Vox Populi: The O'Shaughnessy Files

By William O’Shaughnessy | Go to book overview

INTERVIEW WITH GOVERNOR
MARIO M. CUOMO ABOUT
INDECENCY IN BROADCASTING

Why must we broadcasters always leave it to others to
make the case for us and remind us who we are and what
we are about? Aired March 1, 2004.

WILLIAM O’SHAUGHNESSY (W.O.): We switch now, on this springlike day, to Willkie, Farr & Gallagher, the decidedly white shoe (upstate elite), ivory-tower law firm high up in the canyons of Manhattan. And there in a spectacular corner office: Mario M. Cuomo, the former governor of New York, who was recently accused—by a college president—of being “the greatest thinker of the twentieth century.” Can I ask you something that has to do with my own tribe, Governor?

GOVERNOR MARIO CUOMO (M.C.): Go for it, O’Shaughnessy.

W.O.: Indecency. Broadcasters have been rushing to “make nice” with Congress, particularly its Midwestern members, on obscenity and indecency and so on. You’re a great defender of the First Amendment, and you’ve bailed broadcasters out over the years when government wanted to intrude in content. Howard Stern just got axed, knocked off five or six Clear Channel stations. And all the elders of broadcasting are afraid they’re going to lose their licenses. Where is the First Amendment in all of this?

M.C.: Well, that’s a really interesting question. Now you have to be very specific when you talk about the law. The First Amendment says you have a right in this country to a free press, thank God, and free speech, thank God. That is maybe the strongest of all the guarantees we have. And without it, we’re not the United States of America.

W.O.: Does that right extend to the electronic press?

M.C.: It extends to all press, that right to free speech. Now, does that mean you can’t be censured in any way? Justice Holmes made it clear: it doesn’t mean you can falsely shout “Fire!” in a

-70-

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