Friday, September 12, 2014

Mouths that roar

Once upon in America you could say any vile/obnoxious/out-and-out racist thing you wanted and nobody made a big deal out of it. This is what some people called freedom of speech.

Now you say vile/obnoxious/out-and-out racist stuff, and you get push back.

And that is also freedom of speech.

And so this week Paul George violated the cardinal rule of tweeting -- Thou Shalt Not Press Send Until Thy Brain Is Fully Engaged -- and got caught in a game of public relations catch-up after seeming to suggest Janay Rice, you know, kinda had that left hook coming in that elevator. And the Atlanta Hawks' owner and general manager got themselves in hot water for, in the first case, an email rife with dunderheaded racial stereotypes, and, in the second case, a recording in which the GM, Danny Ferry, said Luol Deng "had a little African in him." 

The owner offered to sell the team. The GM tried to say his words weren't his own -- he was just repeating what others had said about Deng -- but whether true or not, the words now stick to him like friction tape.

In any case, the day when you could just say any old thing and not get called on it are done. And if there are some who will mourn the passing of that day, it says more about them, and perhaps their own attitudes, than about any diminishment of freedom in the good old US of A.

Look: Clearly you can still say whatever  you want these days. In fact, it seems more people are doing it than ever.

The difference now is you aren't doing it in a vacuum, or in a society that is compelled to tolerate it. You can blame that old hobby horse, the media, for making a Great Big Deal out of it, and you might have a point given the media seems to make a Great Big Deal out of everything these days. But that says more about the nature of media than anything; we're a full-service 24/7/365 business these days, and that business includes a lot of people who aren't trained in what the old-schoolers among us still stubbornly insist is a profession. Woe is us, apparently.

But be that as it may, media still does what media has always done, which is reflect the values of those it serves. And so, no, you can't get away with saying any old thing these days. And that's because those who didn't have either the voice or the vehicle to push back in any meaningful sense now have both.

Everyone has his or her own megaphone now. And that, whether you want to see it or not, is real freedom of speech.

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