Talk-show hosts amok

If most parents aren't upset, why do Caplis, Silverman carry on so?

June 2, 2007

by David Kopel

'With great power there must also come - great responsibility!" So said the first Spider-Man comic book, in 1962. In the last few weeks, talk radio'sThe Caplis & Silverman Showhas abused its great power.

Since May 16, almost every C&S Showhas incited a campaign against Boulder High School. I wish that hosts Dan Caplis and Craig Silverman would focus their considerable talents elsewhere, rather than harassing the Boulder High community, and attempting to impose the censorious morality of outsiders on Boulder.

Last April, several panels of the CU Conference on World Affairs were held, as is the custom, at next-door Boulder High. For the panel "STDs: Sex, Teens and Drugs," some students attended on their own, with parental permission; several classes were brought to the panel by teachers. Not every teacher specifically restated the universal policy at Boulder High - applicable to all films, books and speakers - that anyone who was uncomfortable could opt out.

In the ensuing fallout, the Boulder Valley School District immediately stated that the failure to re- announce the opt-out rule was an error. Moreover, the panel violated BVSD policy that a broad range of views be presented on controversial subjects. The responsible employees were reprimanded.

End of story? Not for C&S.Day after day it has been playing selected quotes from the panel. Caplis has demanded that "each school authority" be "severely disciplined." C&Shas orchestrated an e-mail and telephone deluge against Boulder High.

Conspicuously missing from the C&Sdaily expression of "outrage" is support from Boulder High parents of students who actually listened to the panel. One parent of a student who was brought in to hear the panel complained at a school board meeting. Neither C&Snor other media have found even a second upset family of a student who actually attended the panel.

Given the school board's appropriate response to the single aggrieved parent - ensuring that in the future every parent have the opportunity to opt out of any CWA panel beforehand - C&Sshould have moved on long ago from a story that merited, at most, a couple days' attention. The silent majority of Boulder families apparently are not as repressive as C&Sabout how free the speech in public high schools should be.

Many parents who tell their teenagers to "say no" know that students must learn to think for themselves. A comment on the Boulder Daily CameraWeb site aptly quoted John Milton: "I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and sees her adversary . . . "

Harping on the need to protect "the children," C&Sarrogates to itself a decision that properly belongs to BHS parents.

Statements of panelists have been shorn of context. C&Stells its audience that panelist Antonio Sacre said that he had stopped using condoms because it "doesn't feel as good."

Literally true, but nearly libelous. What C&S did not tell the audience was that Sacre explained his regret for his foolish choices about condoms as a teenager. Sacre warned his audience that they should always use condoms - even if the female is taking birth-control pills - because of the danger of sexually transmitted diseases, and because there is always a risk of pregnancy. (The full transcript and audio are available at , which C&S,to their credit, have linked to on their KHOW Web page.)

Caplis insists that teachers should have driven the students out of the auditorium because "within five minutes" the panel was promoting drug use and sex. In fact, the opening 10 minutes consisted of introductions and a presentation by Sanho Tree of the Institute for Policy Studies, who simply critiqued counterproductive programs, such as DARE, which loses credibility because of its reckless exaggerations.

C&Sclaimed that the panel was in accord with panelist Joel Becker, who encouraged students to have sex and use drugs "appropriately" because they would be having sex and using drugs anyway. Actually, Sanho Tree, the panel's drug policy expert, said not a single word encouraging the students to use drugs. Instead, he criticized the harmful effects of current drug policies.

Appearing on Bill O'Reilly's Fox TV show, The O'Reilly Factor,Caplis did not even know the name of the school's good-hearted and excellent principal Bud Jenkins, but was sure that Jenkins and every administrator should be fired. Heedless of First Amendment case law, O'Reilly proclaimed that the panel's speech constituted a crime. The only crime was perpetrated by the O'Reilly producer who, attempting to ambush interview school board President Helayne Jones, criminally trespassed into her garage.

As a Boulder High parent, I have discovered that the school is a much more tolerant place than the average large high school. Respect for freedom of speech is part of what makes Boulder High special.

O'Reilly tells the world that Bud Jenkins is "the villain." As Boulder High students are learning, media scandal- makers sometimes tell you much less than the full story.


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