NPR’s ombudsman gets it (really, really) wrong

NPR's now departed Ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos.  Photo:  NPR

NPR’s now departed Ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos. Photo: NPR

NPR’s Ombudsman, Edward Schumacher-Matos, signed off last week — making way for a new ombudswoman — and he headed for the exit after penning what I view as an essay so misguided and ill-considered that it demands some argument.

In a piece titled “Last Thoughts,” Schumacher-Matos defended NPR’s decision not to publish the Charlie Hebdo cartoons.  Those are the hugely controversial illustrations lampooning the Muslim prophet Muhammad, blamed by extremists for their decision to go on a deadly rampage in Paris.

It’s fair enough to agree with NPR’s decision.  I actually disagree with it on a variety of levels (more on that in a moment), but it’s a reasonable conclusion to reach, and a view shared by many editors and publishers in the US and Europe.

So where did Schumacher-Matos’ essay go wildly off the rails?

Journalism in defense of the established order

Schumacher-Matos argues that news organizations must somehow balance free speech and expression and their mission to inform their audiences with a very different “social and constitutional demand.”  In his view, part of our job as reporters is to accept “control of hate speech in the interests of social cohesion, without which the very idea of a nation is impossible.”

In other words, watch what you say, don’t stir the pot too strenuously or the wheels might just come off the whole enterprise of society.  And the government, based on the views and convictions of religious leaders, should be allowed to serve as the arbiter, determining which speech is protected and what parts are “hate.”

Schumacher-Matos then offers dire examples of places where people live in powder kegs.  The implication?  That journalists and artists could be the ones to irresponsibly light the fuse and blow that social cohesion all to hell.  “Look at the sectarian bloodbath that is the Middle East. Or look at the tensions in China, Myanmar, Ukraine, Nigeria, the Balkans, and elsewhere. Nothing guarantees that different peoples can live together, or that nations will remain as we know them.”

I can’t help but think that all of those places would be helped by more free speech and more art and more biting humor, not less.  Their regimes, whether propped up by religious cant or jingoistic populism, desperately need a Charlie Hebdo courageous enough to mock and heap scorn and ask the kind of questions that make you blink.

Is the Daily Show hate speech? How about Bill Maher?

But Schumacher-Matos goes in the opposite direction.  He drills down and argues for remarkably sweeping powers of government-backed religious censorship.  It’s an astonishing argument for anyone associated with NPR to make.  “I do not know if American courts would find much of what Charlie Hebdo does to be hate speech unprotected by the Constitution, but I know—hope?—that most Americans would.”

Why exactly would most Americans agree with such a broad curtailment of liberty and expression — so broad that it actually labels art and satire as hate?  Schumacher-Matos doesn’t say.   Instead, he writes this:  “It is one thing to lampoon popes, imams, rabbis and other temporal religious leaders of this world; it is quite another to make fun, in often nasty ways, of their prophets and gods.”

But again, why?  Why is it different to lampoon a pope (considered a divine representative of God by many Roman Catholics) compared with sarcasm directed at a God?  Schumacher-Matos doesn’t say.  Why can you mock a rabbi but not a prophet?  What if the rabbi’s followers think he’s the Chosen One?  And once you accept this whole dizzying premise, where would anyone draw the line?  And who should have the power to make the call?

Let’s take Schumacher-Matos at his word and think for a moment about the cultural products that would almost certainly be counted as hate speech using his standards.  “The Book of Mormon” now on Broadway?  Hate speech.  “The God Delusion,” a bestseller written by Richard Dawkins, one of our era’s leading public intellectuals?  Hate speech.

Almost any broadcast by Bill Maher that touches on God?  Hate speech.  At least half the episodes of “Family Guy” ever broadcast?  Hate speech.  “Satanic Verses” by Salman Rushdie?  Hate speech.

One of the fundamental writs of Christian doctrine is that one should never, ever take the Lord’s name in vain.  It literally doesn’t get any more basic.  I mean it’s right there in the Ten Commandments.  Should we view the mocking or profane use of “God” or “Jesus Christ” as hate speech?

