Provocative Questions

Another free-speech questionSometimes it's the unanticipated answer to a question—the answer you simply hadn't considered—that really illuminates the debate.

Q. When is a journalist not a journalist?

A. When he's an entertainer.

Although the idea may seem flippant at first, this simple question-answer duet resolved a point of consternation that's been nagging at me ever since Don Imus was fired for making those now-infamous remarks while positioned behind a microphone. Namely, how is it possible to attach the protected speech label to the remarks of a paid sportscaster, since that was arguably his official role at the time.

It's possible if the sportscaster isn't really a sportscaster—sometimes referred to as a reporter, or even a journalist, maybe—but is, instead, an entertainer. In the role of entertainer, all things are permissible, and protected, mostly. If you happen to be, for example, a rap artist, you can say pretty much whatever you feel like saying by way of your lyrics. Music is an art form, and artists are expected to engage in free expression, and that free expression is protected by law, and that's why Don Imus' comments qualify for protection. See the logic in it now?

I'd like to be able to say that this new way of looking at things came to me in a dream, or better yet, a vision. But the truth is my consciousness was expanded by a blog post I happened upon by accident, which had to do with a heated neighborhood discussion on the subject of free speech.

One of our combatants refused to acknowledge that Imus is/was an entertainer. He still believes that he is some kind of journalist. He also maintains that it was perfectly right for Imus to get fired but that it's not right to penalize singers for using the same words. Of course, we all wanted to know why.

So there it is, or at least enough of it to get you started on your own journey of discovery, should you be inclined. Although I don't happen to see the entertainment value in Imus' remarks, the idea that he might have been engaged in a vocation I hadn't even considered is intriguing, to say the least. Some might even say it's visionary, but then, you can't believe everything you hear.


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