Is Free Speech Dead?

by: Jeff Spector

December 27, 2013

phil-robertson

UPDATE:  A+E lifts suspension on Phil Robertson’s appearances on Duck Dynasty. New Season will  start on Jan 15 and filming for new episodes including Robertson will film in the spring.  A+E issued the following statement:

“While Phil’s comments made in the (GQ) interview reflect his personal views based on his own beliefs, and his own personal journey, he and his family have publicly stated they regret the ‘coarse language’ he used and the misinterpretation of his core beliefs based only on the article. He also made it clear he would ‘never incite or encourage hate.’”

I guess A+E realized which side of the bread their butter was actually on……

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I started thinking about this as the Duck Dynasty controversy was just heating up.  Thinking back over the past year, it seems that a number of people got themselves into hot water over things they have said. Paula Deen, Kanye West (I think he lives in Hot water), President Obama, Anthony Weiner, members of Congress and even a number of LDS General Authorities.

It used to be that folks would quote “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” (Evelyn Beatrice Hall, “The Friends of Voltaire,” 1906.) She actually wrote this quote, not Voltaire as some think.

Freedom of Speech has been one of the hallmarks of a democratic society and one of the founding principles of the United States.  And while freedom of speech is not absolute (yelling “fire” in a crowded movie house, for example), great latitude has been given over the years as to what constitutes free speech. In many countries of the world, free speech is defined by the government and is very limited. Cross over the line and it may mean prison or even death in some cases.  Even personal attacks in the form of slander and libel can be difficult to prove in a court of law and against a public person, almost impossible.

But these days, it seems as though the bar has been lowered as to what is deemed as free speech and what is not.  It is more clearly in the eye of the beholder and if the beholder is offended, chances are you are going to hear about it.

It is particularly true in the commercial, media and political world. For example, Paula Deen confesses to have used the N-word in a legal deposition at some point in her life and as a result, her cooking empire was crushed.  And yet, some groups of people use that word today in their every day speech and are, in some cases, recognized and rewarded for it.

So, we take the case of Duck Dynasty patriarch, Phil Robertson.  I must confess I have never watched a minute of the show, but I know these guys are everywhere.  I was thinking that if Walmart were to have removed Duck Dynasty merchandise from their stores, they might have been half-empty the week before Christmas.

So, what did Phil Robertson actually say? Was it on the show or in some other venue?  Most of you know by now, it was an interview in GQ magazine conducted by Drew Magary.  The question put to Phil was:

“What, in your mind, is sinful?” To which Robertson now famously responded:

“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men,” he says. Then he paraphrases Corinthians: “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”(http://www.gq.com/entertainment/television/201401/duck-dynasty-phil-robertson#ixzz2ofsnf5qn)

Now, for many Christians that is garden variety doctrine. Nothing there was hateful, per se and is pretty inclusive of what is taught in most Churches week in and week out from the Bible.  And Phil went on to say:

“We never, ever judge someone on who’s going to heaven, hell. That’s the Almighty’s job. We just love ’em, give ’em the good news about Jesus—whether they’re homosexuals, drunks, terrorists. We let God sort ’em out later, you see what I’m saying?”

That is also typical speech for the average Christian, even though it is probably a hard thing to refrain from doing.

We didn’t hear anything from the drunk or terrorist community, but we sure got an earful from the LGBT community and others and, a swift reaction from the A+E Network where the Duck Dynasty show is aired. He was suspended from the show indefinitely and here is a sampling of the reaction on what Phil said:

“We are extremely disappointed to have read Phil Robertson’s comments in GQ, which are based on his own personal beliefs and are not reflected in the series Duck Dynasty. His personal views in no way reflect those of A+E Networks, who have always been strong supporters and champions of the LGBT community. The network has placed Phil under hiatus from filming indefinitely.” (A+E)

“Phil and his family claim to be Christian, but Phil’s lies about an entire community fly in the face of what true Christians believe,” said spokesperson Wilson Cruz. “He clearly knows nothing about gay people or the majority of Louisianans – and Americans – who support legal recognition for loving and committed gay and lesbian couples. Phil’s decision to push vile and extreme stereotypes is a stain on A&E and his sponsors who now need to reexamine their ties to someone with such public disdain for LGBT people and families.” (GLAAD)

“Phil Robertson’s homophobic and weirdly genital-fixated comments in GQ. His non-apology defense suggesting he’s not bigoted because he loves people. A&E’s suspenseful pregnant pause as the hours ticked by on Wednesday. And then a network response that went beyond what anybody expected: Booting Robertson from the show “indefinitely.””

