Two recent stories involving well-known television personalities have added fuel to the fire that currently rages, hotter than ever before, across the United States. That fire is the national debate over individual rights and, particularly, over the right to freedom of speech and the right to bear arms; the first two rights protected – not granted – by the Constitution. Late night talk-show host Jimmy Kimmel and Fox News host Laura Ingraham have both found themselves at the center of debates that speak volumes about how people on opposite sides of the political divide view those freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights.
Both Kimmel and Ingraham apologized for their respective perceived transgressions and both – in slightly different ways – inspire a multitude of questions about the limits of freedom of speech and if, indeed, there are – or should be – limits.
The Backstories: Kimmel and Ingraham
Kimmel sparked a furor over his ridiculing of First Lady Melania Trump. It isn’t the first time that Mrs. Trump has been the target of the left’s contempt and scorn, for no other reason than that she is the wife of the president they hate so very much. The failed-comic-turned-Hollywood-windbag also sparked a war of words with Fox News host Sean Hannity; a confrontation that descended into a childish exchange of immature insults and comebacks on Twitter. Both men, it must be said, utterly embarrassed themselves. Hannity is human, though; he was reacting, out of anger, to the remarks of a man who has no principles.
Finally, Kimmel, who focused mostly on homophobic slurs, soon figured out that his career was about to take a Kathy Griffin trajectory and backed down, issuing a half-hearted apology to Hannity – but not to Trump.
Laura Ingraham was guilty of nothing more than saying, on national television, what many Americans were already thinking. Following the Florida school shooting, a group of students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School chose to embark upon a crusade against Second Amendment rights. The ringleader of this endeavor is one David Hogg, a foul-mouthed upstart who frequently wandered from the gun-control path to make political statements on other issues.
Ingraham described Hogg as “whiny” and was immediately branded a bully. The Fox host was chastised for harassing a sweet, innocent teenager who was only trying to ensure that the terrible events he witnessed – or may have witnessed – would never happen again.
Hogg himself, with help from those pulling the strings from behind the scenes, orchestrated a boycott of the sponsors of Ingraham’s show, The Ingraham Angle. The show continues but the damage was done; numerous companies bowed to pressure and pulled their advertising and Ingraham herself took a short leave of absence.
The Weaponization of Free Speech
These two stories raise important points about how the left views freedom of speech. While they attempt to place limits on free speech, using the concepts of political correctness and ‘hate speech’, leftists betray their true intent, which is to silence dissenting speech. Had a male conservative talk-show host devoted a segment of their show to ridiculing former First Lady Michelle Obama, their career would have dissolved within 48 hours. The establishment media, along with Democratic politicians and a host of prominent figures in the entertainment industry, would have screamed about sexism and racism; boycotts would have been used and demands for the host’s dismissal would have been many and loud. Had the host gone on to attack his detractors with a barrage of gay slurs and innuendo, he would have ignited even more outrage and, likely, would never have worked in the industry again.
Kimmel faced no such consequences and, herein, lies the first lesson about the left’s weaponization of the First Amendment: The rules they seek to apply – the rules about what should, and should not, be said – apply only to their political and ideological opponents. Leftists can get away with any transgression of their own rules; incitement of violence, misogynistic remarks, racist remarks or homophobic slurs.
Ingraham’s tale offers another lesson. The press – or the news media, as it is more commonly known in this digital age – considers itself a protected class under the First Amendment. That view is justified; the Amendment specifically forbids Congress from passing any law that prohibits the freedom of the press. Ingraham is a member of that protected class. Certainly, one can argue that David Hogg is a private citizen and so his attempt to silence Ingraham is not unconstitutional. His boycott of her show, however, does prove that the left, as a whole, does not recognize the sanctity of press freedom if the press is presenting views with which they do not agree.
Where Rights Begin and End
Hogg’s attempt to get Ingraham off the air tells a more sinister story, however. The one, true limit on any human right – be it constitutionally protected or not – is that one person’s rights end where another’s rights begin, and vice versa. One American’s right to carry a gun ends where another American’s right to remain alive begins. For this reason, homicide is illegal. What about free speech, then? Surely, a person’s right to speak freely ends where that right infringes upon another person’s rights. The way the concept of ‘hate speech’ works is that one person’s right to free speech ends where another person’s right to dignity and respect begins. Thus – and even though it is not covered by the Constitution – we have decided to live with a self-imposed limit on free speech, out of respect for the rights of others.
While we have accepted, perhaps grudgingly, an unspoken social contract that says one should not speak in a manner that is considered abusive, racist or, in other ways, discriminatory, we accept speech that is used to advocate the denial of certain rights to others. Why is that? Surely, if ‘hate speech’ actually exists, then calling for law-abiding citizens to be stripped of their guaranteed rights is, in fact, hate speech.
David Hogg uses his First Amendment right to attack the Second Amendment rights of others. Furthermore, when faced with dissent, he attempts to strip the dissenter of the First Amendment as well. Perhaps we need a new contract that demands we not abuse the right to free speech by using it to support the infringement of the rights of others. Your right to free speech, Mr. Hogg, should end where my right to keep and bear arms begins.