On a commemorative occasion such as today’s 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, a news outlet like MSNBC can be excused for indulging in soaring rhetoric. So it was just fine when host Tamron Hall introduced a playback of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech with these words:
Fifty years and nearly two generations and here we stand, a nation reflecting on one of the greatest moments in our history and a guiding light for our future. The faces of those carrying the torch lit by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were back today retracing the steps taken by a quarter million Americans seeking equality and jobs. It’s also today where the first African American president, arguably the personification of Dr. King’s dream, addressed the crowd in the shadow of greatness….
Fine, dandy, appropriate. The next part of Hall’s intro, however, wasn’t quite as incontrovertible:
Dr. King’s speech was, incredibly, just under 17 minutes long, 1,651 words; he was only 34 years old. A speech delivered in a different age, at the time carried by just a few networks without the power of the Internet or Twitter or Facebook to help spread that message. It is a speech that the King family closely protects, making sure to preserve the legacy of an iconic leader.
Bolded text added to highlight a matter of interpretation. If you click here or here or here, you’ll find arguments about the dark side of that this valiant King family copyright-enforcement project — that it is excessive, zealous and that it, in fact, prevents folks from appreciating the legacy of an iconic leader. “We were shocked to find that it was very difficult to find a full copy of Dr. King’s speech on YouTube,” said Evan Greer, an activist at Internet openness group Fight for the Future, to the National Journal.
In finishing out her introduction of the speech, Hall said this: “Now, 50 years later, on this historic anniversary, as we remember that pivotal moment, MSNBC has the opportunity to share those remarks in their entirety.” That “opportunity,” of course, comes through a licensing arrangement with the King family, presumably at a tidy cost to MSNBC. CNN also licensed it.
After MSNBC played the whole thing, Hall came back on the air, emotionally. “I am fighting back the tears,” she said. “I think that’s the first time in my life — I’m 43 — that I saw the entire speech.” Then, moments later, Hall commended the King family for “rightfully” protecting its “I have a dream” copyright — a policy that’s doubtless to blame for how long it took Hall to view the entire speech.