CBS News turns off comments on Obama stories

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 Hat Tip: Orcinus

photo by cynicseye

by Brian Montopoli
Today CBSNews.com informed its staff via email that they should no longer enable comments on stories about presidential candidate Barack Obama. The reason for the new policy, according to the email, is that stories about Obama have been attracting too many racist comments.

“It’s very simple,” Mike Sims, director of News and Operations for CBSNews.com, told me. “We have our Rules of Engagement. They prohibit personal attacks, especially racist attacks. Stories about Obama have been problematic, and we won’t tolerate it.”

CBSNews.com does sometimes delete comments on an individual basis, but Sims said that was not sufficient in the case of Obama stories due to “the volume and the persistence” of the objectionable comments.

There has been a fierce debate about how news outlets should handle reader comments. Washingtonpost.com’s Jim Brady, whose site, like CBSNews.com, does not have the resources to filter comments in advance, told Howard Kurtz that he’d “rather figure out a way to do it better than not to do it at all.”

But Post reporter Darryl Fears told Kurtz that comments should be eliminated if they can’t be pre-screened for offensiveness.

“If you’re an African American and you read about someone being called a porch monkey, that overrides any positive thing that you would read in the comments,” he said.

CBSNews.com has no plans to disable comments on stories about the other presidential candidates, according to Sims. As for comments on Obama stories, he said the site is open to eventually bringing them back.

“We’d like to be able to return to them, and I’m not ruling that out,” said Sims. “But at this point it’s not possible.”

Imus to sue for $120 Million

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By ELLEN DAVIS & CHRIS FRANCESCANI
ABC News Law & Justice Unit
May 3, 2007  

Radio host Don Imus is going to sue CBS for $120 million, according to a draft copy of the complaint obtained by ABC News’ Law & Justice Unit.

The suit is expected to be filed next week.

Former FCC commissioner Kathleen Abernathy said Imus’ comments were “definitely in bad taste and inappropriate language.”

“But in order to prohibit such language, it has to rise to the level of being legally profane, and I do not think that it rises to that level because of our legal history of protecting free speech.”

A draft copy of Imus’s lawsuit says that the network expected him to be controversial and irreverent under the terms of his contract. And he claims Imus’s show was on a five second delay that allowed the network to censor him if they wanted.

The draft points out that Imus wasn’t fired for two weeks after the remarks were made.

Meanwhile, four former FCC commissioners contacted by ABC News say they do not believe that the speech was actionable under current federal guidelines that prohibit profanity or indecency on public airwaves.

Imus was fired April 12, after he made insensitive remarks about the Rutgers women’s basketball team.

Martin Garbus — a powerful First Amendment lawyer who represented controversial comedian Lenny Bruce — said he would file a complaint against the network in the days ahead.

In a statement released by CBS in response to news stories about the impending lawsuit, CBS said that “We terminated Mr. Imus for cause. Based on the comments in question and relevant contract terms, we believe that the termination was appropriate and CBS would expect to prevail in any attempt by Mr. Imus to recover money for his actions.”

The network is expected to rely on a clause in the radio talk show host’s contract that says he can be terminated for ‘just cause’ if CBS determines that he used “distasteful or offensive words or phrases, the broadcast of which [CBS] believes would not be in the public interest or may jeopardize [the networks’s] Federal license to operate…”

But Garbus, who has successfully defended hundreds of high profile First Amendment cases, said CBS still breached Imus’ contract when the company fired him.

He cited a section of his client’s employment contract today that says Imus’ “services to be rendered … are of a unique, extraordinary, irreverent, intellectual, topical, controversial and personal character … and … these components are desired by Company and are consistent with Company rules and policies.”

While the lawsuit focuses on the contract, hovering above the dispute is the question of whether Imus’s comments put the network in jeopardy with the FCC – which has been uncharacteristically aggressive in policing the airwaves in recently years.

One former FCC commissioner who spoke to ABC News suggested that CBS had gotten exactly what it had bargained for.

“The issue is one more of extremely poor judgement than it is an FCC issue,” said ex-commissioner Harold Furtchgott-Roth. “That’s what Imus’ schtick has been for years.”

Former commissioner James Quello concurred, telling ABC News that he thought “it was a mistake and that [Imus] had a First Amendment right to be wrong.”

And former commissioner Gloria Tristani said she did “not believe that what [Imus] said would rise to the level of what [the FCC] has found profane of late. … But they are very fact-specific inquiries.”

Was Imus Warned?

Imus’ contract also stipulated that he must be given a warning in writing before being fired for stepping over the line.

It’s unclear whether CBS had privately warned the radio talk show host about his language. Garbus says Imus wasn’t warned. And it’s also unclear whether the FCC would actually penalize CBS and/or its affiliates over Imus’ comments remains unclear.

Current FCC chairman Kevin Martin told a congressional panel last month that “Imus’ comments were obviously very, very offensive and were indeed more offensive than some of the indecency remarks that have been made that the commission has fined people for in the past. But I think it’s important to understand that the commission doesn’t fine any broadcaster for anything related to how offensive what they say is.”

However, Martin also indicated that these kinds of issues could be raised in the context of a station’s license renewal.

“When stations have their license coming up for renewal, the community that they serve has an opportunity to complain about the broadcasters and how they’ve used their license,” he said.

RIDE ON BORG QUEEN

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RIDE ON BORG QUEEN, a
Clinton Democrat Negro Spirtual
  

written by request for sistah NMP


Sung to the tune Ride on King Jesus

Ride on, Borg Queen
No man can beat Hillary
Ride on Borg Queen, ride on
No man can beat Hillary 

She was young when her ruthless quest begun
No man can beat Hillary
But now her race is almost won
No man can beat Hillary

 Borg Queen rides on a crest of milk white votes
No man can beat Hillary
The vast right wing conspiracy she did cross
No man can beat Hillary

 If you want to find a way to God
No man can beat Hillary
over the “Audacity of Hope” she must trod
No man can beat Hillary

 When
America goes to Hell gonna wear a robe
No man can beat Hillary
Gonna see the Borg Queen sittin’ on the throne
No man can beat Hillary

 Gonna walk over those streets of gold
No man can beat Hillary
Goin’ to a land where DLC Bull**** never grows old