Talk-show host says ADL official supports censorship

"This is the epitome of irresponsibility on the radio," responded Kaufman, who is assistant director of the Anti-Defamation League's Central Pacific Region.

In the second hour of his 7-to-10 p.m. program, Ward discussed the recent meeting of the human rights commission.

At last month's meeting, which Ward did not attend, the ADL and 12 other organizations testified about media fairness and hate speech on publicly licensed airways. They called for on-air diversity, a telephone hotline for complaints and community panels on this issue.

During his show, Ward expressed his concern for the First Amendment right to free speech. He also accused the ADL and other organizations including MALDEF (the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) of supporting censorship.

In addition, he attacked Kaufman personally.

"Sometimes I wonder if people have the brains that God gave them at birth. As far as the San Francisco Human Rights Commission is concerned, I am convinced that they do not," he said on the radio. "Nor does the leader of MALDEF and certainly not Ira Kaufman of the ADL.

"If he ever had a brain, he left it somewhere in Oz and needs to go back to the wizard and see if he'll restore it."

Kaufman dismissed the personal attack. "I'm convinced Bernie Ward has no idea what was said at this hearing based on these comments. I don't even know why I would be offended," Kaufman said. "He doesn't even know what I said."

Ward replied: "I read the account in the Chronicle. It said these groups want to prevent certain types of talk. That's not free speech. This is a group of people who want to censor what's heard on the radio."

Regarding his attack on Kaufman, Ward, who admits he has never met the ADL assistant director, said, "You represent the group doing a stupid thing, you get called stupid. It's the joy of being a spokesperson."

Both Kaufman and ADL Central Pacific region executive director Barbara Bergen are concerned that Ward's listeners don't fully understand the ADL's mission.

"I got a call from a donor saying she was going to withdraw support because she wasn't aware the ADL supported censorship," Bergen said. "I'm glad she called so I could explain to her that the ADL supports free speech" and that Ward's comments were inaccurate.

The San Francisco Chronicle printed just a fragment of Kaufman's comments in which he said hate speech results in the "vulgarization of society and the Balkanization of our communities." The ADL assistant director said Chronicle staff writer Henry Lee conveyed the erroneous impression that Kaufman wanted to take "steps [that] could be taken to restrict offensive views and opinions espoused by radio talk[-show] hosts."

Kaufman said he did not give testimony to restrict talk-show speech but rather asked radio stations to take responsibility for their actions.

In his remarks to the commission, Kaufman stated that the ADL is "committed to the constitutional protection of freedom of expression [but] we share the commission's concerns about the detrimental effects of hate speech on talk radio, particularly when it is passively received by the voices of reason in the community.

"Talk shows around the country are enormously influential," Kaufman said. "With delay buttons and screeners, the hosts have full control over which opinions get expression."

Ward didn't hear those comments, but he contends the ADL "is all for censorship. That's what the meeting was about. They don't like my characterization, they shouldn't have been there."

He added that for a Jewish group to be a part of what he calls a censorship movement "is appalling.

"Jewish groups more than anyone should understand the importance of being able to say anything. Have they lost all identification with their roots?" Ward said. "This [meeting] was a lynching party."

For people who object to the tenor of radio programs, Ward said, "There's a marvelous system designed to deal with this; it's called the on-off switch. If you don't like it, don't listen to it. If enough people don't listen, the show goes off the air."

Bergen agreed. The talk-show host has a right to his opinion and is protected by law, she said. The question is "to what purpose? Do you encourage people on the furthest fringes to spew their rhetoric?"

Bergen points to Oprah Winfrey's policy on extremists as an example of media responsibility. Winfrey told the ADL she would no longer allow white supremacists on her show because of "the garbage they spew and the impact of it."

Membership in such organizations rises after members make public appearances, said Bergen. "It's a matter of personal choice and conscience. All I ask is that talk-show hosts consider their social responsibility."