“The decision shocked and impressed progressives accustomed to networks moving slow and hesitant when faced with such nerve-wracking and profit-endangering controversies. There was no waffling amid water-testing statements like with Food Network and Paula Dean, or MSNBC with Martin Bashir or Alec Baldwin. Just boom – you’re gone.” (James Hibbard, Entertainment Weekly, Dec 19, 2013, http://insidetv.ew.com/2013/12/19/duck-dynasty-pop-culture-war/)

Robertson also made a few comments about his experience growing up in the South with African-American people:

Phil On Growing Up in Pre-Civil-Rights-Era Louisiana
“I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field…. They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word!… Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”(http://www.gq.com/entertainment/television/201401/duck-dynasty-phil-robertson#ixzz2ofyAKhFG)

Which lead to this from Jesse Jackson:

“These statements uttered by Robertson are more offensive than the bus driver in Montgomery, Alabama, more than 59 years ago,” Jackson said in a statement obtained by ABC News.

“At least the bus driver, who ordered Rosa Parks to surrender her seat to a white person, was following state law. Robertson’s statements were uttered freely and openly without cover of the law, within a context of what he seemed to believe was ‘white privilege.”

Now, Robertson has thousands of supporters, even in the form of Fox News, Sarah Palin, and other conservative commentators. And it appears that A&E is even backtracking on its suspension.  The Cracker Barrel Restaurants initially pulled Duck Dynasty merchandise from its stores, but returned it due to customer demand.

A+E has seen about a 22% drop in viewers since the flap and Robertson appears in the 9 out 10 episodes already shot and scheduled to be aired starting on January 15. (Adweek)  So what kind of a suspension is that?

Clearly, the Robertsons don’t need A+E as much as A+E needs them.

So, back to the original question. Is Free Speech dead?  Or is this just another instances of political correctness gone amuck?

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36 Responses to Is Free Speech Dead?

  1. New Iconoclast on December 27, 2013 at 6:55 AM

    The Robertson hoopla doesn’t actually have anything to do with the First Amendment, which protects you from government censorship. The famous “shout ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theatre” example was actually used to justify truly egregious governmental stifling of speech during WWI – Woodrow Wilson may have been the most repressive president we’ve ever had.

    Free speech is alive and well. Robertson said what he thinks and believes. No one censored him; hell, more people know what he said than know what the president of the United States or the governor of their state said during the same week. GLAAD exercised its corporate right to free speech in its official statement, as have any number of individuals both public and private, from Sarah Palin to Al Sharpton to your cousin Vinnie on his Facebook page. The one thing that has not happened in any of this has been the government preventing anyone from speaking.

    A&E exercised its right not to have someone in its programming lineup which they feel doesn’t represent their corporate views, however or by whomever those views are decided. Viewers exercise their rights to no longer watch A&E, or in some cases, to decide that A&E is their new favorite network. Or that they don’t really care. Cracker Barrel reacted one way, then heard the freely-expressed voice of its customer base and changed course.

    To answer your question, free speech is not only not dead, this whole incident has been one enormous exercise in many, many people exercising as much speech as they can produce, as loudly and publicly as they can produce it. No need to worry. Political correctness might be getting out of hand on college campuses or in other tightly-controlled microsystems, but free expression is clearly in no danger.

    Whether or not anyone is listening or bothering to reason is a different story, and probably a longer post.

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  2. Nona on December 27, 2013 at 7:05 AM

    Sigh. Once again, for the 8 billionth time–“free speech” has nothing to do with keeping your job or having people not say mean things about you. If Robertson was facing jail time or state imposed fines, then we could have a conversation about the “death of free speech” but saying that individuals or groups should not publically state their disapproval of his statements is, ironically, a cry for limiting the free speech of his critics. And is that really what we want?

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  3. Kullervo on December 27, 2013 at 7:47 AM

    New Iconoclast and Nona are absolutely right that the Constitutional guarantee of free speech applies only to government action. But that doesn’t mean there’s no discussion to be had here about these issues.

