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On October 6, 2004, shock jock Howard Stern threw in the towel. He sat before his microphone in his New York studio at WXRK 92.3 FM and told the millions listening to his syndicated show via Viacom's Infinity Broadcasting that he was done with broadcasting on the public airwaves.
"I'm going to satellite radio because the FCC has made it impossible for me to continue doing what I do, a pornographic radio show. They have tied my hands. I can't give you, my fans, what you want and deserve," he said. "Starting January 1, 2006, I'll be on Sirius, and the FCC won't be able to touch me. Broadcast radio is dead."
Howard Stern then turned his wrath on me. "There's this lunatic lawyer in Miami who got me off the air in South Florida, off all Clear Channel stations across the country. One man did that. That's how insane this has gotten."
I knew I was the "lunatic lawyer" to whom Stern was referring. I had been the one who convinced Clear Channel to dump him from all of its stations. I had been the one to secure a $495,000 FCC fine against The Howard Stern Show, all in the months leading up to this moment.
Seventeen years of battling with other shock jocks over the same is sues-the portrayal of women as objects to be humiliated, the distribution of pornography to children, all in violation of state and federal laws-had culminated in the self-proclaimed "King of All Media" declaring victory in order to hide his defeat.
His new name should be Coward Stern. Although he claimed this fight was all about his freedom of speech as an American, here he was fleeing the public airwaves, unwilling to fight for his version of the First Amendment. Howard Stern was blaming everyone but Howard Stern. This moment had been worth the seventeen years of effort and pain I had gone through to get here. It didn't get much better than this, but at times, it had been much worse.
* * *
Life hadn't always been this complicated. In fact, it had started out rather simply. I first met Patricia Halvorson when we were fellow classmates at Vanderbilt Law School in Nashville, Tennessee. On May 15, 1976, we missed our graduation ceremony to get married in her hometown of Hudson, Wisconsin. I'm certain we had more fun at our ceremony than our classmates did at theirs. Our honeymoon was spent pulling a U-Haul, which was attached to the bumper of our Pontiac, to Miami, Florida, a distance of 1,800 miles.
We rented a little concrete block home on Key Biscayne, with the rent reduced thirty dollars to $220 per month because I agreed to mow the grass. Few people in Miami mowed their own yards then, even fewer now. But on the west side of Cleveland, Ohio, where I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s, everyone mowed his own yard. Midwestern habits are hard to shake.
That first Miami summer, Patricia and I studied for the Florida bar exam, which we had to pass in order to practice law. My wife had a job lined up, having served the summer before as a clerk in an old, respected Miami firm. The partners liked her so much they offered her a position as an associate when she graduated the next year. Patricia had worked her way through college as a waitress, taking out student loans when she had to. She would eventually become the first woman partner in that firm.
I hadn't found a job yet, but I wasn't concerned. I knew that once I passed the bar, I would be sure to find something.
It's not as if I hadn't already had opportunities. In my final year of law school I had flown from Nashville to Miami during Thanksgiving break to interview for a job I hoped to begin upon graduation. Florida has eleven judicial circuits, each one with its own local prosecutor called a state attorney. I wanted to begin my law career as a prosecutor, so I arranged an interview with the office of Dade County State Attorney Richard Gerstein.
When I arrived I was told I would be interviewed by Gerstein's first assistant, a woman by the name of Janet Reno.
I walked into Janet Reno's office and immediately noticed how tall she was. I'm six feet, or at least I was then, and I had to look up pretty steeply to make eye contact. I extended my hand and said, "Nice to meet you, Ms. Reno."
"Nice to meet you, too, Mr. Thompson. Have a seat."
Ms. Reno, wearing a blue, flower-print dress, pushed her chair backwards, sat down, and put one foot and then the other on her desktop blotter. Her feet were apart, pointed at me, toes up, without either the ankles or legs crossed. The only thing crossed at that moment in that office were my fingers, hoping that Janet Reno would not do the whole interview in this, shall we say, posture.
