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Heckler or Protester?

by Alicia C. Shepard
May 19, 2009

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Alicia C. Shepard

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Joseph Monagle of Manchester, N.H. heard this story on Monday's Morning Edition about President Obama's speech at University of Notre Dame. What bothered him was when NPR's Scott Horsley referred to the people who interrupted the speech as anti-abortion hecklers.

"Although his speech was interrupted several times by anti-abortion hecklers, they were quickly shouted down," said Horsley. "Even those who disagreed with the president on abortion, like Michelle Coble, were generally respectful. The architecture student wore a model of the Supreme Court building on her mortarboard, along with a sign saying "Fight for Unborn Human Rights."

Monagle had done his research. He pointed to how NPR has identified Code Pink, a group of female anti-war activists.

"Look for Code Pink on NPR's site and you'll see that NPR refers to Code Pink as protestors, but the people who interrupted Obama are hecklers," said Monagle. "This is pretty cut and dry. You treat one group one way and one another. It's pretty biased."

Monagle's right that NPR is not always consistent on this matter. When Code Pink interrupted John McCain's acceptance speech last fall at the Republican Convention, they were called protestors — not hecklers.

By definition, someone who interrupts a person giving a speech by yelling rudely is a heckler. Those who yelled out at Obama when he was speaking at Notre Dame were hecklers, but then by the same token, so were the Code Pink ladies at the Republican Convention.

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