    On the one hand, cultural pressures, norms and social opprobrium are powerful and essential tools for softly controlling peoples’ behavior, including their speech–just because we don’t want the government to throw people in jail for expressing an opinion doesn’t mean that we (as private citizens) are obligated to support and facilitate every possible expression of every possible opinion in every possible circumstance. Rudeness is a violation of social norms, and it carries social consequences.

    But it gets tricker with situations like Phil Robertson’s for two reasons:

    1) Unlike many conventional social norms, the norms that Robertson is being sanctioned for are not universally held–there is not even a broad consensus. Plenty of Americans think and say that homosexual acts are sinful. It’s not like, say, loudly and aggressively berating a five-year-old, which the vast majority of us can agree is socially unacceptable. So the people who are applying social sanctions to Robertson are not merely enforcing a broadly agreed-upon social norm that Robertson has breached; rather they are trying to create and/or expand a norm that they think should be broadly agreed-upon, and to the extent that the sanctions they apply are effective, they shift the norm that much more in the direction that they want. This is an effort to create a norm, not enforce an existing one.

    2) The opinion that Robertson expressed and is being sanctioned for is a religious belief (and not even a fringe belief of a fringe religion, but a religious belief that is held by the majority of the adherents of the largest religion in the world). Social sanctions are being leveled against Robertson for saying out loud what everybody knows his religion teaches. That has big ramifications. The message is clear: keep your religious beliefs to yourself, or you will suffer consequences. Lots of people think that should be a social norm, but again, it is not a broadly agreed-upon one. To the extent that the sanctions are effective, that norm becomes more powerful.

    So I guess my larger point is, just because nobody is violating the Constitution doesn’t mean what they are doing is okay and that we have to accept they are doing. There is lots more at stake than just Constitutional law.

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  4. lester on December 27, 2013 at 9:01 AM

    He used his free speech, then the network used theirs. I see no problem with either.

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  5. Kullervo on December 27, 2013 at 9:16 AM

    He used his free speech, then the network used theirs. I see no problem with either.

    And this is exactly what I am saying is the wrong answer. Not everything that is legal is good. Not everything that is legal has to be tolerated. There are plenty of available and appropriate ways for correcting legal but undesirable behavior. Human societies have been able to do that just fine for a long time.

    I don’t know when we started getting it into our heads that the only enforceable measure of appropriate behavior is the law. I suspect that with a high level of cultural diversity in America and the erosion of Christianity as a civic moral compass, people are falling back on what we do mostly all agree on, i.e., basic Constitutional rights, and using them as the primary measure of right and wrong.

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  6. SilverRain on December 27, 2013 at 10:27 AM

    Differences in what should be the social norm is what ends up starting civil war.

    It’s getting to the point when people will no longer tolerate others trying to force them to filter between their religion and their action. Some are content to separate the two, to rationalize that it is desirable to vote against what they claim to believe in their hearts. But a belief that is not fought for, that is not publicly acted upon, is a mere philosophy, and not a belief at all. That is just as true in a public sphere, in voting and conducting business, as in a private sphere.

    The ability to vote does not mean we have to be professionals in law, in interpreting the Constitution. That isn’t our job as citizens. Our job is designed to put a moral and subjective element into the laws we will be governed by. When we believe that it is our duty to vote to our understanding of law rather than to our moral compass, we are deliberately refusing to uphold our place as citizens. And we will be sorry for it.

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  7. Kullervo on December 27, 2013 at 10:41 AM

    Differences in what should be the social norm is what ends up starting civil war.

    Inflammatory nonsense. Unless you have a totally culturally homogenous population, you are bound to have plenty of “differences in what should be the social norm.”

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  8. Jeff Spector on December 27, 2013 at 11:44 AM

    Thanks for pointing out that this was not really about the governmental view of Freedom of Speech, though, as said, that could constitute another post. And, there is always that adage that we Mormons assign to choice, freedom to choose does not extend to the consequences.

    However, if one is voicing their opinion, should there we adverse consequences? i wrote a piece awhile back, Your Opinion is Wrong (http://www.wheatandtares.org/295/your-opinion-is-wrong/) where we discuss virtually the same issue. The gist is if you do not agree with me, you are wrong!

    That is the fundamental problem. No one is allowed to have a contrary opinion, no rather how vile or benign. Otherwise, you are castigated, condemned and in danger of having your livelihood taken away.