Then it got worse. The interview lasted about ten minutes, roughly half of which were consumed by a lawyer named Hank Adorno (who be came Reno's first assistant when she was appointed Dade County State Attorney upon Richard Gerstein's resignation in 1978) repeatedly running in and out of her office, asking her questions about cases.
I was confused. I was a student with next to no spending money. I had bought a ticket to fly down to Miami to interview for this job, but Janet Reno couldn't give me ten uninterrupted minutes of discourse-and even that had to take place between her shoes as if they were conversational goalposts. I felt that I was being intimidated rather than interviewed. But why?
I became even more confused by Ms. Reno's line of questioning. She didn't ask me anything about my academic or professional background. She didn't seem to care whether or not I was prepared to be a prosecutor. Instead, Janet Reno posed three hypothetical crime investigations to me in which the police had acted improperly. She wanted to know if I agreed that the cases should be thrown out. I think she was fishing to find out if I shared her ideology about how to run a criminal justice system. I considered each scenario, and told her that in all three of these hypothetical cases, the police had acted in ways that were defensible and that the prosecutions could be salvaged.
"Are you ever skeptical of the police version of a case, Mr. Thompson?"
"Not generally," I said. "Seems to me that's the criminal defense lawyer's job."
Years later I would read one account of Janet Reno's life that helped me to understand what I couldn't have known then. Sandy D'Alemberte, Reno's mentor at the powerful law firm of Steel, Hector & Davis, tells how he had lined up a job for her as a prosecutor in Gerstein's office. When D'Alemberte suggested to Reno that she should go work in the state attorney's office, she shouted, "Why would I want to do that? I hate the police!" I believe that she wound up taking the job for that very reason, since prosecutors who hate the police can frustrate them in their jobs far more effectively than a defense lawyer can. The Trojans had used that horse for a reason.
Janet Reno's parents had been reporters for the two newspapers in town, the Miami Herald and the Miami News, the latter now out of business. Her father, Robert Reno, was the police beat reporter for the Herald. Maybe she got her enmity for the "thin blue line" from that parental vocation.
Indeed, years later, in a Miami Herald profile of Kathy Fernandez Rundle, Assistant Dade County State Attorney, her boss, State Attorney Reno is described as a "frustrated social worker."
Boy, did I learn that on that November morning in 1975 in Janet Reno's office.
I was relieved, after my ten minutes of pain were up, to get out of Reno's "garment district," but I was more than a little dismayed that a gung-ho, lock-up-the-bad-guys fellow like me couldn't work in the prosecutor's office in Miami. I liked the police. But I think that's why Janet didn't like me.
Oh well, I thought. I won't have to fool with her again.
* * *
I went into the July 1976 Florida bar exam more confident than my wife. I've always been confident about everything, even when I have no reason to be. But fear is an appropriate thing to feel for anyone taking a bar exam because, as Yogi Berra once said, "Your whole future is ahead of you." My wife studied harder than I did. She did not want to fail the exam. I knew I would not fail it.
We got our bar results in September. My wife passed; I failed.
I was crushed, embarrassed, and angry at myself. What a great way to start a marriage! Your wife can capitalize on three years of law school and practice law, and you can't. Nice going.
My parents had always told me that I was special, that I was bright, that there was nothing I could not do. And they always selflessly gave me the means by which to prove them right.
Now I had let them down. I had let my wife down too. It was worse than a bad dream-it was a really bad reality.
This was the first time in my life that something had felt like failure. It certainly was the first time I felt like a failure in anything significant. What was I going to do? Once the shock wore off, I began to rationalize. I blamed others, of course, as well as other "things"-certainly not myself.
I told my wife that I didn't want to live in Florida anymore, certainly not Miami. I hated Miami-the people weren't friendly, and it was too hot. I accused her: "You're the one who wanted to come to Miami. You're the reason I'm in this horrible state whose bar exam is unfair." Fully half of the people who took the exam that year had failed it, which convinced me that the exam itself must have been unfair. Anything to hang my hat on other than my own mistake.
