FAN 36.2 (First Amendment News) Corn-Revere on the FCC & Redskins Controversy

Robert Corn-Revere

Robert Corn-Revere

In case you missed it, yesterday Robert Corn-Revere had an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. The piece was titled, “Free-Speech Foes Call an Audible — Bringing the FCC into the ‘Redskins’ debate is an invitation for First Amendment mischief.”

Here is the petition to the Federal Communications Commission, the one that gave rise to the FCC controversy.

 Here is how Mr. Corn-Revere began his WSJ op-ed:

“However you may feel about the name of the National Football League franchise in Washington, D.C., do we really want the Federal Communications Commission to step into the Redskins controversy as the nation’s culture police?”

“That’s what George Washington University law professor John Banzhaf III is seeking by asking the FCC to deny the broadcast license of WWXX, the FM radio station in Washington licensed to team owner Dan Snyder. The petition, filed in September, asks the FCC to yank the broadcast license because the station “deliberately, repeatedly, and unnecessarily broadcasts the word ‘R*dskins’ during most of its broadcast day.”

“That’s right, in lieu of the team name, the petition uses ‘R*dskins.'”

“This is a publicity stunt, not a serious legal argument. It is well beyond the FCC’s statutory or constitutional authority to prohibit speech merely because some find it offensive. But the idea gained some political traction after a Sept. 30 meeting when several FCC commissioners said they would consider the issue. Such consideration should not take long if the FCC is serious about following the law.”

Corn-Revere, former chief counsel to former FCC Chairman James Quello, then proceeded to lay out his case as to why Professor Banzhaf’s petition should be denied. In the process, Corn-Revere drew on FCC precedents and experience with regulations of this general type. In the end, he predicted:

“Without even getting into the frailties of the petition’s legal arguments, it doesn’t take a seer to predict what would happen if the FCC started canceling broadcast licenses because some people in the audience may be offended by something they had heard or seen. It would be a national version of college ‘speech codes,’ which have devolved into an offended-ness sweepstakes.

“There is no doubt about the sincerity of those who object to the name Washington Redskins. But asking the FCC to silence broadcasters who disagree with them is not the solution.”

Note: Professor Banzhaf has accepted my invitation to respond. I will post it as soon as i can. Stay tuned. 

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1 Response

  1. Burton Lindley says:

    There are obvious First Amendment issues here. Then there’s the issue of whether the Redskins word is a slur. Some words offend, per se; e.g. the “n” word. Some words may or may not offend depending on the context; e.g. wiener, prick (as in “Prick your finger”). Some words may offend because they sound like slurs even though that’s not their meaning; e.g. “niggardly.”

    “Redskins”, I think, falls into the contextual category. It can be used as a slur, but that’s obviously not the use to which it’s being put by the Washington Redskins. It is a celebration of the “warrior prowess” of native Americans.