    Sure, you have a choice and many exercise the choice not to say anything in fear of retribution. Is that anyway to live?

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  9. Kullervo on December 27, 2013 at 12:03 PM

    However, if one is voicing their opinion, should there we adverse consequences?

    If I walk up to someone at church and say “Hey, you know what? You’re so fat, you disgust me; you should be ashamed of yourself,” there should definitely be a number of adverse social (and possibly institutional) consequences, because I have seriously transgressed the bounds of social decency and the norms of expected social behavior for that context.

    The issue is really not whether there should be consequences for violating social norms–there always are, even if they are just “people will like you a lot less”–but what our norms are and what the appropriate consequences for vioalting them should be.

    While “what should our social norms be” is not normally a question that people ask so explicitly, we are looking at a situation where at least two polarized groups of Americans are in conflict over just that question.

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  10. Nate on December 27, 2013 at 1:14 PM

    This is actually an example of self-censorship run amok. A&E hired Phil because he has a certain world view which he shares with a certain audience.

    Media are so jittery about racial and homosexual issues, and it’s a little ridiculous. It’s true that most people who choose media as a career are more liberal and progressive, and they abhore being grouped with people like Phil, so I can understand A&Es knee jerk reaction.

    However, if they are true liberals (as opposed to progressives) they will recognize the value of a plurality of voices on their network, a plurality which reflects America. But because they are idealist progressives, they don’t want to become associated with anything that is hindering the onward march to utopia.

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  11. New Iconoclast on December 27, 2013 at 2:15 PM

    Kullervo’s comments are well-put here, I think. The question then becomes, “To what extent are we willing – or in what ways are we willing – to voice our dissatisfaction with those who are, by our lights, wrong?”

    We have adopted a Constitution; we can live by it, but as it’s increasingly ignored, we can also die by it. Free speech can be used to “create a new norm,” as Kullervo says. Do we counter this with more speech? Do we allow ourselves to be cowed and marginalized by those seeking to “move the norm” out from under us, or do we seek legislative or constitutional remedies? Do we seek to make changes or preserve the good by gentle persuasion and “love unfeigned” or by changing laws and documents?

    Do we recognize our own need to change some ways of thinking while retaining some others? How do we avoid having a “plurality of voices” become a free-for-all?

    Does it matter if it does? Should we not depend on the Spirit and our own testimonies? Do we need the state to coerce people into, if not believing our way, at least acting like it? (You know, like they did during Prohibition.)

    I don’t know where this line should be drawn – I lean in the direction of liberty, thinking that “No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile.” I also think that on some level I’d rather die by the Constitution than live by getting rid of it, which may be what the adversary is shooting for. “Therefore, I, the Lord, justify you, and your brethren of my church, in befriending that law which is the constitutional law of the land; And as pertaining to law of man, whatsoever is more or less than this, cometh of evil. I, the Lord God, make you free, therefore ye are free indeed; and the law also maketh you free.”

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  12. Douglas on December 27, 2013 at 2:33 PM

    #1 – Very well said. I would have taken exception to a statement Jeff made in the OP about foreign governments permitting “limited” free speech – by definition, that’s an utter oxymoron. When you’re permitted to utterly only that which the Government approves, that is tyranny. Each party, as New Icon pointed out, was exercising their respective First Amendment rights. What might be well-discussed is whether political correctness and hypersensitivity have run amok; but that’s a discussion of the execution of the free marketplace of ideas. For all the hullabaloo, the First Amendment is alive and well.
    Now, I certainly agree almost in lock-step with Phil Robertson’s views on homosexuality. He being an Evangelical Christian and I being LDS WOULD have significant differences on other issues, especially comparative religions, but this is one where we agree. I give the man credit that he knew the hullabaloo that could result from speaking his mind in the GQ interview. It’s my guess that he won’t compromise his views in public; consequences be damned. If nothing else, what is amply demonstrated is that those liberals and the LGBT community that for so many years trumpted “tolerance” and “open-mindedness” have shown themselves utterly INtolerant and CLOSE-minded to contrary viewpoints. They got “equality”, then declared themselves more equal than others. By their fruits ye shall know them…
    Certainly if A&E drops the show other networks will line up to continue it. For all I know, this could have been the Robertson’s family strategy all along; create a row and get A&E (or more properly, its parent companies Hearst Entertainment and Disney-ABC) to let them out of their contract. My question is; what is the status of DD merchandise? (where, as Mel Brooks pointed out in “Spaceballs”, the REAL money is made…DD the T-shirt, DD the colouring book, DD the lunch box, DD the FLAME-THROWER (da kids love dis one)…). If the Robertson family is getting at least the lion’s share of the profits, then by all means, we know HOW to show our support. Else, we have to figure out how to keep the money flowing to them and not their sponsoring network. In the end, money talks, and we know what walks…

