Whoopi, Joe and Tucker

When Free Speech is propaganda. – The Lonely Realist

Two weeks ago, Whoopi Goldberg on the TV talk show The View said that the Holocaust was “not about race” but about “man’s inhumanity to man” involving “two white groups of people.” Later that day, she explained on The Late Show that “I thought it was a salient discussion because as a black person I think of race as something I can see, so I see you and I know what race you are and the discussion [on The View] was how I felt about that.” Her comments went viral, there was outrage, and Whoopi apologized, saying that “words matter and mine are no exception…. I stand corrected … because the information I got … helped me understand [the historical fact].” That fact is that Nazi Germany treated Aryans as “the master race” and Jews as “subhuman” … which was very much a matter of race. A high school dropout, Whoopi stated that she was unaware of the history. And, yet, despite her apology, ABC suspended her for two weeks “to take time to reflect and learn about the impact of her comments.” Really?

Joe Rogan, the #1 podcaster in America, has had a practice of uttering racist epithets, has made antisemitic comments, and is a superspreader of COVID misinformation. When called on to explain a compilation on social media showing that he had all-too-often employed the N-word, he apologized, saying that it was the “most regretful and shameful thing” he has ever had to address. He also apologized for a video in which he compared a Black neighborhood to a Planet of the Apes movie. In making his apologies, Joe’s defense was that “Oftentimes I have no idea what I’m going to talk about until I sit down and talk to people.” He previously had admitted to The Hollywood Reporter that “I am a fucking moron…. I am not a respected source of information.” Contrite? Perhaps. Pragmatic?  Certainly. Will Joe continue to be looked to as a source of idiotic information? No doubt.

Among Tucker Carlson’s new documentaries for Fox Nation is “Hungary vs. Soros: The fight for Civilization.” It purports to tell the story of how Hungary, an antidemocratic autocracy (discussed by TLR here), is “a model country” owing to Viktor Orban’s “defeat of George Soros.” In the documentary, Tucker states that “Unlike the threats from the [atheist] Soviets and the [Muslim] Ottoman empire, the threat posed by Soros” is far more dangerous. Soros, he says, is plotting to “install ideologically-aligned puppets.” In mirroring the antisemitic plotline of The Protocol of the Elders of Zion, Tucker casts Soros as the leader of an international Jewish cabal. Not coincidentally, the airing of “Hungary vs. Soros” follows on the heels of President Trump’s January “Complete support and Endorsement” of Mr. Orban in Hungary’s upcoming election, coordinated politicking designed to influence both Hungarian and American elections. The conclusion of “Hungary vs. Soros” is that Mr. Orban’s authoritarianism offers “a lot of lessons for [America],” a powerful bit of propaganda deployed by the most widely-watched TV network in the world.

Whoopi’s suspension by ABC is a regrettable example of the unnatural impact of America’s “cancel culture.” Whoopi admitted that she’d misspoken, explained why and apologized. Instead of applauding her condor and courage, ABC chose to kowtow to those culturally-correcting members of The View’s audience who found her comments to be offensive and indefensible. This is a widespread problem in 21st Century America … and not only among Jewish groups and culturally-sensitive liberals. Book banning – in the mode of Fahrenheit 451 – is now a conservative cause célèbre. Anti-Free Speech in America is bipartisan. It has taken on surprising dimensions.

Spotify chose a more nuanced approach to Joe Rogan’s consistent dog-whistling by deleting more than 100 prior Joe Rogan Experience podcasts. Given Joe’s explanations and apologies, Spotify chose the businesslike approach of cleansing its website of offensive Joe-speak. It stopped short of ongoing censorship because it believes that Joe gets it. There is no need to censor the speech of a $100 million money-maker as long as his ongoing statements do not cross Spotify’s policy lines. Controversy is good for business. It brings listeners. Violence-talk is dangerous and must be avoided. Shouting “fire” through a media megaphone is not protected by the First Amendment. Spotify’s approach accordingly stops short of the step taken by Twitter in 2021 to permanently suspend President Trump for violating its policy prohibiting the glorification of violence.

Fox is pursuing a different approach, embracing partisanship and propaganda as its business model. While abhorrent to many as a form of “political media capture,” that is its right under America’s Constitution. Fox may advocate whatever, whoever and however it chooses. The Supreme Court addressed this Free Speech question in 1977, holding that the Village of Skokie could not deny Nazis their right to “speak” against Jews. The only limitation the Court has imposed on Free Speech is that it cannot lead to violence or physical injury or advocate the use of force “directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action” (discussed by TLR here).

The free exchange of ideas, even abhorrent ideas, is an essential element of a pluralistic democracy. Free Speech is integral in encouraging new ways of thinking, incubating ideas, promoting differences of opinion, and (optimally) supporting compromise. It has led to wave-after-wave of American innovation. For over two centuries, America has been the melting pot for the world’s ideas, practices, philosophies and peoples. The importance of Free Speech necessarily includes expressing contrary and controversial views. A problem with today’s media is that they have narrow constituencies that they necessarily must appease. Fox’s and Tucker’s agenda – and their embracing of propaganda – nevertheless raises the question of whether media, be it Fox or ABC or Spotify or Twitter or Facebook or Apple or Amazon, should be constrained in some way from spreading potentially dangerous misinformation (discussed by TLR here). There was once in America a Fairness Doctrine, a policy abandoned by the FCC in 1987. Should media partisanship, propaganda and advocacy once again be made subject to such a Doctrine requiring the airing of both sides of an issue? TLR has expressed its opposition to any such increased government oversight. What has contributed to America’s greatness is a self-censoring, Constitutionally-protected media that exercises its responsibilities by distinguishing between information and misinformation, fact and fiction, and truth and opinion. Of the recent issues raised by Whoopi, Joe and Tucker, only Spotify took its Free Speech responsibilities seriously … although its actions stopped short of fulfilling a “fair balancing” of its obligations. Fox has been clear that it has no intention of making that attempt.

Finally (from a good friend)

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