Reality Check: Free Speech Redux

“There continues to be a difficulty among Americans as to the veracity of the First Amendment. It is an article of law, which gives every citizen of this republic the right to speak one’s mind without the fear of government oppression. This does not include endangering others. It does include upsetting and defaming others with the notable exception of Lord Libel and Duke Slander. Everything else is, as they like to say at 4:00 am on McDougal Street, “Nothin’ but a pawty.” – James Campion, Freedom of Speech Case 1,653: Dr. Laura vs. GLAAD, Issue: 6/14/00.

The back of my throat is shredded from the constant bellowing at a vicious gaggle of geese, which has turned an extended stretch of my property into a toilet, and my groin is barking from a lengthy three-day spell of dancing wildly to ancient AC/DC songs with a manic two year-old, who for reasons known only to the gods of irony, considers this a suitable pre-bedtime ritual.

Let’s say I am in no mood for another thousand-word lecture on Freedom of Speech, a subject, whilst as near and dear to my soul as any, has never truly been grasped by an alarming majority of the citizens of these United States. It appears that only when it suits us, we embrace the Constitution, but when inconvenient or our feelings are bruised we opportunely bag it. It is equally vexing on how we believe that unless everyone is on board with our speechifying, our rights are denied.

And so, despite my physical and mental handicaps, I forge on.

The issue remains that the law, as stated and upheld by the liberties bestowed upon us by birthright as Americans and fortified by years of serious and continued bloodletting are blind to human frailty. Stupidity, opinion, prejudice, money, religion, politics, bad parenting and showbiz cannot and will not tremor the foundation of our First Amendment rights. No vote, no protest, no rally or shift in the mood, tenor or zeitgeist will alter it, lest the heaven’s fall and other fancifully devised nonsense.

This is why ultimately, because the First Amendment also protects freedom of religion, the bullshit over this proposed Islamic Center in Lower Manhattan will be settled neatly. If those who wish to build the thing have the cash to do so, receive their zoning permit, and have the will to battle the assholes who will surely come from everywhere to stop it, as they have done to block the cultural and religious freedoms of blacks, Jews, Irish, Italians, etc. for centuries, then they will have their Islamic Center, as they should. Emotions and sentiment should not enter into it, nor should political posturing, as it eventually failed to do when under a deluge of requests to show decorum the National Rifle Association refused to move their annual meeting from Denver shortly after two teenaged freaks went ballistic at Columbine.

This brings us to back to Free Speech and one Dr. Laura Schlessinger, whose recent struggle to “express myself freely” came under fire following her repeating the word “nigger” over and over on a her radio show.

While “nigger” may well be the most vile and demeaning word in the English language, it is not to my knowledge a no-no FCC thing, as say “fuck” or “shit” or “cunt”, which of course makes the arbitrary choice of what words constitute a fine from an unelected board of judges ever the more imbecilic. Nevertheless, “nigger” doesn’t cut it, as “kike”, “wop”, “spic”, “fag”, “jap” and other derogatory terms to ridicule someone’s race or heritage are not precluded from broadcast banter.

So Dr. Laura’s free speech was okay there, but when predictably derided for it, she wanted to be clear that she was using it in the context of double-standards; the kind of thing you get from say older white people who are very upset that they cannot use the word when it is clearly and boldly cranked out in nearly every rap record or in what Dr. Laura clumsily tried to illustrate, nearly every black comedian, and I’d like to add, the whole of the Quentin Tarantino film canon.

Maybe Dr. Laura is a racist, maybe not. We don’t know. Maybe we’ll never know. This performance perhaps could have been received by most as insensitive since Dr. Laura was offering “advice” to an African American woman married to a white man, in which she was not only trying to allay the angst the woman may have felt about being abused by such a word, but that somehow, according to Ms. Schlessinger’s reasoning, all people who enter into a mixed-race marriage “must have a sense of humor.” But this falls under the category of You Get What You Pay For or Consider The Source, because much like the “incident” involving another old, white radio geek, Don Imus, the history of Dr. Laura’s insensitivity is long and in many cases profitable.

A little over ten years ago I wasted a column on Dr. Laura and her battle with the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. In it, I stressed those dispensing three-minute snippets of “advice” on monumental subjects such as mental health or sexual deviancy and the odd moral dilemma may be as noble an endeavor as rodeo clown or hosing down animals in a traveling circus but is nevertheless protected under the First Amendment. However, since such goofiness is broadcast over the airwaves, there comes with it a certain level of resonance. Therefore comments such as homosexuals being “biological errors” or single mothers “immoral” and spending months trying to have a kids’ skateboard magazine expunged from the periodicals publishing list can be construed by listeners as radical and outside the mainstream, yet not surprising, specifically if these viewpoints are the very core of the program in question.

And, as stated before, shock and abhorrence are no reasons to strip the rights of a fellow citizen, nor in actual tried cases, thanks to great American heroes like Lenny Bruce and George Carlin, are the vagaries of obscenity.

Be that as it may, Dr. Laura has the right to be a bigot or appear as one or comment on them, etc. What becomes interesting is when defenders of Free Speech also want radio stations, sponsors, and the public at large to simply accept the behavior without reprisal.

In other words, Dr. Laura can say “nigger” while making a point or mocking a race, but the radio station, its sponsors and/or the listeners do not have to accept it. Radio is a business. It survives on sponsorship from other businesses, and those businesses have to sell their product to as many people as possible, be they blacks, Jews, homosexuals, gun loons, religious weirdoes, perverts, revolutionaries or single moms. Under the First Amendment they have as much right to reject Dr. Laura, force her from the station or refuse to further bankroll her show as she does to blurt “nigger.”

Dr. Laura, and recently her new defender, Sarah Palin, who less than a year ago had a fit when White House Chief Advisor Rahm Emmanuel used the word “retard” in a private meltdown, yet boldly defends Schlessinger’s N-Word jam, wants everyone to be at peace with it, effectively stripping her dissenters of their First Amendment rights.

Although not guilty of shatting on my lawn or instigating an early-evening mosh pit, I am as guilty as Saint Sarah of hypocrisy here. As my Dad may well remind me, since he set me straight back then, in the early nineties when Irish, bald, singer Sinead O’Connor ripped a photo of the Pope on national live television and took as much crap as if she had actually ripped the Pope in half, I became incensed. I felt O’Connor had merely exercised her right to free expression as an artist. The backlash seemed laughable to me, especially when considering she had become a polarizing figure already. This came to a head a week or so later when O’Connor appeared at Madison Square Garden as part as a tribute to Bob Dylan and was roundly booed off the stage. New York? A Dylan tribute? Booed for expressing an artistically revolutionary idea? How? Why? Then my dad simply said, and I had to agree; “Everyone has to like it?”

Nope. Everyone doesn’t.

That’s how it works.

I wrote this in this space over a decade ago, and it still stands: “The deal is struck – you don’t stop me from saying it and I won’t stop you from disagreeing.”



James Campion is the Managing Editor of The Reality Check News & Information Desk and the author of “Deep Tank Jersey”, “Fear No Art”, “Trailing Jesus” and “Midnight For Cinderella”.