RadioOn my radio show this afternoon I kicked off a heated debate on the current issues affecting American politics. Gary, one of my regular contributors, came into the studio in an awful mood about the state of the economy, the presidential campaign and American politics in general, and my initiating provoked his anger about the situation, which – of course – makes for great radio.

At one stage, Gary called Democrats “idiots” for continuing to vote for “socialists” like Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton, a comment which received a censure from my program director, who was taking part in the discussion. He thought Gary had gone too far by calling them idiots, and made some comment along the lines of, ‘You can disagree with them but don’t call them idiots.’ I’ll be honest: the tone of the opinions on my show can be a lot stronger than that at times, so I didn’t see the disapproving sentiment coming. I responded on-air by saying that all opinions are valid, that free speech is wonderful, that people saying exactly what they feel is inherently a valuable thing, and that I think it’s okay to be in a bad mood and get upset about something as Gary did. Shortly afterwards, we were informed that a listener had called to make a complaint about Gary’s comment: a man who said that he was offended greatly by it, that he had worked hard in life, contributed to the community and didn’t need to be called an “idiot” on the radio.

This is very irritating.

Let me say something unreservedly: I have been a heavy consumer of the broadcast media since I was twelve years old, and I have never once in that time been offended by anything I heard while doing so: not ONE SINGLE TIME. Opinions do not offend me.

That’s right; opinions do not offend and have never offended me. In my dictionary, the word “offend” means “to cause to be upset, annoyed or resentful.” I already know that all manner of opinions are held by the great general international public. Hearing them expressed does me good, not harm, because I learn more about the world around me, I have more to consider in life, and the net result is beneficial to me. Even the most heinous opinions do not offend me. Let’s say somebody told me they approved of infanticide. The act of infanticide is nightmarish and detestable. But the opinion is merely another opinion: it may be wrong, may be objectionable, may be unpleasant, may even be abhorrent (though it would need to be pretty bad to exact that response from me)… but it wouldn’t – couldn’t – offend me.


Because the speaker is merely uttering his opinion about it. Why should I care particularly what this speaker in particular thinks about infanticide? He hasn’t killed my child (action), he hasn’t said he plans to kill my child (expression of intent); he has merely uttered an opinion. It doesn’t affect me one way or the other. Why should it? In the absence of these other factors, I have no vested interest in what this man believes or does not believe, whether he expresses that belief or not. Doesn’t it offend me that there are human beings who approve of the killing of human offspring? Not really; like I say, people believe all sorts of things for all sorts of reasons and finding out what they believe and why is one of my great curiosities.

Example. Fred Phelps is a bitter, angry, disagreeable old man whose Westboro Baptist Church causes much offense in America (and very deliberately). The group is best known for the slogan “God Hates Fags”, a sentiment which is regarded as hateful by every sensible person who hears it. But should the slogan “offend”? I don’t think it should, and I’ll tell you why: if you’re a gay person and you hear Phelps say that God hates you, a few things should be obvious from the beginning. First, if the statement isn’t true then the speaker is at fault (be it mistaken or lying), and most people know it. Second, not all opinions are equally valid. An opinion is directly proportional to the credibility of the opinion and the credibility of the speaker. Fred Phelps has no credibility, and there’s no basis for his position other than hate derived from and built upon standard evangelical theology, which regards homosexuality as a sin (that in itself is not the result of hate but the result of a fallacious interpretation of the bible, which is regarded as literal and inspired of God). Third, all incorrect opinions can be countered by good facts showing the opposite, or ignored as lacking in any tenability whatsoever, or ridiculed as necessary.

Let’s look at the example I was met with at work today: “Democrats are idiots.” The listener who was so offended by this did not know the speaker. There was no connection between the two men other than one being ‘overheard’ by the other via radio waves. Let’s say it didn’t occur in the midst of a heated debate (which it did); let’s say it were a thoughtful, considered opinion. The man said he is a Democrat. He clearly sees his party affiliation as part of his identity. Let’s say that’s the case, and that he was thus being directly insulted by Gary (the term ‘idiot’ is being used to challenge his intelligence). The man could have attested to the contrary of Gary’s insult simply by speaking about the subject in a coherent way; that would have been enough to prove, surely, that Gary’s characterization was wrong? The man could further have simply uttered his own opinion to the contrary: ‘Democrats are not idiots.’ He could further have thrown the insult back: ‘Democrats are not idiots, Republicans are idiots,’ or ‘People who say Democrats are idiots are idiots themselves,’ or ‘Gary is an idiot for saying that,’ or even one-upped him by saying, ‘Gary is a douchebag!’ In the great sphere of ideas, no opinion is offensive, only right or wrong.

In short, taking offense to the opinion of someone you don’t care about on some level is senseless. To say that you are offended by the opinion of someone on a radio show is the equivalent of being offended by the fact that snakes eat mice: it’s a fact of life that such is the case, it’s inconsequential anyway, and it’s actually quite interesting to engage in the subject, debate or discussion instead of reacting with offense if you take the time to do so. Moreover, being offended by a radio show is no different than being offended by someone you meet at a bar, or in a church, or in work. In all those cases, the people speaking the opinions are doing so without knowing or caring for you personally, and therefore they are incapable of truly offending you.

The only persons capable of offending me are those I care about, because I have a vested interest in what they think about me. Honestly, I could probably count the number of people who could offend me in this way on my fingers and toes.

Now, think about it. Have you ever been offended by the broadcast media? Honestly?

I haven’t.