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Pop quiz. Test your knowledge.

"The choice is clear: either a rigorous censorship of the mass media, in conformity with responsible republican government, with censors known to all and operating under law; or an accelerating descent into barbarism and the destruction, sooner or later, of free society itself." Who wrote these words? a) Joseph Goebbels b) Josef Stalin c) Joseph McCarthy d) None of the above.

It's d). The quote is taken from David Lowenthal's mindboggling cover essay in the August 23 issue of the Weekly Standard. Lowenthal is professor emeritus of political science at Boston College -- proof that fine academic credentials do not preclude one from being an intellectual thug. You can read his article at http://weeklystandard.com/lowenthal.html, but here are the man's views in a nutshell: The media's depictions of sex and violence amount to "moral pollution," and therefore require "rigorous" regulation. Purveyors of such fare will have to obey Government censors, or we shall all be crushed by "barbarism" and face the "caninization" of our free society (that is, we'll be going to the dogs).

Note the textbook examples of Doublespeak: to keep barbarians at bay, we must adopt the methods of barbaric, totalitarian lands; to "survive as a civilized society," we must do away with the civil liberties that define it; and to keep us all "free," we must stop throngs of people from speaking freely.

If you think this has little to do with advertising, you could be in for a surprise. Most ads may not be as explicit as some movies or videogames, but hardly a day goes by when I don't see a few that feature mayhem (the Quake print ads, the Pizza Pops splatter scene), or scatological humor (Smart Beep, Surfrider), or erotic references and sex jokes (Carl's Jr., Budweiser). Ads, taken collectively, are also among the least-loved of all speech: it's not much of a stretch to imagine them being put on the chopping block without much public outcry. And even if jackbooted filth extractors actually leave Madison Avenue alone because they're too busy storming the gates of Hollywood, you would soon face a whole new media landscape. You could only run your work in the kind of Disneyfied, barren environment that results from cultural castration, a world where anything more controversial than a Hallmark card is suddenly fair game.

I recently heard a colleague propose, half-jokingly, that everyone in the U.S. should be required to pass a citizenship test every few years, whether or not they were born here. If you fail it -- if you do not understand why it's important to maintain everyone's right to say anything they damn well please, slander and libel excepted -- you'll be deported. I know: such a test would be outrageous and unconstitutional. But then, so is the proto-fascism advocated in the Weekly Standard.

Maybe I'm taking Lowenthal's views too seriously. Maybe he's just another nutty professor (even self-crowned morality czar William J. Bennett thinks the man is being a tad extreme: see http://weeklystandard.com/censorship.html). But I'm just not that amused by people who prove that the First Amendment is alive and well by defecating on it with all the clueless pride of a two-year-old learning to go potty.

In any case, by claiming for himself the rights he seeks to deny to others, Lowenthal embodies my definition of a bleeding hypocrite.

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