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KCET Owes Its Viewers an Apology

September 13, 1991|TIM RUTTEN

To endorse such action as civil disobedience is to endorse the view of the racist, anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic Ku Klux Klan organizer Thomas E. Watson, who defended the agitation that led to the lynching of Leo Frank by saying, "When mobs are no longer possible, liberty is dead."

What, then, about the cardinal's suggestion that people who object to this film ought not watch or contribute financially to KCET?

Boycotts also make me uneasy. They have a badly checkered history, and have more often been instruments of bigotry than of benevolent social purpose. Perhaps more to the point, in a society as diverse as ours, they almost always provoke a backlash and, therefore, are ineffective. At last report, KCET had received about as much in new contributions from people who object to the cardinal's position as it has lost from those who agree with him.

On the other hand, Cardinal Mahony's insistence that KCET owes viewers an apology for its callous lapse in editorial judgment seems to me entirely correct. It is correct because the decision by a public broadcasting station to air the uncritical depiction of a hate crime affronts America's unique conception of moral progress.

"Insofar as we can recognize moral progress," philosopher Michael Walzer has written, "it has less to do with the discovery or invention of new principles than with the inclusion under the old principles of previously excluded men and women."

Bigotry and mob action always have opposed this process. But, in our century, the beneficiaries of progressive inclusion have been women, Jews, African-Americans, Roman Catholics, Asian-Americans and Latinos. The struggle by and on behalf of gay and lesbian people still is being waged. But decency and history are on their side.

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