The Republic of T.

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Farewell, “Dr. Laura”

Farewell, “Dr.” Laura. Alas, we knew you far too well.

Actually, there is just one thing before you go…

It’s this bit about the first amendment.

On Larry King Live last night, Schlessinger pretended that this was in fact a good thing for her. “I feel energized actually — stronger and freer to say the things that I believe need to be said for people in this country,” she said. The things that need to be said include, apparently, telling a black woman (who called into the show because she was concerned about her husband’s friends’ racism) that she had “too much sensitivity,” while repeating the N-word 11 times.

“I want to regain my First Amendment rights,” Dr. Laura declared. On the subject of freedom of speech, which includes the right to say stupid things, she continued: “I want to be able to say what’s on my mind and in my heart and what I think is helpful and useful without somebody getting angry, some special interest group deciding this is the time to silence a voice of dissent and attack affiliates, attack sponsors. I’m sort of done with that.”

Here’s the thing. You want to say what’s on your mind? When have you not said what’s on your mind, in 30 years? You never lost your first amendment rights. Otherwise, how would you have been on the air for 30 years? And you didn’t lose them this last time around either.

This isn’t about freedom of speech. It’s about what it’s always about when a conservative says something that gets an angry response, and maybe sparks a boycott or two. You don’t want freedom of speech. You want the freedom to speak without consequences.

The problem is, freedom of speech works both ways. You can say what you want, and if people don’t like it, they can use their freedom of speech to respond. Loudly. Now, if you’re just sounding off to anyone who happens to be within earshot, that’s probably not going to be a big deal.  But if you’re spouting off on a syndicated, sponsor-supported radio or television show, well, that’s a whole different situation.

Now, you have a platform, supported by sponsors whose money comes from people buying the products they pay to advertise on your show. As a consumer, if I hear something on your show that offends me deeply enough, and then right afterward I hear a commercial for a company whose products I regularly purchase, I am likely to call them and ask, “Hey, what’s the deal with you advertising on Dr. Laura’s show? Do you know what she just said on the air? Do you support that?” I might threaten to stop buying their products if they continue advertising.

I am actually well within my first amendment rights in doing so. So the thousands of others who might do the same. We’re all within our first amendment rights. And if we organized to convince even more people to do the same, we would still be well within our first amendment rights.

And, guess what. We still won’t have infringed on your first amendment rights.

But the First Amendment doesn’t guarantee that speaking your mind will have no economic consequences. Proclaiming that those without thick skins probably shouldn’t marry outside their race is always going to be, let us say, commercially risky if you’re aiming for a broad audience — or if your sponsors are. General Motors and Motel 6 both reportedly pulled their sponsorship over the flap, prior to Schlessinger’s decision to leave her show. But whether that’s the right thing to do or the wrong thing to do, it doesn’t implicate the government; it implicates the profit motive.

In fact, the organization of a boycott is itself the exercise of First Amendment rights — GLAAD, or the American Family Association, or Sarah Palin, or Laura Schlessinger, anyone can publicly advocate for an end to the economic support of someone else’s speech. If you want, you can boycott them back — “Okay, if GLAAD is boycotting Laura Schlessinger, then I’m boycotting anybody who donates to GLAAD.” It becomes reductive and unhelpful at some point, and it may or may not be justified, and one side or the other may be substantively right or wrong — but all of it, from every angle and every political position, is consistent with the idea of free expression.

Because the “free” in that concept means “free from government interference,” not “free from consequences.”

If what you want is freedom from having to worry about sponsors and boycotts, knock yourself out. You can probably afford to set up your own web presence with minimal reliance on sponsors (and far lower production costs). Get yourself a webcam and a YouTube account and knock yourself out. (I’d say be prepared for comments, but you’ll probably turn them off, which — by the way — would not violate anyone else’s freedom of speech.) Many of us have been doing it for years.

You have the right to freedom of speech, just like the rest of us. You always have. But, none of us have the inalienable “right” to a radio or television show, or the right to have someone else provide us a platform for our speech. And none of us have even a reasonable expectation of speaking our minds without a response, or opposition, from someone else.

Oh, and one more thing. If you’ve decided drop your radio show, fine. But don’t blame the rest of us for it. Take some personal responsibility.

Because you did this to yourself.

That is, you and your freedom of speech.

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