The recent media standoff between the Obama White House and Fox News may make for good copy for the conservative cable station, but the precedent being set for free speech is far more odious--essentially it’s say what you want, unless I don’t like what you say. First Amendment rights have long been touted as the backbone of our political system and yet, as is so often the case, the first amendment has been treated as a conditional statement. The White House’s argument against Fox News is that they are not actually a news source like CNN, but a one sided and very aggressive proponent of conservative ideals. No argument from me there, but the question I have is, so what? As long as no libel or slander has been inflicted, Fox News can say what it wants and if liberals or the Obama administration do not like it, then tough nuts. Welcome to the reality of freedom of speech.
The trend of shutting down opposing arguments is by no means a new one in this country, but the fact that it is now coming from the White House is unsettling. As a writer, I hold free speech above almost anything else and bristle at even a whisper of it being stifled. Yet here we are. Several years ago I was able to attend a lecture given by the author Salman Rushdie, a man who certainly knows a thing or two about the suppression of free speech. For those unaware of Rushdie, he wrote a novel in 1989 called The Satanic Verses that enraged fundamentalist Muslims, including the Ayatollah Khomeini, who issued a bounty on his head. During the lecture, Rushdie spoke of a film that was made which painted in him in a very unflattering light. The British government began proceedings to stifle the film, proceedings that Rushdie put a halt to, thankfully understanding as he did that freedom of speech is a two way street.
More recently there was the hoopla of Miss USA runner up Carrie Prejean and the whole gay marriage debacle. Perez Hilton, the Oracle of intellectualism, lambasted her for voicing her views on gay marriage, and a whole slew of people who I thought better of followed suit. She was vilified by the liberal community and, despite the fact that she committed no libel or slander, became simultaneously a spokesperson and a pariah. Let’s forget the fact that she has proven herself to be a less than honest, vacuous, pretty face. The point is that she expressed her views in country where she is supposedly allowed to do so and was then ripped to pieces. I personally don’t agree with her, but I fully support her ability to speak her less than robust mind. I’ll reiterate it here, freedom of speech is a two way street. It is not conditional. So racists can express racism, religious zealots can express their faith, and Donald Trump can say pretty much everything he’s ever said, whether the rest of us like it or not.
Fox News maybe isn’t news, but it is media. The White House’s argument that they're isolating Fox because they’re not a news source like CNN is specious reasoning at best. Obama’s been on Jay Leno, who isn’t news. Obama and White House officials have been on The Daily Show, which isn’t news. But of course Leno and Stewart aren’t the “representative arm of the Republican party.” For a President who once made a point of seeking out differing views, this is demonstration of a remarkably thin skin. I don’t often like what Fox News has to say but I’m ecstatic to live in a country where they have a legal right to say it. Americans have historically had trouble accepting freedom of speech when they don’t like what is said. Things can only get worse when the President of the United States perpetuates that same thread of dangerous logic.