By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

The limits of “freeSpeech”

At CBS News, “freeSpeech” is not to be confused with free speech. TVNewser reports that Bill Maher was asked to do a “freeSpeech” commentary for the “CBS Evening News with Katie Couric.”

But then CBS wouldn’t take yes for an answer: Maher was reportedly told that he couldn’t talk about religion, as he had wanted, and would instead be supplied with a list of “approved topics.”

No word on whether that would have been followed by “approved points of view.” (Thanks to Media Nation reader M.S.)

Update: Media Nation reader resonate1 says CBS News is denying this. I can’t find anything on that score, but John Eggerton, blogging at, wonders if Maher might be “pulling our collective legs.” So, for the moment, file this under “Interesting if True.”

Update II: D’oh! Here’s the denial. Thanks again to resonate1.

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  1. Charles Foster Kane

    Damn that liberal media!

  2. MeTheSheeple

    Free speech is only free if the listener approves, seemingly.For some interesting reading, start here, downloading the PDF by clicking on the click here to display item.It’s hard to think of a more contentious proposal than debating whether Nazis should get to march in a city filled with Holocaust survivors.The idea of free speech not extending to a media professional on a broad topic is simploy appalling by contrast.

  3. Rick in Duxbury

    CFK:By presuming that this is a “liberal vs. conservative” issue, you say a lot more about yourself than about CBS. They are equal opportunity cowards. It’s really about a public company being cowed into silence by the “special interest group du jour”. Would Bill have commented on Islamo-fascists? Pedophile priests? Gay Anglican clergy? We’ll never know now, will we? As long as the standard for discourse is an idealized, unattainable unanimity that offends no one, things will only get worse. Today, the “Pennsylvania Gazette” or “Common Sense” could exist only on the Web. It’s not about Red vs. Blue. It’s about ignorant yahoos who claim to have opinions but are unwilling to spend the time to think through where the opinions came from. Tom Paine is spinning in his grace.

  4. Don

    There are two kinds of free speech: Constitutional free speech and liberal free speech.(what they agree with).

  5. Anonymous

    This ‘controversy’ demonstrates that ‘freespeech’ is more trouble than it’s worth. With CBS News back in third place only two weeks after Katie’s debut, they don’t need this distraction. Quietly putting this silly feature out of its misery would be no great sacrifice.

  6. resonate1

    CBS is now denying this. Is there any definitive statement from Maher on the subject (possibly a transcript from his HBO show)?

  7. Rick in Duxbury

    Or, more likely, in his grave….

  8. resonate1

    The denial I was referring to is linked under the TVNewser piece. It quotes executive producer Rome Hartman saying that Maher was never told that he couldn’t speak about religion.

  9. MeTheSheeple

    This purports to be a transcript:

  10. Bill Baar

    I can’t think of anything less newsworth at the moment than Katie C. and who CBS will let on or not…besides not being newsworthy, it’s a total bore, and tragically blocks coverage of real events like Darfur or this on Trade Unionists in Zimbabwe.America’s media back to naval gazing… I was flying to St Louis on 911 and had the NYT with me when are flt landed 8am and the piolet told us what had happened and that we would be sitting for a while because of all the flts landing and gates blocked… I kept staring at the stupid stories we had been covering.

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