I wanted out of Florida, out of a lot of things, maybe even out of the marriage that had brought me here. I loved my wife, but I loved the feeling of invincibility even more.
Things continued on this downhill course until Patricia said to me, "Jack, you're understandably depressed and frustrated. Why don't we go to church this Sunday for a little bit of encouragement? I miss church, and you promised me when we were engaged that you and I would go when we got married."
"Fine. We'll go to church." It will be stupid, I thought, and that will be the end of that obligation.
We had been married in the Presbyterian church right on my in-laws' street in Wisconsin, so it was natural to walk to Key Biscayne Presbyterian Church, a mere two hundred yards away from our rented home. I felt better about it when I realized that this was the church Richard Nixon attended when he was president. The "Southern White House" had been right there on the same street as the church. The helipad at which Navy One had landed was one of the first things I went to see when we arrived there in the spring. Looking at it, I remembered holding a sign for Nixon on my elementary school playground on Election Day, November 8, 1960. Nine years old and already part of what Hillary Clinton later called a "vast right-wing conspiracy."
That Sunday we went to church, all dressed up the way folks at that time looked when they went to church in the Midwest. I wore a coat and tie, despite it being a typical 90/90 Miami day: 90-degree heat and 90 percent humidity.
When we arrived, I took note of three remarkable things. First it was a church in the round. The minister's pulpit was located in the middle of the sanctuary with the choir behind him and the congregation wrapped around him on the other three sides. Wow, I thought. This looks like the summer theater in Canal Fulton, Ohio, that my parents used to take my sister and me to. More importantly, there was no place to hide in the back of the church. Rats.
The next remarkable thing was that, as far as I could tell, I was the only person under forty with a tie on, let alone a coat. The older worshippers were in what I, and obviously they, thought of as their traditional Sunday best, but nobody else was.
The majority of the younger attendees were dressed casually-in golf shirts, beach sandals, and even shorts. Shorts! I had never seen such a thing in a church during a Sunday worship service anywhere. But this was Miami, which at the time was running a national tourism ad that said: "Come to Miami. The rules are different here." I'll say.
But even though this was Miami, I wondered if I had wandered into a hippie commune. No, I told myself, this is a Presbyterian church. Presbyterians aren't hippies. Richard Nixon, although raised a Quaker, went here, for heaven's sake! Nixon wouldn't go to a hippie church. He fought with the hippies over the Vietnam War. No, it must just be "casual Sunday" this week. Maybe there is a beachside picnic after church.
And then the third remarkable thing struck me, after I had soaked in the first two visually disconcerting elements of Key Biscayne Presbyterian: the noise. This didn't sound like a sanctuary just before a worship service. This sounded like a restaurant on a busy Saturday night.
People weren't seated in pews whispering to one another in hushed tones. They were standing up to wave and shout greetings at one another across the sanctuary. People were laughing loudly; kids were scurrying; folks were smiling. People were, well, raucous. What is going on here? I thought. I didn't like this. Church was supposed to be solemn, like a funeral. Church had always been a place I didn't want to be. Doing something you didn't want to do seemed to be a better way to fulfill a duty.
But there was something intangible in the air-in this place that didn't feel like a church. There was not just noise. There was an immeasurable, mysterious electricity, the kind that is in the air at the very be ginning of a football game as the kicker positions the ball on the tee. You can't describe it. It isn't a sound, really, but it's there. You can feel it more than hear it. It is an anticipation that something exciting is about to happen.
So, amid the din and the anticipation, my wife and I sat down a ways from where the preacher would be standing, just in case what felt to me like an impending building explosion might disintegrate the altar. I didn't want to be at ground zero.
We sat down next to a couple who seemed to be about fifteen years older than we were. He had on a coat and tie, so I felt like he possibly represented a little sanity in what seemed like a holy nuthouse.
We smiled at them, but the last thing I wanted to do was talk with any one. Frankly, despite the fact that I had agreed to come to church, I didn't want to give Patricia the opportunity to say, "See, there are friendly people in Miami."
