iran has a valid point about nukes,” the safest course seems to be to limit conversations to sports (“the Yankees are so gay”) and the weather (“Iran has a valid point about global warming”).

Or maybe you should just shut up. Which is what Robert Skoglund is doing.

Skoglund, better known to listeners of the radio stations of the Maine Public Broadcasting Network (MPBN) as the capitalization-challenged host of the Friday evening program, The humble Farmer, has gone silent. He said he has no choice.

Until recently, Skoglund’s show was a mix of old jazz recordings and wry comments on his life and times. But in November, Skoglund got a certified letter from his boss, MPBN vice-president of programming Charles Beck. “You will not,” Beck wrote, “introduce your own or others’ political thoughts, ideas, expressions, writings or thinking which clearly or can be perceived as endorsing, dismissing or taking a stand on controversial issues.” Among the topics Skoglund is not allowed to mention are politics, corporations and commercial products. He’s also not supposed to discuss MPBN without prior approval.

Uh oh.

“It is not what I say,” said Skoglund without prior approval. “It is what they perceive . . . Charles Beck says perception is reality. And right now, my radio friends perceive I’m being censored.”

This isn’t a new problem. In 2003, Skoglund got spanked for a commentary about Hitler that came uncomfortably close to describing George W. Bush. Last fall, his show was pulled from the air for one week after he included criticism of the proposed Taxpayers Bill of Rights ballot question. Now, he’s being told his 28-year tenure at the network is in danger of being abruptly concluded.

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