Free speech, revisited.

Here’s a hypothetical… a popular a.m. radio show DJ goes on a rant about pesky bicyclists on the road. The DJ talks about being fed up with the inconvenience of having to go around bicycles on the road, which he believes should be on the sidewalk anyway. One thing leads to another, and the DJ starts advocating violence. O.K., you caught me. I’m not talking about a hypothetical situation. Don’t take my word for it, here’s the words of others:

The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)…
The controversy began June 30 with broadcasters on the “Lanigan and Malone” show on WMJI-FM/105.7. “Cleveland’s Knuckleheads,” as the station promotes them, and on-air callers described ways to heckle cyclists, edge them off the road or strike them with car doors, according to listeners. Such acts could bring felony assault or other criminal charges.

On Aug. 30, a pickup truck driver in Texas hit a line of bicyclists, killing two and injuring three. On Sept. 2, a Houston station offered bicycle-disabling advice and jokes similar to what aired in Cleveland. Then, beginning on Sept. 22, a Clear Channel station in Raleigh did the same. Both stations later apologized.

League of American bicyclists…
On September 22 and 23, Raleigh station G105 advocated violence against cyclists, complete with suggestions on how to run cyclists off the road, and urged listeners to call in with stories of harassing them. One listener, quoted in the Raleigh News Observer, said a DJ joked of pelting cyclists with empty Yoo-Hoo bottles and said he would, “love to be on a motorcycle and driving it down a bike lane. Because he didn’t think bikers should be allowed on the road. He said they should ride on the sidewalk.”

Even as an avid cyclist (Cheryl would say “former avid cyclist” would be a better description), I could entertain a debate concerning wether or not bicyclists should be allowed on the road. I would argue that the should be (I would add that it is lawful for bikes to be on the road in most states), but I would agree 100% that people should be able to debate this question. My problem is the position seemingly taken by the DJ’s: that violence is a suitable solution to the issue. We’re talking about suggestions made on the air, by on air personalities, that could result in people’s deaths. Is this kind of speech a crime? If it isn’t, should it be?

Clear Channel, which owns each of the stations in question (no big surprise, considering they own the radio universe), has stated that they do not condone violence against any group of people. They are donating air time to promote road safety. No word has been given as to wether the DJ’s will be disciplined. No word has been given as to wether the air time to promote road safety will be utilized in as effective a manner as the DJ’s time advocating violence. Let’s see… popular DJ, ranting on the air… versus… sterile public service announcement. Yeah, big of them to give up air time.

The last I heard, the FCC will be investigating the matter. The last I heard, the current administration is not big on government agencies that regulate.

Big people 1, little people 0.


The League of American Bicyclists