Thursday, October 16, 2003

Reader Responds: Josh offers some new information about the Dixie Chicks' free speech rights:

I read your page all the time but you might be half-way wrong about the Dixie Chicks thing. If it is indeed as cut and dry as you make it sound than I agree whole heartedly. But there is compelling evidence to suggest this was something other than fan outrage. For instance, ask yourself where you heard about the initial comments made by Natalie Manes? Most likely you read about them the same way I and everyone else in America did. Through reports that there was a nation wide boycott of the Dixie Chicks music. The comment was quoted in full but out of context by every major newspaper as the reasoning behind the boycott. In fact every American report of her comments sites her March 12th comments and are dated 2 or more days later.

The comment first appeared in the European newspaper known as the Guardian the day before the boycott started, way in the back inside of a concert review. Hard core Country Fans/Republicans don't read the Newyork Times because its "too Liberal" but we are supposed to believe they read The Guardian?

Guardian article

A day and a half later the Dixie Chicks ban had already been underway and Natalie Manes had apologized. That is not alot of time, definitely not enough for fan outrage to grow to such an alarming rate to force radio stations all over the country to ban their music one by one. Luckily people have checked into it. Former Reprise Records president Howie Klein claims on March 13th "Phone calls originating from Republican Party headquarters in Washington went out to country stations, urging them to remove the Dixie Chicks from their play lists."

In addition "The 'alternative concert' [to the Dixie Chicks' tour opener] the radio stations were hyping was actually the work of the South Carolina Republican Party. And party officials were helping promote the concert. We received a call from 'Gallagher's Army,' urging us to support the alternative concert. Caller ID backtraced the call to South Carolina GOP headquarters." Klein says.

Chain radio stations were quick to dump the Chicks because their parent companies (Clear Channel, Viacom, et al) have pressing business in the nation's capitol and they want help from the Republican Party. For instance Secretary of State Colin Powell's son is currently chairman of the FCC which if you recall was at the time in the midst of deciding whether or not to relax federal regulations which stood in the way of expanded ownership by said companies.

The Cumulus Media corporation banned Dixie Chicks music from its chain of radio stations for a month after lead singer Natalie Maines' remark about being embarrassed that President Bush was from Texas. Cumulus — the nation's second-largest radio broadcaster — took Chicks records off 42 country music stations' airwaves in March. Arizona Sen. John McCain said it wouldn't have been censorship if each of the 42 stations had separately imposed bans. But he asserted that a single corporation's decision, affecting all those country stations, is a restraint of trade.

Don't worry I will provide links. But if you were to put it all in chronological order it would look something like this.

1) March 12th: Natalie Maines makes Anti-Bush comments.

2) March 13th: European Newspaper runs quote in review of the chicks concert. Nobody really notices.

3) March 13th, 2003: Republican National Committee Headquarters in Washington DC orders radio giants such as Clear Channel and Cumulus, both big donors to George W. Bush's Presidential campaign, to stop playing the Dixie Chicks music.

4) March 14th, 2003: Radio Stations all over the country ban the Dixie Chicks music. Using Maines' comments about Bush as an excuse to justify their actions. Articles appear all over the web and in American Newspapers, most of which aren't focused on the quote as much as they are the radio station boycott already underway. Fan outrage now begins when none existed before.

5) Natalie Maines apologizes for comments.

6) Station Sponsored Dixie Chicks CD burning rituals start popping up all over the country. Fans are happy the chicks have been banned despite the fact nobody asked for it to happen.

7) July 9th: Arizona Senator John McCain condemns media giant Cumulus for a restriction in trade. Clearly the big Corporate offices were giving orders to local stations, even stations where there was zero fan outrage. They wanted a Dixie Chick blackout, no exceptions.

Now I don't like the Dixie Chicks. Their music sucks ass (like most country music in my opinion) in fact I wouldn't even be writing this if I wasn't seriously suspicious of the circumstances surrounding the controversy. It just smells fishy. I cant be 100% sure but it sounds alot like this was a political move designed to send the chicks a message. I cant vouch for Mr. Klien or confirm what he said about the RNC HQ is even true. But even if there was no Republican party involvement its was still, as John McCain said a Corporation restricting the Dixie Chicks freedom of trade. Corporation who have political ties to the White House and vested interest in Washington DC. Whether they asked for it or not, it appears the Radio Giants were looking out for the White House.

