A proposed bill of rights for media

BECAUSE IT TAKES a great deal to offend me personally, I’m often surprised by what triggers the indignation of others — how media figures readily paint themselves as having been mistreated or abused.

America is a nation of liberties, but many confuse this freedom with rights in the media sphere that don’t actually exist. So just to set the record straight, nobody has the absolute right to …

  • Say any foolish thing they want without consequences.

Bill Maher helped create Ann Coulter by showcasing her on his ABC latenight show, and they certainly deserve each other, with both currently under fire for their shoot-from-the-lip approach.

Coulter pointlessly used the slur “faggot” to describe a presidential candidate, while Maher said on his HBO program, “I have zero doubt that if Dick Cheney was not in power, people wouldn’t be dying needlessly tomorrow.” Maher has complained that the remark was subsequently twisted, and he didn’t go so far as wish the vice president dead; still, in the context of an attack aimed at Cheney the comment was clearly irresponsible — crossing the line between “provocative” and “thoughtlessly ill considered.”

  • Not be offended.

The Parents Television Council is in the outrage business, most recently using an episode of “The Sarah Silverman Program” — one where the eponymous lead sleeps with God, who then becomes clingy and needy — to demand a la carte cable, saying that paying subscriber fees to Comedy Central is an affront to Christians.

Now, a la carte cable is an idea with potential consumer merit — primarily for little old ladies anteing up for channels they never use, like ESPN — but the Silverman interlude only signals another instance where an interest group magnifies a little-seen TV show’s exposure to make a point (and maybe push fund-raising) behind the cover of protecting the tender sensibilities of constituents who wouldn’t watch such irreverent nonsense in the first place.

Mercifully, there are already old-fashioned solutions available to those who don’t dabble in cultural politics by press release — like changing channels, or dropping cable and getting out the rabbit ears.

  • Be accepted by everybody as a trustworthy news source.

Fox News officials are miffed about the Nevada Democratic Party’s decision to withdraw a debate the channel was going to co-sponsor, bowing to liberal critics who contend that having done so would legitimize a GOP propaganda machine.

Whatever the move’s political wisdom, Fox is getting a taste of its own medicine, inasmuch as the channel consistently besmirches the credibility of news coverage elsewhere; indeed, it’s “fair and balanced” slogan is a constant marketing pitch to remind conservatives that they will receive a fairer shake from Fox than other outlets that harbor a “liberal bias.”

There’s some irony, then, reading Fox anchor Brit Hume’s quote regarding how Democratic contender John Edwards knows “that while he may be at war against Fox News, Fox News is not and cannot be at war with him. … (We) are going to treat him in the same fair way that we’ve always treated him, and we must do that.”

Of course, that’s precisely why the “liberal media” represent such an inviting punching bag for conservatives — because journalists who endeavor to be fair can’t react to criticism without sounding defensive and pissy, the way Hume did.

  • Be interviewed on cable TV.

Marvin Kitman is miffed that Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly won’t book him as a guest on his talkshow and, according to Kitman, has done his damnedest to ensure nobody else at Fox does either. Given that Kitman wants to promote his O’Reilly biography “The Man Who Would Not Shut Up,” it’s hard to believe he’s truly surprised that the easily riled host dislikes the book, which, despite being mostly positive, delves into the sexual-harassment lawsuit brought against O’Reilly by Andrea Mackris.

Now let’s think about this: Does anybody at Fox really want the headache of being on the receiving end of CEO Roger Ailes’ call after the network’s biggest star goes ballistic on him?

Fortunately for Kitman, there’s always MSNBC. As for losing Fox as a platform, tough break, but nobody has the right to life being fair, much less balanced.

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