Saturday, April 14, 2007

When Is Censhorship Not Censorship?

There is a bit of confusion in the comments' section over at Democracy Lover's blog and in my previous post. There seems to be some confusion concerning what it is I am advocating, and (while I shouldn't have been surprised, I was) the dreaded "c" word reared its ugly head. While ER's comments are more thoughtful and express certain liberal platitudes - the marketplace of ideas and all that - his reproach becomes clear when he uses the phrase "liberal fascism" (kind of like right-wing socialist).

Censorship is when official organs of the state ban or otherwise suppress dissent. not only would I never advocate that, if the Bush White House went after anyone, even Rush Limbaugh, to try and silence them, I would be at the front of the line demanding such actions stop. I shall say this here and now, as loudly and as clearly as I possibly can:

Were it the case that Glenn Beck, Michael Smerconish, Bill O'Reilly, Michael Levin, Michael Savage, Sean Hannity, or Rush Limbaugh used their hours of air-time to advocate for left-wing causes, but lied, were intellectually dishonest, made up incidents, statistics, and so on out of whole cloth to do so, or otherwise acted in ways both invidious and destructive, I would want them gone. It isn't the political content of their radio programs that I object to; it is the constant flow of disinformation, of hysteria, of hatred, bigotry, and the distortion of reality to which I object. This isn't about political perspectives of equal weight being carefully considered in a marketplace of ideas. Those listed above have no ideas to which one should lend any credence; their speech is the contemporary equivalent of the crazy guy with the sandwich board waling around the park, except these crazy guys are paid a whole lot of money to wander around and spout off.

Another point at issue, for those who want to take the First Amendment high horse, is that this is not, in the end, about speech. It is about money. A whole lot of money. Millions and millions of dollars in advertising revenue, contract revenue, endorsement revenue, plus the other subsidiary rights and contracts such as paying ghost writers to put out books under the names of these guys who probably have a problem finding "g" on a keyboard. If you think I am wrong, consider the story I wrote about back in January in which a local blogger from San Francisco started emailing clips from a right-wing radio station to advertisers. Advertisers started to pull out. The station, owned by Disney, landed on this guy with both of Mickey's over-sized feet, and lashed his pencil-thin tail around the guy's neck for good measure. There is a disproportion in economic and social power at play here that needs to be understood if the issue is to be grasped fully. In our public square, those who pay more, get to say more. Radio is a business, even though it operates in a publicly-owned arena. Corporations pay a whole lot of money - in station infrastructure, in licensing and user fees, in contracts - to be able to make even more money. Even a million bloggers can be stymied by this kind of cash, because, as the saying goes, "money talks, and bullshit, even First Amendment bullshit, walks". Let us not delude ourselves in thinking this has even the remotest connection to Constitutional issues.

There is no right to be on radio. There is no right to lie in public. There is no right to make millions of dollars (and then squander it on Oxycontin and Viagra and trips to sex-tourism hot spots like the Dominican Republic) spewing lies and hatred and distortions of the public record. These are either privileges or distortions of the marketplace we mistakenly call one of ideas. In the end, this isn't about good speech driving out bad speech. This is about clearing muck and mud and slime and filth from the public square; it is also about making oneself aware that all that dirt and ordure was put there by millionaires who want to continue to put it there, regardless of the general publics' preference that the area be cleaned up.

Virtual Tin Cup

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