Friday, August 20, 2010

First Amendment Karma....

This past week,  conservative radio talk show host Laura Schlessinger announced  she would be  quitting her syndicated  radio program at the end of the year.  She told CNN's  Larry King this was a result of her "first amendment rights" being  usurped by groups  who were  angered at her repeated use of a racial epithet with a caller on the air  a few days earlier...

Not one to miss out on a chance to jump on to some  free publicity,  Sarah Palin, the  failed former half-term Governor of Alaska  tweeted  her sisterly  support almost  immediately.

What I find  interesting, is  the  reaction in the conservative media-sphere  to all of this.   

Both "Dr" Laura, and  Sarah Palin   are  framing this  as  a case of  the  Schlessinger's  rights  to free  expression  having been violated. 

I remember  back in the Spring  of  1990,  there was a trial  involving  the  Cincinnati Museum of Art .  The museum was hosting an exhibition of photographs by  Robert Mapplethorpe . Dennis Barrie, the  director of  the museum was charged with  violations of  the city's  obscenity code.  A Jury acquitted Barrie and  museum  but  the resulting  public relations fallout  cost the museum a number of  major donors,  who  pulled their  support.    

At time time,  there were a number of voices on the political Left,  who  decried  the efforts  by  conservative groups to boycott support for the  museum  as a form  a  censorship. 

I was the editorial editor of my college  newspaper, and remember writing that the First Amendment has to go  BOTH ways.  It is just as much a form of  free speech if  someone chooses not to donate to a museum because of  something on display there.  I remember taking  heat from some of my more  progressive friends  who felt I was condoning censorship by mob rule.   

Now  it is  interesting to see  this issue coming back to haunt conservatives.  The same people  who in 1990 championed the rights of  "pro-family" groups to boycott the Cincinnati Art Museum,  now claim that  progressives who boycotted the  sponsors  of the  "Dr. Laura" show are guilty of violating the first amendment.

Sorry, but no.  The first amendment  is  clear.  It  prohibits  the government from preventing the  exercise of  free speech.   The same First Amendment that gives the American 'Family' Association the right to boycott McDonald's restaurants  for not banning  gays eating there, also gives  Gays and Lesbians the right to boycott Dr. Laura for calling millions of Americans  a "biological error".

It was  during the height of the  constroversy  around  Schlessinger's  "error" comments that  the  brilliant writers of  NBC's   "The West Wing",  had art  imitate life,  with an exchange  between the fictional President Bartlett and a fictional  talk-radio host "Dr. Jenna Jacobs".

In an interview with USA Today,  Schlessinger said she  was pleased to see "other doors opening" for her, as she leaves her radio show.    I am actually glad to hear that.   I would miss "Dr. Laura", if for no other reason,  she and others like her  are a vivid reminder  of  how freedom of speech goes  both ways.    

This past week  has shown  once again,   how  often  the  Dr. Laura's and Sarah Palin's of the world,  claim to  love the  Bill of Rights,  but feel it should only apply to them.

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