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Craig Parshall, General Counsel

 

Free Speech: Coming Back Home to Roost

 

February 2, 2011

Amidst the civil turmoil in Egypt, the Obama Administration, through spokesman Robert Gibbs, has called on Egypt to uphold “universal rights, including the right to…speech.” This has been a common theme in the Administration’s articulated foreign policy. Back in January of 2010, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton outlined a plan where the United States would promote Internet freedom internationally. The project, funded by America, would insure access of persons abroad to websites like Google, YouTube, and online newspapers, and it opposed the efforts of nations that would hinder such access. The question now is whether, or to what extent, President Obama will use his Presidential ethos to halt efforts seeking to stifle otherwise lawful (but politically incorrect) free expression right here in the United States.

Liberal lawmakers in the wake of the Tucson shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) immediately jumped to the illogical conclusion (now wholly discredited) that the violence in Tucson was the result of conservative, anti-government commentary on the radio or the Internet. They called for reinstatement of the anti-free speech Fairness Doctrine and suggested criminalizing certain symbols and catch phrases. But President Obama has hitherto not opposed these suggestions from political leaders in his own party. What he did do, at the commemoration ceremony in Tucson, was to call for a return to civility, though he also suggested that America might have to rethink certain deeply held assumptions in order to achieve that aim. President Obama did not clarify what he meant, though we can only wonder if curtailing some part of our free speech rights was implied.

This week, more evidence of the rising climate of censorship surfaced. This time it was on MSNBC during the TV talk show of Ed Schultz. There, he and fellow liberal Al Sharpton called on the FCC to form a kind of thought-police commission to weed out distasteful comments by conservatives, treating them like pornography or indecency. At issue was Rush Limbaugh and statements he made on his popular radio show about China’s President Hu Jintao, who visited the White House recently. Noting that the statements from China’s leader were not translated in the customary manner, Limbaugh pointed out that any television viewer who did not understand the language would be left in the dark about what a Communist leader was saying to us in our own nation’s capital, at which point he made his inartful impersonation of a Chinese dialect. California State Senator Leland Yee (D) was outraged and called for a boycott of Limbaugh’s program. When the Representative received a few crank calls, the Associated Press (AP) covered the story and immediately tied the politician’s fears back to the Tucson killings. The MSNBC show followed, with a call by the liberal host and guest for the FCC to form a censorship-of-ideas commission. Interesting. And to MSNBC’s credit, the host of the show, Ed

Schultz, had been previously told by his network to discontinue one of his program segments called “Psycho Talk,” where he regularly assailed conservatives in bitter terms.

Considering these attacks against conservative commentators, and coupled with the recent Internet regulation plan last December by Julius Genachowski (President Obama’s pick for Chair of the FCC) that woefully ignored the issue of Free Speech on the web, one overriding question remains: will the current Administration seek to protect the same fundamental liberties here in American that it has urged on the other nations of the world?