Just Let 'Em Talk

Instead of using bullying tactics to shut people up, maybe we should just let them talk. We can always exercise our right to not listen.

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 first amendment isn’t exactly wordy, but it says a lot, doesn’t it? Among other things, it’s our guarantee that we can all say what we like - the government won’t interfere with our “inalienable right” to free speech.    

Unfortunately, in this age of political correctness, people seem to think we also have the right to not be offended, but the “right to not be offended amendment” doesn’t exist, and if it did, it would conflict with the first amendment - in fact it would conflict with the spirit of the Bill of Rights.  It also seems pretty obvious that people are actually anxious to be offended. Some people can’t wait to be offended. The second someone we don’t particularly care for says anything controversial, too many of us jump all over it and attempt to exploit it, even if we weren’t particularly offended. 

Of course it’s best if we’re decent and polite to each other, if we try to reason with one another calmly without name calling, insults and accusations, but to have government enforce politeness is quite a lot worse than being impolite. For starters, forced politeness doesn’t change attitudes, it just changes language. What’s behind the polite chatter? How can we know?

For another thing, forced politeness conflicts with our right to free speech. Too many people only agree with free speech when they agree with what’s being said. For all others, they’d gladly use threats and force.

Sandra Fluke, a thirty-year old college student, testified to Congress about the need for free contraceptives, and conservative radio personality Rush Limbaugh called her a “slut” on his show. That was rude, impolite and in bad taste, but it wasn’t a crime, and it shouldn’t be considered a crime. 

There were organized boycotts of products that advertise with Limbaugh, which might be legitimate and legal, but isn’t that just bullying? If we don’t like what’s being said, we can choose not to listen, or we can rebut it. Attempting to shut someone up doesn’t seem to be a good answer. We need more speech, not less.

When groups boycott and threaten, they’re actually trying to shut their opponents up rather than using thoughtful speech and reason to make their own case. The boycotters look weak to me, they don’t want to engage - they want to shut down. 

When people like Limbaugh and Bill Maher open their mouths, that actually provides a great opportunity to point them out and make them look like the bombastic big-mouths that they are. I wouldn’t want to shut them up, I’d want them to go on.  Forcing someone to shut up is something a bully would do when he can’t quite articulate his own views. 

As much as I don’t like the bullying tactics of organized boycotts, at least they’re not asking government to do the bullying for them, but feminist and celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred did. She tried to have Limbaugh arrested (for calling Sandra Fluke names) based on some obscure Florida statute.  

In a Politico interview, Ms. Allred said, “Mr. Limbaugh targeted his attack on a young law student who was simply exercising her free speech and her right to testify before Congress on a very important issue to millions of American women and he vilified her. He defamed her and engaged in unwarranted, tasteless and exceptionally damaging attacks on her,” and, “He needs to face the consequences of his conduct in every way that is meaningful.” 

Ms. Fluke was exercising her right to free speech, and Mr. Limbaugh was exercising his.  

On his HBO show “Real Time,” Bill Maher called Sarah Palin some names that can’t be repeated here. Again, it was vulgar and crude, but not criminal. Sarah Palin, Joe the Plumber and Sandra Fluke aren’t victims, they have voluntarily made themselves spokespersons, they stand in front of cameras and microphones and give their opinions, so they’re fair game. They put themselves out there and exercise their right to speak, but they also make themselves and their views available for their opponents to use their right to speak against them. If you’re a politician, an athlete, an actor or just a person that steps into the spotlight, you’d better have thick skin because sooner or later, people will start throwing rotten tomatoes. 

In my opinion, the only people that should unofficially be off-limits are these people’s kids. There should be an understanding that the children shouldn’t be picked on. That didn’t stop David Letterman who joked that one of Sarah Palin’s young daughters (not the one that had children already) was “knocked up” by Alex Rodriguez between innings of a baseball game she was attending. That child didn’t ask to be thrust into the public eye, and she still had to go to school and face her classmates. Rush and Maher make ugly statements on a daily basis, but Letterman’s joke, directed at a child, was more than ugly. It was downright creepy. 

Liberal pundit Bob Beckel has called Italian-Americans “guidos” and “greaseballs” on the Fox News panel show “The Five.” He also said Greeks were “lazy,” but backtracked and admitted that there were Greeks that worked very hard in the restaurant business. To my knowledge, there wasn’t any major backlash, and for me that was a bit of a relief. My grandparents were from Italy, and while Bob Beckel’s remarks were stupid and bigoted, they only made him look stupid and bigoted. They really were no reflection on the people he was targeting. Bob Beckel couldn’t possibly offend me. He doesn’t mean enough to me to be offensive. Take it from where it comes.

It goes past political pundits. Some were outraged recently when Robert DeNiro made a crack about the nation not being ready for a “white first lady.” He might have made himself look like a jerk, but that happens to people all the time. Why did some people make it a big deal? Did he really need to apologize? He’s a great actor, we should enjoy his work but do we really need to pay attention to what he says? The same goes for Mel Gibson. If I decided to boycott every actor or entertainer that I disliked something about, I’d have to dig a hole in the yard and go to ground.