Throwing out a 200 year tradition of expression

If Schumacher-Matos’ argument fails to pass this superficial test of common sense, he also fails to grapple with one of the fundamental reasons that free speech was given the highest possible protection in America.  The Founding Fathers who wrote the Constitution weren’t atheists or anti-religious.  But they were specifically and deliberately working to limit the power of religious dogma, which had frozen and stifled open discourse in Europe for centuries.

They were working to turn the page on an era where religious leader around the world regularly used the power of government to burn books, destroy printing presses, imprison and execute writers and scientists and philosophers who expressed critical opinions about faith.  In Britain, Protestants and Catholics had just spent decades setting each other on fire over words spoken and published.

The solution, as our Founders understood, wasn’t silence or cribbed arguments about hate speech and social disorder.  The solution certainly wasn’t censorship.  The answer was to make it clear that free people possess the liberty to express ideas, even unpopular ideas, and ones that challenge the most fervently-held religious beliefs.

What if cartoonists had been banned from making images like this famous Thomas Nast drawing during the decades when Americans were debating religious liberty?

What if cartoonists had been banned from making images like this famous Thomas Nast drawing during the decades when Americans were debating religious liberty?

Why the cartoons should have been published

Again, it’s fine for newspapers or public radio networks to decide voluntarily to suppress certain information or ideas or images, though in this case I happen to disagree passionately.  Many of the images which have sparked outrage among some Muslims (not all) and some politically correct pundits are beautiful and culturally interesting and wonderfully provocative.  Click here to view them.

They fit into the long tradition of activist cartooning, which includes amazing artists from across the political and cultural spectrum, who’ve worked in Europe and the US for centuries.

Consider Thomas Nast, one of the great illustrators in our American tradition.  In the 1800s, he often created starkly religious images that were hugely controversial.  Should Nast’s drawings have been banned because they offended people’s sensibilities?  How about R. Crumb’s cartoon sketch showing the Prophet Muhammed’s buttocks?  Is that hate speech?  What about Banksy’s “Consumer Christ?”  Is he a hater, too?

In short, I wish NPR had published these images and discussed them openly and helped audiences see them and think about them (and yes, even be angry about them) in a more complex way.  Instead, Schumacher-Matos embraced the idea that silence and censorship and shallowly-considered ideas about “social cohesion” will lead us to a higher ground.

He’s wrong.  It’s simply not reasonable to suggest that sarcasm, satire, agitprop, and political cartooning are to blame for violence and brutality in the world.  On the contrary.  From Voltaire to Twain to Charlie Hebdo to the Daily Show, it is the voices that mock and lampoon and poke fun that often open the way to the greatest reforms and liberations of the mind.



40 Comments on “NPR’s ombudsman gets it (really, really) wrong”

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  1. knuckleheadedliberal says:

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  2. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    I think there are valid points on both sides here but I think the media as a whole has reduced this idea of the cartoons being a catalyst to violence to a cartoon of thought itself.

    There is a very real difference between being the court jester that mocks those in power at personal risk and cartoons that mock the weak and oppressed. It is an aggravating thing about so many media issues: the media usually miss the real point of any big story until days or weeks, sometimes years or decades later. Sometimes you never seem to get it.

    Journalists got all caught up in the Brian Williams “scandal” – which really amounts to nothing, we have seen plenty of people in all walks of life screw up and what Williams did wasn’t even illegal or terribly immoral. Meanwhile there has been very little reporting on the root causes of the deep anger within the Muslim communities of Europe; the same sort of anger that caused the violent reaction to the death of Michael Brown.

    What almost nobody seems to understand is that the cartoon images of the Prophet are not in and of themselves what is causing the anger among Muslims. The anger is a result of decades of insult, repression, racism, bigotry and economic stress on communities of people in Europe. The reactions in the Middle East and around the world are in support of the communities that feel aggrieved. If you go way back to the incident of the Denmark cartoons and look at the timeline you will find that it was not the publication of the cartoons that spawned riots. The cartoons were published. Then a group of Muslims asked for a meeting with the head of government in Denmark to address their grievance – to talk about the problems in their community. The leader refused to speak to them as if anything they had to say was of no merit, and he went on to lecture Muslims about free speech and living in a multi-cultural society. That was the insult that sparked riots, not the cartoons.

