The recent murder of a doctor who performed abortions, after right-wing pundits such as Bill O’Reilly called him a “baby killer” on the air, and said that people who didn’t do anything to stop him had “blood on their hands”, has started a conversation about the ethics of the news profession.
First, I have to say that there is a reason why freedom of speech and freedom of the press are in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights. However, even though we want to allow as much freedom of speech as possible, it is still illegal to yell “Fire” in a crowded theater.
So are news pundits responsible when they instigate violence in others? Roger Ebert has an interesting column that compares O’Reilly to a school bully who incites others to violence while proclaiming his own innocence. Ebert cites the fact that two thirds of school shooters had been the victim of bullying and view themselves as persecuted.
Another article studies O’Reilly, showing how he uses all seven of the common propaganda techniques. But even if we believe that what O’Reilly does is wrong, should something be done about it? I don’t know.
This is an issue that tears me apart. On one hand I think it’s undeniable that it’s possible for this type of rhetoric to create an atmosphere where murder becomes more acceptable. On the other hand, I think that perhaps this is just the price we pay for freedom of speech, which I am a fanatic about.
The downside is that what ends up happening is not a discussion but a shouting match between the left and right. This makes me want to curl up in a bed in the middle of the wilderness and just tune everyone out.
This is an imperfect world, alas.
My fear is that, next time the “right” is in power, they’ll use the ability to censor just as their boy McCarthy did.
I wonder if it would do any good, or if it’s even possible, to bring a really good valid lawsuit against O’Reilly and his ilk. Maybe that would just feed the martyr/bully idiocy though.
It’s a good question. Where do we draw the line? The Supreme Court held that laws that ban hate speech (or in that case hate acts – cross burning) that intends to intimidate others are not unconstitutional. The problem is always in the intent part. In that case, the Court said that the state of VA could ban cross burning but must show that the individual intends to intimidate in order to criminally prosecute.
Do these boneheads intend to intimidate? I suspect that in their warped little minds they would argue that they intend to entertain.
I think nitwits like O’Reilly are responsible, but there’s nothing you can really do about them.
The price we pay for being able to is criticize those who are wrong is their ability to criticize those who are right under a guise of false equivalence.
The news media buys in to this false equivalence, as well.
Or, take democracy…the price we pay for the right to change public policy for the betterment of the majority through mass movements is the ability to be manipulated into changing public policy to benefit the minority through mass propaganda.
Or, perhaps capitalism…the price we pay for a chance at upward social mobility when times are good is the risk of downward social mobility when times are bad.
The demagogues have been around forever. History has taught us that free societies don’t fail when bad people are doing bad things; it’s when good people do nothing. Dedicated, persistent people like us have to expose them and find creative ways to oust them in front of the public. Over time, we beat them at their own game. Propogandists win when we keep quiet about them.
As a long time fan of metal music, I’m loathe to try and shut people, with the belief that their mere words can cause others to do evil.
I remember all too well the Judas Priest lawsuit, in which they were hauled into court because of lyrics they wrote. Same with Ozzy because of his song, “Suicide Solution”.
My belief is that nutcases do nutcase things, period. No one has made the case that Tiller’s killer was a fan of Bill O’Reilly’s. And if he was, so what? I dislike O’Reilly with a passion, but I’m not anywhere near the point of blaming him or any other pundit, left or right, for the actions of others.