A first amendment keynote to OU’s graduating students from my friend Ken Fischer

Today we said goodbye to the class of 2013 at the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism – at least the one’s who were part of OU Nightly this year. Ken Fischer, the tireless proponent of all seeking students, a saint among broadcast educators, combined two of his passions (as he often does) in his final address over chicken fingers and pizza in Studio A. Citing the powerful words from a great movie writer, Michael Wilson, Ken reminded them what their journalism degrees – and their journey forward as educated citizens in a great, free democracy – should be guided by. Wilson was a blacklisted filmmaker responsible for some iconic work. Born in Oklahoma, he died in Los Angeles. Like all great writers his work lives on – including the statement below – which was retrieved from a special online edition of the National Screen Actor which can be found here.

Blacklisted screenwriter Michael Wilson was honored by the Writers Guild of America in 1976. The words he spoke are as true today as they were then, and a fitting conclusion to any examination of the blacklist era:

“I don’t want to dwell on the past, but for a few moments to speak of the future. And I address my remarks particularly to you younger men and women who had perhaps not established yourself in this industry at the time of the great witch hunt. I feel that unless you remember this dark epoch and understand it, you may be doomed to replay it. Not with the same cast of characters, of course, or on the same issues. But I see a day perhaps coming in your lifetime, if not in mine, when a new crisis of belief will grip this republic; when diversity of opinion will be labeled disloyalty; and when extraordinary pressures will be put on writers in the mass media to conform to administration policy on the key issues of the time, whatever they may be. If this gloomy scenario should come to pass, I trust that you younger men and women will shelter the mavericks and dissenters in your ranks, and protect their right to work. The Guild will have the use and need of rebels if it is to survive as a union of free writers. This nation will have need of them if it is to survive as an open society. Thank you.”

And thank you, Ken, for finding this perspective. Words without meaning are just… I am not sure. We try to teach them how to only use those with meaning, and as a working storyteller I try to do the same.

Here is a photo, for those who wonder, of the writer who spoke those words above.

Michael Wilson photo from www.filmreference.com


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