  3. bill shaver says:

    Sounds about right always an adult converstion on things….somone else’s point of view always has to be looked at weither it a positive or negative, gives you an insight as to what they are thinking.

  4. The Original Larry says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more, Brian, about the importance of not abridging First Amendment rights. What I don’t understand is how the First Amendment differs from the Second. Once the precedent is set that it is permissible to abridge some rights, all rights are in jeopardy.

  5. Brian Mann says:

    KHL –

    I think you are significantly over-simplifying the reasons for Islamic reaction to the art being debated here. Yes, the long history of oppression, colonialism, Western exploitation and cultural smuggery from Europe toward the Near East all matters in this conversation.

    In fact, those issues are front and center in many of the cartoons being debated. Those cartoons are, oftentimes, a smart, sharp, no baloney way of addressing things like the painfully fractured Western mindset about Islam. Some of the illustrations being described as racist or “hate-speech” are in fact send-ups and mockeries of European prejudice.

    But I say again from a journalist’s perspective and (I’m guessing) from the point of view of most artists and illustrators: Silence is not the answer to an ugly history.

    The response to the Danish cartoonists’ illustrations was clumsy on all sides, but it’s worth noting that Danish Muslims also campaigned throughout the Muslim world in an attempt (successful) to gin up rage over these works of art. Similar campaigns were waged against Salman Rushdie’s quite stunningly beautiful “Satanic Verses.”

    When the Dutch film-maker Theo Van Goch was murdered, his killer left a note that also threatened (and attempted to silence) Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the writer, feminist and women’s rights activist originally from Somalia.

    The alternative to discourse about these people and their works is simply not silence and intimidation. And again, the works of art themselves are fascinating and infuriating and well worth actually looking at and responding to. Here’s a link:…0…1ac.1.61.img..0.13.844.XL08rpv473o

    –Brian, NCPR

  6. Pat Nelson says:

    From the standpoint of a listener, I couldn’t agree more with Brian.

    I trust NPR to bring me the news. Not those things that someone in a corporation thinks I should hear. Not those things which a government thinks are free of controversy. Not merely those things which could not possibly offend anyone.

    And, on a more local scale, I trust NCPR to tell it like it is whether I, or anyone else, likes the way it is.

  7. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Brian, of course I’m over-simplifying the reasons for Islamic reaction. But I’m offering a perspective that has been basically completely ignored. Muslims aren’t stupid and they actually pay attention to news from all around the world. When they can read the comment policy on NCPR and see that Americans wont tolerate offensive language in the public arena at home but then lecture Muslims that Muslims should be open to criticism they understand the hypocrisy.

    But if I am oversimplifying then what is the media as a whole doing – something far worse than oversimplifcation. The media which should be shining light often is the source of darkness. When we don’t hear about the full complexity of a story like Charlei Hebdo or the fact that Ferguson MO is ground zero for poor people with court injunctions against them until well after the spotlight has moved on to other things we are left with a populace not informed well enough to make important decisions in a free society.

  8. Walker says:

    “What I don’t understand is how the First Amendment differs from the Second.”

    Larry, the difference between the First and Second is that the former doesn’t start with “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state…”

    If it did, there’d be a pretty good case that only militia members had a right to free speech.

  9. Jim Bullard says:

    Asked why he engaged in a sexual encounter with Monica Lewinski, Bill Clinton replied “for the worst of all reasons, because I could”. I daily follow a lot of cartoons both political and humor for the sake of humor. Good cartoons have a way of cutting to the heart of things, stipping away the non-essential and laying things bare. I have to say though as a regular consumer of cartoons that a lot of them are more self serving in terms of the cartoonists ego and views than they are clear eyed revelations of truth. Political cartoons in particular have a tendency toward ad hominem attacks and cheap shots of a very juvenile nature, the same sort of sniggering bullying that goes on in many middle school hallways. They reveal little beyond the immaturity of their authors.

