Feb. 18, 2002: Even Ted Turner’s annoying, babbling words deserve to be protected.

Well, if I can do it, I guess Ted Turner can, too.

A week after I induced mass hyperventilation with my tongue-in-cheek spoof of television personality Rosie O’Donnell’s upcoming announcement that she is gay, Ted Turner’s comments at a Brown University forum made me hyperventilate a bit myself.

In case you missed it, Turner called the Arab terrorists ”brave” for flying airplanes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and killing thousands of innocent people. I was outraged with Turner’s latest babbling. The brave people are the office workers trying to support their families who found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. The brave people are the police officers and firefighters, trying to dig out and recover the bodies of the victims of this tragedy, who need a year to earn what Turner makes in a couple of hours. Those people are the brave ones, not a bunch of cowards who would rather kill than defend their philosophy. I was not assuaged at his trotting out the hoary ”quoted out of context” alibi, either. He has said too many hurtful things in the past to have been misquoted.

This buffoonery is only the latest from a man who has insulted Haitians and Italians and Jews and Christians and the Pope himself. Turner gets away with it because he is filthy rich. A lot of people want to dive their mitts into his money, so they give him a free ride. The Atlanta newspapers, which nearly decimated a forest savaging former Atlanta Braves pitcher John Rocker — a complete non-entity on the world scene — for his insensitive observations about New York and gays, issued a mild tut-tut to Turner for his remarks at Brown. To Rocker’s credit, he was only stupid once. Turner has turned stupid into an art form.

I thought a lot about how to respond to a man that I consider several pecans short of a fruitcake. I came to the inevitable conclusion that, as much as I hate to admit it and as much as his remarks offend me, he is exercising his constitutional right of free speech. I have those same rights and so do you. Many — maybe even most — people on this earth can’t speak out the way we can. When I stated last year that the terrorists who bombed the USS Cole were cowards and would drop their guns and run if ever challenged, I received mail from all over the Arab world. Few writers wanted to discuss the issues behind the bombing. The majority intended to intimidate me — kind of a verbal terrorist attack. Free speech appears about as rare in the Arab world as female ice hockey.

A lot of gays found my satire about Rosie O’Donnell humorous and said so. Many didn’t and they said so, too, which is fine. But no one referenced my comments about the efforts of gay rights groups to prevent television stations from running the ”Dr. Laura” show because of her publicly stated anti-gay bias. That is censorship, pure and simple, and everybody ought to be concerned about their tactics, including gays. Frankly, I wouldn’t watch Dr. Laura if you paid me good money, but I resent a small group of people keeping her off the air because they don’t like what she says. I also question why the media has not made this issue more high-profile. If they won’t protect free speech, who will?