Ironically two of the hard right's recent high-profile speech martyrs, Bill Maher and Howard Stern, are libertarians--a group whose distrust of big government traditionally prompts them to vote Republican. ABC, a subsidiary of the Walt Disney Company--a major political contributor to Bush's 2000 presidential campaign and other Republicans--canceled Maher's "Politically Incorrect" TV show after 9/11.
Now, over on AM radio, the Bush-controlled Federal Communications Commission has targeted Howard Stern for trumped-up decency violations. In a classic tag-team move, Clear Channel Communications, the thousand-station-plus behemoth so closely allied with the White House that it organized pro-Bush "Rallies for America" during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, declared Stern in violation of a brand-new "zero tolerance" policy for on-air indecency. "Clear Channel drew a line in the sand today with regard to protecting our listeners from indecent content, and Howard Stern's show blew right through it," Clear Channel Radio president John Hogan said before dropping Stern's popular syndicated program--Clear Channel is willing to lose money to promote its political agenda--from its stations.
The New McCarthyism doesn't always flow from the top down. The New York Times, which has published my editorial cartoons for 13 years through three presidents, suddenly excised them from its website on March 1--leaving a Soviet-style hole on its comics page. In an Orwellian twist, it even deleted the archives.
"After two years [sic] of monitoring cartoons by Ted Rall we decided that, while he often does good work, we found some of his humor was not in keeping with the tone we try to set for NYTimes.com," stammered a Times Digital spokesperson to Editor & Publisher magazine when anti-censorship complaints began coming in. "We...recognize an obligation to assure our users that what we publish...does not offend the reasonable sensibilities of our audience."
To his credit, the paper's ombudsman wrote that he disagreed with the decision.
Those "reasonable sensibilities," a Times insider tells me, have less to do with tone than political content: as the most liberal cartoonist in a group of ten, my work drew a disproportionate number of emails from annoyed Republicans--adding to an already short-staffed department's workload. "It wasn't tone. [Times Digital] were sick of the hassle," my source says. "They kept other cartoons that were far more objectionable."
I note with alarm that such a bill would almost certainly make the majority of my blog posts (and most postings by other poli-bloggers) illegal. At issue, a portion of the bill explicitly stating that there is no difference between a 'subset' (which could be any size) of the database and the full set of information. It sounds like it would be the messy end of blogging as we know it.