Via Instapundit I found this new piece by Roger L. Simon titled Corporations Endanger Free Speech with Ingraham Boycott. As the ‘blogfather’ suggests, read the whole thing but, if you don’t have the time, here’s a quick summary:

  • There has been a ‘war’ of sorts against free speech on college campuses in recent years. This ‘war’ has basically taken the form of denying a real freedom to speak, regulating political speech in extreme ways, and more general refusals to allow for unpopular speech – usually of the conservative stripe – to take place on campus.
  • More recently there has been another type of attack on free speech, this time in the form of corporations reacting to pressure from liberals, assorted teenage survivors of the Parkland shooting (including the near-permanent fixture on CNN, David Hogg) and puling their advertising from Laura Ingraham’s show on Fox News Channel.
  • This action – while entirely legal – is a danger to free speech.

I buy the first point and I buy the facts behind the second point if not the argument about it being an attack on free speech, and hence reckon Simon has it wrong on point three. Oh, don’t get me wrong: I don’t think that there is much to like about Hogg or those companies that are boycotting Ingraham’s show, and I don’t think a lot about her comments that led to the boycott, either.

But this isn’t the attack on free speech that Simon thinks it is either.

Here’s how he explains his position in a couple of stages:

Of course, companies are entitled to their beliefs as much as individuals but I submit that these boycotts do not truly represent their opinions but are merely reflexive displays of corporate virtue signaling. They have little or nothing to do with whatever issue is propelling it. This is not about gun violence, a complicated subject with a variety of possible solutions, none of which are close to proven. Debating the issues is the least of it. It is about power and control.

I’m largely in agreement with Simon here, but he is off base when he questions the sincerity of the choice by the companies to pull their advertising. Are they sincerely concluding in board rooms that Ingraham crossed a line and that their customers would never buy from them if they even tacitly supported her show with advertising? I doubt it. Knowing how these things work, the call would have been made without too much more reflection than a quick call to the social media department about how bad this might get on Twitter. There are no values on show here either by sticking with Ingraham or pulling all the ads – it’s not a sincere showing of corporate values, it’s exactly the insincere value signaling that Simon suggests it is.

But, not to put too fine a point on it, so what?

Free speech isn’t about sincere speech; it’s about speech. You don’t have to believe in what you say to win a right to say it…and thank goodness lest the defense lawyer, politician, and once-a-year-Christian church congregant might be in trouble. The focus on sincerity is misplaced I think.

What is going on is more precisely a mass display of political correctness augmented by fear.  The groupthink among elites in our culture has become so severe that now even corporate CEOs, who once tended to be pragmatic, do not dare brook the conventional pieties of liberal/progressive thought. This urge to conform is so strong that it overrides the obvious: that boycotting might be against their business interest. These corporations are insulting a vast percentage of their clientele, those same people that made Roseanne the biggest television hit in years last week.

Agree with all of this, but not so much the paragraph that follows:

But it is worse because these corporations are actually using free speech for the larger purpose of squelching it. By attempting to take Laura Ingraham—or anyone else—off the air, they are stomping on ideas, ending the discussion. The First Amendment be gone!

I can’t agree.

The companies have no obligation to support Ingraham’s show, and most companies in the US don’t support her show. Maybe they don’t have the money to advertise there, maybe their customers wouldn’t be watching, or maybe they really just don’t like her and her politics. But to suggest that those companies, or the ones who did advertise until they faced pressure not to do so, have some sort of obligation to the first amendment to continue to advertise on her show is madness.

The rules here should be the same as always:

  • You have the right to speak freely
  • You don’t have the right to force me to listen
  • You don’t have the right to force me to pay you for your speech
  • You (save for a couple of circumstances) don’t have the right to be free of the consequences of your speech

The government is not coming after Ingraham, the government is not telling any company to pull their ads from her show, and the fact that some motivated citizens – no matter how much I might not like them and no matter how damaging it might be for conservatives in the US – can band together and succeed in getting big companies to pull their ads is fair play. It is the epitome of the first amendment working as designed, not an attack on free speech.

On this one, then, I think Mr Simon has it wrong, though considering how often I end his columns smiling, nodding, and thinking ‘spot on’ means he is probably still batting .900 in my books – almost perfect, but wrong on this count.

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