Couric courts Red America?

download phpBless her heart, I think Katie Couric — in an attempt to tweak her image in Middle America — tried to engineer herself a Sister Souljah moment the other night. There are reports that some of her staff producers and reporters freaked out.

The question is whether CBS News should have allowed the father of one of the victims of the Columbine High School massacre to voice his beliefs about America’s “culture of death,” to use that now familiar Pope John Paul II phrase, during the new gosh-we-hope-this-is-controversial “freeSpeech” segment on the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric.

Here is the crucial segment of the script for Brian Rohrbough’s short commentary, delivered in the wake of the Amish school killings:

This country is in a moral free-fall. For over two generations, the public school system has taught in a moral vacuum, expelling God from the school and from the government, replacing him with evolution, where the strong kill the weak, without moral consequences and life has no inherent value.

We teach there are no absolutes, no right or wrong. And I assure you the murder of innocent children is always wrong, including by abortion. Abortion has diminished the value of children. Suicide has become an acceptable action and has further emboldened these criminals. And we are seeing an epidemic increase in murder-suicide attacks on our children.

Sadly, our schools are not safe. In fact, we now witness that within our schools. Our children have become a target of terrorists from within the United States.

Couric said the obvious in one of her online commentaries, after quoting strong emails from the cultural left and right:

When we approached Brian Rohrbough and asked him his thoughts about this latest school shooting, this essay was the result. We understood that people may disagree with what he said, and with what he believes. But censoring or attempting to re-shape his opinion would be antithetical to the very idea of free speech.

This is a nation built on dialogue and debate. And, most importantly, on freedom of speech. As George Washington once said, “If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”

The key phrase — “when we approached” — must have jumped out at many readers on the cultural left.

There is, of course, no right to free speech on the CBS Evening News.

CBS sought out this controversy and can either be praised or jeered for doing so. Rohrbough’s views were strongly stated, but millions of Americans would affirm all, most or much of what he said. Like I keep saying, the polls consistently suggest that about 20 percent of the population is made up of strong cultural conservatives, about 20 percent strong cultural liberals and in between is OprahAmerica, where people slide all over the place depending on how poll questions are worded.

So CBS gave someone on the cultural right a brief moment of air time. It is interesting that some people on the left reacted by saying that it was wrong for CBS to have done so. Not “dumb” or “bad strategy,” but “wrong.” “Evil,” perhaps?

As Howard Kurtz reported in The Washington Post, it is also important that some of the protests came from inside the CBS newsroom. Will the same thing happen when filmmaker Michael Moore gets a 90-second spot? Or has he already done his thing?

The crucial issue, of course, is not whether Americans on the cultural right (and candid voices on the cultural left) are allowed to do commentary pieces. The key is whether their views are accurately represented in news stories about abortion, marriage, public education, speech codes, etc. That’s what matters.

Commentary is easy. Journalism is hard.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • rosie meysenburg

    So many of these school shootings involved a perpetrator who was taking an SSRI antidepressant or was in withdrawal from the drug.

    Go to: for a view of 17 school shootings where the perpetrator was taking an antidepressant.

    Thank you.

    Rosie Meysenburg
    Texas Director: International Coalition for Drug Awareness:
    Assistant National Director: Prozac Survivors Support Group

  • Jinzang

    I don’t object to intelligent commentary from either the left or right. But the idea that school shootings happen because schools are teaching evolution is completely nutso. Let’s have a little reality check. If secularism is driving school shootings, we’d expect to see more school shootings in secular Western Europe and in blue states rather than red states. That’s not what we see. I don’t care if this gentleman represents twenty percent or ninety percent of public opinion. It should be the mission of the news to inform and not to demonize.

  • c.tower

    Meanwhile, Bill Maher (who had been announced by CBS as one of the commenters on the “Free Speech” segment) has claimed his submission was rejected because he (an avowed atheist) wanted to talk about religon in America.So much for a “secular bias” at CBS…

  • Carl Vehse

    RE: “Commentary is easy. Journalism is hard.”

    And on SeeBS, “fake, but accurate” is a piece of cake.

  • Wakim

    Yes to informed commentary…no to hate mongering from an angry parent. Sadly the parent can’t come to terms with the fact that two seriously troubled youths decided to go on a rampage and kill his child and instead blames science. Ok let me see, teachers in Colorado, from my experience, are afraid to even use the “E word” (evolution) because so many people in Colorado are like this angry man. Sadly this parent also probably realizes that his child was involved in the harassment that Harris and Kliebold recieved everyday at school (I know how bad fundamentalists can be about taunting around junior high and high school age.) And this parent probably feels guilt knowing his student, who may have engaged in the harrassment, may have contributed to the problem that lead to the shooting. Of course this isn’t an excuse for the shooting, but neither is saying “because evolution is taught people kill.” I mean it doesn’t even make sense. People kill because people kill. How often do you hear about little tiny schools having shootings occur, just the Amish school house thing? Well we have an outsider who was clearly deranged and sounded like some people I know after they have memory recovery types of therapy, saying he molested family members who have come forward saying, “nope sorry never molested” If you want to hear an interesting interchange of opinions then have Bill Mahr or Tom Leykiss debate Anne Coulter. Then you would have 2 people very pissed at each other and Coulter probably sounding like a moron while Leykiss called her a sleezy whore. That would be fun, completely uninformed angry nonsense, but please not at the end of the daily news.

  • Larry Rasczak

    It is interesting to see how Wakim and Jinzang have jumped upon a reference in Mr. Rohrbough’s argument and twisted it to demonize him, all in the name of fighting against demonization. There are more staw men around here than in an Iowa cornfield.

    Nobody said that Harris and Kliebold were part of a little known radical armed wing of Darwinisim. (Though Wakim did invent out of thin air an almost as interesting backstory… straight out of Inside the Actor’s Studio.)

    The meat of Mr. Rohrbough’s argument is that “We teach there are no absolutes, no right or wrong” and this has been artfuly avoided by his detractors here. Rohrbough is arguing that abortion, euthanaisa, assisted suicide, are all symptoms of a secular world view that cheapens human life. If we remove from our schools, the culture, and our children’s minds, moral absolutes that require the strong to “choose Life”; then there is nothing to keep the strong from disposing of the weak as they will. Those of us that paid attention in History class know what is at the bottom of this particular slippery slope.

    Funny how those points have yet to be challenged, much less debated.