A Nuanced View of Free Speech

Banksy's Free Speech graffiti
Banksy's take on Free Speech

I was criticized gently on Facebook last month when I expressed my horror that Simon and Schuster had given Breitbart editor, Milo Yiannopoulos, a $250,000 book deal to spew his venom from a legitimate platform. “It’s dangerous to go down that path of silencing other voices,” my friend said. Fortunately, when his controversial statements on pedophilia became public this week, Simon and Schuster came to their senses and dropped Yiannopoulos, an organ grinder’s monkey of the evil right, like a lukewarm potato. The publishing house had already received over a hundred official protests from its own editors and authors, and thousands of phone calls, one of them from me.

In principle, I enthusiastically agree that silencing people is dangerous to democracy. However, there are a few caveats that go with that subject. Big companies and individuals don’t have to support platforms of hate and environmental destruction.

Milo: An organ grinder’s monkey of the evil right.

I remember my first outrage at seeing someone on a major entertainment platform whose views I abhorred. It was The Phil Donahue Show, and the guest was the brittle and finally now deceased Phyllis Schlafly, the sole woman lawyer of her time speaking against the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). I was standing in front of my television in Yonkers, New York, in complete shock and yelling at the television, “Phil! Why are you giving this woman a platform? She needs to shut the hell up.” I knew nothing of the FCC’s Fairness Doctrine, and nothing of liberal Donahue’s personal views on presenting opposing opinions, but I still have a hard time forgiving Phil for that. How ironic that Phil Donahue was fired by MSNBC in 2003 (with a little help from Chris Matthews) because of his anti-war stance.

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An argument began raging 15 or so years ago about the responsibility and culpability of film and gaming producers in contributing to violence in our society. Do producers, as a group, have a responsibility to the citizens? No. One can only hope that individuals of influence, and company cultures, reject opportunities to spread hatred and violence. The long-term effects of film and game violence have been studied and debated and the jury is partially still out. While the American Psychological Association has confirmed the link between playing violent video games and aggression, they were unable to find sufficient research to link violent video game play to criminal violence. OK. But one only has to overhear teen boys playing in their room, yelling “rape her, rape her,” as they press their fingers to the tiny little screen, to remain alarmed.

I’m happy people are allowed to release whatever trash they want in the US. I’m happier, however, when responsible consumers choose not to spend money on these efforts. I believe in divesting from hatred and bad public and environmental policies, whether it costs you $14.75 for a movie ticket, some research time to find a new bank or a tantrum by your 10-year-old.

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So when I heard that Simon and Schuster planned to give that hideous excuse for a human a giant, lucrative soapbox, I saw red. Responsible people don’t have to allow the spread of hate, nor should they. Milo Yiannopoulos can actually publish his own book, as many people do. It’s not difficult and he would make a lot more money — doesn’t he know that?

No one takes responsibility for advancing stupidity and hatred.

You want to go to war? I don’t, but you have a right to present an argument in the media, and I might even listen to you. You want to wage a campaign of hate against a black woman because her looks don’t conform to your idea of beauty — screw you. You want to talk about having sex with children? I’ll spend my $32 book budget on something else.

People don’t seem to want to acknowledge responsibility for advancing stupidity and hatred. Morning Joe entertained the current President almost every single day when he began his campaign almost 2 years ago. Every day, that idiot called in to Morning Joe, or was interviewed by Joe and Mika. Mika would complain in a segment about something awful Trump said, and then she’d tease the next segment with “and coming up next, Donald Trump.” This went on day after day, and since it’s TV, it’s documented! Those two fools (oh, excuse me, “firebrands,” according to their very expensive ad campaign) had the audacity to say they didn’t support him! When the criticism came out about them, they went on TV with long faces and were sad and outraged at their characterization as a mouthpiece for Trump. You gave him a daily platform to spread his message and lunacy, you idiots!

I don’t watch Bill Maher, despite his obvious brilliance, because he so clearly hates women and will go to the lowest common denominator at any small provocation. I don’t listen to Howard Stern either, though I understand he’s subversive and even some of my best friends, who are feminists, listen to him.

I try in small ways to say, “No.”