COMMENTARY

Even the outrageous Nugent has right to free speech

4/20/2014
BY JACK LESSENBERRY
BLADE OMBUDSMAN
Lessenberry
Lessenberry

Alan Goldsmith, a reader from Ann Arbor, doesn’t mince words: “Does The Toledo Blade think paying for and supporting a racist, draft-dodging pedophile was a smart decision and one a Great American Newspaper should be proud of?”

He was, of course, talking about Ted Nugent, the conservative gun-worshipping and President Obama-hating musician, who is scheduled to perform at the Northwest Ohio Rib-Off festival in August.

The festival’s event director is Mike Mori, who is also sales director for The Blade. Six months ago, Mr. Mori signed Mr. Nugent up to play in the festival Aug. 8. That was, however, before the flamboyant singer referred to the President as a “Communist-raised, Communist-educated subhuman mongrel.”

Those words excited a lot of passions. Few remember it now, but Mr. Nugent also performed at the Rib-Off two years ago.

His outrageous comments and behavior were a legend by then, though that year, few seemed to care. This time, however, possibly because of his comments about the President, The Blade has been deluged with angry calls and emails.

A fair number of those have come to Joseph H. Zerbey IV, the president and general manager of The Blade. When your ombudsman asked him about the controversy, he said he was no fan of the outrageous musician, who has compared the Obama Administration to “coyotes who needed to be shot.”

But Mr. Zerbey added, “The Blade stands for free speech no matter what! The Bill of Rights is not ambiguous in its meaning or its interpretation,” he said. The executive noted that The Blade is actively involved in community efforts to combat racism.

But he noted, “If The Blade allows fringe groups of any ilk to dictate what rights citizens have or don’t have and to use their scare tactics to intimidate Blade management, then all The Blade is doing is building a bridge to nowhere.”

What does your ombudsman think?

Personally, I find Ted Nugent to be a disgusting creep, who in addition to his posturing racist statements has indeed bragged about his draft-dodging and once had himself made legal guardian of a teenager with whom he was having sex.

Additionally, I don’t like his music. But I have the perspective of being — sigh — now in my 60s. I can remember when things were reversed, and the conservative establishment was trying to ban singers I revered — John Lennon, Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan — because conservatives didn’t like their politics or their lifestyles, or both.

I also have to admit that yes, I do like Frank Sinatra’s music, even though I know he was a vulgar sexist with sleazy connections.

Readers of The Blade editorial page know that the newspaper is totally opposed to everything Ted Nugent stands for.

But Mr. Zerbey — and the framers of the Bill of Rights — were right. Free speech has no meaning unless it applies to all speech, including speech and opinions we find horrible.

Because if we are successful in censoring Ted Nugent today, someday someone may shut us up too.

That’s what the First Amendment is all about.

However, your ombudsman has one additional thought.

Starting last year, Ted Nugent has been making noises about possibly running for president next time. If he has in fact determined that he is a political figure, The Blade and the Rib-Off may want to reconsider paying him to appear as an entertainer.

Ted Katafiasz of Maumee is irate over a story about an alleged rape. “It’s no wonder why people always say ‘you can’t trust what you read in The Blade,’” he wrote me.

He was referring to an April 10 story about an alleged rape of a patient earlier this month at ProMedica Flower Hospital.

Based on information provided by Sylvania police, the alleged victim was at first identified as an employee of the Subway shop in the hospital cafeteria. Within hours, the police provided more details and a correction: The woman was not a Subway employee, but a patient — as was the man who she said assaulted her.

The Blade quickly corrected its online report. But that was not enough for Mr. Katafiasz, who charged this “was a prime example of this habitual failure of yours to corroborate news information.”

What does your ombudsman think?

Well, I teach my students that one of the cardinal principles of this profession is “get it first, but first get it right.”

However, there is a reason they call it a “newspaper,” as well as “the first rough draft of history.” Newspapers have an obligation to bring you news in a timely fashion. If The Blade waited days or weeks to print anything, the paper would have fewer errors.

It would also not be a “news” paper. I find this error very minor, and based entirely on information supplied by the police. This story was not spread screaming across the front page or the online edition; it was a few small paragraphs buried deep inside the second section.

Incidentally, so far, no further action has been taken in this case, nor have any charges yet been filed.

Ramon Fernandez of Monclova is irked that in an April 4 story, “Private plan for airport panned,” The Blade listed “the ages of the two Treece brothers but not any of the others in the article.”

“What relevance did their ages have?” he asked.

Well, there has been broad skepticism about the ability of the two brothers, who are 25 and 27, to have the wisdom, maturity, and judgment needed to run a major transportation hub.

Nobody else at the meeting was asking for anything. The ages of Toledo Congressman Marcy Kaptur (she is 67) and Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins (69) have frequently been in Blade articles and have not been an issue.

Age is an important factor, gives us a lot of information, and it is nice to include it in a story when necessary or relevant.

Your ombudsman thinks it was more relevant for the Treece brothers than for the others in this story.

Anyone who has a concern about fairness or accuracy in this newspaper is invited to write me, c/​o The Blade; 541 N. Superior St., Toledo, 43660, or at my Detroit office: 555 Manoogian Hall, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI 48202; call me at 1-888-746-8610; or email me at OMBLADE@aol.com. I cannot promise to address every question in the newspaper, but I do promise that everyone who contacts me with a serious question will get a personal reply. Reminder, however: If you don’t leave me an e-mail address or a phone number, I have no way to get in touch with you.

Jack Lessenberry is the head of the journalism faculty at Wayne State University in Detroit and a former national editor of The Blade.

Contact him at: omblade@aol.com