Since the beginning of recorded time, history has taught one immutable lesson: Evil is resilient, and even when it appears to be vanquished, it often reemerges in a different form. This resiliency is dramatically increased in environments where people who dream of a better world are unable to speak because nobody can hear them, or unwilling to speak due to fear or intimidation. In such milieus any hope for progress or positive social change is more illusory than real.
The people of the United States have learned this lesson time and again, and ironically it is often the United States Supreme Court, that alleged bastion of justice, that has taught it.
In 1857 this court, in its Dred Scott decision, provided the legal basis for the evil of slavery to be spread throughout the United States. It ultimately took a civil war and three amendments to the Constitution to overturn this now infamous ruling.
It wasn’t long, however, before slavery was replaced by the racist doctrine of “separate but equal,” which the Supreme Court endorsed in the 1896 case of Plessy v. Ferguson. The fallout from Plessy, as political cartoonist Thomas Nast illustrated, was to condemn African-Americans to a social status that was “worse than slavery.”
The evils spawned by the Plessy decision thrived until a unanimous Supreme Court, in a rare moment of clarity and humanity, ruled in the 1954 case of Brown v. Topeka that “separate but equal” was inherently unequal.
Sadly, in a predictable example of déjà-vu, the four racists and one self-loathing African-American who now comprise the majority on today’s Supreme Court (Scalia, Roberts, Alito, Kennedy and Thomas) essentially revived the ideology of “separate but equal” in the 2007 cases of Meredith v. Jefferson County Board of Education and Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle. They even had the audacity to claim that Brown supported this revival.
But for every racist coward and hypocrite hiding beneath the black robes of justice, there are courageous people raising their voices to combat evil: An angry mob murdered Elijah Lovejoy for condemning the evil of slavery, and political officials in Montgomery, Alabama once demanded that a white librarian named Juliette Morgan be fired from her job simply because she wrote letters to her local newspaper supporting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s call for a boycott of segregated city buses. Although the library refused to fire her, the incessant harassment she endured from white racists eventually drove her to suicide.
Although the exercise of one’s right to freedom of speech does not always result in untimely death, there are often other negative consequences: Charles Morgan Jr. lost his opportunity to hold elected political office in Alabama after openly condemning the 1963 bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church that killed four little African-American girls, and Dr. King, fearing he would be denounced as a “communist sympathizer,” had to engage in extensive soul searching before finally agreeing to sign a petition that supported clemency for Carl Braden, who was imprisoned for his refusal to testify before the “House Un-American Activities Committee” (HUAC).
It seems so ludicrous today that a person was murdered for opposing slavery, that another faced the threat of economic retaliation and harassment for opposing racial segregation, that a third was politically vilified for condemning an act of cold-blooded murder, and that a fourth had to tremble before daring to sign a petition.
But it is not so ludicrous to Ward Churchill or Van Jones.
For many Americans, the 2008 election of Barack Obama not only ended eight years of evil under the dictatorship of George W. Bush, it also instilled the hope that America was finally transcending its horrific legacy of racism.
Unfortunately, Hate Radio and Hate Television—with its vicious blend of demagogues, drug addicts, sexual harassers, perjurers, silver-spooned brats, and cowardly warmongers who refused to serve in the military themselves—soon shattered that optimism.
Naturally, thanks to the little progress that has been made, their appeals to racism cannot be as blatant as when George Wallace proclaimed, “Segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever,” or when Ronald Reagan launched his 1980 presidential campaign expressing support for “state’s rights” in Philadelphia, Mississippi, the town where three civil rights workers were murdered in 1964, or when Senator Jesse Helms vociferously opposed the creation of a federal holiday honoring Dr. King, just four years after Klansmen and Neo-Nazis gunned down civil rights protesters on the streets of Greensboro, North Carolina, the state Helms represented.
So today’s appeals to racism are subtler, as demonstrated by Fox News’ Glenn Beck. Beck has shrewdly employed a backhanded approach by accusing Obama of being a racist. Peppered with a touch of McCarthy-era “red baiting,” this approach is extremely effective because whites who secretly hate Obama because of his race can now pretend they hate him because of his “racism.”
Beck’s comments about Obama’s alleged “racism” recently resulted in several advertisers boycotting his show. One of the primary advocates of this boycott was “Color of Change,” an organization co-founded by Van Jones. At the time this boycott was launched, Jones was working as a “green jobs” advisor in the Obama White House.
Predictably, Hate Radio and Hate Television’s response to this boycott was swift, as their commentators—who routinely demand economic retaliation against those they disagree with, while crying “foul” when such retaliation is aimed at them—unleashed their fury against Jones, ultimately forcing him to resign from his advisory position.
One of Jones’ alleged “sins” was to have signed a petition, prior to joining the Obama administration, that called for an investigation into whether the Bush dictatorship knew in advance about the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, yet did nothing to prevent them.
