We live in a complex, exciting and dangerous time when social media and 24-hour entertainment networks give everyone an open microphone. The potential benefits and pitfalls loom large.
Free speech has never been put to a greater test.
The most recent example of open mic derangement syndrome comes courtesy of comedienne Kathy Griffin. It is the latest episode of an American exercising freedom without self-restraint, hoping a groveling apology will undo all harm.
“I am sorry. I went too far. I was wrong,” Griffin said.
She apologized for creating and distributing a disgusting depiction of the decapitated and bloodied head of President Donald Trump. CNN fired her, and rightly so.
An apology cannot undo this. The trauma this caused Trump’s son, 11-year-old Barron, may remain in the boy’s psyche forever.
“Trump family sources tell us Barron was in front of the TV watching a show when the news came on and he saw the bloody, beheaded image. We’re told he panicked and screamed, ‘Mommy, Mommy!’” TMZ reports.
In what universe is this acceptable behavior on the part of a nationally prominent celebrity or anyone else? Griffin must have known better. This is not the imagery one expects on TV in a civilized society, battling daily the sinister desires of enemies abroad who take joy in decapitating Christians, Jews and homosexuals.
Griffin’s abysmal judgment came just after The Denver Post fired sportswriter Terry Frei for tweeting he was “very uncomfortable” with Japanese driver Takuma Sato winning the Indianapolis 500 on the day before Memorial Day.
Frei also apologized, saying he should have known better. You think?
The list of public figures fired, shunned or embarrassed for tweeting, posting or speaking before thinking is growing long and distinguished. It seems some people don’t learn from the mistakes of others. They say and do as they please, then apologize.
Even before the rise of social media, we had Jimmy the Greek insisting that blacks were “bred” to be better athletes than whites. The obligatory apology ensued, followed by a pressured retirement.
There was Howard Cosell’s “Look at that little monkey run!” Apology ensued, followed by a pressured retirement.
Paula Dean’s show was canceled after she admitted using racial slurs. Don Imus was fired for insulting the Rutgers women’s basketball team in a manner considered sexist and racist. White House correspondent Helen Thomas made political waves for suggesting Jews should “get the hell out of Palestine.”
Even the president of the United States has the public on edge each day, wondering what boundaries he might defy with his next early-morning tweet.
The architects of free speech, and other freedoms protected in the Constitution, anticipated users would overwhelmingly exercise common sense and decency.
Griffin’s offensive and potentially dangerous depiction of the president is probably legal but tests First Amendment boundaries. Government cannot punish even the most offensive forms of expression. It cannot exercise prior restraint to prevent egregious messages, for which we should give thanks. The founders forbade prior restraint, counting on the culture to use self-restraint instead.
Free speech does not mean anything goes. Malign Jews, blacks or any demographic, and the culture can and will revolt. Employers, fans and friends will cut ties. They have every right to do so.
A society built on freedom should favor courtesy, kindness and decency. That means Americans should think before they speak.