Monday, May 14, 2007

Political Beef: Speech

Here is an interesting opinion article by Larry Elder, about some silly remarks Charlize Theron made on CNN. It's so disturbing, in the context of another opinion article I recently heard broadcast on public radio, that I thought I would mention it under my dual thread of "politics" and "stupidity." Apparently, Ms. Theron had just completed a documentary film about the Cuban government's repression of free speech (e.g., journalists are routinely imprisoned there), and yet she considers the U.S. to be equally repressive because "some people [got] fired from their jobs in television because they spoke up on how they felt about the war. "

Like, duhhh... It's hard to come up with anything more articulate than that in response to such strident stupidity. That's like equating the "Red Scare," Joe McCarthy's Committee on UnAmerican Activities, and the blacklisting of suspected communist sympathizers in Hollywood with the Soviet Union's routine method of handling people who were in bad odor with the ruling party (disappearances, gulags, kangaroo courts, torture, death, etc.). Not noticing the difference is like putting the police beating of an African immigrant on the same level as the Rwandan genocide of the 1990s.

And what's really eerie about the type of stupidity Ms. Theron exhibited is that no one, but no one, in the public media made an outcry when Don Imus got fired from his radio show for making "racially insensitive remarks" about a women's basketball team. On the contrary, I was recently listening to St. Louis's classical station when one of the station's regular features, consisting of some journalist's lengthy musings on one topic or another, came on and said journalist reflected on the Imus incident. His basic message was that the Freedom of Speech does not extend to people like Imus saying the type of insensitive things Imus said.

Hmm. Now that's disturbing. Left-wingers get fired from a TV station because they expressed political views that embarrassed their employers; pundits say this is an attack on free speech. Right-winger makes insensitive remarks and gets fired from his radio show; pundits not only don't complain, but they actually come out and say free speech does not apply in this situation. How very Orwellian. "Some are more equal than others," etc.

I think the Bill of Rights was written to protect us from the kind of government that would want to decide what political commentators were responsible enough for us, the public, to listen to. I think the Freedom of Speech is perfectly at home in a market-driven broadcast industry, in which the audience can choose whether to tune in or out, and commercial sponsors can choose whether to ante up or fold, and the arbiters of public opinion fare accordingly. We should all be chilled by the idea of enforcing rules to filter the content of the opinions that reach us, or to prop up opinions approved by the government in defiance of the free market of ideas. And we should all be smart enough to recognize that something is not right or wrong based on whether the person who did it was a Democrat or a Republican!

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