Every April 13, in commemoration of Thomas Jefferson's birthday, the Thomas Jefferson Center releases a list of recent abridgments ("Muzzles") of free speech in America. The 2004 Muzzles list contains several incidents involving the suppression of political dissent:
A Michigan high school demanded that a student remove a t-shirt critical of Bush
CBS moved “The Reagans” miniseries to Showtime so fewer people would get upset by it
CBS refused to air an anti-deficit ad during the Super Bowl
The Baseball Hall of Fame disinvited Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins (both anti-war activists) from the “Bull Durham” celebration
The Secret Service continues to demand that criticism of Bush can only occur in out-of-view “free speech zones”
The South Carolina House of Representatives declared the Dixie Chicks' comments “un-American”
The Muzzles have been awarded to individuals and groups across the political spectrum, with the common thread being intolerance of free speech. It's disheartening to realize how many people seem to have forgotten McCarthyism, and persist in propagating the attitude that if they don't like - or understand - something, it must be “unpatriotic” or “un-American.”
It is true that the majority of the cases cited do not constitute censorship in the traditional sense of governmental prohibition, but de facto censorship by economic force often occurs when a handful of corporations (such as CBS) control the public airwaves. The range of “acceptable” speech continues to narrow as alternative voices disappear from the airwaves, from the halls of government, from schools, and eventually from memory.
Thanks for reading.
Quote of the Day:
“Any departure from absolute regimentation may cause trouble. Any variation from the majority’s opinion may inspire fear. Any word spoken, in class, in the lunchroom or on the campus, that deviates from the views of another person, may start an argument or cause a disturbance. But our Constitution says we must take this risk…”
Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas, Tinker v. Des Moines, 393 US 503 (1969)
UPDATE: A reaction to my summation of the 2004 Muzzles:
The Muzzles have been awarded to individuals and groups across the political spectrum, but the only examples given are those intended to show Republicans, or conservatives, as the bad guys. That is certainly not fair and balanced.
True, I’m not “fair and balanced”...but I don’t pretend to be, either.
The people on this list are shown to be “the bad guys” by their own actions; the Thomas Jefferson Center and I merely think that their misdeeds are worth noting. I do not consider it very surprising that, given GOP/conservative control of the federal government and the vast majority of the media, that most abuses of power would be theirs. (It is, after all, difficult to abuse power that one does not possess.) Without their abuses of power, far fewer Muzzle awards would be awarded.
Whoever is abusing the power of an office (elected or otherwise, from whatever party or ideology) is going to be in my line of fire (figuratively). Maybe the most prominent target will change after Election Day...but maybe not. My primary concern is with a healthy debate, which can’t happen when the rich/powerful/well-connected can silence others. The suppression of a few voices can coerce the rest into thinking that opening their mouths isn’t worth the risk. In today's political climate, silent complacency is far more dangerous to our polity than outright censorship.