Gerber: On free speech and free change

Gerber: On free speech and free change

June 16th, 2013 by Alison Gerber in Opinion Columns

Last Sunday, I wrote about free speech. This past week, the issue of free speech remained the buzzing conversation in our area.

The talk - including almost 500 comments on the Times Free Press' Facebook page - was about singer/songwriter/rapper Cee Lo Green and his use of four-letter words while headlining the Coca-Cola Stage at Riverbend. Lots of fans were offended by the language, according to festival organizers.

Green also apparently slung back belts of tequila from a bottle, which didn't earn him any points with some festival-goers. Oh, and he mooned the audience.

Riverbend organizers immediately condemned the artist's actions and said he won't be invited back.

Cee Lo's cursing and general behavior invoked both gasps of horror and of ridicule. Some folks rolled their eyes, saying Riverbend overreacted and that the whole episode - which was noticed by newspapers in San Francisco, Nashville and Asheville, N.C., among others - makes Chattanooga look like a provincial backwater.

"Hey Riverbend, you may want to listen to the artist you plan on inviting before you invite them," one person tweeted.

Another noted: "#CeeLo gets banned from #Riverbend for foul language? Someone didn't buy the "explicit" version of his #1 hit. Censors 1 Riverbend 0"

Seriously, anyone who thinks a rapper isn't going to curse isn't paying attention. His most well-known song, "Forget You," was altered for radio play after its real title contained another word that starts with F.

The newspaper has received many letters to the editor on Cee Lo's cursing.

Is that good or bad? At least people are talking about Riverbend, even if not necessarily in a good way.


Lots of letters arrive in the newspaper's mailboxes - both digital and the USPS type - every day. Many are about content in the newspaper or local politics or a big local issue (that barge on the river, for example). Or they're for the Letters to the Editor section.

Right now, on my desk, though, I have a letter that says the Times Free Press is a gem

compared to his paper in Corpus Christi, Texas; one complaining about the price of USA Today (sorry, I cannot help you there); one saying the Times Free Press doesn't have enough international news; and two from prisoners - one who wants a judge in South Georgia to rehear his case and the other complaining that the food in prison is bad (duh, it's prison, not the Ritz). You get the picture.

But a letter that arrived at the paper last week stood out. It was from a man in Texas who was writing about a sin he committed years ago.

The writer, who didn't give his name, said he spent summers in Chattanooga as a young man. One Sunday, his father gave him money to get a newspaper. He got on his bike and peddled to a nearest newspaper box, but when he put the money in, a bunch of quarters jingled into the coin return.

"Being a kid, I remember saying to myself 'jackpot!' and taking those coins back home," the man wrote.

He said he didn't think of it as stealing but now, years later, he's trying to atone for sins great and small and "this is one that matters to me." He worries that the person who maintained the machine might have been accountable for the coins he took and may have gotten in trouble.

"A selfish, sinful young man I was, and it likely hurt someone," the man wrote.

He enclosed a $5 bill, the amount he imagines he took from the paper box. He asked that the paper donate it to a charity.

Among all the issues - both big and small - that we hear about each day, it was especially nice to get a letter that showed the good that lives inside many people.


Three Times Free Press reporters were honored recently in the 63rd Annual Green Eyeshade Awards, which recognizes work done in 2012. Staff writer Judy Walton won first place in Courts & Law Reporting for her "Justice in Question" series highlighting Tennessee's 10th Judicial District and its Attorney General Steve Bebb. The series also took third place in the Investigative Reporting category.

"Tempest in My Soul," staff writer Joan Garrett McClane's look at a Baptist minister's struggle dealing with his son's homosexuality, won first place in the Feature Writing category. Staff writer Casey Phillips captured second place in the Technology Reporting category for "Going, Going...," a look at five reasons why personal computers may be on the way out.

The Green Eyeshade awards, sponsored by the Society of Professional Journalists, recognize journalism in 11 Southeastern states: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia.

Also last month, McClane was named by the Society of Professional Journalists as a 2012 Sigma Delta Chi Awards honoree for "Tempest in My Soul." Walton's series was the focus of an article in a magazine published by the Committee for Freedom of the Press. The article looked at how reporters use public records to report stories and offered tips from Walton.

Alison Gerber is the managing editor of the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Reach her at