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  13. alice on December 27, 2013 at 4:26 PM

    How could there not be consequences if someone is a high profile personality and expounding on sensitive topics? It’s inevitable for a certain number and group of people to react one way or the other. The flip side of the coin of attention/approval for any number of layers of the machinery that produces that high profile in the first place is some sort of profiting with every tick and movement of the popular reactions.

    But it still requires the population to voluntarily buy into these manipulations.

    Some have even pointed out that what’s-his-face will continue, in the short run, to be in episodes that have already filmed but are yet to be aired and in the long run quite possibly through the suspension by the time filming of new episodes is scheduled. This would, of course, mean no practical effect for what’s-his-face but monumental notoriety (read ratings) for A&E.

    The bigger picture is people have their own concepts and markers for sin but “sins” of a sexual nature are always treated as more outrageous and offensive while, in truth, it’s often just noses of those who are just as truly “sinners” either out of joint or in someone else’s business where they don’t belong.

    This is all tiresome and I resent having it repeatedly dredged up when it merited 5 minutes of attention if that.

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  14. el oso on December 27, 2013 at 4:35 PM

    I think that this is one of the biggest arguments that free speech is slowly dying. Twenty years ago, no liberal would have conceived of any major network trying to suspend or fire a top personality for expressing views held by a large plurality or majority of our country and their viewing audience. They could maybe imagine some crazy reactionary trying to, but this hypothetical situation had not come up in many years.
    Sean Penn, Lindsay Lohan, Charlie Sheen and many others can live despicable lives, say almost any crazy thing and still be celebrated or at least tolerated and get plenty of work offers. There are few traditionalists that can throw it in the face of Hollywood and come out better. Fortunately for the Robertsons, they are big enough to do it. They may even come out of this as rich as Mel Gibson did a few years back.

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  15. Jettboy on December 27, 2013 at 4:45 PM

    If society followed the anti-free speech (yes, I am calling it that) example of A&E, anything we say is a fireable offense depending on who is wielding the power of employment. It’s happened far too many times for conservative voices. Perhaps conservatives should start to fire employees who they find are liberal or Democrat. Chances are that lawsuits would fly like it was no one’s business. I second what Silver Rain said about Civil War, and believe the United States has been in a cold one for about 20 years. Only the future will prove if it cools off or turns into something more violent. The first one took about 50 years to explode.

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  16. Kullervo on December 27, 2013 at 4:59 PM

    For the most part, anything you say is and always has been potentially a fireable offense. It’s what “employment at will” means.

    What makes you think an employer can’t already fire employees for their political beliefs or party membership?

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  17. dba.brotherp on December 27, 2013 at 5:19 PM

    Y’all been fooled on this one. This is going exactly as A&E and Phil planned. Both will make a lot more money because of Phil’s statements. A&E and Phil will say there are contractual obligations that demand that the show must go on and it will. They both have learned from the Paula Dean fiasco that a good controversy shouldn’t be wasted but that it must be milked for more revenue. A&E and Phil have pulled the wool over y’alls eyes!

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  18. alice on December 27, 2013 at 8:15 PM

    Twenty years ago, no liberal would have conceived of any major network trying to suspend or fire a top personality for expressing views held by a large plurality or majority of our country and their viewing audience.

    But the fact is that more Americans today are accepting of the concept of gay orientation than opposed to it. If you look at Pew Research’s data from 2000 to the present you can see how rapidly the change is coming and extrapolate from that how out of the mainstream those who wish to continue trying to marginalize gay Americans will be by the end of 2020 if we consider the 20 year period you suggest. http://features.pewforum.org/same-sex-marriage-attitudes/

    It’s my personal belief that the amount and volume of outrage about this issue reflects the fear of the old guard who recognize the inevitability of their demise. To my knowledge there isn’t a state that has gone to full marriage equality that shows evidence of going back even tho some, like Iowa (I believe) had it initially forced on them by a court.

