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The outraged response to Helen Thomas won't have a chilling effect on free speech; it was free speech

David Harsanyi is a little concerned that Helen Thomas's swift take down after her "Jews out of Palestine and back to Germany and Poland" comments will have a chilling effect on free speech rights. He wrote this yesterday:

But an opinion -- in Thomas' case, an ugly opinion that in all probability is more common than some people might believe -- is no more than the strength of the logic behind it. As a regular defender of the moral right of Israel to fight the theocrats and fascists that Thomas embraces, I never thought she was very credible or articulate on the topic, and she is unworthy of the over-the-top reaction from critics.

Nevertheless, at this point in her career, the 89-year-old was still a columnist for Hearst newspapers. A columnist offers provocative views. You don't have to like Thomas and you don't have to read her columns, but having a disdain for Jews in general or Israel in particular is hardly the most offensive thought that's kicking around.

Though I don't hold an earthly stake in debates over God, Bill Maher's ludicrous anti-Catholic rants or a tome from a polemist like Christopher Hitchens (who condemns all religion as a dangerous farce) might be "appalling" to rather large swaths of the public. Are certain topics off the table?

Of course, I am not suggesting that Thomas has a birthright to sit in the front row at a White House press conference (a situation that hasn't made sense for at least three decades), or that anyone has an inalienable right to pontificate about the world for a newspaper chain or anyone else.

And, no, I can't mourn the loss of Helen Thomas' detestable opinions. But, at the same time, I can't help but feel some trepidation about the ease in which some voices -- in this case, one voice that is probably more honest than others of similar ideological disposition -- can be expelled from the conversation simply for offending.

About Harsanyi's opinion that Thomas was "unworthy." To many of us she was unworthy because we have considered her to be a crackpot for a long time. However, it was the White House Press Corps that gave her credibility, so most of her critics, including me, responded to her in that context.

Harsanyi's characterization that she was "expelled from the conversation" is simply untrue. Helen Thomas has not been muzzled. She wasn't hauled up in front of some Human Rights Commission (ask Mark Steyn about that). Nor was her right to free speech revoked. She has the exact same right to free speech now as she did before her declaration that the Middle East should be Jew-free. She may not have her job with Hearst, but that was Hearst's decision to sack her. Ari Fleischer and Cliff May had nothing to do with that; they did nothing more than exercise the same right to free speech that Thomas did. Clearly, the folks at Hearst Publications and Nine Speakers decided they didn't want her or her comments associated with their organizations, which is their prerogative.

The reality is there's nothing preventing Helen Thomas from writing for another publication if she wants to. For all we know, there may be a number of publications that would welcome her pontifications on a Jew-free Middle East. Most of them are probably located in Iran and Hezbollah controlled Lebanon, but, who knows, there might be a few around the US who would like to buy her columns. In fact, Helen doesn't even need a publishing company to be a part of the conversation. She already has a website. She can turn it into a full fledged blog if she wants to. As I'm sure she already knows, blogging is one of the fastest and easiest ways for anyone to opine on a limitless number of issues and topics. If there's an audience in the blogosphere that's interested in reading her posts, she can become quite influential. Take Sarah Palin, for example. She has been a become a big part of the conversation with nothing but a Facebook page.

So this argument that Helen Thomas has been drummed out of the conversation is ridiculous. If Helen Thomas is never heard from again, it will be because she expelled herself from the conversation.


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Comments (33)

But you have to realize tha... (Below threshold)
jim m:

But you have to realize that free speech is reserved for the media. Anything which criticizes them (or exposes their incompetence and bias) is curtailing free speech. Freedom is for the privileged few according to the MSM. The rest of us cannot handle it and need to be controlled (er...guided) by our betters.

Lots of people just don't u... (Below threshold)

Lots of people just don't understand this whole "free speech" thing. You're free to speak, but not free of the consequences of what you say. It ain't that hard, really.

