Thursday, January 24, 2008

Does the USO have a dual mission?

Intergalactically renowned right-wing talk show host Michael Savage is perhaps the most egregiously offensive hate-spewer on right-wing radio. His diatribes cannot be construed as anything but hate speech, most recently aimed at Muslims. He is divisive and encourages attitudes among his listeners that lead to hate crimes, and support for punitive legislation that discriminates against minorities.

Like Rush Limbaugh, Anne Coulter, Glenn Beck and all the rest, Savage openly fans the flames of racist hatred, and has not been called to account, until now.

CAIR, the Council for American Islamic Relations, posted some of Savage's rants on their website, and used them as examples of the inflammatory messages directed against Muslims in America, and posted a "donate" button so that concerned citizens could help CAIR counter Savage's diatribes. So what does Savage do? He sued them claiming they had no right to use his speech to solicit money, as it is copyrighted material.

Here is an article on Savage from the NYT, and a link to the lawsuit against CAIR. This seemingly frivolous lawsuit, which CAIR is forced to defend, has brought other organizations to the fore, to fight back against Savage and his message by calling for the major advertisers on his show to withdraw their ad support. It's had good results so far, but not all advertisers seem to care that they are buying time on, and thereby support, a radio show filled with the vile filth for which Savage is noted. Links with audio is here, on No

Among those advertisers still buying time on Savage's show is our very own United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Someone should tell them that government-sponsored hate speech is a serious violation of at least one serious law. But why would they care?

But just as troublesome is the participation of the USO (United Service Organizations) who get free advertising, and apparently don't care who spreads their message. They have responded to the complaints about their connection with Savage (albeit free) with not only a refusal to pull their ads, but have also hinted that Brave New Films (a major organization that picked up CAIR's fight) could be hit with a lawsuit if they didn't remove all mention of the USO from their website.

Which gets me to my point.

The USO is a very highly respected private non-profit charity whose mission for over 60 years has been to provide entertainment and "a touch of home" for our armed forces personnel here and around the world. They have been universally admired for their work, and the morale boost they provide for the men and women of our military.They operate with a small paid staff and primarily depend on over 20,000 volunteers. The CEO earned $312,000 for his services in 2004, the last year for which figures are available, and that doesn't appear to be out of line for his responsibility(at least until you realize he's got all those folks who donate their time). All well and good so far.

In the never- ending quest for financial help, however, USO has partnered with a diverse group of corporations, who provide financial support either in the form of free advertising of public service announcements or in cash. All of these "partners" have something to gain, of course--either goodwill or possibly greater profits for themselves, and that is where I can see a potential conflict with the stated mission of the USO.

Two of the "partners and sponsors" of the USO are BAE Systems and DRS Technologies. Both these companies are defense contractors, that by the very nature of their businesses stand to make a lot more money in a lengthy armed conflict that would be more likely to occur if anti-Muslim sentiment was successfully played into continuing war. That scenario would of course lead to the injury and death of many of the same service men and women that the USO was formed to help.

I'm not charging USO with a conflict of interest, but the fact that they are financially dependent on companies like these raises valid ethical questions, especially considering their somewhat vehement refusal to pull their free ads from Savage's show. How much influence , if any, did this symbiotic relationship have to do with their refusal?

The questions become even more relevant considering the discrepancy between USO's website and the stated response of a spokesman when discussing the ads --Their website states that it would be impossible for a charity of their size to monitor ad placement, but their spokesman said that the organization could ask that their psa's be taken off of Savage's program, but wouldn't.

Which is it? They can't, or they can but won't?

If the answer is that they won't, then it is safe to say that in the interest of fairness, they would also refuse to pull advertising from any program--- from the "KKK Hour of White Power" to "Al Qaida Tonight"to (gasp!) Brave New Films. It would be an interesting thing to monitor.

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