The whole point of free speech is not to make ideas exempt from criticism but to expose them to it.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

What IS Shad Olson being punished for?

“Shad’s speech to the tax day rally was a lapse in ethics, so we took appropriate action,” KOTA news director John Petersen said.

When I first read of Shad’s woodshed trip as a result of his speech at the teaparty rally downtown Rapid City I admit I took pleasure. Today I read some of the remarks in the “discussion” posts at the Rapid City Journal.

The reason I took pleasure was that I am just that sort of person. Shad Olson’s rants on radio just made me that mad. I guess the Lord probably led me to browse the “discussion” at the Journal. (I don’t put “discussion” in quotes out sarcasm, but because that’s how it’s labeled in the Journal’s links.)

What exactly is Shad being reprimanded for? For holding a political view? For letting his views be known? For speaking at that particular rally?

KOTA aired an Olson-hosted radio show for a while. That ended over a year ago. But that’s where I gained knowledge of his take on things, most of which I thought was distorted. I haven’t watched any local TV news shows for about 15 years, so tuning out his newscast wasn’t an issue. (They came for the unionists, but I wasn’t a unionist, so I didn’t object.)

His views were known. People who watched his newscast did so willingly. If KOTA wants to fire him or suspend him, it’s their business, but if they’re going to say anything at all, they should say something more instructive than, “Shad’s speech to the tax day rally was a lapse in ethics, so we took appropriate action.”

Several of those who left comments on the Journal’s discussion of Shad Olson’s suspension called KOTA a “liberal” news organization. I don’t think that’s what I’d call the Duhamel organization. But there’s “conservative,” and then there’s frothing at the mouthness, which is the general area in which I’d place Olson.

Naturally, any hint that mere frothing at the mouthness could result in suppression of speech brings about a personally dismal deja vu.

So, the content of his speech at the rally was probably more the issue, and I don’t know what that was. At the moment I don’t much care what people who speak at teaparty gatherings have to say. That might change. But I am interested in the methods used by any news organization with a political agenda (probably redundant phrasing) to effect “team play” among those who present the organization’s public face.

I am interested in reading what you think.


Thad Wasson said...

Unless he signed a contract limiting his activities, I do not see a problem. KOTA has anchors that are visible in the Rapid community, some even moonlight as travel guides.

It looks like Shad will have as much time off as Big Ben.

Michael Sanborn said...


He likely signed a contract stating he was a representative both on and off the air, and that as such he was not to take sides on political issues.

While we did not sign such a contract, when I was a full-time Journal employee, it was extremely frowned upon to have political signs in our yards, bumper stickers on our cars, or to make public statements about our political views.

Participation in service clubs and charitable organizations was also discouraged. I was looked down upon for being an active member of Ducks Unlimited and was discouraged from becoming a Mason.

Thad Wasson said...

If I were King for a day and had control over the Journal and KOTA, I would want my employees in the community and to be known by the general public.

It is foolish to discourage non-profit service by your workers. Being able to share their talents while touting their work location is what all businesses should strive for.

David Newquist said...

I worked for both a Lee Enterprises newspaper and then a privately-owned
newspaper across the river. I don't recall any consternation over belonging to any organizations, such as Ducks Unlimited, which undertook conservation or civic projects. At the second newspaper, the editors were the organizers of a Second Alarmers Organization, which rushed to large fires and other big public emergencies to provide water, coffee, and even basic medical care, and other forms of support to first-responders during major emergency incidents. Sometimes at the local press club after the libations flowed a bit, someone would question if the Second Alarmers were established to curry favor for journalistic purposes, but the organization had its origins in the complaint that the presence of the press often interfered with the work of the responders.

At the second newspaper, where I was farm and business editor, I was approached by a contemporary of mine who was in the state legislature when he was making a move to run for a U.S. House seat. This was a large farm equipment manufacturing area that was largely Democratic, but what the candidate wanted was some detailed analysis on farm policy. The newspaper approved my providing such analysis provided that I did so privately and did not participate in any campaign activities, which I was not asked to do, nor would I under any circumstances. As long as my function was journalistic in providing information and the various perspectives on issues and was done from the standpoint of facilitating productive discussion, the newspaper supported my consultation.

Where the newspaper drew the line on participation in purpose-organizations was in anything that appeared to compromise one's objectivity, fairness, and even-handed treatment of sources and subjects. If one appeared to be a partisan advocate just once, one became an immediate ex-employee.

The same rule applied when I became a professor. One's free speech was even more rigorously protected, but once one took sides on issues in a manner that compromised one's objective treatment of subjects and, therefore, one's academic integrity, sanctions were in order. Professors took partisan stances at the peril of relinquishing their academic status. That is no longer the case.

Politically, I kept my mouth shut, except under very circumspect conditions, until I retired. The partisanship in both the media and academic institutions has damaged their credibility.

Bill Fleming said...

Maybe Shad should just go to work for KNBN. I'm just sayin...

Wayne Gilbert said...

I think it is not unreasonable for a private employer, even a media entity, to impose this kind of restriction. A couple of years ago I was circulating a nominating petition and came to the door of a home owned by a local news anchor (obviously not Mr. Olson). He politely told me that he couldn't sign anybody's nominating petition because of his job. Mr. Olson's response sounds pretty disingenous to's not as if he was appearing local civics or government classes-he was at a political rally! Now--what's the deal on the guy in the sailor suit?

Bob Newland said...


Michael Sanborn said...

When I worked for the Rapid City Journal it was owned by Cowles Media and the Minneapolis Star & Tribune Company. I never worked for Lee Enterprises.

As I mentioned, I did not sign an agreement stating that I would not participate in my community. Editors were members of Kiwanis International, Rotary and the Country Club.

As a lowly newsroom editor, it was considered a hazard to my credibility as an objective journalist to have ties to organizations like DU and the Masonic Lodge, as they were peopled by influential news makers in Rapid City and it just didn't look good for lowly me to be hobnobbing with the city's big wigs...even if it was for a good cause.

There was considerable consternation when I was enlisted to help the South Dakota Diabetes Association roast then-Governor Janklow. (I wrote some jokes for roasters and designed the program.)

I understand the position that reporters and newsroom editors should not become too closely involved with local news makers. Back then, objectivity was a goal (sort of). But the appearance of bias would certainly get you your walking papers.

Wayne Gilbert said...

It was not a guy? I missed that-my oversight.

BunBun4life said...

Free speech should be totally 100% free (i'm not talking about when people call you 1,000 times a day and are making death threats, okay? I understand the difference between harassment, threats and just 'shit people hate to hear')

If there is anything I can't stand in this world it is MORONS who say "I'm all for free speech BUT
Free speech ends when racism begins
you are obligated to use your 'free speech' with some kind of obligation to use it with 'sensibilities' to other peoples nature to be offended by everything anybody says.

When they say "but free speech ends where such and such begins"

FREE SPEECH, RACIST, POLITICAL, RELIGIOUS, SCREW YOU GUYS, I HATE GAYS, LEAVE ME & MY BELIEFS ALONE it's my right to say things that offend others and I will DIE to protect that right, not only for myself but for any other person who says things that I hate.

I never report 'hate blogs' that are against people like me. That's censorship.
I never report a youtube account when people call me every filthy name on earth. THAT'S CENSORSHIP, (worthless sacks sure report the hell out of me though)