Free speech free-for-all

Yesterday, Globe columnist Shirley Leung ripped radio station WEEI over racist comments made by suspended host Christian Fauria and called on the station to also suspend his two co-hosts who laughed at his remarks and urged advertisers to pull their dollars from the station. Today Leung writes a follow-up news story reporting that some advertisers promptly did just that — with Comcast and the City of Boston Credit Union both declaring yesterday they were cancelling ad campaigns on the station effectively immediately.

Fauria mocked sports agent Don Yee by speaking in a stereotypical Asian accent. That Yee was born in the US and speaks perfect English only adds an exclamation mark to Fauria’s already bald racism.

As Leung wrote yesterday, Fauria, who was suspended for five days, joins a roster of WEEI talk show hosts who have been sanctioned by the station, which seems play a disingenuous game of slapping the wrists of hosts who go a little too far with the knuckle-dragging commentary that is the station’s stock-in-trade and a key to its ratings success with a certain segment of the population.

Leung says the station is not simply giving voice to “a bunch of guys mouthing off in front of a microphone but building a culture of hate and acceptance of the unacceptable. It explains how locker room talk can elect a president.”

Of course, the bile-filled reaction directed toward Leung on Twitter only served to reinforce that idea, and she provided some samples in her column. Not all critical comments were also offense, though, she said. “Many people told me I need to lighten up — and they were polite about it,” she wrote.

You can now count her Globe columnist colleague Joan Vennochi among their ranks.

In today’s paper, Vennochi writes that while she agrees with Leung that Fauria’s comments were offensive, “I just wonder where we draw the censorship line.” She asks whether a radio host affecting a Marlon Brando-Godfather-like accent to make fun of an agent with an Italian-sounding name would draw the same reaction. Or one that “aped an Irish brogue or upper-crust British accent?”

Vennochi says she understands Leung’s “disgust” with the tone of WEEI talk. “But you’re either for free speech or you’re not,” she writes.

Vennochi says the censoring impulses come from both the left and right, and points to Howie Carr’s shock and outrage at what Vennochi says seemed reasonably to be a “weak joke, not an incitement to violence against President Trump,” when Northeastern University economist Barry Bluestone said of Trump in a recent lecture that he wouldn’t mind “seeing him dead.”

The free speech question is a black and white one when it comes to constitutional protections — the First Amendment protects all speech, no matter how offensive. But that’s not the same question a radio station has to answer about its talk show hosts and what sort of commentary the station will countenance and what things it rules out of bounds. As Vennochi acknowledges, a station has every right to deem some talk by its hosts unacceptable. The debate seems to be over where to draw the line.

However one views the issue, the Globe shows its support for freewheeling debate by letting its two columnists go at the subject.

MICHAEL JONAS


BEACON HILL

The Baker administration again rails against what it sees as potential excesses of the state’s new marijuana industry, with Secretary of Public Safety and Security Daniel Bennett sending a letter to the Cannabis Control Commission warning against sale of pot at movie theaters and other venues. (Boston Globe) A Herald editorial backs a go-slow approach to licensing home delivery of pot and other services.

A report by Pioneer Institute says passage of the so-called millionaire’s tax could drive high earners out of Massachusetts to New Hampshire, Florida, or other low-income tax state and hurt the Massachusetts economy. (Eagle Tribune)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Framingham Mayor Yvonne Spicer said she will comply with a state order to release information on the 17 applicants for the new city’s five-member Licensing Board. Spicer had initially balked at making the information public because she said it was “an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” (MetroWest Daily News)

The Worcester Redevelopment Authority is planning to expand the boundaries of the downtown revitalization district, a move the appears to be connected with drawing the Pawtucket Red Sox to the city. (Telegram & Gazette)

Among a dozen candidates up for promotion to sergeant in Springfield’s police department are at least three officers with troubled histories, including videotaped death threats and planting evidence on suspects, drunken driving convictions, and bar fights. (The Republican)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Kevin Cullen, who a year ago thought John Kelly would bring some honor and integrity to the White House, thinks that no more. (Boston Globe) Indira Lakshmanan says Kelly needs to go. (Boston Globe)

