If you follow the national news, you may have heard that Juan Williams was let go from NPR for, NPR claims, a variety of offenses, just the most recent of which was stating on the air that he got nervous when he saw Muslims in Muslim garb on airplanes. This caused a firestorm over at Fox News, where Bill O'Reilly and other commentators complained that NPR was stomping all over Williams's right to speak his mind.
But when the shoe was on the other foot, O'Reilly did a little stomping of his own: He took offense to his portrayal by political cartoonist Mike Thompson and ... well, let's let Mike tell it:
He then gave out my work e-mail address and instructed his viewers to “let him know what you think.” O’Reilly stressed that his viewers should take the high road in their e-mails to me, which is a little like placing a bowl of Halloween candy in front of kids and telling them not to gorge themselves. O’Reilly’s smart enough to know what would happen.
Yup, the high road was definitely the road not taken. Thompson received over 2,500 e-mails, many of them in all caps, discussing exactly what people thought of him and his cartoon and what they would like to do to him.
Thompson doesn't mind having people protest his cartoons—it goes with the territory in his field—and he was even grateful for the bump in traffic. But there's a larger point here, which is that O'Reilly and co. are really defining "freedom of speech" as "freedom of speech that agrees with my point of view." Here's Thompson again:
What it all boils down to for people who behave like this isn’t defending the concept of free speech, rather defending free speech that agrees with their partisan point of view. Many of them decry Williams losing his job because, in their view, he was too conservative. But then want to defund NPR and cause everyone else at the broadcasting company to lose their jobs because, in their view, NPR employees are too liberal. Many of them would stand silently next to people carrying “Obama = Hitler” signs at Tea Party rallies that O'Reilly encourages and promotes, but scream foul when I put the slogan on his shirt in a cartoon. These same people decry what they see as a journalist being punished because of political correctness, then turn around and exercise their own form of political correctness by sending torrents of disparaging, and threatening e-mails in a failed attempt to intimidate a journalist who doesn’t agree with their worldview:
He then cites some examples, which are depressing, and the comments to his post are even more depressing.
At times like this, it's good to take a little refresher course in definitions of terms. "Freedom of speech," when used in a First Amendment sort of a way, means that the government will not prohibit any sort of political speech. It doesn't apply to other institutions, such as the media, nor does it protect individuals from the consequences of their speech. That includes getting fired for making incendiary remarks on the air, or drawing an unflattering cartoon of Bill O'Reilly.
However, it's one thing to rag on someone on television and another thing to give out their e-mail address on the air—that borders on harassment. And getting all self-righteous about one person speaking his mind while trying to bully another? That's straight-up hypocrisy, although I'll bet O'Reilly was secretly pleased when he saw the cartoon, as it gave him an easy piece of red meat to toss to the crowd.