This, however, is a legitimate question that many Americans would like answered. But most are afraid to ask it, because right-wing commentators on Hate Radio and Hate Television, and even some on the left, bitterly condemn the notion that George W. Bush or his minions would allow thousands of people to die simply to promote their political agendas.
But, as I asserted in several previous Pravda.Ru articles, having prior knowledge about the possibility of an attack is not necessarily the same as having prior knowledge about the magnitude of an attack. Most previous acts of terrorism involving airplanes were confined to hijackings and hostage takings, or to attacks upon the planes themselves; therefore the methods used on 9/11 were largely unprecedented.
It is also known that many members of the Bush dictatorship wanted to invade Iraq long before the events of 9/11 took place, but feared the American people would be reluctant to support such an invasion. Allowing a “routine” hijacking to occur, then blaming it on Iraq, would easily vanquish this reluctance, and, as a bonus, also silence questions about the crimes and judicial corruption used to facilitate Bush’s theft of the White House during the coup of 2000.
Another individual who suffered economic retaliation because of his comments about the events of 9/11 is professor Ward Churchill. His ordeal disproves the popular childhood adage: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
Demands that Churchill be fired from his tenured professorship at the University of Colorado (UC) erupted after he wrote an essay that referred to some of the 9/11 victims as “little Eichmanns.”
Naturally some Colorado politicians, seeing an issue they could exploit for cheap votes and publicity, joined the chorus, and a few, using a tactic eerily similar to the one segregationists used against Juliette Morgan, even threatened to deny funding to the university.
The difference is that the library employing Morgan did not capitulate. UC did.
Although UC claimed it could not fire Churchill for exercising his right to freedom of speech, university officials conveniently conducted an “investigation” that subsequently led to Churchill’s dismissal for allegedly committing “plagiarism” and other types of “research misconduct.”
After Churchill sued, a Colorado jury returned a verdict in his favor, stating that the misconduct allegations were simply a pretext UC used to conceal the fact that Churchill had really been fired for expressing his political opinions.
Yet, in a hearing to award damages, Judge Larry Nave blatantly ignored the jury’s verdict, and refused to reinstate Churchill or award him any financial compensation. Not surprisingly, this inspired those who had demanded Churchill’s ouster to praise Nave for his “courageous” interpretation of the “law.”
But one simple question persists: Would these accolades have occurred if the Plaintiff had been Rush Limbaugh? Limbaugh, after all, frequently compares his political adversaries to Nazis.
In today’s milieu, the answer would be a resounding “NO.” Commentators on Hate Radio and Hate Television, hypocrites that they are, would undoubtedly denounce Nave for his “judicial activism” and callous disregard of the law if he ignored a jury verdict that favored Limbaugh. Thanks to these commentators, it is not what is said that matters, but who is saying it.
Those who doubt this need only imagine the following situation. Picture any professor, but particularly one teaching law or political science, publicly expressing this opinion: “Damn the Constitution of the United States, especially the Bill of Rights. The President has the powers of a dictator, and therefore can ignore Congress, the Constitution, and the Courts at his whim. Furthermore, anyone and everyone, including American citizens, can be arrested and detained indefinitely without charge or trial, secreted from family and friends, denied legal representation, and tortured at the whim of their captors.”
So why is former Justice Department attorney John Yoo still teaching law at the University of California at Berkeley, and why is former Attorney General (and suspected perjurer) Alberto Gonzales now teaching political science at Texas Tech?
Because Yoo and Gonzales did not damn the Constitution with their words, but with their deeds. And even though logic would seem to dictate that this makes their actions more reprehensible than Churchill’s, apparently in the duplicitous world of academia the use of “sticks and stones” is rewarded, but the use of words is reviled.
Naturally commentators on Hate Radio and Hate Television will respond that many of their ilk have paid a price for expressing their opinions: In addition to the boycott against Beck, Don Imus was fired for making derogatory comments about the Rutgers Women’s Basketball team, and Limbaugh lost his position on ESPN for making negative comments about African-American quarterbacks.
Yet Imus recently signed a multi-year contract with Fox, the same media organization that employs Beck; Limbaugh remains a malignant staple of Hate Radio; and Beck’s diatribes successfully compelled the resignation of Van Jones.
Some might argue that it is hypocritical to defend the free speech rights of Churchill and Jones, while condemning commentators on Hate Radio and Hate Television for exercising this same right.
But this argument ignores the fact that freedom of speech only works if all viewpoints are given an equal opportunity to be heard.
This fact is the impetus behind America’s adversarial legal system, which functions on the premise that both sides of an issue or case should be advocated and heard before any judgment is rendered.
Monopolistic, profit-driven media often permit only one viewpoint to thrive, as evidenced by the yellow journalistic schemes of the late newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst.