    Back in the ’60s Ram Dass observed that “cops create hippies. Hippies create cops”. We respond to others based on our perceptions of them and likewise our consequent behavior around the “other” tends to reinforce their (mis)perception of us. Just because you can say, write or draw a cartoon that is disrespectful of others’ deeply held beliefs does not mean that you should. Our media is a place for social discourse for the purpose of creating understanding and discourse is not aided by deliberately provoking anger. If you want to be understood, first try to understand.

    Brian will undoubtedly accuse me of oversimplifying as well but isn’t claiming the right to publish anything without thinking of how it will affect those whom you are criticising an even greater oversimplification? Just because we have a “right” to do something doing mean it is the “right” thing to do. Opening the eyes of others is not going to be achieved by provoking their anger. If our diplomates did that we would be in constant state of world war.

  10. Brian Mann says:

    There are actually many restrictions on the 1st amendment, and I think many of them are appropriate. Put clumsily, I think my rights of free speech end at the tip of your nose – and I’m even comfortable with the idea that threats or intimidation should be carefully limited. If I say I’m going to machine gun your family, I think the police and courts should have the right to look at that carefully. Similarly, I think our libel laws get it just about right. If I knowingly say something factually wrong in order to hurt you, there should be rules of redress. Those laws shouldn’t – by any stretch of the imagination — curtail expression of skepticism, sarcasm, satire or mockery aimed at concepts as broad as “god” or “a prophet” as the NPR ombudsman suggested.

    I think discussions of the 2nd amendment, if we were in a healthier place as a society, would be roughly comparable. We would lean toward a broad understanding that gun ownership is a right in the US, but we would also understand that there are reasonable places for limits and regulation. And in fact, that’s what the courts have found. Much of what the NRA complains about in gun regulation in the US has been upheld by very conservative Federal courts, including the US supreme court.

    So…my argument about the NPR essay wasn’t an argument in favor of completely unchecked and unbridled speech in every circumstance. I’m merely arguing that this particular proposal for limiting speech is misguided.

    –Brian, NCPR

  11. The Original Larry says:

    Again, Brian, I agree. The question is what constitutes reasonable restrictions? First Amendment rights have been gradually expanded over the years while Second Amendment rights have been gradually restricted. How would it be if you could speak freely in Texas but had to keep your mouth shut in New York? I don’t think we should apply different standards to different rights.

  12. Brian Mann says:

    OL –

    I don’t think your narrative about expansion of gun restrictions is factually accurate. What’s changed, I think, is that many gun owners now believe fervently in a much broader definition of gun freedom. Major gun legislation has been around, waxing and waning, for a very long time. Here’s one helpful timeline.

    Your point about different restrictions on gun laws in different states and how that parrallels with free speech laws is an interesting one. I’ll have to think about that a bit.

    –Brian, NCPR

  13. The Original Larry says:

    Anyone who has read the NY Safe Act (for example) understands that it is a significant expansion of gun regulations. Additionally, it is beyond my understanding how Consitutional protections can mean one thing in some sates and quite another thing in others. Isn’t that what the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts are all about…ensuring that all Americans enjoy the same Constitutionally guaranteed freedoms regardless of where they live? We should be very wary of reasonableness.

  14. Jim Bullard says:

    My point was that we aren’t talking about a Constitutional issue. NPR’s decision not to more broadly publish material that had provoked a mass murder is one of organizational self-discipline. I do not and would not argue that NPR or any other organization does not have the right to publish anything within the bounds that Brian describes. Nor is it the business of our government to tell us we can’t. As Brian’s link to the Google images demonstrates they are readily available anyway. I do ask however, to what end would NPR publish them on its own site? Merely to satisfy the morbid curiosity of its audience? You and I might not take offense at any of the cartoons involved but clearly some Muslims do and whether their offense is rational and reasonable or not, how would NPR publishing them improve the dialog? Sometimes blunt truth telling is more damaging than holding one’s tongue or framing things in a less provocative way. People are predisposed to be defensive about their beliefs and a full frontal assault on their beliefs rarely, if ever, results in changing minds.

