Bob Franken

King Features Column

(As usual the arrangement with syndicators means this column appears here a week after its newspaper release)


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This has to stop. Think what you will about Rupert Murdoch’s various franchises … and what a lot of people think is downright ugly. But whether people hate them or not, his U.S. news organizations are operating in a country with a jealously guarded free-press tradition. It doesn’t matter how slanted they are. So, efforts by interest groups that slant the other way to apply economic pressure, or by a White House trying to intimidate Murdoch properties, are flat out un-American.

His Boston Herald was excluded from a press pool covering a presidential trip to Boston. The tabloid had run a story about Republican almost-candidate Mitt Romney that covered the full front page. Someone in Obamaland decided that was inappropriate.

Spokesman Matt Lehrich put out a statement saying, “I tend to consider the degree to which papers have demonstrated to covering the White House regularly and fairly in determining local pool reporters.” Lehrich and his administration colleagues insist they do not have any punishment agenda. To turn the Fox News chant inside out, “You decide, we’ll report.”

To be fair, many administration officials do appear on Fox News. That list has included the president. But there also have been instances where these people shut out the channel or favor others as blatant retaliation. To be even fairer, though, we should point out that every White House I’ve ever reported on has played the same game.

The Bush leaguers, both 1 and 2, often would raise Cain about this or that, sometimes with a heavy-handed suggestion that access to their stars would dry up. That is a potent threat, given how TV news relies so heavily on live talking heads. The Clintonistas often would try to shut down my coverage of their boss’s various escapades. And no one needs to be reminded about the sinister coercion from Richard Nixon and his henchmen.

Bullying tragically extends far beyond politics. It permeates society. The gay community, for understandable reasons, is leading the fight against it. How sadly ironic, then, to witness bullying from lesbian, gay, bi and transgender organizations, trying to pressure six advertisers into abandoning Fox News because it “promotes an anti-gay political agenda.”

I have written many columns that describe our widespread homophobia as outright bigotry, and am outspoken in strongly supporting gay marriages and opposing “don’t ask, don’t tell.” But just as strongly, I condemn the extortions by these advocacy groups.

It is true that we see sexual-preference bias wherever we turn. The Tennessee Senate just passed legislation that would ban a discussion of homosexuality in classrooms in elementary and middle schools. That’s disgracefully Neanderthal. At the same time, a brand-new Gallup Poll is just the latest to show a majority of respondents favoring gay marriage. A year ago, Gallup tallied a majority against. So tactics that cross the line are not only serious threats to free speech, they’re not even necessary.

But this misguided campaign has spread to other realms. Gay-rights groups were able to muscle the huge law firm King and Spalding into abandoning an agreement by its partner Paul Clement to represent Republicans in Congress and their court battles on behalf of the Defense of Marriage Act. Shame on King and Spalding — along with its timid alibi, proper procedures weren’t followed. Clement, a former Bush administration solicitor general and big-time rainmaker, quit the firm, standing for the principle that anyone deserves legal counsel. Good for him.

Frustrated liberals say they’re only countering the tactics of conservatives and the corporate paymasters. That argument is shallow, dangerously so. The time has come to realize that when anyone’s rights are eroded, all of ours are.

© 2011 Bob Franken

Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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