Aug 24, 2010

freedom of speech and its discontents

By now we're all familiar with Dr. Laura's little "n*gger" rant, in which she famously spouted the N-word while whining about how black privilege, "black-think", and how inter-racial couples need to suck it up.*

The exchange was execrable.  However, I'm not here to execrate what was said so much as to react to the reaction.  Dr. Laura said she was quitting; she wasn't even fired (though she might have been had she not announced that she was leaving), she just couldn't take the criticism and decided to bail.

This provoked a rather interesting response; I present Palin's tweets as representative:

First of all: seriously?  'Shackles'?  A batshit crazy former nude model quitting her radio show because people said mean things about her on the Internet really isn't the best analogy for chattel slavery.

But aside from that sort of irritating idiocy, there's a more interesting misconception: Constitutional obstructionists?  First Amendment rights?

Let's refresh our memory:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The 14th amendment then applied that prohibition to the several states; in other words, the government can't tell you what to say--or, more importantly, what not to say.  Certain exceptions apply--'Fire!' in a crowded theater type things, incitements to violence which result in violence (in other words, if I say, 'Go kill the crazy cracker lady!" and one of my readers does so, then I could conceivably be held responsible if I were shown to have influenced his crime), and Janet Jackson's boob--but other than that it's pretty much carte blanche.

So we have a Constitutional guarantee that the government will not engage in censorship.  Now correct me if I'm wrong, but the government hasn't engaged in censorship.  No law has been passed in this case restricting Dr. Laura's free speech.  What happened was that people called her a racist and wanted her off the air.

Now here's the funny thing about free speech.  It means that the government can't restrain or punish your speech.  It does NOT mean that other people are obligated to give you a forum in which to practice it, or that no one gets to come back at you afterward.  You have the right to say whatever you want free of government interference.  You do NOT have the inalienable right to use millions of dollars worth of other people's recording and broadcasting equipment at will (and in any case, she wasn't fired--she quit).  You do NOT have the inalienable right to the money of people who advertise on your program even if they decide that they no longer wish to support what you have to say.  You do NOT have the inalienable right not to be criticized--that is OTHER PEOPLE'S freedom of speech, and it is as sacrosanct as your own.

So, let's recap:

Crazy lady says the N-word on her radio show: free speech.

Other people call her a racist idiot and call for cancellation of her show: also free speech.

If the government had done something to her for her outburst, then I would have a serious issue with that, just as I had serious issues about the mindbogglingly retarded overreaction to Janet Jackson's boob**.

However, if Sarah Palin honestly believes that people saying mean things about someone on the Internet is a violation of that person's free speech (rather than the critics exercising their own free speech), then Sarah Palin is an idiot.  And if she doesn't honestly believe it, then she's a liar.  Take your pick.
*The exchange also contained egregious factual errors: for example, white voters did not vote Obama into power.  Obama won the popular election by an overwhelming 53% to 46%, but lost among white voters by a jaw-dropping 55% to 43%.  And his election didn't soothe racial tensions or prove the post-racial nature of society so much as bring out the bigots.

**I here mean the government reaction, not the popular reaction.  I thought that the people were idiots; I thought that the increased regulations were unconstitutional.  There's a difference.

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