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Horowitz: Standing up for Speech That We Hate

Tuesday, April 03, 2018


Rob Horowitz

As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famously wrote in a forceful dissent from a Supreme Court decision denying a Hungarian pacifist citizenship, “If there is any principle of the Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other, it is the principle of free thought — not free thought for those who agree with us, but freedom for the thought that we hate.”  These wise words ring as true today as they did when they were published nearly 90 years ago.

And they should at least make us pause before celebrating the flight of advertisers from Laura Ingraham’s highly rated at least by cable news standards Fox prime time show in response to an economic boycott driven by Parkland shooting survivor David Hogg. This highly successful effort has made the survival of Ingraham’s show at least an open question as she takes a week-long vacation that she claims was pre-planned, but may very well be an attempt to wait out the controversy.

Hogg put the boycott in motion after Ingraham tweeted "David Hogg Rejected By Four Colleges To Which He Applied and whines about it, (Dinged by UCLA with a 4.1 GPA totally predictable given acceptance rates.)" Making fun of any high school student, let alone one who recently survived a traumatic event where 15 of his classmates were gunned down, is highly offensive. Hogg’s reaction was completely understandable.

He was also well within his rights to not accept her apology, which came fairly quickly, but as he pointed out, not until after at least several of her advertisers announced that they were abandoning her show.

It is also the case that Ingraham’s hour-long weeknight show is part of a truly noxious nightly three hours of Fox opinion shows that twist any truth, embrace any conspiracy, and shamelessly attack honorable law enforcement officials, prosecutors and national security professionals in their nightly mission of excusing and championing all things Trump. As part of his explanation for leaving the network, Colonel Ralph Peters, a long-time Fox News analyst and a strong conservative, said, (The prime-time hosts) “dismiss facts and empirical reality to launch profoundly dishonest assaults on the F.B.I., the Justice Department, the courts, the intelligence community (in which I served) and, not least, a model public servant and genuine war hero such as Robert Mueller.”

The Fox News primetime lineup is doing a disservice to their viewers and to the nation. Still, the answer does not lie in silencing them, but rather in challenging their views in a free exchange of ideas. There may be some momentary satisfaction in watching Ingraham get her comeuppance. The chilling effects on free speech, however, are too dangerous to the functioning of our democracy in the long-run.

We should not be under any illusions that most of the advertisers are abandoning her show primarily out of a sense of civic responsibility. They are mainly motivated by the desire to avoid any damage to their brands. These concerns can work to silence unpopular and controversial liberal speech as well, if economic boycotts become a strategy that is employed more widely.

As Oliver Wendell Holmes recognized nearly 90 years ago, defending the right to speak for people with whom we strongly disagree is the key to the vibrant public square that is essential to our democracy.  That includes Laura Ingraham and God forbid, even Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson.

Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates.. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island.


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