  15. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Brian, the crux of your argument:
    “I can’t help but think that all of those places would be helped by more free speech and more art and more biting humor, not less. Their regimes, whether propped up by religious cant or jingoistic populism, desperately need a Charlie Hebdo courageous enough to mock and heap scorn and ask the kind of questions that make you blink.”

    I heartily agree. But what you get wrong is that 1) there is an implicit assumption that biting satire and controversial art does not already exist in those places, 2) that satire and scorn from outside is somehow helpful.

    I have a fair amount of experience and knowledge of satire and scorn. I practise it regularly and have made a bit of amatuer study of it. I am a great fan of Georg Grosz and of the German publication Simplicissimus.

    To me the defense of Charlie Hebdo was misguided, though. Certainly there is no excuse for killing the cartoonists, just as it was wrong for the Nazi’s to persecute the artist and writers at Simplicissimus, or the Chinese to persecute ai weiwei, but the efforts of Charlie Hebdo in this context just seem bigoted, offensive and lame to no purpose except to feel superior. Whereas Mullah Nasruddin actually tackles complex and difficult issues within Islamic society. But who knows about Mullah Nasruddin in the West? Where is the context in media stories to show that there is a deep culture of humor and satire within the Islamic community that is many centuries old and that Muslims don’t just get mad because someone made a joke?

    People can take a joke about themselves if they believe it comes from a place of underlying respect not just simple derision. And it is worse when they see the ignorance behind the perpetrators and the unwillingness of those perpetrators to work at dispelling that ignorance.

  16. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    One of my favorite Mullah Nassruddin jokes from Afghanistan during the Taliban period and Nassruddin was with the Taliban:

    Mullah Nassruddin was manning a checkpoint in Kabul and at 30 minutes before evening curfew a friend of his passed the checkpoint. The man greeted Mullah Nasruddin and they exchanged pleasantries for a few minutes before the man said curfew was approaching and he better get home. As the man walked away Mullah Nasruddin shot him dead. Other guards came running to Nasruddin and said “it isn’t curfew yet, why did you shoot him?” Mullah Nasruddin replied, “I know this man well and I know where he lived. He could not have gotten home in a half hour.

  17. dave says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with Brian.

    However, doing so depresses me because it reinforces the following unsettling conclusion.

    This is a conflict of core values.

    Freedom of expression vs blasphemy.

    Everything else is sideshow. We can debate history or argue chicken and egg… but at the end of the day, I do not see a way in which two cultures can coexist when one was willing to fight revolutions to secure certain freedoms, and the other is willing to commit acts of terror over the expression of those freedoms.

    The absolute BEST you could hope for in that scenario is that the two go to their corner of the planet and stay out of the other’s hair. But that isn’t reality. It isn’t possible.

    And so this will go on and on and on… until one or the other gives up its core value, or is eliminated. We’re not likely to compromise or give up our commitment to freedom of expression, and I doubt radical Islam is willing to compromise or give up its commitment to punishing blasphemy. So there you have it. One of us has to leave the party.

  18. dave says:

    “it is beyond my understanding how Consitutional protections can mean one thing in some sates and quite another thing in others.”

    Constitutional protections and federal laws are the legal boundaries that states must play in. How they choose to play within those lines, is up to them.

    Different states have different defamation laws, for example. State by state gun laws are the same thing.

  19. bill shaver says:

    yeah lectureing them about multicultural society, its like giving a starving dog a rubber bone…oh boy…just go to france & see what its really like…like Marsialle…look around you there & you’ll see, outskirts of paris….its seething….am not surprised, in north america…just go to montreal , or better yet quebec city & look around , just beneath the surface ….

  20. The Original Larry says:

    “Constitutional protections and federal laws are the legal boundaries that states must play in. How they choose to play within those lines, is up to them.”

    Sounds like George Wallace in 1963 to me. You can’t just cherry-pick the rights you believe in and explain the rest away.

