A colleague of mine asked today why I, the constitutional guru, don't find the Zeb Bell situation to be first and foremost a free speech issue. How can I fervently request his sponsors pull their advertisements when his words are protected by the first amendment?
It's easy, really. He may have the constitutional right to preach from his bully pulpit whatever smut, hate, and trash he cares to, but we have a right to say no. This is about our communities, our families, and why we don't have to let that hatred and bigotry into our lives. If we disagree with the words that are broadcast from the home of Zeb Bell via the air time he leases from Lee Family Broadcasting, we have every right to go directly to Kim Lee and the dozens of sponsors who pay to put Zeb Bell on the air. We may boycott their businesses and we may use whatever means necessary to spread the message that Zeb Bell, his sponsors, and his faithful listeners are responsible for the infiltration of hate in rural Idaho.
His pride may prevent him from admitting it, but Zeb Bell knows that what he said and what he allowed his guest to say on last Monday's broadcast was wrong.
Case in point: On Mr. Bell's Thursday morning show, after stating that there had been "a lot of turmoil in [his] life with false accusations and trumped up charges" recently, in the same breath he stated that he fully supports Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell. What makes a person jump from a statement about the turmoil in their life to a statement of support for two African-American individuals? Only a man who has taken the heat for incredibly racist and inexcusable statements that proved both he and his guest are guilty of bigotry.
Had I not heard it with my own ears, I don't think I would have believed the way the show progressed from there. Bell's statement of support for African Americans, or at least that is what I assumed his mentioning of Dr. Rice and Gen. Powell was intended as, would be followed by a monologue saying why he believes it would be a mistake for Condoleezza Rice to turn down the offer of vice president if John McCain did in fact offer it. Listening to Zeb Bell's show is much like watching a train wreck--you see it all going downhill quickly, but you can't turn away. Zeb's next caller immediately called General Powell disgruntled, went after the idea of Dr. Rice accepting the vice presidential spot, saying she practices and supports globalist philosophies (insert anti-Council on Foreign Relations tirade here), and then conceded to the notion that "in the short term she'd be good because she's black."
At the point in which Zeb Bell allowed that comment the show was pretty much off the tracks and skidding to an unfortunate mangled mess. He didn't ask his guest to please rephrase his statement, didn't ask him to clarify, or anything remotely resembling an ounce of control of his own show. In fact, Bell, after defending his reasoning for supporting the idea of Rice on the ticket and finishing his discussion with the caller, stated: "It's too bad we can't have debates like that with other people." Obviously, Bell would still like to "face his accusers" as he stated earlier in the week.
Another caller would bring the conversation back to possibilities for the vice presidency, the suggestion was Bobby Jindal, governor of Louisiana, again mentioning the individuals minority status, to which Bell responded: "I don't care if the candidate is green and a martian!" Like I said, off the tracks.
This isn't about freedom of speech and expression, it's about using common sense and restraint to prevent the spread of hatred. Clearly, Mr. Bell lacks decency and common sense.