Phil Robertson, Martin Bashir, and the right to free speech

It’s astonishing, to say the least, when you look at the responses of many people to things said in the media nowadays.  Not astonishing for what’s said, but astonishing for the reactions generated by the individuals doing the speaking.

Martin Bashir resigned from his job at MSNBC after making a statement about Sarah Palin in response to her equating the financial issues of our country to slavery.  His statement, was for all intents and purposes, was an exercise in free speech.  The very free speech that is protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution.  That right to free speech did not exempt him from the repercussions of expressing himself though, hence the eventual resignation.

Now, we have Phil Robertson from A&E’s Duck Dynasty on the hot seat.  He said quite a bit in an interview with GQ magazine that has stirred up quite a few people.  He also has engaged in the exercise of his free speech, and as a result, A&E suspended him from the show.  Once again, there is no protection from the repercussions of exercising that free speech.

You can go on and on and on with names of people who have opened their mouths over time and have had to face the consequences.  The Dixie Chicks spoke out about Bush and were ostracized.  Alec Baldwin opened his mouth a few times and ended up losing his show.  The one common thread is they all opted to exercise their right to free speech.

The response by Americans, however, is a tale of two cities.  When Bashir spoke about Palin, the Right went gathered torches and pitchforks and went in pursuit of his job.  From Sean Hannity all the way to anonymous commentors on websites, I don’t recall anybody on the right stepping out in front of him waving the First Amendment in his defense.  There may have been someone  who did, but I don’t personally recall such, and Google has not found anybody to help me out either.  Robertson, on the other hand, has people defending his statement and trashing A&E for exercising their rights to remove him from their network for the time being.

A gathering of comments about Robertson’s comments posted at Raw Story show lots of support for him.

Fox News host Megyn Kelly said the decision to place Robertson on hiatus was made in haste.

“Is he ever coming back? It remains to be seen, but that will certainly shut down debate,” Kelly said. “There really won’t, I mean, he’s a Christian man — I grant you, he did not say this in the kindest way – but why can’t there be a debate about it? Why can’t there be a back-and-forth, a discussion — you know, that’s how he feels, and you say how you feel, instead of saying, ‘You are fired, you are basically canned.’”


Another Fox News host, Sean Hannity, complained the disciplinary actions against Robertson established a “slippery slope,” while a Christian broadcaster called the TV star an “American hero.”

“Phil Robertson is a new American hero,” said broadcaster Bryan Fischer, of the American Family Association, in a series of Twitter posts. “He said exactly what the great majority of Americans believe. Phil Robertson is right. It’s a simple matter of plumbing. Easy to figure out what is supposed to go where. And where not.”

Sarah Palin, a reality show star herself, also weighed in.

“Free speech is endangered species; those ‘intolerants’ hatin’ & taking on Duck Dynasty patriarch for voicing personal opinion take on us all,” Palin tweeted.

On the other hand, when it came down to Bashir’s First Amendment rights…

I guess it’s all about what you say and who agrees with you as to who will come to your defense of your right to free speech.  I don’t understand it at all, nor do I agree with the sometimes defense of the right to free speech.  Either you believe in the First Amendment or you don’t.  There is no exception based on whether or not you agree with the speaker.  The First Amendment to the Constitution does protect our right to free speech, but it does not give us protection for the responses to what we say.  When you decide to speak, you also decide to be responsible for your words.



2 thoughts on “Phil Robertson, Martin Bashir, and the right to free speech

  1. To me, both of them said offensive things. Bashir was just breathtakingly crude; he shouldn’t talk like that in a bar with his buddies, let alone on TV. I’m astonished the network didn’t rout him mid-broadcast. I admit Palin was offensive first, but she was offensive in a general way while he was offensive in a personal way.

    Robertson probably didn’t realize he was talking to a journalist rather than a camera crew. If he’d said it on his show — and I betcha he’s said that and worse to the film crew — the network would have edited it right out. There would have been no fuss because his opinions would never have gone to the public. He didn’t understand the circumstances are different when you give an interview.

    The First Amendment doesn’t apply in either case. The First Amendment just says the government can’t punish you for expressing your opinion. It doesn’t say your spouse can’t divorce you, your neighbor can’t start a permanent feud, your business rival can’t sue you for libel and defamation, or your boss can’t fire you.


    • I have to somewhat disagree with you in that I think this is a matter of fre speech, even without government involvement. Offensive words are not necessarily the same as words meant to incite. They were all stupid statements, but I will fight tooth and nail to preserve their right to say them. I will also fight for those who choose to speak in response to what they said.

      I don’t condone or agree with them though. I feel that’s the distinction.


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