Published December 1971 — Download PDF of the original newspaper column
Byrd's-Eye View By U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd Free Speech Does Not Have to Be Dirty Many Americans must surely be offended by the increasing use of foul language in U.S. newspapers and other publications and on television. Books, of course, have been filled with all manner of obscenities for years; but news and entertainment, prepared for home consumption and delivered by public media to family audiences, are different matters. Persons who wish to read and hear vulgarity are free to do so under our system. But those who do not wish to read and hear it should not have it forced upon them. With vile language appearing increasingly in family-type publications-and coming unbidden and unwanted into the living room via TV-it seems to me that the time has come for citizens who want and expect decency in what they read and watch to make their feelings known. Free speech, of course, is cherished in our country. But free speech does not have to be dirty speech. The media may have a constitutional "right" to employ profanity and four-letter words if their editors wish. But doing so in my judgment, does nothing to make either newspaper articles or TV programs more meaningful or attractive. One may expect to encounter crudities on the walls of public rest rooms. It comes as something of a shock, however, to see such things on the front pages of newspapers and to hear them spoken from the TV screen. If nothing else, they are in poor taste-a phrase, incidentally, which one hears all too infrequently in these days of lowered social standards. Profanity and smut are not an indication of sophistication, or of the increasing "maturity" of our society. They are, instead, a sign of deterioration and of decadence. A few persons may find foul words titillating; but I am sure that a majority of our citizens object to the public media carrying such language into their homes. The newspapers and TV people who resort to smutty and offensive words and phrases ought to be reminded of the widely reported decline in public interest in such things as dirty magazines and movies. Dirt today is not selling as well as it once may have sold. The ultimate reaction of most citizens to it runs from boredom to disgust. I believe that those who bear the responsibilities for use of the print media and air waves would gain in public confidence if they would reject the temptation to pander to the lowest denominator of popular taste.