Watchdog Blog

Carolyn Lewis: Slamming the Door on Hate Speech

Posted at 10:55 am, May 7th, 2009
Carolyn Lewis Mug

As a former reporter and journalism professor I am naturally inclined to think highly of the right of free speech. Still, I can’t help applauding what the British government did when it slammed the door on Michael Savage and his ilk. Savage is an American radio host who spouts some of the ugliest and most hateful speech imaginable – and under the cover of our Yankee freedoms not only gets away with it but is handsomely paid to do so..

The Washington Post reports that British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith barred Savage along with a former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard and several Muslim extremists from entering the country. She said she made the names public to show the kind of behavior that Britain is “not willing to have in this country.”

Smith describes Savage as someone who “foments hatred,” the kind that could rouse inter-community tensions and violence. “Coming to the UK is a privilege,” she said, “and I refuse to extend that privilege to individuals who abuse our standards and values to undermine our way of life.”

It’s a mystery to me why in the U.S. where much is made of the fact that smoking is bad for your health, and where bacteria in peanut butter and on spinach are cause for alarm, toxic fumes emanating from the airwaves are tolerated without fuss. Poison is poison, whether it comes in the shape of salmonella or hate speech, and it’s as much an abuse of our American standards and values as it is that of the Brits.

Unfortunately, we seem unable to do anything about it here until we can shame the proprietors who sell these products. Those who grant access to the hate-spouters are plainly more interested in making a profit than acting responsibly – yet another example of the twisted excess to which those in power can be tempted by a search for more dollars.

As for what the Brits did, it’s nice to see that somewhere, somebody is willing to take a stand against this odious stuff. Now Savage says he will do what any other American would do. He plans to sue. I imagine Her Majesty’s government will have a field day with that. I’m booking my seat at the Old Bailey.

3 Responses to “Slamming the Door on Hate Speech”

  1. Alan says:

    “As a former reporter and journalism professor I am naturally inclined to think highly of the right of free speech”

    I’m shocked that a former reporter and journalism professor could have the contempt for free speech shown by this post. In a free society you have the ABSOLUTE right to say what you want. (there are of course some limitations, e.g. libel, speech that would create a clear and present danger, misleading commercial speech, child pornography, etc., but most of these limitations can be viewed as either not being speech at all, or as being so directly harmful to society that society has no choice but to limit it). So called “hate speech” in no way falls under those limitations. Michael Savage’s speech offends me deeply. It is vile dreck, but I am more offended that by trying to punish him for it, Britain is giving it even more power. A free society must allow the free airing of the worst ideas or none of us are free. I urge you (and Britain, of course) to reconsider your position.

  2. Thomas says:

    There’s a simple solution: treat speech like any other product. If the newspaper harms someone, they should be held responsible. There’s no need for the protections the courts have given. We can start by putting the newspapers out of business, and then the tv networks, and then the bloggers.

    Why someone would think that Savage is likely to get caught up in that, I don’t know. I don’t know much about him, but he’s unlikely to be guilty of what newspapers get away with every day.

  3. Suzanne Bates says:

    Then should Newsweek be held responsible when they print false information about interrogators at Guantanamo Bay desecrating the Quran that led to horrendous violent uprisings across the Muslim world? Anytime you link speech to action you tread a dangerous line. We don’t have to like what people say to defend their right to say it.

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