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Being inclusive can be a pain in the ear Carlos R. Davalos | Sat, Oct 09 2010 12:00 PM

Sticks and stones may break my bones but words - despite their ability to stay with me throughout adolescence and adulthood thereby making me one of the millions of people in this country undergoing therapy for unresolved issues stemming from a playground fight in the third grade, rendering me incapable of carrying on a meaningful and fulfilling relationship with anything other than bottles of Zinfandel and a house full of cats - can never hurt me.

That, more or less, is what we teach kids, right? If bullies call you names or taunt you, walk away. Ignore them. It's relatively good advice. The practice, however, becomes harder as we grow older.

The Supreme Court this week heard opening arguments in a case in which the father of a Marine killed in Iraq was suing a Kansas family for protesting near his son's funeral.

The Phelps family, members of the Westboro Baptist Church, held up signs that read "God hates you," "You're going to hell," "Thank God for dead soldiers."

Lower courts have ruled the signs aren't so much about the fallen Marine as they are about the military's policy of "don't ask, don't tell" about homosexuality. The protests, they've ruled, are constitutionally protected speech.

But an attorney for the Marine's father says he has been specifically targeted and thus is allowed to sue the Kansas family for damages.

L.A. Times columnist Timothy Rutten had an interesting take on the issue: no matter how the court rules, nobody wins. He ultimately suggests that the media, out of deference to Albert Snyder, the Marine's father, and all those who suffer the likes of similar protestors, restrain themselves from covering the "bizarre and the sensational."

It's an interesting idea, albeit an uncomfortable one. Does the media have an obligation to ignore distasteful, mean-spirited, "bizarre and sensational" protests like the Phelps'?

Should journalists avoid wingnuts with a bullhorn and picket signs the way fat kids avoid tofu and vegetable sticks?


Everyone has an opinion and under the system we have, everyone has a right to express that opinion.

At the same time, media outlets have a right to decide who expresses themselves via their medium.

But it's a decision that should err on the side of being inclusive. Selective coverage of issues and people is a disservice to the essence of what we represent: ideas and their exchange.

Ultimately, it's up to readers and viewers to decide if protestors like the Phelps are worth their attention. If not, then it's their obligation to ignore them, not the media's.

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