Ever since Rush Limbaugh called Sandra Fluke a ‘slut and a ‘whore’ most of us have been inundated with outrage. People’s opinion varied from simple ‘what was he thinking’ to outright anger. What puzzles me is nearly everyone seemed to have forgotten what John Stuart Mill expressed when defending the important values that come with a democracy and a free and open society:
“. . . there ought to exist the fullest liberty of professing and discussing, as a matter of ethical conviction, any doctrine, however immoral it might be considered.”
Without freedom of speech democracy would fall apart, education would be corrupted, leaderships held unaccountable and innovation stifled. While what limits should or should not be put on speech is always under debate but no one denies its critical importance.
So why is no one learning from Limbaugh’s diatribe? While what he said on national radio was an immature, thoughtless, uncouth and outrageous way to make a point (that the government paying for birth control for women would be too expensive) agree or disagree I for one want to be one of the ones to express support for Limbaugh’s right to say his opinion in whatever way he wants.
* note I don’t agree with him on the issue of women’s birth control. In fact, I am a little sickened women have to fight for it at all.
The remarks resulted in such widespread condemnation that numerous advertisers pulled their support from the show. Well, does anyone remember what happened to Howard Stern? Between sponsors dropping and outrageous fines from the conservatively controlled FCC (Family Guy’s great song about them) he was forced off the air for using his freedom of speech to say outrageous things.
So what is the lesson we learn from Limbaugh?
There exists a real threat to freedom of speech in the United Sates and other democracies, money. Limbaugh could have easily lost his show and to lose it for doing nothing illegal would have been a sad day for liberty indeed. Corporate America not only owns our media, advertisers only need to pull support to control what is on the media because television and radio need to pay their bills. So, everyone who asked advertisers to boycott Rush Limbaugh’s show is guilty of attacking freedom of speech and shame on the advertisers who listened.
Its a dangerous slippery slope, we can not afford to make people afraid to speak their minds at risk of losing their careers, Howard Stern nearly lost his. The only people ‘shock jocks’ like Rush Limbaugh need to answer to is the law and their employers. Who both have a moral obligation to make responsible policies. What counts as ‘responsible’ is always a matter of debate but Limbaugh’s right to say what he wants is not. I don’t like what he said either but I’m not sure what’s more disgusting what he said or that almost no one seems to care just how easily freedom of speech can be jeopardized simply through the power of money.
Free speech carries with it some freedom to listen.
Warren E. Burger
Free speech is meant to protect unpopular speech. Popular speech, by definition, needs no protection.