What Would Jefferson Say?

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The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression has released its annual Jefferson Muzzle awards, to razz people who showed inadequate respect for the principles of free speech. Booby-prize winners include U.S. District Court Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum (for denying press access to the jury selection process in the Martha Stewart trial), Baseball Hall of Fame President Dale Petroskey (for canceling a planned visit to Cooperstown by Bull Durham co-stars Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon based on their political activism), and many more.

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  1. I didn’t follow the exciting Bull Durham story, but here are letters about it. From Tim Robbins:
    “I had been unaware that baseball was a Republican sport.”
    VRWC, etc.
    “I was looking forward to a weekend away from politics and war to celebrate the fifteenth anniversary of Bull Durham. I am sorry that you have chosen to use baseball and your position at the Hall of Fame to make a political statement.”
    Perhaps disingenuous. Tim and Susan would probably have turned their appearance into a political event.
    “If people had listened to that twisted logic we’d still be in Vietnam.”
    Some say protests at home prolonged Vietnam.
    “Your subservience to your friends in the administration is embarrassing to baseball and by engaging in this enterprise you show that you belong with other cowards and ideologues in the Hall of Infamy and Shame.”
    More VRWC + a sign of things to come.

  2. I am not sure what free speech has to do with
    private entities such as MLB and CBS. If they
    cave to political pressure they may be wimps,
    but their actions have nothing to do with free
    speech.

    Free speech is about government restrictions on
    speech, not about private decisions about when
    and what to speak.

    It is pretty pathetic that a center at U of
    Virginia (Jefferson’s university) and named
    after him does not even understand the
    definition of free speech.

    Ugh.

    Jeff

  3. Sorry Matt and Jeff, dis-inviting Tim Robbins and Susan Saranwrap from Cooperstown indicates scads of good taste (they aren?t welcome at my house either), but it hardly restricts their right to free speech as is evidenced by the very snide and very public remarks about the snub they endured courtesy of the Boys of Summer.

    This is the same twisted new-think that ACLU invoked in a suit filed against the Detroit Tigers on free speech grounds some years back. The Tigers had the audacity to prohibit fans from screaming the word “Fuck” at Tiger Stadium. ACLU won. My heroes (insert “TWC swoons” here).

  4. OK, I should begin this post by saying that I DO NOT IN ANY WAY ADVOCATE COERCIVE REMEDIES WHEN PRIVATE COMPANIES, INDIVIDUALS, GROUPS, ETC. BAR A PERSON FROM SPEAKING IN/ON/AT/WITH/FOR THEIR PRIVATE FORUMS/EVENTS/ETC.

    That said, there is more to a free society than the absence of coercive laws. If you believe that government is not and should not be the beginning and end of what happens in society, then it is also important that the private sector choose to value a wide range of expression. The culture also matters, in fact the culture matters even more in a free society because the whole idea is that what happens will have less to do with the gov’t and more to do with the decisions of private individuals/groups/companies/etc.

    This does not mean that I would EVER in a million years want a law saying “CBS, thou shalt air views that thou dost not like”, but I might, via privately funded and non-coercive channels, excoriate a private company for not acting in a way that (I feel) is conducive to a society with the maximal amount of free discussion and inquiry.

  5. TWC: You did not read my comment very carefully
    as I am agreeing with you and not Matt.

    Thoreau: Indeed, but that is something other
    than free speech. Libertarian restrictions
    on the state do not guarantee a vibrant market
    or a vibrant culture. They just mean that the
    state is restricted, which is a nice thing and
    which, I suspect, increases the probability of
    both vibrant markets and vibrant cultures.

    One of my favorite things about Reason under
    the current regime is its emphasis on cultural
    issues and cultural vibrancy.

    Jeff

  6. Considering how much public money MLB gets, and considering the federal pork that goes to the Baseball Hall Of Fame, it’s fine by me to rip on them.

    Major broadcasters like to talk the free speech game, while at the same time lobby legislators to reduce competition.

  7. then it is also important that the private sector choose to value a wide range of expression.

    No way, dude. It’s important the private sector choose what to value amongst the wide range of expressions available. That’s free association. It may be progressive to include a wide or the widest possible range of expression in a private activity, but you won’t see the KKK invited to the Essence Awards. We need not all be completely progressive…the progressives aren’t even completely progressive.

  8. p.s. I’m not saying you think there should be some coercive remedy, but rather I’m saying that free association – choosing your spectrum – is also an important aspect of a free society. And in a case like this when it comes to limited purpose public figures like Robbins and Sarandon, to what extent they are being stifled and not blasted through the loudspeaker with free publicity is a matter of its own debate I think.

  9. I do not care.
    Gimme a beer.

  10. “The culture also matters, in fact the culture matters even more in a free society because the whole idea is that what happens will have less to do with the gov’t and more to do with the decisions of private individuals/groups/companies/etc.”

    I agree with this principle, although I don’t always agree with how *Reason* and some of the H&R posters apply this principle. Nevertheless, it’s refreshing to see someone endorsing this essential truth.

  11. No award for Scalia? His recorder-confiscating antics in my town last week have given a young alum of my school her 15 minutes, and it happened while he was extolling the virtues of the First Amendment, no less.