  21. Two Cents says:

    the bill of rights, amendments to the constitution, are relevant to this country, not the Islamic religion.
    that said a more universal law, a GLOBAL law that controls the WHOLE of the world is physics.
    the first law of which states for every action there is an equal an opposite reaction.
    to expect anything else is foolish. why poke the bear? certainly not for fun..,
    dave is accurate, it will never be resolved until one or the other “leaves the party”
    as far as religions are concerned, they are the cause and I feel it would be nice if they all melted away and the people of the world embraced something akin to Shinto-ism.
    we live on a rock with limited size, resources, money, and we are forever introducing systems that inherently want to expand, grow.
    it’s bound to fail until we realize that simple fact.

    if I wanted to see a man burned alive, beheaded, crucified, shot by a sniper, all I need do is look. I am find myself angry when npr or anyone else finds it necessary to force it down my throat, in the name of news or good intentions.
    your opinion is always valued brian, but not accepted this time.
    actually I predict when the u.s. is no longer a white majority, we will see similar behavior here, as what is happening in Europe. immigrants, from war torn, or poverty struck countries, should stay where they are, and fix what is perceived wrong where they are, not leave it, abandoning their home but demanding their culture be implanted to their runaway destination. stay where you are and fix it, have an investment in your future. don’t demand it from your foster home
    no sympathy here.

  22. dave says:

    “Sounds like George Wallace in 1963 to me. You can’t just cherry-pick the rights you believe in and explain the rest away.”

    There is no cherry picking going on. Core rights are protected by the higher level of law, and the states can not change that. Any laws they enact must abide by those higher laws. A state could never, for example, pass a law criminalizing political editorials. A state is, however, able to pass laws dealing with defamation, because such laws have been judged constitutionally acceptable.

    This is called preemption and is a very basic legal and constitutional concept. It is integral to our entire system of law, right down to the town level.

  23. Doesn’t NCPR have standards which it imposes on blog comments and moderates them accordingly? I seem to remember a number of racist comments about Nick Hilary being deleted.

    And bear in mind, radio stations do not abridge the First Amendment (or the Second). Those two amendments relate to the relationship between the people and the government. It’s not germane here.

  24. Ah the high horse.

    Every reputable news institution has standards. None practices unlimited free speech. None would publish pictures of a suspect raping a baby. None would publish an essay by a jihadist justifying the killing of American civilians. Many Americans were infuriated when al-Jazeera ran videos from bin Laden. Try criticizing the policies of the Israeli government of the day. You’ll see how quickly unlimited support for “free speech” evaporates.

    Heck, I used to allow any comments on my blog. Then people started using it to post anonymous, unsourced, evidence-free accusations against political candidates. I still publish almost anything else but reject those (plus spam).

    Brian M cites exactly the criticism many have of modern journalism: that it’s journalism in defense of the established order. That it’s more concerned about access than about using that access for any kind of real public good. It may challenge particular individuals in power but it doesn’t challenge the established order that many believe is so rotten. That’s because the media long ago itself became part of the established order.

  25. And don’t forget many of the pro “free speech” crowd raged at Fox for airing the video of ISIS burning alive the hostage.

  26. Brian Mann says:

    Brian (MOFYC)

    I’m not entirely sure that I’m responding directly to your points, but here are some thoughts prompted by your posts.

    1. The NPR Ombudsman doesn’t merely suggest that newsrooms were at liberty to suppress these cartoons and other works of art. (An act comparable to, say, not showing videos of ISIS executions). He suggests that there is a specific legal standard — a Federal one — that these images violate. They cross a line and become “hate speech” by his estimation. So this isn’t a case where he said, “This is gross and if it were up to me, I’d not publish them.” Instead, he indicates that the cartoons should, he hopes, be seen as legally outside the protections of the 1st amendment. I think that’s really, really wrong-headed.

    2. When he lays out his argument for why they should be classified as hate speech, his argument is extraordinarily thin, verging on dangerous. If we view “hate speech” as any speech that threatens “social cohesion,” we are going down a very deep rabbit hole. Frankly, he doesn’t even make a convincing argument for why individual news organizations would self-censor, let alone a case for these images being classified as unprotected forms of speech.

