Opinion: Freedom of speech crash course



Jody Michael

Imagine you have a talk radio show. On your show, you offer personal advice to your callers. This show is nationally syndicated, airing on roughly 200 stations across America and with an audience of millions.

A black woman calls your show to ask for advice. She has acquaintances who make racist comments toward her, and she wants to know how to get them to stop using the n-word.

This situation really hits a nerve with you, but in a very different way. You hate how, for example, black comedians on HBO use the n-word all the time, but white people get criticism if they use it. So you say the n-word repeatedly to your caller to make a point.

“If anybody without enough melanin says it, it’s a horrible thing,” you tell your caller, “But when black people say it, it’s affectionate. It’s very confusing.”

Your caller is very angry that you just used the n-word 11 different times, so you hang up on her.

A lot of people are unhappy with what you said. Organizations like the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), Media Matters for America, Women’s Media Center and UNITY: Journalists of Color release statements to your sponsors telling them to stop sponsoring your show and stop endorsing its content.

After receiving so much backlash, you decide to end your radio show.

Have you imagined all that? Here’s your quiz question: Did those who criticized your comments violate your constitutionally protected freedom of speech?

I trust that you’re a smart person. Surely you know the First Amendment guarantee: “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech.” In this scenario, Congress did not force you off the airwaves — you actually made the decision to end your show.

Knowing this, your emphatic response is, “No, this did not violate my freedom of speech! That’s my final answer, Regis!”

The aforementioned story is the exact situation in which Laura Schlessinger has found herself. After her August 10 comments about the n-word, she then announced on Larry King Live seven days later that she would end her show, “The Dr. Laura Program,” at the end of 2010.

Why did she end her show? “I want to regain my First Amendment rights,” Schlessinger said.

She still stands by that claim. Last week she was a guest on the “Today” show and “The Sean Hannity Show” to promote her new book “Surviving a Shark Attack (On Land),” and “The Dr. Laura Program”’s move to satellite radio.

“I realized I had to go on Sirius XM or something like that in order to have the freedom of speech without being assassinated,” she told Matt Lauer.

I hope you realize how absurd her reasoning is. Freedom of speech is not that confusing. Schlessinger has the right to say the n-word. People have the right to criticize her for saying the n-word. Schlessinger is no victim. Are you that stupid, Dr. Laura?

Jody Michael is a sophomore broadcast journalism major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].