Too late for that, however, as this couple, Jim and Marcia Youngblood, asked us if we were visiting the church for the fast time. I smiled again wanly, as my wife told them that yes, we had just gotten married in the spring and had come down to Miami to live, having graduated from Vanderbilt.
"Vanderbilt!" they both exclaimed. "Our son Doug goes there. He just loves Nashville. Oh, we're so glad you are here...." The talking continued, I going through appropriate facial expressions, and my wife carrying nearly all of our side of the conversation. I was uneasy with the creeping notion that this couple was genuinely pleasant, genuinely funny, and genuinely pleased we were there. This did not seem like an act to get us to attend and then join the church.
I remember thinking these were the first people I had met in Miami that I might want to see again. I didn't like that feeling; in fact, I hated it.
The service began as the minister, a man by the name of Steve Brown, walked in to take his seat at what one would have to call, in this place, "center stage." Pastor Brown was tall, lanky, balding, his friendly face punctuated by brown eyes.
It proved to be a traditional, fully Presbyterian service. A wonderful choir, wonderful hymns, but a very unusual pastoral prayer just before the sermon. "Father, forgive the preacher his sins, for You know they are many. Let those here see not him, but rather only Your Son, crucified, in whose name we pray. Amen."
A pastor publicly speaking of his sins? That was a new one for me. Maybe this guy, Steve Brown, would have something else strange to say.
I listened as best I could, distracted by my growing confusion. I remember hearing things that rang true but also things that didn't make sense. Grace-what was that?
Excerpted from OUT OF HARM'S WAY by JACK THOMPSON Copyright © 2005 by Jack Thompson.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted January 11, 2006
What surprises me about this book is that it is not a dry 'policy' book about what media to keep away from your kids. This is a vibrant account of Thompson's spiritual journey, his self-identified warts and all, as he has fought in the trenches of the 'culture war' for 18 years. Having read on the Internet what a goof this guy supposedly is, I decided to buy the book and see for myself. This guy inspired me. This is a man with a prophetic warning where we are apparently going as a culture, and this book is a call to all people of goodwill to do what they can--and how--to keep us from going there. I recommend this book to anyone who wants to know what one person can do to help clean up the septic tank our pop culture has become of the Howard Sterns and the violent video game companies.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 25, 2006
I found this awefully boring. As a gamer, myself, I don't really care for his 'modern pop-culture' hatrid. As for the book, It was a struggleto get me to flip a page. Anything he's said in the past was in there!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 28, 2006
I found this book bad. Not only is Thompson's writing boring and pedantic, but he doesn't even give the other side a chance to get in. I and all my friends were gamers as kids, and I can tell you that this is a bunch of baloney. We were all nice kids. Also, Thompson seems to find it OK to childishly mock and name call those who he deems unworthy. Parents, I am telling you that is NOT FAIR. Please, do not use this as a guide for parenting. Thompson is a hypocrite, (From the 'Penny Arcade' incident) and he is totally wrong in his views. This man needs to take a reality check.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 4, 2005
Out of Harms Way is the inspiring, personal story of Jack Thompson's ongoing struggle against big media, spewing indecency on the airwaves & violent video games that teach kids how to kill!! He describes,incredibly, that many,if not most, of highschool massacres trained the killers 'playing', these video games to learn exactly the best way to kill with guns, knives & other weapons, including bludgeoning. Mr. Thompson, contends that many of these games, rated & intended for adults are sold illegally to minors. The details of Mr.Thompson's legal efforts to thwart the sale of these games to minors is a fascinating view of his interaction with authorities, parent groups & big media. Concerning indecency on the airwaves, Mr. Thompson's complaint to the FCC caused Howard Stern to leave the air, which he considers a big victory. Thompson, explains in detail the long & winding trail of his crusade against these evils, including numerous death threats & vilification by gamers and others who benefit from these games and pornographic output, measured by media income in the billions of dollars. His, is a David & Goliath story,in modern form, always exciting,with interesting stuff on virtually every page. Whether Mr. Thompson is appreciated by all or not, does not diminish my admiration for this story of great personal fortitude as he lives out his convictions. It is truly, a great read!!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 27, 2005
