Authors: Government Censorship Better than Corporate

LA Observed has a post about how KRON TV in San Francisco disinvited the authors of a new book from a talk-show appearance after discovering that the book, No Time to Think: The Menace of Media Speed and the 24-hour News Cycle, takes shots at the crappy state of local TV news. My initial reaction was incredulity. I mean, how clueless is that kind of move?

Then I read the entire item, which includes an outraged email from the authors — Howard Rosenberg, formerly of the LA Times, and Charles Feldman — in which they write, among other things, the following line:

Government censorship is not nearly as bad as is corporate censorship–especially by a company that serves the public—or ought to.

I find myself hoping that the email by the authors is a fake. If it’s real, the authors need a refresher course in First Amendment 101, not to mention reality. The most likely explanation for the authors’ ridiculous statement is that a) they were pissed; b) they wrote their outraged note in haste; and c) they didn’t proofread it before they sent it along.

Why ridiculous? Journalists should understand that only governments can censor. Other entities can make it difficult to get heard by large numbers of people, but that is absolutely not the same thing as being forbidden to publish at all.

And surely the authors should understand something just as basic: Assume, for the sake of argument, that there is such as thing as “corporate censorship” (even though, as noted, the expression is a non sequitur). To say that it’s much worse than government censorship defies common sense, and makes you wonder about their sense of proportionality. When a local TV station obtusely rescinds an invitation to appear on a talk show, that’s not remotely in the ballpark of preventing the authors from exercising their right of free speech.

Is their book as sloppy as their logic here?

UPDATE: Howard Rosenberg sent me this email (and said I could post it here):

I read your blog about our KRON adventure and, after a bit of reflection, I take your point.

I am extremely concerned about the impact of corporate overgrowth in media. Speaking for myself, though, in no way do I equate corporate blacklisting (which I believe does occur) with the much bigger thumb of government censorship. Ask, say, ordinary Chinese or North Koreans which they would prefer.

Charles and I have speculated that the failure of our book to receive coverage from the 24-hour news networks is because it pretty well savages much of what they do. However, in no way can we document that. It’s a tough, competitive business, and there could be a myriad of other reasons why we haven’t made the cut.

KRON, of course, is another matter. Here we have a station rather belatedly canceling our interview because the news editor perceived (I can just see a10-watt light bulb clicking on in a thought balloon over his head) that our book attacks local news. It does not. The primary focus of our book is media speed and the dangers that we believe it poses for all of us. But even if the book did attack local news, so what?

The issue of our cancellation–news judgment driven totally by self-serving criteria–is much larger than the success or failure of our book. It’s an example of single-station TV news blacklisting, reflecting a lack of integrity that I found to be common among local newscasters when I covered them as TV critic for the L.A.Times. Arrrrgggggh! But censorship? Not at all. No one is silencing our voices.

And by the way, we did dash off our e-mail to KRON’s news director in anger and in haste. You might say we did it too fast to think.

All the best,

Howard Rosenberg

The distinction between blacklisting and censorship strikes me as precisely the correct one here. (I’ve changed the title of this post to remove the word “clueless” — plainly not correct at this point.)

(Cross-posted from the Center for Citizen Media Blog.)


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