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Opinion » Columnists

Freedom of Speech: An "Endangered Species"

25.12.2013
 
Freedom of Speech:  An

Although most Americans claim to venerate the ideal of "freedom of speech," when it comes to actual practice there are few purists.  "Free speech" purists recognize that defending the right to freedom of speech is not the same as endorsing what a speaker has said; therefore, purists recognize that viewpoints they disagree with should be just as zealously protected as viewpoints they embrace.

Unfortunately, most so-called advocates of "freedom of speech" in America subscribe to four basic rules:  1). Revere freedom of speech when you (overtly or covertly) agree with what is being said, and revile it when you don't; 2). Do not gauge the "offensiveness" of speech by what was said, but instead by whether it supports or contradicts your political, religious, social, and/or economic agendas; 3). Realize that your hypocrisy will be camouflaged by the failure or refusal of most people to engage their long-term memories; 4). Know that the right to "freedom of speech" is only relevant when one has the political or economic resources to utilize it.

The most recent "controversy" in America regarding "freedom of speech" conclusively illustrates the application of these rules.  Phil Robertson, the patriarch of a family that appears on A&E Network's Duck Dynasty, was recently suspended from the show for remarks he made during an interview with GQ Magazine. 

Although most of this "controversy" has revolved around the negative remarks Robertson made about gays and lesbians, Josh Barro of Business Insider (12/21/13) explained that Robertson's statements even implied that African-Americans were happier when racial segregation was the law in the American South.

In response to Robertson's remarks, a popular, country-themed restaurant chain, which once endured its own controversy regarding its views towards gays and lesbians, removed Duck Dynasty merchandise from its shelves, provoking such "outrage" that it reversed its decision a few days later.

 

Upon reading this, I could not help but wonder how many of those "good ole boys and gals" who were so "outraged" by this restaurant's actions had absolutely no complaints a few years back when country radio stations banned the Dixie Chicks from the airwaves because of remarks they made that were critical of George W. Bush.

I also thought about how the former Commissioner of the National Football League (NFL), Paul Tagliabue, once refused to hold the Super Bowl in Arizona because of its failure to create a state holiday in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., yet the NFL still has a team called the "Redskins," and how, more recently, Wisconsin's demagogic governor Scott Walker fired a campaign aide for "racist tweets," yet later enacted a law making it more difficult for people to legally challenge the nicknames of sports teams that Native-Americans find racially offensive.   

What is particularly disturbing about the Duck Dynasty "controversy," is that even the short-term memories of many Americans have failed.  The news organization The Young Turks recently aired an interesting montage showing how many of the very people and organizations now vociferously defending Robertson's right to "freedom of speech," were, a few weeks ago, just as vociferously condemning the MSNBC network for its failure to "punish" journalist Martin Bashir (who was later forced to resign) for statements he made about America's goddess of right-wing idiocy, Sarah Palin. 

Perhaps even more hypocritically, given their defense of Robertson's statements, is how many of these people and organizations also remained silent, and in some cases even supported, MSNBC's decision to cancel actor Alec Baldwin's late night talk show after he allegedly used "homophobic slurs." 

Although Palin herself denounced as "hypocrisy" MSNBC's initial failure to "punish" Bashir, she did not hesitate to display her own hypocrisy in defending Robertson by lamenting that "free speech is an endangered species."

Palin's lamentations contain much irony, given that she certainly seems to have no problem exercising her "freedom of speech." The culture of idiocy created by ignorance inducing "reality shows," and the pseudo-journalism popularized by Fox (Faux) News, has made Palin, and others like her, a national treasure.

Meanwhile, academics and intellectuals, who could actually contribute some substance to the national discourse, are banished to Public Television Networks and other low rated venues.

Why?  Because the views of intellectuals and academics are normally not conducive to being reduced to "sound bites," nor are they particularly "entertaining" to the pseudo-journalistic world, which favors emotion over reason, ignorance over intelligence, superficiality over substance, hypocrisy over honesty, and propaganda over truth.