    There is a huge gap between a work of art showing a religious prophet in a satirical way and news organization airing images of an actual human being burned alive. Both pose complex but very, very different editorial challenges. Neither, however, come close to being ‘hate speech.’

    –Brian, NCPR

  27. Peter Klein says:

    Thank you Brian. I agree in total.
    No one should be killed or punished for saying what they think.
    Belief is just belief. It is what people do to fill in the blanks when they don’t know something.
    Believe or disbelieve whatever you want but don’t kill, torture or even try to silence what someone else thinks or believes.
    You have to believe something is sacred for it to be sacred. Nothing is sacred just because someone says it is.
    And by the way, just what the devil is meant by sacred?

  28. pirateedwardlow says:

    Who is the North Country Public Radio’s Ombudsman?

  29. Brian Mann says:

    Pirate –

    It’s a great question. We don’t have one. We do have a community advisory board and oversight from St. Lawrence University. Also, because we’re much, much smaller than NPR, we’re far more accessible to our audience – basically, folks can reach us directly pretty easily and if they have a big concern about our work they’ll get some kind of direct answer from someone on staff.

    –Brian, NCPR

  30. Will Doolittle says:

    There are a lot of good points here!

  31. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Tangent Time, Tangent Time!!! You know how much I love tangents but I like synchronicity even more and today I have a synchronous tangent! I think my head is about to explode! But before it does…

    As I noted above George Grosz is a great hero of mine. It seems to me his work in Weimar Germany is so very contemporary and he addresses issues that are so appropriate to post Eisenhower America. Much to my surprise there is a Grosz landscape in the Adirondack show at the Hyde Museum. Grosz fled Germany with the takeover by the Nazi’s and came to America. Germans in the early 20th century had a fascination with the American West, even had Western serials written by Germans. Grosz also loved the James Fenimore Cooper books. So it should have come as no surprise that he would have sought out the region, but it was. Anyway, in 1943 – at the height of WW2 – Grosz painted a landscape in Garnet Lake! I wonder where he stayed and who he knew? Did he interact with someone I know? Perhaps even some member of my family? I would love more background on this…

    In Grosz’s Germany, everything and everybody is for sale. All human transactions, except for the class solidarity of the workers, are poisoned. The world is owned by four breeds of pig: the capitalist, the officer, the priest and the hooker, whose other form is the sociable wife. He was one of the hanging judges of art. —Robert Hughes

  32. Will Doolittle says:

    That’s cool, KHL. But I have to question Grosz’s taste in … well, I can’t call it literature — words on a page. Cooper was one of the worst writers ever to have his words set on a page. Not only are his books unreadable, from a reader’s point of view — wordy, unwieldy, nonsensical — but his knowledge of the things he was writing about — backwoods’ exploits, tracking, shooting, etc. — was lacking. It was as if he set his novels among the nomads of Lapland, having never been there or met one or read about them. On the other hand, his works have the distinction of being the inspiration for one of the finest and most hilarious pieces of writing ever set down, Mark Twain’s “The Literary Offenses of James Fenimore Cooper.” (This is a tangent, btw, although I guess not a synchronous one, whatever that means.)

  33. pirateedwardlow says:

    B Mann,

    Any media, any size, could have an Ombudsman. But as small as you are compare to NPR, doesn’t mean you are small. For the most part you are kind of the voice of the North Country. Part because of your range over other media, but also because you incorporate other media; either directly by having other reporters freelance or indirectly by using others sources (I hope you vet those).

    There is a difference between me saying, “You need an Ombudsman” and someone who is charged with someone who has the stature that can make a change.. That goes for Mr. Doolittle, he would make a good Ombudsman, but he would have to be removed from indulging in conversations here and step back and see his job as making things right.

    I use Mr. Doolittle because of his background in the newspapers. Usually the Ombudsman is a retired and respected person.

    That way he or she don’t seem to have a perceived agenda.

  34. Will Doolittle says:

    I’ll take it!