  12. If you believe that government is not and should not be the beginning and end of what happens in society, then it is also important that the private sector choose to value a wide range of expression.

    I think you misunderstand the purpose of free speech. It is not important to value a wide range of ideas; it is important to listen to and evaluate a wide range of ideas. Nobody should feel in any way compelled, after listening to what a person has said, to value what that person has said. That is why what we have is called a “marketplace of ideas” — the purpose of a market is not merely to exchange goods, but to assign value to them. There are many areas in which only one idea, or a very narrow range of ideas, is deemed to have any value — for example, the questions “what is two plus two” and “generally speaking, is it ok to kill four-year-old kids and bake them into pies” each have exactly one answer that is valued by most people.

    Robbins and Sarandon have many ideas about (for example) politics. They freely express them, as is their right. I have listened to them and evaluated them, which is all they have a right to expect. My evaluation has led me to the conclusion that their political beliefs are essentially devoid of value, and that they themselves are not good people. As a consequence of my concluding that they are bad people, I do what I can to see to it that they receive none of my entertainment dollars.

    I would also like to note that the purpose of speech is to communicate ideas and to influence other people — it is protected because it is vitally important, for the maintenance of a free society, that we be able to influence one another. But if other people cannot then act in response to that influence, then speech is useless, and we may as well not bother protecting it — it becomes mere verbal masturbation, devoid of meaning or consequence.

  13. Jeff,

    No, No, No, this is being hit in the head lessons (me that is).

    I didn’t mean you…

    I meant the Jefferson Center.

    It was supposed to be a really obscure play on the phrase:

    ‘Mutt and Jeff’ ie Matt and Jeff (meaning the Jefferson Center).

    I know, it was really a reach…

    sorry for the confusion.

    And yeah, I agree. I also like that Reason focuses more on cultural stuff these days as well.

  14. Featuring Babe Ruth as himself!
    What’s not to like?

  15. It seems that many of the recipients deserve the Muzzle’s, but the list of winners/losers is pathetically incomplete. Any list that does not take into account what goes on in the name of PC on college campuses today, specifically Humanities Dept.’s, is woefully short.

    I really think they punted on this one. Erin O’Connor at critical mass.com has a fantastic blog dedicated to these violations. FIRE is good as well.

  16. All most of the Jefferson Muzzle awards over the years went to real, ie governmental, threats and attacks on free speech.

    With in the practice of free speech and the Jeffersonian conception (restricting government from impeding it) as well as his conception of limited government in general, there is ample opportunity to address the concerns that thoreau raises.

    Along that line, I think that blogs that have comments threads harbor an important appeal that blogs that don’t have comments threads lack. I can use my freedom of speech and freedom of association to express this point of view and influence change.

  17. People like Dan and Jeff see free speech as something we have to put up with, because the Constitution makes us

    I never said anything of the sort, and I certainly don’t believe anything of the sort.

    For starters, the Constitution doesn’t make me do anything — that’s the whole point! I’m a private citizen. The Constitution forces the *government* to “put up with” free speech, because free speech is vitally important to, among other people, me.

    A necessary evil.

    No, little brain. Nowhere did I say, or imply, that speech was something “evil” that we have to “tolerate”. I specificially identified speech as a good and necessary thing — it’s just that it’s only good and necessary because we use it to communicate and share ideas, which we are then free to act upon, or to cherish, or to disregard. If, as you desire, we were not free to act upon the speech we hear, and were required to value even the most worthless of ideas, speech would be useless.

    I disagree with this view, and agree with the Jefferson Center. Free speech is a positive good, that should be encouraged and appreciated, not just tolerated

    What you believe is that everyone should be allowed to speak, and everyone should be forced to listen, and nobody should evaluate what they hear, or assign it value, and nobody should act on what they hear. That is freedom only in an Orwellian sense.

    What I believe is that everyone should be allowed to speak, and nobody should be forced to listen, that everyone should evaluate what they hear and determine its value, and that everyone should be free to act on the results of that process. That is freedom in every sense of the word.

  18. Bull Durham, what a snore of a movie that was.

  19. People like Dan and Jeff see free speech as something we have to put up with, because the Constitution makes us. A necessary evil. As long as no one breaks the law, it’s all good.

    I disagree with this view, and agree with the Jefferson Center. Free speech is a positive good, that should be encouraged and appreciated, not just tolerated.

  20. Just when, exactly, did “Bull Durham” become “The Official Movie of Major League Baseball”? I think the “controversy” has less to do with free speech and more to do with some leftists’ favorite actor-vists being snubbed.

    The “Unaware it was a Republican sport” quip is priceless. That’s exactly what opponents of baseball’s free enterprise system acuse it of being.

  21. ‘Just when, exactly, did “Bull Durham” become “The Official Movie of Major League Baseball”?’

    Well, what you put in its place? “The Natural?” Too dark. “Major League?” Fun, but no meat. “The Bad News Bears?”

    Maybe “A League of Their Own,” but that’s probably not going to satisfy people who LIKE the assertion that baseball is a Republican game.

  22. Joe,

    If there HAS to be one:

    Pride of the Yankees, natch.

  23. Noooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!!

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