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Indeed, there has even been something of a backlash against this urge to purge by MMFA from some leftists. Several liberals criticized Fonda for wanting to use government to stifle speech with which they disagree. And Bill Mahar, whose vile comments about conservative women like Sarah Palin have crossed the lines of decency, writes in the New York Times:
The answer to whenever another human being annoys you is not “make them go away forever.” We need to learn to coexist, and it’s actually pretty easy to do. For example, I find Rush Limbaugh obnoxious, but I’ve been able to coexist comfortably with him for 20 years by using this simple method: I never listen to his program.
Of course, there are far more people on the left cheering Media Matters and Jane Fonda on, but it is significant that there are liberals who realize the danger in not just criticizing, but actively working to silence someone with whom they disagree.
Now comes the ad campaign that Media Matters thinks will force Limbaugh from the airwaves. The two ads use Limbaugh’s own words about Sandra Fluke. They will run in 8 cities: Boston; Chicago; Detroit; Seattle; Milwaukee; St. Louis; Macon, Ga.; and Cedar Rapids, Iowa. AP reports that the ads are designed “to support active local campaigns against Limbaugh or because of perceptions Limbaugh may be vulnerable in that market.” Carusone told AP, “What we’re really looking for is a way to demonstrate the persistence of the effort and the fact that it is on a wide scale.”
Some pundits worry that if Media Matters were to be successful, it would start a full scale war with both sides seeking to silence voices with which they disagree. But there really isn’t much of a chance that Media Matters will do anything except gin up outrage and fill its coffers. In fact, the more they go after Limbaugh, the more popular he becomes on the right. In a sense, MMFA is playing right into Rush’s hands.
But one of the most troubling aspects of the effort to get Limbaugh off the air is how government now feels comfortable getting involved in “hate speech” controversies. The Los Angeles City Council passed a non-binding resolution calling on local stations to police their broadcasts in order to eliminate insensitive remarks and comments that cross the line of decency. The resolution is part of the fallout over controversial comments made by local “shock jocks” John Kobylt and Ken Chiampou who referred to Whitney Houston 3 days after her death as a “crack ho.” The two hosts were suspended for a week and must attend sensitivity classes before they return to the air.
But the resolution also mentioned Limbaugh’s comments about Sandra Fluke. Jeff Goldstein, a blogger who has been writing about the issues surrounding free speech and language for years, explains what the City Council is actually saying:
[A]s is evident in the proposal by this local city council, this is not really about “offensive” speech at all: it is instead about controlling speech, and that will be accomplished, once the left (with the blessings from a timid “right”) is able to take legal steps to enshrine PC laws, by empowering politically-motivated interpretive communities to decide what comes to count as offensive in the first place. Beyond that even, the empowerment here is extended to pretensions on the part of those putatively offended to determine when a certain type of speech is being “promoted” — which speaks to intent — though real intent will always be bracketed by the complainants should they believe it not to match the formulations they decide are offensive.
Goldstein notes that the trap we fall into is that those who are “offended” by the speech are the only ones with the “moral authority” to determine if something qualifies as “hate speech.” There is no objective standard so that those who refuse to “abide by the strictures” of speech as determined by the identity group, “simply don’t pass the ‘litmus test’ designed by the left to guarantee compliance to their ideological and policy agendas.”
There’s a reason we have a First Amendment. It is to guarantee that even speech with which you disagree is protected by government. Censorship — whether practiced by government or political organizations — is hazardous to democracy which lives and breathes because there is an unfettered exchange of ideas. Even when people are screaming at each other, each side must be heard — even if the two sides aren’t listening to each other. The principle has stood us well over the years, and when it is threatened by a front group for a political party, all must rush to defend the principle, if not the speech itself.
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