    Meanwhile, I’m not aware of loud liberal clanging to silence what’s-his-face. So far as I know some may have wanted to voice opposition to him and I consider that fair enough. It was A&E, I believe, who initiated the actions of suspending and then reinstating whoever-he-is. And, as dba.brotherp suggests, I am fairly certain it was A&E’s intention to use this to their advantage from the beginning.

    Finally, I have to guess, for whatever reason, you’re overlooking the McCarthy era when a good number of the political left lost their livelihoods and were forced to leave the country because of aggressive censorship. I know the children of a few who spent some of their early years in Mexico or Spain because of McCarthy. …because their music might have undermined our democracy. ::eye roll::

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  19. Jeff Spector on December 27, 2013 at 8:53 PM

    I have to admit I am in favor of unlimited free speech because it is important that people’s views see the light of day. And I can then choose what I listen to, watch, read or any other outlet I choose. I’d much rather hear the sheer stupidity of a Sarah Palin, the hate of a Rush Limbaugh or the ambulance-chasing statement of Al Sharpton or Jessie Jackson. I say let them speak and make up your own mind.

    In the case of Phil Robertson, you don’t have to watch Duck Dynasty if you think his views are out of line. Just like I don’t listen to Fox news, ever.

    That’s the best way to express your true feelings on other’s speech. The boycotting and the like just, as someone pointed out, draws more attention and gives them a further platform.

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  20. Douglas on December 28, 2013 at 10:10 AM

    Jeff, I’d like to see how strong your commitment is to free speech, if, say, a Holocaust denier were to give a presentation. I say, let him be free to speak, and those that find his views offensive, be free to either ignore him or counter in the marketplace of ideas.
    You don’t “listen” to Fox news? I guess that I listen…mostly I “watch”…whatever its worth as a source of news and political commentary, Fox has the babes…of course, in general, conservative women are far hotter than liberal ones…methinks it’s more a “countenance” thing rather than actual looks or what could be made up into good looks (and now I duck the inevitable flurry of retaliatory spitwads…)
    But yes, I agree that being polite and not giving undue attention to opposing views is likely the best way to “silence” them, else, like a child throwing a tantrum, they get the attention they seek.

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  21. Jeff Spector on December 28, 2013 at 10:15 AM

    Douglas,

    I have heard the holocaust deniers my entire life, just as I have heard the First Vision and Book of Mormon deniers for over 30 years .I am sufficiently convinced on all three counts as to not be bothered by it. And the fact that I had a chance to visit all those places and further confirm my beliefs is only icing on the cake.

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  22. Douglas on December 28, 2013 at 10:33 AM

    #21 – Dude, you’re a rock. Not everyone takes freshman pledge Chip Diller’s admontion (remember “Animal House”?) to remain calm, all is well. It’s refreshing to interact with those that “maintain an even strain”.

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  23. Aaron on December 28, 2013 at 11:13 AM

    Please tell me how this is an issue of free speech. No one — no one — has prevented this man from saying anything. But since he is on the payroll of A&E, A&E has the right to suspend him from their show, as they did, if they feel he is engaging in hate speech, which he was. He is still free to say anything he wants. He can say it on the internet, he can shout it from his rooftop, he can get his own TV show and say whatever he wants. He is free and rich and he doesn’t need A&E’s money, so if he had the courage of his convictions he would tell A&E to take a hike.

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  24. Jeff Spector on December 28, 2013 at 11:32 AM

    Easy there, Aaron. The issue of Free Speech takes in a number of other things. The question on the table is about the idea of free speech and whether there should be retribution when someone expresses an opinion or deeply-held belief. It isn’t just an issue of governmental protection.

    I think what happened is exactly that, The Robertson’s probably told A+E to take a hike and A+E, being a prudent, money-loving, greedy business, sacrificed its own “principles” for the almighty dollar…. It didn’t hurt that they got sufficient blow back from the viewers that wtch the show.

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  25. Kullervo on December 29, 2013 at 7:00 AM

    Jeff, are you in favor of an adult stranger cruelly ridiculing a young child in public? Because that’s speech too. Do you think there should be no social ramifications for that?

