Freedom of Speech is one of, if not the, most important civil rights we have in this country. Recently, Phil Robertson of the reality TV show “Duck Dynasty” made some derogatory comments about the LGBT community. Naturally, this caused an uproar. As a result, and fearing lost revenues from advertisers, A&E suspended Mr. Robertson indefinitely from the show for his comments.
Immediately, the right pounced on the network. Their biggest claim is that A&E was violating Mr. Robertson’s freedom of speech! We heard this before. Several years ago, Hank Williams, Jr. made derogatory comparisons between President Obama and Hitler. ESPN who was using Mr. Williams for their Monday Night Football jingle soon let him go. The condemnation of ESPN was just as quick and argued the same meme of violating Mr. Williams’ freedom of speech.
About a month ago, Martin Bashir on his show on MSNBC made some very repulsive comments about Sarah Palin. He went on the air the next day and apologized. After a short time off, mutually agreed to between him and MSNBC, he resigned from his show and it was removed from the air. But, instead of the outrage about MSNBC violating his freedom of speech, the right blasted him for his comments. The left, by the way, was silent about his exit.
I am not going to argue which side is correct or not. I simply want to draw out some comparisons about the right to freedom of speech. I have always believed that people have the right to say whatever they wish. On the other hand, I believe that if what they say offend people, especially public figures, they face whatever music comes their way.
Mr. Robertson has a right to express his views on the LGBT community. Mr. Williams has the right to say what he wants about the President. Mr. Bashir has the right to say what he wants about Ms. Palin. As we have seen in these three examples, there are and should be, consequences for their choice to say what they did.
The networks involved in these incidents are varied and similar. A&E is an entertainment network that makes its money via sponsorships. ESPN is a sports network who makes their money the same way. MSNBC is a cable news network, some would say left leaning, who also makes their money via sponsorships. Sponsors spend money on these networks because they are popular and have a substantial viewership.
Viewers and sponsors are the lifeblood of television networks. Therefore, if someone associated with a network makes comments that cause problems with their viewers, and therefore, reduce sponsorship dollars, the network has the right to disassociate themselves with those individuals. That is not violating the right of free speech. That is exercising their business right to associate or not associate with anyone they choose.
In my opinion all three of these cases are reprehensible! What these individuals said was totally their right to say. But, as with all rights given to us by the Constitution, we all must be diligent about exercising those rights carefully. They are all examples of what I would consider “recklessly exercising” their freedom of speech. Any penalty they have paid is part of their choice to say what they did. Is it really that much different from yelling “fire” in a crowded theater?
Both sides of the aisle must understand that our right of freedom of speech is a two-way street. If comments offend others, is it really worth saying them? Especially if you are a public figure. I believe that all three of the networks involved in these incidents acted appropriately. In essence they were exercising their right to fire anyone who brings discredit to their product. That is within their rights.
Rather than yelling at the networks for doing what they believed was in their best interest, maybe we should examine what the individuals said and did to get them into this mess. Maybe, it is time for public figures to consider what consequences their words will have on other people. Maybe, that would be the start of becoming a more civilized nation again.