  35. pirateedwardlow says:

    You would have to be honest and hold NCPR to journalistic standards…

    Always sounds good, until it is your feet to the fire..

  36. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Will, James Fenimore Cooper is much better in the original German. Translations often lose the fluidity of the prose.
    Also, with the whole “50 Shades of Grey” phenomenon it is worth going back to the original Leatherstocking tales for real BDSM action.

  37. Will Doolittle says:

    KHL, I’m sure you’re right Cooper would be better in German, especially for me, since I can’t read a word of it.

  38. Mervel says:

    There is no agreed upon definition of “hate speech” and even if there were it would still be protected speech in the US. It does not cross any of the legitimate boundaries to speech we already have and frankly I don’t think it actually exists at all, its a very dangerous concept.

    It may come down to good decorum and decency. Blasphemy is very interesting, the fact is Christian’s today in the West talk about it, but we don’t really know what it means anymore and in general it does not bother us. The art work, Piss Christ, for example, raised some concerns, I found it disgusting, however I as a believer, who actually does believe God will punish those who mock Him if they do not repent, am more concerned about their punishment from God, than I am from anything the government could do. But I don’t remember if NPR published any pictures of Piss Christ? But maybe they did?

    If the ombudsman is really saying, hey don’t make THIS particular group (some Muslims living in the Middle East) mad, they will riot and cause all sorts of problems, I think it is a problem. What will be the reaction to what we say? Is that now the new standard? To me that is a dangerous standard. I think it also comes down to artistic sentiment. The Satanic Versus, is great literature, thus the standard for NPR talking about and publishing that book would be vastly different than publishing the Charlie Hebdo cartoons, which by all accounts are not really that great. The problem is, consider the book of Morman, is truly horrible as far as what is actually says, “F*** you G** in the mouth” is a lyric and it goes on to other body parts. Are we consistent? We won’t show a cartoon lampooning Mohammad, but we go to and listen to and seriously talk about a play that says that, and its fine?

  39. pirateedwardlow says:

    Casting a stone

    If you are an atheist, you kind of sit back and be amused. Granted there aren’t a lot of political (or any kind) cartoons mocking atheist.. of course to do so, would be akin to mocking air. It’s all around us you don’t see it. (but yes, the cartoons do exist:

    We blather about separation of church and state, but I am guessing you can be of most any religion and you will be president before an atheist is elected.

    People will go on about how there is blasphemy, but will they step forward and say… ‘I accept not making fun of religion, because, I will stop telling everyone about my god.’ Religion is a private matter, that lives too much in public.

    Every article about anti religion (and I don’t mean violence… that is crime) is really a story about how we must accept religion, we must say it is true. This isn’t to say you don’t have the freedom to believe in what you want.. be it druid, catholic, muslim or climate change doesn’t exist — practice what you like. You do, but not on my dime. And on my dime it happens all the time.. not every day, but in most every moment.

    I wonder how much ‘hate’ would exist against religions if it wasn’t in the face all the time. Yes you have personal freedom to wear a cross, but understand that is in fact in my face. The person who will criticize Marilyn Manson (Brian Hugh Warner ), does so — often — in a way to promote what they believe is the antithesis of everything bad. Religion is not the antithesis of everything bad.

    There is a certain irony that an ombudsman is scrutinized for not indulging in the rhetoric of religion, in this case on a skewed plane.

    Take any subject. Say: “Water is good for you” if there was a show, there would be the need to have the anti-water side presented, even if it was crazy or nearly non-existent.

    Find a discussion of religion — where perhaps there is a person on the panel who’s job is to say: “Or there isn’t any religion.”

    I don’t mean religion v atheism

  40. Mervel says:

    In general maybe the consensus should be, just don’t be a jerk. Don’t intentionally mock someone just for the sake of doing it. If you are doing it to make a point, OK satire is important to a democracy, even when it is cutting me up a little. After saying that I would have to say I would fall into a more extreme vision of freedom of speech. I think legally, almost anything goes, it has to be that way. But of course just because we can say something never means we should.

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