O’Reilly got into a heated debate with several of The View hosts culminating in his statement that “Muslims killed us on 9-11″. View hosts Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar took offense to the statement and walked off the set, only returning after Mr. O’Reilly apologized. There are those that have stated that what Mr. Reilly had to say amounted to hate speech. There are those who agree with him. There are those who think the whole thing was staged.
What caught my eye was a particular tweet of Mr. Levin. He was engaging in some 1st amendment commentary with regards to the exchange. He was making the point that Joy Behar and Whoopi Goldberg were “free speech hypocrites”
I understand the point Levin was trying to make. If you champion freedom of expression you should not shy away from it either. I hear that argument all the time on my Facebook page when I censor people for profanity or things that simply piss me off. They call me a hypocrite. They tell me that I am infringing on their 1st Amendment rights. I point out that there are no 1st Amendment rights on my Facebook page just as Mr. O’Reilly had no 1st Amendment rights on The View. I do not view it as hypocritical to have personal standards that are not in line with speech protected by the 1st Amendment. What’s more, O’Reilly was not censored in any way. He stated exactly what was on his mind. No one “bleeped him”. If we are going to talk free speech, it sounds to me like he was allowed to exercise his. If we are going to make 1st Amendment analogies, there is nothing I am aware of in the Constitution that mandates that we not get offended at distasteful speech whether it is protected or not.
The 1st Amendment protects 99 percent of hate speech that the majority of us would rather not hear. The fact that we would rather not hear it and remove ourselves from earshot is not hypocrisy. That is civilized society. I will champion someone’s right to stand on a public sidewalk and call me a kike. If he does it in my living room I am going to ask him to leave. If he does it at my favorite Starbucks I am going to ask management to ask him to leave.
When I confronted the Westboro Baptist Church during one of their visits to Dallas, I argued with the police for their right to be on a public sidewalk in front of a hotel when the hotel was trying to move them to the other side of the street. That does not mean I approve of their message. For Mr. Levin to imply that there is hypocrisy there again, is simply ignorant of 1st Amendment principals. For Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar to walk out in a huff may have been childish, and even planned entertainment in the vein of what their show is about but it was not hypocritical.
So what really bothered me about Levin’s tweet? It bothered me that it was a generalization that gave the impression there were 1st Amendment principals at stake in allowing Bill O’Reilly to state his point of view unfettered(which he in fact did). That is simply not true on any level. It bothers me that these misrepresentations of “free speech” are all to common in our society and Levin is not the 1st media figure to “flub the 1st”. Remember when Dr. Laura stated that she had left her popular talk who to “reclaim her 1st Amendment rights? The bad news for Dr. Laura is that she had no 1st Amendment rights on her talk show.
Since Mr. Levin was unable to get it right I will clear it up for him. The 1st Amendment only applies to government attempts to restrict speech. It does not apply to talk shows unless it’s his position that The View is secretly funded by the FCC. There is also no obligation that our own personal thermometers of acceptable rhetoric comply with the 1st Amendment. Mine does not. I would be shocked if Mr. Levin’s did.