These and other ambiguities provoke fear among the broadcast journalists who interview me. I once was in the middle of a screaming argument between a radio host and his producer. The host insisted it was okay to say “asshole.” His producer hollered back, “You’re going to get me fired! I’m the one who’s going to have to deal with the lawyers and be blamed for your filthy mouth!”
The producer’s fears illustrate the chilling effect of government censorship that the First Amendment is designed to protect against. I hope a case comes along soon that leads to a constitutional review of the current pattern of government censorship. And I hope that when it does, the courts look at how the media arena has changed in the past 30 years. Today’s editors and producers are acutely aware of their audiences, sponsors and funding sources, and they know what language their community will and will not find acceptable. Both the host and his paranoid producer on that radio show were confident their audience was comfortable with the word “asshole.” The producer feared his government, not his audience.