Monday, June 07, 2010

A contradiction?

No one so far has asked me to resolve an apparent contradiction in my vehement support for the firing of Helen Thomas. (Considering she retired earlier today, the point is now moot...but the argument is not.)

The contradiction goes like this -- how can Anthony, that fierce advocate for free speech -- come down so hard on Ms. Thomas simply for voicing her opinion? And moreover, if you are a proponent of free speech, then how can you ever support penalizing someone for speaking his or her mind?

It would appear, the contradiction therefore continues, that Anthony has flip-flopped on this idea: He was a free-speech advocate before he turned against it.


Free speech is protected, but with any right comes a responsibility to use it wisely. (It's not the same thing as having the legal right to drive -- that's a privilege -- but I think you can see a bit of a parallel developing here.) I can exercise my free speech by protesting BP's handling of the oil spill in the Gulf (as an example), provided I don't inflame an already dicey situation. There is a far cry from me advocating for BP to foot the bill for the entire effort to contain the oil spill versus me advocating that someone introduce BP's executives to their maker.

There is a difference, and Helen Thomas crossed that line of responsible free speech.

Imagine this scenario: On this blog I suggest that Blacks ought to return to Africa because all they are doing is filling the U.S. with unwanted children and gorging at the welfare trough. America would be a stronger nation, I insist, if Blacks would get out.

As this hypothetical situation expands, my employer finds out about the post and begins examining whether these statements provide justification for revoking my tenure and/or dismissing me from the university.

Various faculty at Point Park begin to weigh in, telling the media in both on- and off-the-record comments that I am attempting to return Blacks to an era long ago dismissed as inhumane; I almost certainly am a racist; and that no African-American student can ever be assured of being treated fairly by me in the future.

Would you object to any of that? Under what grounds? Because I was speaking my mind not as a member of the Point Park University faculty but as a private citizen?

Give me a break.

There is no contradiction in passionately defending free speech and passionately pushing for the firing of someone who uses that right to demean another person or group, or who advocates violence against another person or group.

As the old adage goes, your right to throw a punch ends at my nose. With any chosen action comes a responsibility to use it wisely. It's not my fault that Ms. Thomas opted to use her free speech to call for Jews to get "the hell out of Palestine." But it would be my fault if I didn't call her on the carpet for it.

1 comment:

James Patrick Walsh said...

I would agree but Helen Thomas has a valid point. Israel has overstepped it's authority, and not for the first time. Israel lives under a constant fear of terrorist attack, however that is no excuse for some recent actions. The latest being the attack on a ship that they "believed" had weapons. They went on shoddy evidence and over reacted. This is a repeat of the actions of a few years back when they unleashed a missle attack that was not warrented. Israel has this never again mind set. In "Animal Farm" George Orwell warned us about becoming the very thing we fight against. Israel is heading down that road. So maybe Helen Thomas was not stating an opinon, but pointing a fact that no one wants to hear.