I heard that Ms. Thomas is ... (Below threshold)

I heard that Ms. Thomas is of Lebanese descent. So, following her reasoning, it's back to Lebanon for her.

Live by the pen, die by the... (Below threshold)
James H:

Live by the pen, die by the pen.

I just wonder if Mr. Harsan... (Below threshold)

I just wonder if Mr. Harsanyi had similar "trepidation" over the treatment of Don Imus, Trent Lott, Jimmy Snyder, Kelly Tilghman, etc. etc. etc. etc.

The quoted article calls he... (Below threshold)

The quoted article calls her comments "disdain for Jews." I wonder how he characterizes the 1935 Rally of Freedom and the Nuremberg Laws?

What an absolute demonstration of Goebbels lasting influence on our modern media!

I'm unwilling to dismiss hi... (Below threshold)
Upset Old Guy:

I'm unwilling to dismiss his idea that Thomas was "expelled" because I believe she was, just not by those on the right side of the aisle.

Her long history of making such remarks suddenly came to an end when one of the her more egregious ones was captured on video and made public. After a weekend of silence beyond her non-apology, we're supposed to believe that on Monday morning she "suddenly saw the light"?

No, she was forced into retirement. And it was done by her fellow travelers, over fear her continuing presence on the public stage would shine the light on them and their beliefs as well.

Look for more 'free speech'... (Below threshold)

Look for more 'free speech' defense of this poor misunderstood elderly woman. There will be a short pause while the Hamas supporters re-group. They have the MSM whipped, now if they can just muzzle those nasty blogs.

Does the right to free spee... (Below threshold)

Does the right to free speech mean that one has the right to say anything one wants without consequences?

I sure miss Andre the Giant:

"You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

For the left freedom of spe... (Below threshold)
jim m:

For the left freedom of speech means saying anything you want without fear of contradiction. Of course speech they don't like and speech which challenges their lunatic beliefs, that's hate speech and so gets no protection.

"she was forced into retire... (Below threshold)

"she was forced into retirement. And it was done by her fellow travelers, over fear her continuing presence on the public stage would shine the light on them and their beliefs as well."

Outstanding point, UOG.

I couldn't agree with your ... (Below threshold)
P. Bunyan:

I couldn't agree with your post more Kim. This incident does cause me concern however, as our current government seems to continually operate in the "don't let a crisis go to waste mode". Consider this statement from White House Correspondents Association:

""[T]he incident does revive the issue of whether it is appropriate for an opinion columnist to have a front row seat in the WH briefing room. That is an issue under the jurisdiction of this board."

I can't help but wonder if they're going to consider anyone who is not a Marxist propagandist (like Major Garrret for example) to be an "opinion columnist" thus not worthy of a seat, not only in the front row, but in the room at all.

Maybe I'm reading too much into this, but I wouldn't put it past 'em.

Whats Helens website again?... (Below threshold)

Whats Helens website again? Release the Kraken.com?

Jebus, she wasn't "expelled... (Below threshold)

Jebus, she wasn't "expelled" from the conversation. She retired. It would seem that this author bemoans the fact that she was made to feel uncomfortable about her opinion. No one "made" her retire. She just couldn't take the heat.

A component of the right to speak freely is that if one is offended by the speech of another, they are free to criticize and thereby offend right back.

No one challenged her right to say what she did. They challenged what she said.

When a conservative express... (Below threshold)

When a conservative expresses an opinion it is often immediately labeled "hateful", "dangerous", "mean spirited", "homophobic", "raaacist",....well, you know the drill. When a leftist twit like Thomas is rightfully called on the sort of statement she made, we are treated to a sudden burst of concern about free speech rights and censorship! The left created political correctness for the purpose of silencing its opponents. But leftists certainly don't enjoy living according to their own rules.

