Our lips are sealed

Letters to the Boston editor, July 27, 2007

I loved your “Muzzle Awards” article. Here’s another nominee: Maine Public Broadcasting Network (MPBN), for firing Maine humorist Robert Skoglund, a/k/a The humble Farmer, in June for his refusal to sign a contract of conditions that would have restricted his “rants” on the radio program he has been doing for the past 28 years. MPBN had alleged that he was engaging in political humor on his program, yet the two instances they cited never mentioned a candidate or specific issue.

In the first case, he went on about a leader from the southern part of a country who was elected to office without winning the most votes. As he went on, some people took it that he was talking about President Bush, though no name was mentioned. “And he even wrote a book,” Skoglund said. “It’s called Mein Kampf.”

In the second case, with a tax-limitation referendum on the ballot, he read an unsolicited letter from a woman in Maryland, concerning what had happened to schools there after a tax-limitation law had passed in that state. Those two instances were about as close to politics as Skoglund ever went. His humor is weird, but it’s not political. Meanwhile, MPBN continues to broadcast programs from the NPR/PRI network, such as A Prairie Home Companion, Wait Wait . . . Don’t Tell Me!, and Whad’Ya Know? I wouldn’t advocate dropping any of these programs for their political humor, but firing Skoglund for refusal to sign a contract limiting his freedom of expression is not only inconsistent, it is a very crude attempt at censorship.

Larz F. Neilson
East Boothbay, Maine

It shocks me that the Boston Phoenix has not once but twice — most recently in the “Muzzle Awards” — dramatically misrepresented the actions of the student body at Tufts University regarding materials published by student magazine the Primary Source. According to Phoenix writers, the student-faculty disciplinary committee committed “censorship,” which suggests that the freedom of the Primary Source to publish has been restricted or prevented. That is absolutely not the case.

While the Committee on Student Life (CSL) cited the Primary Source for “harassment” and “creating a hostile environment,” it did not censor the publication. The only official recommended action was that the Primary Source should attribute its pieces — instead of continually running most ethnic- and gender-based “satires,” such as “O Come All Ye Blackfolk,” unsigned. If the Primary Source does not comply with the CSL recommendation, there is no specified remedy, only a vaguely worded recommendation that the student government — which controls organizational funding — consider the actions of all student groups when making future funding decisions.

In other words, the Primary Source is still free to print, disseminate its material on campus, and receive student funding. Should its staff want to continue running unsigned pieces, the harshest future scenario is that students may decide no longer to allocate their activity fees to keep the magazine in print. In that case, the Primary Source would have to self-publish, relying on advertising, as many student publications do.

This is not political correctness but democracy in action, for while even unpopular speech must be heard, nothing about the First Amendment requires that every speaker should be paid for it. The knee-jerk response here comes not from the students — who spent months in dialogue — but from Phoenix heavy-hitters Harvey Silverglate and Dan Kennedy, whose attacks are ill-informed.

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