Now If fans stopped buying the Chicks CDs thats one thing, she said what she said and she has stood by what she said. They have a right to stop listening. Thats how it works, but I think the Chicks are more upset about the apparent abuse of power by the radio stations who propelled the story hoping, perhaps planning that exact result. If its all true, pre-emptively banning their music, is sad and disgusting especially when they sighted a fan outrage that didn't even exist! Many celebrities had spoken out against Bush before her. Martin Sheen had already called Bush a drunk, Sean Penn had already spent thousands of dollars to take out a full page ad in an AMERICAN newspaper criticizing Bush directly. It was viewed by millions and nobody really said a word about it. Why pick on the chicks? It was a non-story.

If there was no political motive for the stations why push the story so hard when nobody knew about it and the only place it had been printed at all was an obscure review in the back of a European newspaper? Unless the point was to *create* fan outrage and expose the Chicks as payback.

But thinking about all of this I'm not sure which is more pathetic. The fact that Clear Channel CEOs acted like babies/mob bosses and imposed a Dixie Chick embargo, or the fact that millions of Country Music Fans/Republicans once again fell in line and responded exactly as they were expected too. Either way the fact of the matter is the Chicks had the right to say what they wanted, the fans have the right to stop listening and the Chicks have the right to complain about that consequence. But the radio stations had no right to do impose a blacklist and that is where the real scandal is.


[these next links were broken. any ideas?]
Yahoo News on Powell

Yahoo News article

Yahoo News on Dixie Chicks
I actually did hear about Natalie Maines' comments before I heard about the boycott, via Drudge (he links to The Guardian all the time). And I know that many outraged listeners (at least in Dallas, where my family lives) called to complain to the few stations that continued to play the Chicks' music (I'm assuming the quality of the music wasn't the issue). It seemed to me that Clear Channel, et al was reacting to consumer demand. I have doubts that the companies would stop playing popular music for political reasons and risk upsetting their customers. But there's absolutely nothing wrong with the public and press investigating any conspiracy theories to see if they have any merit.

You do bring up a good point that although businesses have a legal right to suppress speech, it can be just as dangerous as government censorship. And with mammoth corporations like Clear Channel, there's little recourse for us peons, because it's almost impossible to boycott such a pervasive company.

Thanks for your thoughts.

Next Day Update: Josh responds again with some more information:

My beef is that the radio stations overstepped their bounds into the realm of censorship. Also Drudge Report didn't get ahold of the story until after the boycott had already started and Maines apologized. There was no report on her original comments linking to the guardian article. I checked.

Drudge Archive

That was at 10:48pm (looks like pacific time) which means it wasn't until the next day March 14th (the day I said web sites and American media got ahold of the story) that most people would see the story on Drudge. The boycott was started the same day. Unless of course it was an organized campaign that was no way enough time for any kind of movement to boil over and force the stations to act, especially not on a national level. I live in California one of the most anti-Bush places in the country right now, and our top-40 station (89.3FM) refused to play their songs. I doubt there was any backlash here in Berkeley. Its a big Punk Rock town (which wouldn't exist outside of Berkeley if radio stations acted like this all the time.) Texas Radio stations I can understand, but this was clearly an all or nothing situation. Culumus Broadcasting even admitted to cutting the dixie chicks from 42 stations nationwide when they went before the FCC. It may not have been for political reasons, thats unknown, but their actions were unquestionably wrong.

While private businesses, even News Papers are above freedom of speech laws, it is very different with a radio station. Because of the fact that Clear Channel operates on Public Airwaves they are not allowed to suppress freedom of speech the same way the print media is. The airwaves are not private property, they belong to everyone and thus denying someone the right to speak or punishing them for doing so on the radio is the same as denying them that same right on a street corner. Individual boycotts are fine and should actually be encouraged since more people need to become more aware about everything going on, not just what celebrities are saying. But corporations operating on public airwaves are not allowed to blacklist. Not to mention the violation of the stations contract with the Chicks label. But thats another matter.

While we cannot expect radio stations to cater to every view (there would be no time for music) punishing anyone for their views whether we agree with them or not is wrong. It is especially troubling when big corporations like Clear Channel do it because in many ways they have more power than the Government. In many ways they own the Government. Politicians can say what they want, but it is the media who controls the flow of information, they can create and destroy anyones character and public image. They are holding all the keys and unlike the Government they do not answer to the people. Because of this their actions should be viewed with the same scrutiny as the actions of our Government are.
Good stuff. Thanks for sharing.


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