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Gephardt Blasts Decision to Honor Liddy : Media: The House minority leader says radio talk-show group's award 'is not only wrong, but outrageous.' He cites recipient's 'hateful speech.'

June 25, 1995|GLENN F. BUNTING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Comparing conservative radio talk-show host G. Gordon Liddy to "gangsta rappers" who promote violence against police, House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) urged a group of talk-show personalities Saturday to boycott a banquet honoring the former Watergate figure.

Gephardt criticized the decision by the National Assn. of Radio Talk Show Hosts to give Liddy its annual Freedom of Speech Award, saying the citation "is not only wrong, but outrageous."

In a midday address at the group's seventh annual conference in Houston, Gephardt said that honoring Liddy's "hateful speech" is the equivalent of advocating bloodshed. Liddy accepted the award during a ceremony Saturday evening.

"If we can agree that gangsta rapper Tupac Shakur, a convicted criminal who has openly advocated violence toward law enforcement, is a disgrace to the airwaves of America," Gephardt said, "why can't we agree that Gordon Liddy, a convicted criminal who has openly advocated violence toward law enforcement, is in many ways a gangsta rapper himself?"

Liddy, a former Richard Nixon Administration figure who was convicted of burglary for his role in the Watergate break-in, has generated controversy by suggesting to his listeners that the most effective way to shoot federal agents in self-defense is to aim at the head. The remarks were made as part of Liddy's repeated verbal attacks on federal agents in connection with the 1993 raid on a religious sect's compound near Waco, Tex.

On his daily show, which is carried by more than 250 stations, Liddy has acknowledged using drawings of President Clinton and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton for target practice. Nonetheless, Liddy insists that he has never advocated violence.

The decision by the Boston-based talk-show association to honor Liddy was by no means unanimous. Several prominent members declined to attend the convention in protest, and last year's recipient, former New York Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, now a talk-show host himself, refused to present the award.

Previous recipients have included author Salman Rushdie, columnist Jack Anderson and CNN correspondent Peter Arnett.

Some association board members welcomed the brouhaha, saying it has focused attention on the issue of free speech. They said the notion that Liddy is being honored for his specific views is absurd.

Gephardt told the broadcasters that he supports their freedom to exchange ideas and opinions on any issue and heralded much of talk radio as positive and provocative. But along with the protections offered by freedom of speech comes a responsibility, Gephardt said.

"I will always defend your right to free speech," said Gephardt, who has appeared on more than 100 radio talk shows this year. "But you do not have to honor hateful speech in order to uphold Gordon Liddy's right to utter it."

Gephardt invited the broadcasters to participate in a talk-radio forum on America's economic challenges. The forum is scheduled to be held at the Capitol during the third week of July. He called it a "weeklong standard-of-living summit."

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