I'm With Oprah | Letters | Chicago Reader

I'm With Oprah 

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To the editor;

I am a longtime fan of both Hot Type in general and Michael Miner's work on it in particular; it's the only thing like it in Chicago and I never miss reading it. I'm also a former reporter (for the Reader, among others), and something of an absolutist about defending the Bill of Rights from encroachment.

So it is with genuine regret that I must point out that Mr. Miner's portrayal of an Oprah Winfrey Show producer suing to get out of her employment contract as an assault on the First Amendment, was some seriously silly shit. I'm glad the courts are thus far seeing it the same way.

That December 10 Hot Type item lists four different cases as evidence that free speech "can be bought and sold." One is from a Hollywood movie, of all things, one of those ones that claims to be "based on actual events" (which, as every moviegoer over the age of 12 knows, is Hollywood-speak for "a fantasy world that makes TV sitcoms look like documentaries"). This longtime Reader reader didn't appreciate being taken for a congenital idiot with an example that ludicrous.

The second one is a court case that in fact sounds disturbing, and worth knowing more about than a one-paragraph summary. Alas, Hot Type instead focuses on two other cases (mostly the Oprah one) which have roughly as much to do with anyone's First Amendment rights as the Rush Limbaugh Show does with journalism.

An author "was hired" by a family to write a biography. The family didn't like the results, and wanted changes. The author refused to make those changes, the book was therefore never published, and the author is forbidden by the contract he had freely signed, to talk about it.

Works for me! That has nothing at all to do with any right of free expression (or free press, for that matter), as either the Founders or any reasonable person now, can plainly see. Sounds like the contract was clear, was fair (the author exercised a right to refuse to change his work, the family exercised their right not to pay for publishing something they don't agree with), and was abided to by all sides. And was a private matter--neither Congress nor any other government "made any laws" suppressing any speech, unless you think of basic contract law that makes someone honor a contract they signed, in that light.

The Harpo studios producer voluntarily signed a legal employment contract which requires her to not talk about her experiences "behind the scenes" when she leaves. Now she wants out of it, on the grounds that there is a compelling public interest that makes it a First Amendment issue.

Self-serving rubbish. Behind-the-scenes gossip about how mean a boss a famous talk-show host is, is a compelling public interest? A private and valid contract freely entered into, is suppression of free speech? This is worth four columns of hand-wringing? You have got to be kidding.

This kind of thing just distracts us from, and reduces the credibility of, reporting real erosions of the rights promised by the Bill of Rights. Which the other case mentioned, may very well be--we didn't get enough info to tell, or even to follow up on our own and look into it. Let the silly red herrings lie, and do what Hot Type does best: cover real issues and topics of free expression and the media, that the dailies don't touch.

Paul Botts

Oak Park

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