    There are always social ramifications and sanctions for transgressing social norms. That’s not even the issue. The issue is how those social norms are changed by attempting to impose or to not impose sanctions.

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  26. Jeff Spector on December 29, 2013 at 10:20 PM

    “Jeff, are you in favor of an adult stranger cruelly ridiculing a young child in public? Because that’s speech too. Do you think there should be no social ramifications for that?”

    Well, its a silly question because, in reality, it happens all the time and of course I would not like to hear that and I would probably intervene. The question is a trick question designed to set up some sort of a “if…then” comment. And, to top it off, it is a different situation all together as it might be construed as a personal attack.

    What is your point, really? Is there some equivalence?

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  27. Observer on December 29, 2013 at 11:41 PM

    Kullervo’s comments

    “Kullervo on December 27, 2013 at 9:16 AM
    He used his free speech, then the network used theirs. I see no problem with either.

    And this is exactly what I am saying is the wrong answer. Not everything that is legal is good. Not everything that is legal has to be tolerated. There are plenty of available and appropriate ways for correcting legal but undesirable behavior. Human societies have been able to do that just fine for a long time.

    I don’t know when we started getting it into our heads that the only enforceable measure of appropriate behavior is the law. I suspect that with a high level of cultural diversity in America and the erosion of Christianity as a civic moral compass, people are falling back on what we do mostly all agree on, i.e., basic Constitutional rights, and using them as the primary measure of right and wrong.”

    An attorney friend of ours once commented that it is well-known that (relying on) the law is the lowest form of morality.

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  28. Douglas on December 30, 2013 at 2:45 AM

    #27 – You’re equality the law with morality? Big mistake. If the law were about morality, attorneys wouldn’t practice it.
    What we have is a good-old-fashioned bagatelle in the free marketplace of ideas. Is it “wrong” to censure Phil Robertson b/c of his views as expressed in the GQ interview? Yes, it’s “wrong”, but A&E and its sponsors have every “right” to be “wrong”, just as the viewing and merchandise-buying public have their respective “rights” to express their views with their time and/or money. Both doing what they feel to be “right” and/or in their best interest is the essence of “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness”. Perhaps this episode will serve well to expose, as John Stossel at times does, the absurdity of the situation, where a vocal and obnoxious minority feels the “right” to not feel offended or slighted in any possible manner.

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  29. Kullervo on December 30, 2013 at 7:26 AM

    You also have the legal right to say obnoxious things at parties, but then people don’t have to invite you to their parties anymore.

    Free speech (in the legal, Constitutional sense) is a red herring here–the real issue is a disputed cultural norm. To the extent that A&E is able to enforce the disputed cultural norm without backlash, the stronger the norm becomes.

    But as we see, A&E was not able to enforce it.

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  30. Kullervo on December 30, 2013 at 7:43 AM

    Well, its a silly question because, in reality, it happens all the time and of course I would not like to hear that and I would probably intervene. The question is a trick question designed to set up some sort of a “if…then” comment. And, to top it off, it is a different situation all together as it might be construed as a personal attack.

    What is your point, really? Is there some equivalence?

    The question was not intended at all to set up “some sort of a ‘if…then’ comment,” which is why I followed up with “There are always social ramifications and sanctions for transgressing social norms. That’s not even the issue. The issue is how those social norms are changed by attempting to impose or to not impose sanctions.”

    Again, free speech, in the legal and constitutional sense, is a red herring–as it has been pointed out amply, the government is not censoring anybody so the First Amendment does not apply at all.

    Whether we as a society/culture generalize the principles of Constitutional free speech into all situations. And clearly we do not (that’s what my question was intended to illustrate). We have scads of social rules and expectations (sociologists call them “norms”) that we punish with a whole range of formal and informal social sanctions (inclusing everything from mild expressions of disapproval all the way to very concrete things like firing an employee). And it’s not really accurate to talk about “consequences” as if we’re talking about a law of physics with an action and reaction that human beings have no control over. If someone says rude things at a party, it’s not censorship or a violation of free speech to stop inviting them to parties–it’s merely a social enforcement of a social norm. So, no matter what you say, you’re really not in favor of unlimited speech, because there are plenty of things you think people should not say and you’re definitely in favor of a variety of social sanctions against those that do.