Humm...Helen Thomas...do Le... (Below threshold)

Humm...Helen Thomas...do Lebanese generally take Thomas as a last name when moving to the US....justsayin' ....Danny Thomas...naaa neever mind..Is she Danny's mother?..She does look old enough

god bless our troops,

If anyone has a problem wit... (Below threshold)
retired military:

If anyone has a problem with the consequences of Thomas's rant than let them take it up with Obama. He is the one that threw her under the bus and he let her know she would go UNDER the bus willingly or unwillingly.

I am sure that DU and KOS w... (Below threshold)
retired military:

I am sure that DU and KOS would welcome any future ramblings from the ugly old crone.

The crockety old cavedwelli... (Below threshold)

The crockety old cavedwelling inbred jewhatinmagnon is scheduled for Larry King tonight. I wonder if he hates joos as much as it does?

#9 jim2,That was I... (Below threshold)
Sheik Yur Bouty:

#9 jim2,

That was Inigo Montoya, not Andre the Giant.

Just sayin'...

No worries, Al Jazeera will... (Below threshold)

No worries, Al Jazeera will sign her up. She'll be amongst friends who will have no problem printing her 'American point of view'.

Sorry I did not mean to b... (Below threshold)

Sorry I did not mean to be so flattering to Helen.

Yes, of course Helen Thomas... (Below threshold)
jim m:

Yes, of course Helen Thomas was "expelled" by a rabbi who had the temerity to ask a simple question and post her unaltered response on the web.

If you want to see the quality of her supporters just go to his web site and read the mail he's been receiving:

Nice friends you have on the left there. UOG nails it. It isn't her words that scare he left it is that it reveals hem to be he ugly anti-Semites that they really are.

Dam. I just wish the T wou... (Below threshold)
jim m:

Dam. I just wish the T would work at the beginnings of words consistently. Sorry for the typos. Time for a new laptop keyboard. UGH.

"Dam. I just wish the T wou... (Below threshold)

"Dam. I just wish the T would work at the beginnings of words consistently. Sorry for the typos. Time for a new laptop keyboard. UGH"

Dont worry about it. I do it all the time. Your thinking too fast.

One thing that almost alway... (Below threshold)

One thing that almost always gets over looked in the "free speech" debate is that there is but one entity that can infringe upon someone's 1st Amendment right - that is the government.

Anything else (e.g. being fired/retired for saying something) is NOT a 1st Amendment issue.

If the gov't had taken action against Thomas for her statements, then Harsanyi's concern might not be nonsense, but it didn't and they are.

"One thing that almost a... (Below threshold)
P. Bunyan:

"One thing that almost always gets over looked in the "free speech" debate is that there is but one entity that can infringe upon someone's 1st Amendment right - that is the government."

That would have been a great point about 100 years ago, but since then the Constitution has become alive and can mutate into whatever the courts want it to be. Kinda like in the horror movies-- It's Alive! It's Alive!

Mike and others nail it: Fi... (Below threshold)
Jay Guevara:

Mike and others nail it: First Amendment rights to free speech only guarantee that you can't be prosecuted for what you say. After that, you're on your own.

Liberals believe that free ... (Below threshold)

Liberals believe that free speach means that you get to say what ever you want and anyone who dissagrees can STFU. It's classic free speach for me but not for thee, if I said anything nearly as offensive I would expect people to be ...... OFFENDED. It's their right then to speak out about the offense. I also would have the right to ignore them or rebut or even complain about my first ammendment rights, just goes to show that my first ammendment rights are intact no matter how foolishly I choose to exercise them.

No question about it! ... (Below threshold)

No question about it!

I don't agree with what she said, but i do agree with the right she has to say it!

I liked this take about the story. Funny, yet very accurate and unbiased, which is hard to come around these days:


What do you guys think?

#20 -Montoya, yes.... (Below threshold)

#20 -

Montoya, yes. Nonetheless, I still miss Andre.

What do you guy... (Below threshold)
What do you guys think?

30. Posted by Cat | June 10, 2010 3:10 PM

Check out your score.
Hey Cat same thing going to... (Below threshold)

Hey Cat same thing going to apply next time someone catches a conservative saying something they shouldn't?






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