In an op-ed for the New York Times, Bill Maher addressed the ongoing controversy over civility (or the lack thereof) by public figures in broadcasting, entertainment, and politics. As might be expected, the comedian had a few prime punchlines dispersed throughout the piece that essentially argued in favor of offensive speech. For instance:
“The right side of America is mad at President Obama because he hugged the late Derrick Bell, a law professor who believed we live in a racist country, 22 years ago; the left side of America is mad at Rush Limbaugh for seemingly proving him right.”
The article began by correctly pointing out that a joke by Robert De Niro about whether the country was ready for a white first lady was wholly non-offensive and any umbrage taken was purposefully faked by people who “pretend to be outraged about nothing.” But, unfortunately, Maher went further to propose what he thinks would be an appropriate response to actual hate speech:
“If you see or hear something you don’t like in the media, just go on with your life. Turn the page or flip the dial or pick up your roll of quarters and leave the booth.”
Maher’s position seems to be that free speech is exercised only by the first person to speak. If that person says something that offends someone else, the obligation of the offendee is to clam up and walk away. I couldn’t disagree more.
Free speech is a right granted to everyone, and the exercise of it is not limited to whoever gets to the microphone first. Responding to the comments of others with whom you disagree is still protected speech and is a part of the great tradition of open discourse in America. If Rush Limbaugh calls a law student a slut, it is entirely appropriate for people offended by that to respond, criticize, and even engage in protests and boycotts. The same is true for those offended by Maher. That is not censorship – it is the complete realization of the meaning of the First Amendment.
In short, you have the right to speak freely. But you do not have the right to be free from criticism for anything stupid that comes out when doing so.
Maher closes his article by saying that he doesn’t “want to live in a country where no one ever says anything that offends anyone.” Neither do I. But I also don’t want to live in a country where no ever talks back when people incite racial division, or lie about important public policies, or insult civic-minded women and other citizens who only seek to participate in the affairs of their communities.
As usual, the pimply-faced editors at the Fox Nation continue to demonstrate their most juvenile tendencies by, once again, referring to Maher with an insulting epithet: Pig Maher Calls for Truce. First of all, Maher did not call for a truce. In fact, he called for continuing to use controversial language but advising people not to get upset about it. Secondly, isn’t it cute the way the Fox Nationalists use a story about toning down uncivil rhetoric by using uncivil rhetoric in their headline? And these people want to be regarded as legitimate “news.”
12 thoughts on “Bill Maher Misfires On Free Speech”
I wonder if Maher – a pretty bright guy by all accounts – sees the irony in writing an article for the NEW YORK TIMES advising lesser known individuals to simply ignore that which is not to their liking.
I wonder if Maher realizes that by responding in his vast public forum to the issue at hand before writing his op ed, he undermined the argument he was about to make.
I wonder if it ever occurred to Maher that protests and, yes, boycotts are on equal footing with the freedom of speech he got to express in the NEW YORK TIMES, an option I now demand access to in the name of free speech.
PS. Under the heading I Ignored It Earlier But Not The Second Time Around: may I object to the term “pimply-faced teenager” as a pejorative which, frankly, I find beneath you? Though I understand, or think I understand the implication, would you not agree that a young person with acne is certainly no less credible than the lucky one blessed with clear skin?
Speaking from experience, of course, an excruciating one at that.
and finally, I’m trying very hard to distinguish the epithet “Pig” from the epithet “pimply-faced.” That one is less insulting, or more deserved, or one bad term merits another, or something. But I can’t. They’re equally as bad and equally ad hominem and equally unjustifiable as ammunition against the opponent.
I didn’t say there was anything wrong with being pimply-faced. The only point in my using it was to imply youth and thereby the childishness of the supposed adults who are editing Fox Nation.
I suppose I could have said the “childish editors,” but I really didn’t think there was a constituency of acne sufferers who would be offended since almost everybody (including me) was at one time.
Yes. I know what you meant. This will be a case of agreeably disagreeing, if you agree.
I do believe there is a difference between a blog written by one person delivering his opinion, in his “voice”, which may include vulgar or what some might consider immature language and Fox Nation, which is blog that is a wing of a news organization that portends (or pretends) to be neutral. And “news”.
I believe Mark’s explanation made more sense, yet was based on an assumption that acne afflicts most teenagers, which in my experience it does not. In fact, those spared it – a whim of nature – often were the most immature and certainly meanest kids, lacking compassion from not having required any as they were.
I find your justification less credible than Mark’s. If I – another one person, whatever difference that makes – were to make a point emphasizing one’s youth, I would go with “hormone-driven” which applies to all.
Finally, I fail to see how “opinion” is germane to this discussion.
I don’t think that’s even close to what Maher is saying. I’m actually amazed that you read it to say that. You appear to be taking something so far out of context, you might as well be Fox News.
The point, at least to this reader (and hopefully to most who aren’t completely nonsensical), was that we need to stop creating fake outrage. I believe Maher is making the argument for free speech:
He grants Limbaugh the right to say what he wants, as is what you do with free speech. People will say things you don’t like, and moving on, or suggesting that people do, is not trying to suggest that they don’t have a right to. I can’t even figure out how you got there.
You said, “Maher went further to propose what he thinks would be an appropriate response to actual hate speech:”
Where in the hell do you get that from? He said nothing about ignoring hate speech. He said you can ignore things in the media, and it isn’t necessary to pretend to be so outraged that your life can barely go on.
Neither do I. Nor do I think Bill Maher is suggesting such. I don’t even think he comes close to that. As a reader of your blog for years, I find it quite disappointing that you missed the point of this op-ed so greatly.
Or perhaps I did. But I know one thing, my day will go on. I read something here, I stated my opinion, but I don’t have to pretend that it’s outrageous. I don’t expect an apology. I don’t think your advertisers should leave you. I think that’s what Maher was advocating.
I guess we really read this differently. But when Maher says “If you see or hear something you don’t like in the media, just go on with your life. Turn the page or flip the dial…” that’s a pretty straight forward opinion that he doesn’t think you should rebut what your heard and didn’t like.
Yes, Maher also said that fake outrage (i.e. re:De Niro) needs to stop, and I agree with that. But he also said that he just doesn’t bother to listen to Limbaugh, so the hate speech directed at Fluke would not get a response. I think that’s wrong.
and it’s particularly wrong when, as I noted above, Maher writes an entire column advising the rest of us not to bother weighing in.
Holy shit! Someone actually disagreeing, but in a civil manner. What is this world coming to?
We do know why Maher took his position, don’t we. In order to exonerate himself, he had to defend Limbaugh.
Comments are closed.