To hear liberals tell it, free speech is under siege. When crooner Linda Ronstadt imposed her unsolicited fawning views of America-basher Michael Moore on a Las Vegas audience at the Aladdin casino recently, a large portion of that audience did the principled thing: They got up and left. The management at the Aladdin asked Miss Ronstadt to do the same. These people must have been First Amendment insensitive; according to the New York Times, they interfered with Miss Ronstadt’s “right to express a political opinion.”
But didn’t the audience members have the right to express their opinions? And didn’t the Aladdin, which was footing Miss Ronstadt’s bill, have the right not to be made a forum for political discourse? No, says Los Angeles Times media critic Tim Rutten. When the “drunken mob” at the Aladdin refused to take Miss Ronstadt’s rants sitting down, the “most fundamental of liberties came under assault,” he claims.
What would those be — the right not to have one’s views countered by opposition? Apparently that’s close to Mr. Rutten’s sentiment. Notwithstanding the well-known leftist bias of the vast majority of the American media, including that of his own paper, Mr. Rutten slams Fox News merely for tending toward a contrary view. “Fox News,” he raves, “is the most unapologetically biased major American news operation since the era of yellow journalism.” His evidence? None offered. His reasoning? “It tilts right and Republican.”
If his point is that free speech belongs exclusively to the radical left, Whoopi Goldberg would likely agree. After she was fired as spokesman for Slim Fast in the wake of her foul-mouthed Bush-bashing at a John Kerry fund-raiser, she wailed about “freedom of expression without fear of reprisal.” This, notwithstanding that nowhere does the First Amendment mention a right to speak for a company whose own view is that you don’t properly represent it.
But “fear of reprisal” — read: of criticism — is everywhere among the left, including even major media players. Paul Krugman, a columnist for the New York Times, frets that after September 11 “if you were thinking of saying anything negative about the president, you had to expect right-wing pundits and publications to do all they could to ruin your reputation.” CNN’s Christiane Amanpour believes that the press has been “intimidated by the administration.” And Dan Rather of CBS — check out this metaphor — worries about having “a flaming tire of lack of patriotism put around your neck.”
Treating counterargument as a threat to freedom would be laughable if it weren’t so insane. So would the whole “Bush lied” mantra, which is merely an attempt to avoid even acknowledging an opposing viewpoint. Rather than stand up and confront your opponents with reason, how much easier it is to just dismiss them as liars — or worse. Thus Al Gore calls supporters of the president Nazi brownshirts. The left-wingextremistgroup MoveOn.org posts videos equating President Bush with Hitler. And Mr. Rutten none too subtly juxtaposes Rush Limbaugh and Depression -era pro-Nazi radio priestFatherCharles Coughlin.
Liberals apparently are tolerant enough to respect a dictator’s right to fill mass graves with children. They just can’t countenance anyone with contrary political views.
This is notoriously true in Hollywood. I have personally met one major television star, utterly secure in his career, who nonetheless prefers to keep hishis conservative leanings discreet. He knows the entertainment milieu.
Which includes the likes of the hateful. For example, there is Mr. Moore, who recently dismissed Republicans as un-American “hate-triots.” And Miss Ronstadt, who told the San Diego Union: “It’s a real conflict for me when when I go to a concert and find out somebody in the audience is a Republican or a fundamental[ist] Christian. It can cloud my enjoyment. I’d rather not know.” Evenmild-mannered Garrison Keillor routinely takes swipes at Republicans, as if he can’t imagine there actually could be any among his vast radio audience.
In the ideal world of today’s liberals, apparently, there simply would be no conservatives — or, if there were, they’d keep their mouths shut. For the left, free speech is a “fundamental liberty” only so long as it’s their own.
Steven Zak is a lawyer and screenwriter.