Free speech, “the national dialogue” and “reasonable speech:” The Pat Buchanan case (Updated)

In a post about Pat Buchanan’s being fired by MSNBC by guest blogger “rafflaw” on Jonathan Turley’s blog there is this quotation from William O. Douglas.  Among the numerous comments following the post are the two items quoted below, both causes for alarm.  The first is alarming because a cable news executive presumes to speak for what ideas are appropriate for  the national dialogue, the second for its having to remind the commenters that free and useful debate is not tied to some conception of “reasonableness ” and that there are real risks to free speech in making such a connection.

Douglas quotation:

“Justice William O. Douglas said it best in the Terminiello v. Chicago decision, “Accordingly, a function of free speech under our system of government is to invite dispute. It may indeed best serve its high purpose when it induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger. Speech is often provocative and challenging. It may strike at prejudices and preconceptions and have profound unsettling effects as it presses for acceptance of an idea. That is why freedom of speech, though not absolute, Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, supra, pp. 315 U. S. 571-572, is nevertheless protected against censorship or punishment, unless shown likely to produce a clear and present danger of a serious substantive evil that rises far above public inconvenience, annoyance, or unrest.“ (Emphasis added)

From two comments from different people beneath this post:

Comment 1. (MSNBC president)

“…Deadline Hollywood asked MSNBC president Phil Griffin to shed light on Buchanan’s employment status at the network. Griffin stopped short of making anything official but said that the ideas put forth in the book are not “appropriate for the national dialogue, much less MSNBC.(Emphasis added)

Comment 2.

“It is disheartening to see several responses here positing REASONABLE as having to do with free and useful debate. I don’t want to listen to Pat Buchanan anytime and not because he is unreasonable. Aristotle invented the use of logic to extend facts when arguing. Start with facts? Too much to ask? We are letting corporate media brainwash us and “reasonable” becomes mostly whatever we hear said without furious backlash. It is often the backlash that exposes how narrow our ability to listen to a different view is.”

3 thoughts on “Free speech, “the national dialogue” and “reasonable speech:” The Pat Buchanan case (Updated)

  1. I’m not totally sure how I feel about this. On the one hand, Buchanan certainly has his right to say/write whatever he wishes, no matter how hateful and ignorant it may be – and usually is. On the other hand, employers have a right to hire and fire employees as they see fit (or unfit), including big mouth drama queens like Keith O.


    1. Had MSNBC’s action not followed so soon after publication of Buchanan’s book or had it simply allowed his contract to go unrenewed, I would be more sympathetic to its right as an employer. It could have told Buchanan well in advance that it would not renew and that he should begin looking for a new home

      MSNBC hired Buchanan to be the voice for conservatives on its shows; Buchanan’s record is lengthy and undisguised. To dismiss him for doing what he was hired to do is at least hypocritical although I see no reason to think it is illegal.

      I am much more bothered by Griffin’s comment about what is appropriate for the national debate. I am one of those unreconstructed people who believe that the best outcomes come from a real “free-market of ideas” and that Mr. Griffin is destroying that when he puts his thumb on the scale by deciding what is appropriate for public discussion. If Buchanan’s views can’t draw an audience, given the level of exposure he has had, so be it; if, in order to keep them from undergoing that test his employer decides those ideas should be deprived of the same exposure, it is abusing its rights.


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