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Wed, Jun

Free Speech… Bought and Paid For

VOICES

ACCORDING TO LIZ - The First Amendment guarantees every American the right to speak their truth. Or it’s supposed to. What it doesn’t do is guarantee that any agency act on what they say. Nor even that anyone be forced to listen to them.

On one hand are the gullible and the brainwashed who will listen to anything and lack the critical skills to parse the truth from malarkey. On another, people who have to work in an environment where the radio or television is constantly tuned to the manager’s conservative or progressive programming.

In covering Trump’s fiscal felonies for Steve Bannon’s far right War Room podcast, Laura Loomer berated the mainstream media for its trial coverage using a bullhorn on her bully pulpit outside the Trump trial courthouse.

Criticism swirling around perceived progressive bias stems from a recently revealed post on Twitter by NPR’s new CEO Katherine Maher that “Donald Trump is a racist”. 

What has happened to freedom of speech? What has happened to the right of individuals to express their own opinions?

Some of these concerns are now before the Supreme Court and, boy, with the current Supreme Court we should all be concerned.

In NetChoice v. Paxton and Moody v. NetChoice, the Supremes heard oral arguments in two cases, about whether the states of Florida and Texas can prohibit social media platforms from moderating content posted by their users. 

And in Murthy v. Missouri the states of Louisiana and Missouri are claiming First Amendment violations by federal agencies for pressuring social media platforms to block erroneous posts on the Covid vaccines, election integrity and other hot-button topics.
 
How the Supreme Court rules could propagate a reality so divergent from the vaunted American way, that the crafters of the Constitution and its First Amendment would spin in their graves.

Decisions in favor could unleash floods of unmonitored and unverified extremist content – allowing misogynistic, racist, hate-crime inciting, and falsehood-based conspiracy rants to run rampant on mainstream platforms.

Posts that would not be permitted in countries that espouse the principal of the greater good for the greatest number.

The United States is already seeing a breakdown in social order as people opposing the genocide in Gaza refuse to acknowledge the legitimate fears of the Jews, while supporters of the Israeli government don’t see the difference between Hamas and the innocent until proven dead residents of Gaza and the West Bank.

Free speech can be a puffed-up polemic but IRL, governments and the governed must work together within this imperfect union to marry the ideal to reality.

A few days after a mob shut down an abolitionist meeting in Boston in 1860, Frederick Douglass gave an impassioned oration: 

“No right was deemed by the fathers of the Government more sacred than the right of speech. It was in their eyes, as in the eyes of all thoughtful men, the great moral renovator of society and government.” 

“Liberty is meaningless where the right to utter one’s thoughts and opinions has ceased to exist. That, of all rights, is the dread of tyrants. It is the right which they first of all strike down.”

And that’s why Sonia Sotomayor’s opinion in the unanimous Supreme Court decision on May 30th upheld the free speech rights of the N.R.A.. By reaffirming the N.R.A.’s rights at a time of increasing rage against the glorification of gun use, Sotomayor was enforcing every American’s right to speak up even as Felon Trump threatens to eviscerate whole swathes of the Constitution.

And that’s why we-the-people must rise up our voices to overcome the entrenched power of capitalism bought and paid for, and those who feed off its largesse. The outrageous amounts the Messrs. Moneybags of Wall Street and associates spend on defending their way of life, one that is drastically widening the economic divide, shows just how much their system stands to lose.

And how much the rest of us have to gain.

However, a just and realistic transition depends on reasoned speech not polemics, a gradual and respectful transition, not a direct attack but a gradual pulling apart of the pillars of power currently entrenched in the military-industrial-Wall-Street-political complex.

And a public that when it regains control is appreciative, not vindictive.

Personal grievances blow individuals’ concerns out of proportion; too many lack the humility to put them in perspective. Too often protecting our own self-image means reducing those with whom we disagree to caricature.

If we could accept our own human failings, we might be able to acknowledge that those with whom we disagree are every bit as convoluted as we are – and with just as much of a stake in creating a more perfect union.

Americans today are far too quick to take umbrage against others and to perceive ourselves as those who have been wronged. We conflate real offenses with imagined ones. We jumble righteous causes with pettier complaints. 

And what is overlooked is the understanding that we aren’t owed a world tailored to our personal specifications.

The great wonder about being human is that we get to grow and change in our ever-changing interactions with everyone around us.

Common good must be elevated over the selfish individualism too often espoused in American mythology. 

Media Matters for America, founded twenty years ago to comprehensively monitor, analyze, and correct conservative misinformation in the media, reported that pro-Nazi content was appearing alongside advertising from prominent corporations in the content stream on social media platform X. 

X-owner, multi-zillionaire Elon Musk then instituted a thermonuclear lawsuit (his words) against the nonprofit watchdog, its board and even its donors in an attempt to financially obliterate the non-profit fighting to protect the public from manipulative content, and imperiling Musk’s personal profit. 

As is common when the uber-wealthy take on the little guy, it’s all about big egos and deep pockets and surviving the costs of litigation. And nothing to do with Freedom of Speech issues.

Musk was embarrassed and his corporate sponsors were put on notice about the kinds of exposure they faced in continuing to do business with X.

Of course, that few would eschew the audience Musk offers is both saddening and irrelevant.

Musk’s purported “free speech absolutism” means free speech for the rich and powerful, not the rest of us.

And a valuable asset for media oversight has been forced to lay off a significant portion of its staff causing personal hardship and putting all Americans at greater risk of not being able to discern between reality and the Trump-Musk-Fox News grip on fake news, always-false all-the-time.

Ben Collins, of the satirical website The Onion, quipped: “They know they can't win these lawsuits. But they also know legal fees will cripple the little guy reporting on their lies and crimes. This is how free speech is actually chilled – vengeful dipshit billionaires.”

Musk’s action is clearly a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, a SLAPP in the face of ordinary people, attacking in court when the opponent hasn’t the financial resources required to succeed even if they have truth and the American way on their side. 

It may be outside our comfort zones; it may be emotionally fraught – especially at first before gut reactions can learn that disagreement isn’t fatal – but it is each person’s own profile in courage to step out of that zone.

To insist our government forever ban SLAPPs and keep on trucking while they do.

Free speech means taking extraordinary efforts not to silence honest criticism from all sides and, indeed, welcoming evaluation and some acceptance of each others’ opinions in order to forge a more perfect world. 

(Liz Amsden is a contributor to CityWatch and an activist from Northeast Los Angeles with opinions on much of what goes on in our lives. She has written extensively on the City's budget and services as well as her many other interests and passions.  In her real life she works on budgets for film and television where fiction can rarely be as strange as the truth of living in today's world.)