At the end of the nineteenth century, to increase newspaper circulation, Hearst began to misrepresent, exaggerate and even fabricate reports about the alleged atrocities the Spanish colonial government was committing against the people of Cuba. The United States government used these “reports” as an excuse to dispatch the battleship USS Maine to the island. When the Maine mysteriously exploded, the Hearst newspapers immediately concluded that the explosion resulted from a Spanish attack, sparking the battle cry “Remember the Maine” and leading the United States into the Spanish-American war.
Yet decades later, when Republican forces were battling Francisco Franco’s fascists during the Spanish Civil War, Hearst became an “isolationist.” His newspapers published photographs of alleged atrocities being committed by Republican troops, which dissuaded Americans from supporting the Republican cause. Only later was it revealed that these photographs actually depicted atrocities that Franco’s fascists had committed against the Republicans.
Many historians believe that Hearst’s deception gave succor to Franco’s two main supporters, Germany’s Adolph Hitler and Italy’s Benito Mussolini, by conveying the impression that the United States was not concerned about the rapid rise of fascism across the European Continent.
Before one thinks that the days of William Randolph Hearst are over, remember how easily the corporate-controlled media, with their eye on the ratings and profits that war often brings, duped Americans into supporting the invasion of Iraq by unquestioningly regurgitating the Bush dictatorship’s lies about “weapons of mass destruction,” and “Saddam Hussein’s involvement in 9/11.”
Many free speech advocates argue that the proper response to Hate Radio and Hate Television is “more speech.” But this ignores the reality that speech must have an audience to be effective. Although the first amendment to the Bill of Rights guarantees protection for “freedom of speech,” it does not compel the government to create outlets or opportunities for speech to be heard.
As PBS journalist Bill Moyers recently pointed out, the media outlets required to reach a wide audience, which enhances the effectiveness of speech, are usually rationed out to the rich and powerful. With private ownership of media being increasingly concentrated into fewer and fewer hands, some speech will simply die of starvation as corporate-controlled media, armed with their own economic and political agendas, provide access only to the messages and messengers they support.
Unfortunately, the popularity of Hate Radio and Hate Television is not completely due to this concentration of media ownership. The messages these media espouse are also alluring because they appeal to the basest of human emotions: hatred, intolerance, divisiveness, greed, and the exploitation of emotion over reason. As much as Americans claim to loathe these characteristics, the plethora of negative political campaigns, the popularity of “reality” shows featuring bickering participants, the hunger for details about heinous crimes or criminals, the thirst for celebrity “gossip,” and the exploitation of the three “isms”—racism, classism, and sexism—have all fueled the ascent of Hate Radio and Hate Television.
When left solely to the market forces of supply and demand, liberal speakers and media in the United States cannot hope to compete with the hatemongers. This is largely because liberals strive to appeal to the best in human nature—compassion, tolerance, unity, charity, and the use of reason over emotion. Consequently they do not make for “entertaining” radio or television. And in an industry driven by ratings and profit, this can be fatal.
Since corporations are legally considered to be entities, and not individuals, the government has more authority to regulate their constitutional rights. For example, “commercial speech” used to sell goods or services is considered to be less protected than political speech.
Since the wealth and economic clout of corporations can easily drown out the speech of individuals—particularly in a “democracy” where politicians are often for sale to the highest bidder—campaign finance laws were written to regulate corporate speech activities. Without these restrictions, it would be almost impossible for individuals to criticize corporate misconduct or influence, because they would have to rely on the corporate-controlled media to do so.
But now the United States Supreme Court has a case before it that could potentially give corporations and media magnates even more power to promulgate messages they support and censor messages they oppose.
If the court rules in favor of the corporations (and several justices have already expressed a willingness to do so) the result, as Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21 explains, would be to “allow corporations to flood our elections and use campaign expenditures to buy influence, [which] would fundamentally undermine our democracy. The little guy would have no role, because the dominant force in politics—the dominant force in Washington decision-making—would become corporations.”
In other words, it might not be long before the right to freedom of speech becomes instead a privilege enjoyed only by the rich and powerful.
So it is no exaggeration to state that today’s America is engulfed in wars far beyond the borders of Afghanistan and Iraq. These wars are being fought between hatred and hope, between corporate fascism and individual freedom, between those seeking to maintain the racist and reactionary status-quo and those dreaming of building a just world for everyone.
For good or for ill, America is often the moral compass of the world. The war crimes, tortures and other atrocities of the Bush dictatorship, and the failure (at least to date) of the Obama administration to prosecute the perpetrators of these crimes, have dimmed this compass substantially. But if Hate Radio and Hate Television are allowed to merge their virulent and deceitful messages with the avaricious and amoral speech of national and multi-national corporations, this compass will cease to exist.
The result will be an American wasteland of ignorance, intolerance and irrationality, where far too many people will feel isolated and alone because of opinions they are powerless or afraid to express, and where even those bold enough to demand that their opinions be heard will tremble as they do so.
And if the exercise of a fundamental freedom makes one tremble, then it is not a freedom at all.
David R. Hoffman
Legal Editor of Pravda.Ru