Friday, April 13, 2007

In defense of freedom of speech

So, Don Imus has been fired from CBS radio now. This after his dismissal from NBC TV a couple of days ago. You know the story and if you don't here is one of a million versions of it going around. I don't know what upsets me more--the thing Imus said, the fact that he got fired, what Al Sharpton said after Imus' firing, or the fact that the 24 hour newschannels in the states were showing live feed of the outside of the NJ Governor's house where Imus was meeting with the Rutger's Team last night. Live shots of the manion's exterior. I couldn't belive it. Why was I watching CNN in the first place? I foolishly wanted to see what the Americans were making of the fact that a bomber had managed to get inside the inner sanctum in Iraq, past bomb-sniffing dogs and several levels of security into the Green Zone and then blew himself up in the Iraqi Parliament building. I thought this might be a newsworthy event in the States (it was one of the top stories here in Canada) but silly me. Anna Nicole's baby got an official daddy this week and a guy on the radio said something offensive. How could I think that an unbelievable security breach in the country where they're at war would make the news.

Sarcasm aside, I have very mixed feelings about this Imus thing. The man said something terrible and hurtful and I would never listen to him, but he has said stuff like that and worse before and no one seemed to care. When the NY Times hired African-American reporter Gwen Ifill to cover the white house, Imus said "Isn't the Times wonderful. It lets the cleaning lady cover the White House." Glenn Beck says deplorable things, so does Ann Coulter (who regularly stretches my defense of free speech to the limits), and shock jock Stern is the king of degrading women.

As you see, people regularly say hateful things, especially on talk radio and they don't get in trouble. So, what was the big deal this time? I don't know. It was just one of those weird things where the media latches onto a small story and makes it a media sensation. Maybe it's been a slow news week in the States (except for the Iraqi parliament bombing and the extension of the tours of duty of 100,000 US troops in Iraq). The point is that it did make a stink and Imus got fired and I think it was wrong.

I do not agree with what the man said. I agree it was awful but I believe in free speech and, as much as it bothers me to say it, Don Imus has the right to say what he wants to say. I wish he wasn't there, I wish a bunch of other people didn't have the public airwaves either but they do and, if I stand up for the right of one person to say "Just so you know, we're ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas", then I have to stand up for everyone else's right to speak too. That has always been my problem with free speech. If I say that we have the right to say something bad about our government or to question policies or politicians, then I have to say that the person spewing hatred in the streets has his right to do that too. For every peaceful protester talking about peace versus war, there's an Ernst Zündel (for those of you who don't know he is a holocaust denier). And as much as it makes my stomach turn, Zündel has his right to speak too.

See, when someone gets the power to say who speaks or who doesn't, based purely on one thing that person said, then that is not freedom of speech. If people turn off their radios, ratings go down and then the guy is let go because of low ratings, which were caused by what he said--that is free speech.

And then after Imus was fired Reverend Al Sharpton said that this was just the first round and that others would have to be accountable. That scares me. That makes me think that the already ludicrous levels of political correctness on TV and radio (but especially TV) are going to become even more inane. I mean if a smidgen of butt crack shows on someone in Survivor, they blur it out. This after the infamous wardrobe malfunction of Janet Jackson at the Superbowl a few years ago when the world was exosed to [gasp!] a breast. The TV went into censorship overdrive. Live TV was put on seven second delay in case someone said something offensive, as decided by the censor on the bleep button (I have seen the word Jesus bleeped when used in a discussion about God). Any possibly offensive body parts had to be blurred. But there were no restrictions about violence. I remember watching a dramatic show one night where an 80 year old woman was getting paddles put to her chest to revive her and, in the midst of it all, a small part of her breast was shown. They blurred it. The next night another drama gave us a long and graphic scene where a small child hid in a closet and watched as his father first beat then shot his mother. That we got the full brunt of, but the elderly boob, shown in a completely nonsexual manner, was censored. I remember ranting to my husband about it (his life is so much easier now that I have my blog).

My point is that someone somewhere decided that the word Jesus and a butt crack are more offensive than people getting their heads blown off or nearly naked women grinding up against a rapper while he throws money at them and calls them hoes in his latest release, or any episode of Jerry Springer.

My question is: who should decide what is okay for us to hear, see, and read? Al Sharpton? Don Imus? A network censor? Me? You? Well, actually I think it should be me and you and you and you and you, etc. I think we can decide not to watch it or listen to it or read it if we don't like it. That's our right. Just like our right to free speech. People have fought and died for our right to say what we want.

They're fighting and dying right now so that others can have that right too.


At 12:39 PM, Blogger red-handed said...

Hi Tina.

Three thoughts:

1) This is what happens when a culture becomes unmoored, when it has lost its way: the individual doesn't know how to think critically, doesn't know how to break an issue down to the level of character.

2) When a nation fights a war with its permanent underclass, is it a surprise that it doesn't have the intellect or will to turn the radio off on an offensive personality?

3) This is why the talking heads have so much sway, because they deliver opinions like fast-food. Everyone else is just not involved.

At 11:39 PM, Anonymous M-J said...

I COULD NOT AGREE WITH YOU MORE. What he said (and some others too) was very hurtful, but it is freedom of speech. I also think it's crazy for someone to use a "Racial Slur"(I've never heard that so much before in my life) and go to "rehab" and think that everything is OK! What do they do there, tell you what you said was BAD? Don't get me wrong, I don't think what these people are saying is right, but the Troops are over there fighting for our right to say it. (I'm not used to doing this, I hope my responses are OK, I'm sure you would let me know if they weren't).


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