By Tim Cuprisin Media Columnist Published Sep 09, 2010 at 11:00 AM
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With a couple hot issues floating around over the past weeks, the concept of freedom of speech has been getting a workout.

But I continue to be amazed at the lack of understanding of how freedom of speech actually works. The fact is we all have it.

Our speech rights are spelled out simply in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech."

That's it, although the amendment also applies to state and local governments, not just the federal government. 

So what was "Dr." Laura Schlessinger talking about last month when she told Larry King she was quitting radio?

"I want to regain my First Amendment rights. I want to be able to say what's on my mind, and in my heart, what I think is helpful and useful without somebody getting angry, some special interest group deciding this is a time to silence a voice of dissent, and attack affiliates and attack sponsors."

Well, one thing the First Amendment doesn't do is protect you from people who disagree with you. That, of course, would limit their First Amendment rights.

On Tuesday, WVCY-FM (107.7) host Ingrid Schlueter talked about a Florida minister's plan to burn the Koran on Sept. 11. She started with a headline on a story about Gen. David Petraeus:

"The headline says 'Petraeus: Burning Koran puts lives in jeopardy'," she said. "So here we have a general of the United States Army on foreign territory telling Americans not to exercise their First Amendment rights because it could cause the Muslims to riot worldwide.

"It is patently outrageous that a leader of the American military, a general no less, who is charged with the responsibility to protect the constitutional rights of American citizens, is telling those citizens not to exercise those First Amendment rights, because it could cause problems with Islamics."

Well, Schlueter was exercising her First Amendment rights to blast Petraeus, who was exercising his First Amendment rights to criticize the Florida minister's plans to exercise his First Amendment rights.

Petraeus has no authority to stop the Koran burning. And he doesn't claim any. He may be a general, but he's just talking.

There are more of us talking these days, with the rise of the Internet opening the opportunities to disseminate your free speech on Twitter, blogs and the like.

Of course, Web sites have every right not to post the comments you send in, and radio stations have every right not to air your call to their talk shows. It's not censorship, which is the government controlling your speech rights.

The First Amendment doesn't guarantee that our free speech will be broadcast by anybody else. And it doesn't mean others won't dump all over our free speech with theirs.

It's a messy system. But I wouldn't have it any other way.

On the air: The New York Times blogs that Fred Armisen will continue doing the Barack Obama impression on NBC's "Saturday Night Live," despite the hiring of Jay Pharaoh, who does a far better Obama. We'll see.

  • Is Howard Stern's talk of leaving Sirius Satellite radio just a public form of contract negotiations, or could he really be serious about setting up a subscription-based podcast?
  • Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are hinting that they'll be doing their own comedy version of Glenn Beck's Washington rally, announcing that they plan on announcing something.
  • Michael Ausiello breaks the spooky news that NBC's "Chuck" will feature Freddie (Robert Englund) Krueger  on a Halloween episode. 

Remembering "24": This 11-minute retrospective of the eight seasons of Fox's "24,"  posted at, was played at the final cast and crew party for the show, which wrapped up last spring:

Tim Cuprisin Media Columnist

Tim Cuprisin is the media columnist for He's been a journalist for 30 years, starting in 1979 as a police reporter at the old City News Bureau of Chicago, a legendary wire service that's the reputed source of the journalistic maxim "if your mother says she loves you, check it out." He spent a couple years in the mean streets of his native Chicago, and then moved on to the Green Bay Press-Gazette and USA Today, before coming to the Milwaukee Journal in 1986.

A general assignment reporter, Cuprisin traveled Eastern Europe on several projects, starting with a look at Poland after five years of martial law, and a tour of six countries in the region after the Berlin Wall opened and Communism fell. He spent six weeks traversing the lands of the former Yugoslavia in 1994, linking Milwaukee Serbs, Croats and Bosnians with their war-torn homeland.

In the fall of 1994, a lifetime of serious television viewing earned him a daily column in the Milwaukee Journal (and, later the Journal Sentinel) focusing on TV and radio. For 15 years, he has chronicled the changes rocking broadcasting, both nationally and in Milwaukee, an effort he continues at

When he's not watching TV, Cuprisin enjoys tending to his vegetable garden in the backyard of his home in Whitefish Bay, cooking and traveling.