Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Use Protection: The First Amendment

Originally posted at Oakdale Patch.

Two weeks ago, Wednesday Feb. 29, radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh made some incendiary comments. Well, what else is new? The difference between Limbaugh’s recent set of comments and those of the past is that these specific comments have somehow ignited widespread media fury. Discussing Georgetown Law School student Sandra Fluke’s testimony before Congress in support of insurance mandates for birth control, Limbaugh, on top of displaying an ignorance of oral contraceptives, called her a few names (of which I am sure the reader is aware of but can research if not). Days after a media backlash and subsequent loss of sponsors, Limbaugh apologized.

The only thing more frustrating than Limbaugh’s actual comments is this entire so-called "controversy" perpetuated by those inherently obsessed with Rush Limbaugh no matter what he says or does, shoving this story down the throats of the rest of us. Those of us who do not listen to Limbaugh could have been spared the irritation—but no! One cannot escape the story. The Limbaugh/Fluke controversy is all over television, radio, news outlets, Facebook, Twitter and now Oakdale Patch (you’re welcome).

Everyone has weighed in, from comedians to musicians to pundits—time was even wasted on the House floor on the subject. But what is the point of all this? Rush Limbaugh has been on the radio making people upset for over 20 years; I have a hard time believing that only now has he crossed the line. Were Limbaugh’s comments insulting? Although I do believe Limbaugh was attempting to joke around (albeit mean-spiritedly) with his comments, I answer a subjective yes; it was insulting—and plenty weird at that. Was Limbaugh’s apology sincere? No one but Limbaugh can honestly answer that question. The most significant piece to this Limbaugh/Fluke “controversy” however is neither the specifics of Limbaugh’s comments nor the greater idea of insurance-covered contraception that Fluke advocates. No, the most important piece to this story is how the freedom of speech is being observed.

The reaction to Limbaugh’s comments has been more over-the-top than even Limbaugh is on a daily basis. Refuting the misinformation about oral birth control is welcome but the media frenzy has unfortunately not been limited to such an intellectual discussion. In fact, the narrative focus seems to be on the particulars of Limbaugh’s comments, which has done nothing but distract from the contraception and insurance mandate questions offered during the Congressional hearing. The media’s attempt to shame Limbaugh into silence seems pointless since his all-too-characteristic comments speak for themselves to the pint-sized concern of his 40 million-plus fan base. Doubtful are grounds for libel; therefore, what the commentary eventually boils down to is this: simply yet another misguided round of motor-mouthing from Mr. Limbaugh. So… What? Who cares? Limbaugh has no authority over our lives; Why is this news? Has a crime been committed? I see none.

I am very satisfied to see figures like Adam Carolla and Bill Maher, not unfamiliar with incendiary comments in the pursuit of humor themselves, stand up for Limbaugh purely on the basis of free speech. Allow me to join in.

This latest Limbaugh episode exposes the speech intolerance in America today. The Bill of Rights begins by addressing our natural right to free speech and yet, while always reserving that right for themselves, rarely do Americans respect that right for others. The entire nation seems to gasp and recoil every time somebody utters something not illegal or dangerous—but merely offensive. Why? The First Amendment does not protect only speech that everyone agrees with, it is meant to protect speech that others find provocative or downright offensive as well. One would assume that, in a nation that embraces the freedom of words, speech of all kinds would be not automatically endorsed but certainly permissible. Many if not most Americans seem to lack the ability to accept or even ignore offensive speech. The great irony in the media’s mission to shame and silence Limbaugh is that they are giving him the attention he seeks—ignoring him would have been a much more effective tool to mute Limbaugh’s voice and influence in politics.

Like it or not, Rush Limbaugh will continue on expressing his opinion in his own way for years to come and it is sure to offend at least a portion of the population. But the freedom to insult and be insulted is a cornerstone to our great Republic; if offensive speech were inadmissible, there would be no freedom of speech at all and everyone would live with less liberty. Americans must be more generous in the way they apply the First Amendment to others if they expect it to last for the generations to come.

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