Free Speech Paranoia

Jim Treacher at the Daily Caller put together a fascinating collection of liberal responses to the end of Keith Olbermann’s tenure at MSNBC.  Some of them are hilariously over-the-top, as one might expect from passionate, disappointed fans.  Olbermann was on MSNBC for seven years, and has been the top ratings draw of the struggling network for some time.  It’s no surprise there would be a river of tears gushing through the Twitter stream.

The interesting thing about the sorrow of Olbermann fans is that almost every one of them thinks his departure is some kind of offense to freedom of speech.  It’s the “systematic dismantling of the progressive voice in this country,” and “the Era of Free Speech has ended.”

Of course, Olbermann was not “censored,” and no one’s free speech has been compromised.  He parted company with a network that no longer wished to employ him.  He left with millions of dollars in severance pay.  If anyone wants to suppress my free speech, I certainly hope they do it by smothering me beneath a pile of money.

Even if there were some kind of nefarious corporate plot to keep noble truth-teller Keith Olbermann off the air, how could such a thing succeed in this era of multi-polar media?  He’d eventually get a job somewhere, or start his own media venture, as some rumors suggest he’s planning to do.

The same people who bleat about the suppression of free speech when people refuse to buy Dixie Chicks albums are perfectly fine with actual government suppression of speech they dislike.  The Fairness Doctrine and Net Neutrality trouble them not at all, since they target conservatives. 

They’re not even particularly upset by radical Islam’s attempts to suppress free speech.  You didn’t hear a lot of outrage from the Left when Seattle cartoonist Molly Norris was simply erased after she kicked off “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day.”  She was forced into hiding on the advice of the FBI.  As her former publisher, Seattle Weekly, said in a very non-outraged editorial announcement, “You may have noticed that Molly Norris’ comic is not in the paper this week.  That’s because there is no more Molly.”  They do describe the fatwa commanding her murder as “appalling,” but they finish by passively hoping “the religious bigots go into full and immediate remission, and we wish her the best.”  Other than using the word “fatwa,” they never even bother to identify the bigots in question.

You can see why leftist politicians and media figures would embrace this hypocrisy as a deliberate strategy, but those weren’t the people sobbing in web site forums over the weekend.  Those were rank-and-file members of Olbermann’s viewing audience.  Why are they so wedded to a narrative of “oppression” that’s so obviously, laughably false?

Free speech paranoia has a long history with liberals.  It’s a thrilling fantasy, because it allows them to posture as heroic rebels against the forces of darkness.  It leads to ridiculous assertions about the “systematic dismantling of the progressive voice in this country” when one guy leaves a network that still employs Chris Matthews, Rachel Maddow, and many other noisy “progressives,” to say nothing of the far more effective liberal dominance of the mainstream media… but it’s still very important for validating the self-image of rank-and-file liberals, who really hate seeing themselves as bullies.

Modern liberalism is premised on the idea of virtuous compulsion – using the power of the State to force people into doing what the liberal feels is right.  Effective resistance is, by definition, both immoral and unfair.  The burning righteousness of their cause means liberals can only digest the notion of defeat against a vast and powerful enemy.  ObamaCare, for example, was sold with slogans like “no one should have to die because they don’t have health insurance.”  No one can possibly argue against that sentiment in good faith, because they’ve considered the matter more carefully than the liberals kicking the slogan around like a beach ball at a rock concert.  That certainly couldn’t be true of the solid majority of Americans who oppose ObamaCare.  Obviously, those people were tricked.  The power of the Evil Rich and Big Business conspiracy against the noble Left is terrifying.

The hypothetical threat of suppression from ideological enemies occupies much more of a liberal’s mind than the objectively real threat of Islamist violence, because liberal ideology has declared Islamism a non-issue.  They’re not the enemy that must be defeated to preserve domestic government power, and add a few trillion more to the national debt.  They haven’t entered the arena of ideas to build effective talk-radio and Internet alternatives to the mainstream media.  They merely issue fatwas against the occasional cartoonist.  They’re not a political threat, and even if they were, speaking up against them would involve siding with the far more hated Right.

That’s how the end of a seven-year career that made Keith Olbermann rich, and left him cruising off to a two-year vacation with half of a $30 million contract tucked in his back pocket, came to be seen as “the suppression of free speech.”  The paragons of liberalism don’t “quit” or get “fired” – they are silenced.  Failure to broadcast the ideals of compulsive virtue is tantamount to suppressing them.  It’s a fantasy liberals will never hesitate to indulge.  You’ll be hearing more of it, if the Republicans get serious about defunding National Public Radio.