How he can claim to be a crusader against the evils of the video-game and other forms of modern pop-media and claim to speak truths, yet not engage in any rational dialogue between himself and those people he so vehemently attacks is beyond me. I respect a person's right to say what he wants to say, and I respect the way Mr. Thompson feels, however I cannot in good conscience give this book any higher than 1 star due to the fact that he claims what he says is full-truths and yet does not include any dissenting opinions of others in his book. Any good lawyer knows that for an argument to be complete it must include dissenting opinions and address those concerns in a respectable fashion. Otherwise all the claims you make is nothing more than a load of tripe, and is not worth hard earned money as you learn nothing from the reading.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 29, 2005
The reader is swept along by this engaging story, with interesting stuff on every page. Jack Thompson is a true hero in his ongoing efforts confronting those who would try to pervert our youth with filth sent over the airways, and those producing violent video games that train youngsters to kill!! His persistence in fighting for his beliefs has brought much success in America, where these issues are now front page news with government taking action. Thompson, is a good guy whose personal story is warm, compelling and inspiring. A great read!!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 1, 2005
This is a boring book. The main problem with this book is that it mainly just talks about a man who throws unprovoked insults and lawsuits against various people, and then claims that he is on a 'crusade by god' to stop media violence. I have never played a game in my life, but his portrayel of videogame players is pathetically biased. He calls them 'skinny little loud-mouthed nerds'... yep. The fact that the author has almost no writing talent whatsoever didn't help this book. I give it a one, for stupid comments on a growing media and a bland writing style.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 22, 2005
This book is one that every concerned parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle and citizen should read and read soon. Why? It is a compelling insight into the mind set of big media and their apparent disregard bordering on disdain for the well being of our children. Educators, mentors and especially parents need to be aware of this mind set of big media. The events described in this book are compelling evidence that big media drinks only from the altar of the almighty dollar and will do everything in its power to preserve its profits, regardless of the effect on our children. Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with Mr. Thompson, you have to admire the man for having the courage of his convictions. He has consistently stepped up publicly where others fear to tread. It is telling that his opponents from Howard Stern to Rock Star Games consistently engage in ad hominem personal attacks against him. Why? This is the tactic opponents employ when they lack credible arguments on the merits. This is a compelling book that is a sign of our times. As media and mass communications continue to expand and pervade our society this books is a call to educate ourselves, remain vigilant and fight, when necessary, to protect our children. That is the point of Jack Thompson's book. No one with any sense of reason or decency can disagree with that.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 20, 2005
This book is one that every concerned parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle and citizen should read and read soon. Why? It is a compelling insight into the mind set of big media and their apparent disregard or perhaps disdain for the well being of our children. Educators, mentors and especially parents need to be aware of this mind set of big media. The events described in this book are compelling evidence that big media drinks only from the altar of the almighty dollar and will do everything in its power to preserve its cash flow, even if it means harming your children. Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with Mr. Thompson, you have to admire the man for having the courage of his convictions. He has consistently stepped up publicly where others fear to tread. It is telling that his opponents from Howard Stern to Rock Star Games consistently engage in ad hominem personal attacks against him. Why? This is the tactic opponents employ when they lack credible arguments on the merits or the courage of their own convictions. When they cannot win an argument on the merits, they try to suppress the message by attacking the messenger. It is curious that shock radio and gamers of the world howl about the need to protect their first amendment rights but are perfectly willing to trounce the rights of others, including Mr. Thompson. Perhaps they should spend less time on the couch with a game controller in their hand and spend more time educating themselves. At least then they would issue forth with cogent arguments and appear less like fools. This is a compelling book that is a sign of our times. As media and mass communications continue to expand and pervade our society we must educate ourselves, remain vigilant and fight, when necessary, to protect our children. That is the point of Jack Thompson's book. No one with any sense of reason or decency can disagree with that.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.