Liberals are outraged at the Rush Limbaughs, conservatives are outraged at the Bill Mahers, and that’s all fine, but shutting them down isn’t the answer. We need to tolerate unpopular speech more than popular speech, because popular speech doesn’t really need to be tolerated. 

Where can this manufactured outrage take us? A lot of the lyrics in rap music are very offensive, especially to women. Should rap artists and rockers be forced to be polite?  Should the morality police go after artists too? Censorship is censorship, bullying is bullying, and it’s curious that some of the people that are quick to accuse others of being “fascists” are also quick to use fascist tactics themselves. 

If Bill Maher offends you and you’re scrolling the channels and you see his face, just keep scrolling. If you can’t stand Rush Limbaugh and you’re looking for something to listen to on the radio, pick something else. We don’t need to call our Congressmen, we don’t need to write angry letters to WABC or HBO - we can just find something else to listen to, watch or read, it’s really that simple. They should be free to speak, and we should be free not to listen.  

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John Cocchiola April 16, 2012 at 04:26 PM
Of course the big difference is, we can't choose not to pay a tax. We can choose to listen or not. The boycotters are trying to deprive someone of their voice, and others of their right to listen.
Marc Rosen April 16, 2012 at 04:35 PM
Really? Money is politics these days. If a business spends the money they get from me to support anyone or anything that I find dangerous, unethical, immoral, or otherwise objectionable/unacceptable for ANY reason, and I actually care about the consequences of my financial transactions, then the most logical response is to stop giving them my money and take my business elsewhere. That response, when done for political purposes, is what we call a "boycott". You may not like that the purpose of THIS boycott was to pressure businesses to stop supporting someone with the money derived from customers just like the ones who threatened to abandon them if they didn't cooperate, but Limbaugh put himself out there. Limbaugh does NOT have the "right" to be a talk radio host. He has the right to say whatever he wants, of course, but he does NOT have the right to be heard, nor does he have the right to be given any particular venue in which to make those statements. He also doesn't have the "right" to fly down to the Dominican Republic to a resort town infamous for its young male "companions" supplied with enough little blue pills to keep a bull elephant going for a month, but he seems to manage that part just fine.
John Cocchiola April 16, 2012 at 08:08 PM
You're right Marc, people like Limbuagh and Maher don't have the right to be a radio or television host, but the thing that keeps them there is ratings. They each have tens of millions of loyal fans, and when people have that kind of an audience, there will be willing sponsors. Some sponsors might head for the hills until things blow over, but others will jump in quickly. The fans are what's really supporting the shows. The shows will have run their course when and if their ratings tank, other than that, boycotts won't keep them down long. Don Imus made some nasty comments about a girl's basketball team, he was fired, for about ten minutes, he's got more market share than ever now. Howard Stern was tired of FCC Regulations, he's more obnoxious and richer than ever now on subscription radio. Bill Maher lost his network television show, he's making HBO a lot of money with his "Real Time" show, because he has a huge following. That's what will keep them in business, and when they lose their ratings, that's what will put them out of business. As for the Dominican Republic/Viagra red herring you threw in there, I don't know or care about it, it's off topic, I'd guess whatever it is, it's unproven, and bringing it up was just an attempt to change the subject. It wasn't even worth the response I just gave.
Marc Rosen April 16, 2012 at 10:01 PM
Actually, you made one slight mistake there. Ratings are only one part of what keeps them on the air. Another, much bigger factor, is whether they can generate a profit for the broadcaster. If affiliates refuse to air the show, then the show is bad for business. If businesses refuse to allow their ads on the show, then the show is bad for business. If people INDUCE affiliates and advertisers to withdraw their support, then the show has BECOME bad for business, and guess what, people have the right to use every legal means at their disposal to create public pressure for that very purpose. NOTHING would stop Rush Limbaugh from going on to blogtalkradio.com, creating a free account (or putting down some money if he wanted to do longer shows) and doing a web radio show EVERY SINGLE DAY if he wanted to. Furthermore, at that juncture, he also wouldn't be subject to the limitations that can be imposed when you're on BROADCAST radio, and you suddenly lose all your sponsors.
John Cocchiola April 17, 2012 at 11:29 AM
Marc, when someone has thirty million loyal listeners, that would take quite a lot of inducing to talk sponsors to dropping him. If one leaves, another will appear, like "Whack a Mole". Attempting to silence someone is the last resort of someone who thinks they're losing an argument. I'll repeat myself, I don't care for Limbaugh, or Maher or any of them. They use tricks to win arguments, they tell half truths, they leave out facts that don't support their side. It's a bit like listening to a prosecuting attorney without hearing from the defense. That's why I don't listen. That's pretty easy, not to listen. I read "Reason" magazine, which is pretty much on the same page I'm on politically, but I also read from both sides (hard left and hard right), and I find that's actually a little more interesting than reading the people I almost always agree with.


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