Palin is right about one thing though:  Free speech is indeed an endangered species.  But not because of the reasons she claims.

Several years ago, in a scenario similar to the Bashir case, many of the people and organizations now defending Robertson were demanding that Ward Churchill, an ethnic studies professor at the University of Colorado (UC), be fired for writing a controversial essay about the 9/11 terrorist attacks.  Since UC was a government-funded university, Churchill's views should have been protected by the Bill of Rights.  In addition, Churchill had academic tenure, which was designed to protect professors from economic retaliation.

Yet, undeterred by these "nuisances," UC fired Churchill, claiming he had engaged in various forms of "academic misconduct" unrelated to his essay.  Churchill subsequently sued, and a jury returned a verdict in his favor, finding that he had been fired because of his essay, and that the "misconduct" allegations were simply a pretext.

But an ethically corrupt judge, himself a graduate of UC law school, reversed the jury's verdict, claiming that the individuals who fired Churchill had absolute immunity against such lawsuits.

The United States Supreme Court refused to hear Churchill's appeal, which is not surprising given that a majority of its so-called "conservative" (i.e. ethically corrupt) judges have been steadily dismantling freedom of speech themselves, via the corruption inviting Citizens United ruling that gave corporations the same "free speech" rights as individuals.

Although conservatives tried to maintain Citizens United was a "balanced" decision, since it also extended "free speech" rights to labor unions, what they omitted from this equation was how rapidly Republican governors, like Walker, Mitch Daniels, and Rick Snyder, would pass "right to work" and other anti-labor laws to deplete the financial resources of unions, and thus inhibit their ability to effectively exercise these new "free speech" rights.

Sadly, even though the Churchill ruling essentially destroyed both academic freedom and tenure throughout the United States-allowing economic retaliation to be directed against any academic who researches, studies, says, or writes anything construed as controversial-and even though the Citizens United ruling essentially made the corporate voice the only politically effective voice in America, no "Robertson-style outrage" erupted in the corporate-controlled media, even though these rulings made "free speech" more of an endangered species than the inane rantings of a reality television star ever could.

So what is the solution to protect and restore free speech rights for all?  It is a solution I proposed in my article Libertarian Socialism:  An Idea Whose Time Has Come (Pravda.Ru, 05/05/2010).  The greatest weakness of the Bill of Rights is it does not extend to and protect those working in the private sector, and, as Churchill's case cogently demonstrates, it no longer even protects people working in government-funded institutions. 

So, despite the right-wing manufactured "outrage," Robertson has no constitutional right to be kept on a reality television program, and vendors have every right to remove and refuse to sell merchandise related to his show.  As this article illustrates, many of the hypocrites now supporting him have acknowledged these facts themselves by advocating economic retaliation against those who criticized, disagreed with, or exposed them.

Two things are needed for freedom of speech to remain viable to all Americans.

First, the Citizens United decision must be overturned.  Corporations are not people, and should not be treated as such.  People exercise their freedom of speech for a variety of reasons-political, social, economic, and sometimes even altruistic.  Most corporations speak for one reason only:  to maintain and enhance their profits.  To imagine they can add anything to the national discourse that does not promote their self-serving interests is simply a delusion.

Second, the right to "freedom of speech" must be protected in the private sector and restored in the government sector to ensure that nobody can be economically retaliated against for exercising it.  The only exceptions should be if an employer or vendor could prove in a court of law that revenue was lost or a dangerous work environment was created due to an employee's speech.

Freedom of speech can only thrive in a marketplace of ideas.  Protesting the suspension of Robertson under the guise of protecting "freedom of speech," while advocating, applauding, or refusing to condemn the firing of Churchill, Baldwin, and Bashir is nothing but unadulterated hypocrisy promoted by bottom-feeders who are seeking to silence any and all viewpoints that do not comport with their own.

They are the true enemies of freedom of speech, and it's time for Americans to recognize and condemn them as such.

David R. Hoffman, Legal Editor of Pravda.Ru

  

 

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