Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Speaking freely

One last thing about the whole Roger Cohen-free speech debacle. The problem seems to be, as a commenter here points out, a confusion over what's "free speech" and what's the advisability of offering the public a wide range of viewpoints. The New York Times offers an op-ed page with columnists who span the political spectrum, not because the First Amendment requires it, and not even because the abstract principle of free speech advises it, but because it keeps readers informed/interested/reading the newspaper. What results, however ideologically-diverse it appears, is a carefully crafted set of viewpoints, meant to look like it represents the whole spectrum, but really just whatever the newspaper felt it should have. Not every reader has a column in each newspaper, so not all voices are heard. That having some semblance of balance is a good thing does not mean a NYT with only Paul Krugman clones would violate free speech.

The confusion goes even further. Some seem to think that free speech is infringed upon not only when those who want a platform are denied one, but when others denounce the speaker's ideas. Apparently freedom to speak out against a bigot is not freedom of speech, because bigots are courageous and it's really their speech that we need to protect, not that of bigots' detractors. Some say it violates Ahmedinejad's free speech to protest his having been invited to Columbia. On account of free speech, you owe it to him to listen to his every word with the benefit of the doubt. Or, if you read The Israel Lobby start to finish and conclude it's an anti-Semitic book (which it is, and I have read it, and can direct you to specific passages if you're interested: for example, did you know that while Jews per se are not the problem, we should be concerned that Jews come out to vote in disproportionately high numbers?), and you in turn write that you think this, then you've violated Walt and Mearsheimer's freedom to speak, that is, their freedom to speak and receive nothing but adulation.

In other words, just because you don't like X doesn't mean X violates free speech, constitutionally or otherwise. Declaring it does makes you look like a fool. The end.

1 comment:

Matt said...

Since you mention M&W, I was surprised how many editorials I saw, written by Jews, that went to great pains to deny that M&W were antisemites.