Saturday, July 26, 2003

Banned at Borders

Borders bookstore, a treasure house of freedom of expression, bans a singer for her comments about the president's legs.

Date published: 7/26/2003

IT SEEMS INCONGRUOUS that the words "ban" and "bookstore" should appear in the same sentence. But Borders Books & Music at Central Park apparently banished a singer at least in part because her commentary, including a remark about President Bush's legs, angered some customers.

Borders suggests that Julia Rose is simply not the local clientele's cup of tea and that it had every right to terminate her contract. But Borders has a very scrawny leg to stand on itself if it is wielding such a quick ax on a performer who has been perfectly suitable at other Virginia stores in the chain. If there is any place in this country where freedom of expression should get the close calls, it has to be a general-interest bookstore.

To recap: Julia Rose is a singer-songwriter from Baltimore. Places like Borders are just her sort of venue, with, one would have thought, just her sort of crowd. Indeed, she's a veteran of the Borders circuit from Northern Virginia to Richmond and was debuting at the Fredericksburg location on July 18, the fateful evening. She had been scheduled to play there next month, too. Not so now.

How bizarre. On Borders' shelves and racks there are books, magazines, newspapers, and probably even CDs that upbraid the president over his policies and politics and poke fun at him and everyone else under the sun. Amy Korsun, the Borders marketing manager who cited Ms. Rose's comment "George Bush has chicken legs" in terminating her, surely wouldn't have it any other way. But one gets the feeling that when Ms. Rose sits before a mike and tweaks the president, free expression has taken the night off.

Borders may not be a bistro with blasphemous beatniks banging bongos, but it is still a bookstore where speech should trump the overdelicate sensibilities of some customers.

This episode naturally brings to mind the Texas-based Dixie Chicks, whose lead singer told concert-goers in London last March that "we're ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas." The Chicks paid a price for the self-indulgent pop-off, uttered the same month U.S. troops went into Iraq. Radio stations (though not WFLS) stopped playing their songs. People destroyed their CDs. Fine. Freedom of expression works both ways.

But Ms. Rose was giving aid and comfort to no one in her remarks with the possible exception of one or two Democratic presidential contenders who may look better than the president in a pair of cutoffs.

Still, maybe those offended by Ms. Rose's chatter ought to buy some of her CDs so they can stomp on them in front of TV cameras. She probably wouldn't mind the publicity.

The Free Lance Star, Fredericksburg, VA

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