    But it gets more complicated in a situation like Robertson’s, where the norm he allegedly transgressed is not a broadly agreed-upon one. Pretty much everyone agrees you should not cruelly berate random children, so when someone does something like that, nobody gets upset when they don’t get invited to the neighborhood block party and their house gets skipped when neighbors give away Christmas cookies. But with Robertson, plenty of Americans agree that homosexuality is a sin and think that it is socially appropriate to say so, while at the same time there are a substantial number of Americans who think that saying homosexuality is a sin should be socially inappropriate the way saying “nigger” is. So there’s a conflict there, and the ball is in play: to the extent that A&E is able to sanction Robertson for saying homosexuality is a sin, the ball is moved further towards that goal.

    This is important because the rules of society are actively being disputed, and the outcome will shape our culture.

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  31. Jeff Spector on December 30, 2013 at 11:43 AM

    “Free speech (in the legal, Constitutional sense) is a red herring here–the real issue is a disputed cultural norm.”

    OK, I get where you’re coming from now and I do agree. So while the social norms are at play in some cases, People can and do say whatever they want, Now, they can also suffer some level of ramifications based on that, not being invited back, loss of employment, etc.

    But, where you have a difference of opinion, should one group’s view trump another?

    The ultimate problem with Robertson is that it isn’t just a matter of principle, it is economics. And anytime money is involved, it skews things.

    Hence, the reversal of the suspension.

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  32. Kullervo on December 30, 2013 at 11:57 AM

    Everything is economics though. If Robertson had said that black people were neutrals in heaven, I am willing to bet that A&E would not have had to reverse the suspension.

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  33. Douglas on January 1, 2014 at 4:45 AM

    #31 and #32 – by “economics”, what you both are referring to is raw, buck-nekkid, good-ole-fashioned free enterprise…as close to the Ferengi “Blessed Exchequer” as we can get. The Robertsons, A&E, and their respective sponsors, vendors, customers, and ideological supports duking it out in the free marketplace of ideas and disposable income. At times it ain’t pretty, but a “Gubmint”-imposed stability, restraining any of the parties in their ability to express their ideas and spend their cash (or not), and you have TYRANNY. And this third rock from El Sol has had enough in the past hundred years of Fuhrers, Commissars, First Secretaries, Dear Leaders, Ayatollahs, and other forms of tin-plated dictators who presumed to infringe on the personal liberties of their subjects. In the United States, we’re supposed to have a Government that is accountable to its citizens. Though the literal status of that may be in doubt, at least the Constitution was founded with that in mind. So the best thing, when there is “controversy”, is to let the respective parties slug it out w/o the Government getting involved, save to uphold legal contracts.
    Certainly the almighty buck rules. Ideology is fine but a man’s gotta eat.

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  34. Kullervo on January 3, 2014 at 4:01 PM

    No, Douglas, that’s all economics too.

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  35. Observer on January 3, 2014 at 7:32 PM

    One of the troubles this seems to be an example of here is when an industry (the entertainment industry) has a certain monopoly or control of the medium and controls the content (how embarrassed are we that Middle Easterners might have thought “Baywatch” was a cultural norm of ours, or that any of the current troglodytic reality shows is, either?). When a network puts on a show called “The New Normal”, which isn’t any kind of norm at all, what arena does that fall in? Not government, not necessarily free market, either. The triumph of the market place, in the absence of any self-respecting self-regulation, is a scurry to the least-common denominator, which — last I checked — was 1 … can’t get any smaller than that. Guilds introduced rules in the European marketplace to protect primarily themselves (cheaters would rob the honest via the marketplace), and the consumer secondarily. Is there any such mechanism in the entertainment industry now? What’s the fair measure, and the fair weight here, and how is it enforced?

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  36. Observer on January 3, 2014 at 7:37 PM

    #28 “You’re equality the law with morality? Big mistake. If the law were about morality, attorneys wouldn’t practice it.”

    No, I’m just repeating an aphorism told to me by an attorney (works for an extremely large corporation). I believe the meaning is that if someone’s (moral) defense of an action is that something’s legal (and therefore justified), they are relying on a really low moral standard, or a moral standard that has little moral about it. If the law is about codifying morality (I’m not a lawyer), it obviously doesn’t do a very good job.

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