The Trump administration has set a modern day record for presidents with 34 percent turnover of White House staff and dozens of key staff positions remaining unfilled. (New York Times)

President Trump’s $4.4 trillion budget blows away any concerns over trillion-dollar deficits, if there ever really was any. (U.S. News & World Report) Trump and House Republicans are taking aim at the social safety net in their budget proposals, with the White House calling for $17 billion in cuts to food stamps. (Boston Globe) The spending plan calls for a work requirement for those receiving public housing assistance. (Governing)

Sen. Ed Markey blasts Trump’s infrastructure proposal, calling it a “fraud” and “meaningless” after the White House released a plan that relies largely on state and local funding of projects. (Boston Globe)

ELECTIONS

A Herald editorial says Democratic gubernatorial candidates are desperately looking leverage against Gov. Charlie Baker with their call for an investigation of Steve Wynn’s political campaign contributions — and are particularly concerned about “the law.”

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Unilever, one of the world’s largest product brands, tells Facebook and Google to police their platforms better to prevent the spread of fake news or risk losing the company’s advertising. (Keller@Large)

In a wide-ranging interview with the Associated Press, Bill and Melinda Gates expressed concern over some of President Trump’s economic and tax policies as well as his statements about women.

Sliding under the radar was the announcement by Maine outdoor retail giant L.L. Bean that it would no longer honor unlimited, unquestioned returns and would now put a one-year deadline on taking items back for any reason. (Greater Boston)

EDUCATION

The Dracut School Committee has approved a controversial measure that will allow school officials to administer breath alcohol tests on students suspected of being under the influence. (Lowell Sun)

UMass Dartmouth students claim the school revoked the admission of an incoming freshman because of his past involvement with gangs. (Standard-Times)

Nearly all school buildings in Scituate have been plagued by roof leaks, caused by everything from age to shoddy construction in newer schools. (Patriot Ledger)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

An 18-year-old Marine from Rochester died from flesh-eating bacteria. (Herald News)

TRANSPORTATION

The MBTA is eyeing fare and parking fee hikes to address a projected $111 million deficit in the next fiscal year. (CommonWealth)

State transportation officials say phasing in South Coast Rail by running it through Middleboro will reduce the amount of work needed while saving money for the full build-out as well as get the service up and running years sooner. (CommonWealth)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

A Globe editorial delivers blistering 2,000-word broadside at what it calls “pipeline absolutism” — the opposition to new regional natural gas pipelines, maintained by leaders such as Attorney General Maura Healey and state senators Marc Pacheco and Jamie Eldridge and backed by advocates like the Conservation Law Foundation, which has led to increased reliance on imported Russian LNG, which is extracted through processes that are having devastating environmental impacts in the Arctic circle. Their “righteous-sounding stands against local fossil fuel projects” have paid little attention to the global impacts of those policies, the editorial says.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission is launching the next phase of a benchmark study of the lobster population in the Gulf of Maine, which evidence points to is in decline from overfishing and climate change. (Gloucester Times)

Falmouth officials have cut a deal with the state’s Clean Energy Center to reduce the town’s debt stemming from a now-shuttered wind turbine from $1.5 million to $178,000. (Cape Cod Times)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

The widow of a Boston man killed by Lynn police in a 2015 shooting deemed justified by the Essex District attorney has filed a wrongful death suit against the department, claiming the officer was not in danger when he fired the fatal shots. (The Item)

Raynham police have refused an order by the Secretary of State’s office to release video footage of a chase the resulted in a crash that also included the police chief’s SUV. (The Enterprise)

The FBI brought a deported El Salvadoran, who did lengthy time in a Florida prison, back to the US to infiltrate and serve as an informant on the street gang MS-13, but after he allegedly went rogue and started committed crimes on his own, they booted him from the federal witness protection program and the gang has now called for his killing, according to court documents. (Boston Globe)

The father of a Dorchester 17-year-old who was brutally murdered last month says there has to be a way to quell urban violence after two 18-year-olds are arraigned and charged with his son’s murder. (Boston Herald)

MEDIA

The bankruptcy auction of the Boston Herald is slated for today at a downtown Boston law office, with three bidders in the running to acquire the struggling tabloid. (Boston Globe)