Instances of Inappropriate Censorship

Ever since Sarah Palin mania started a month ago, the media has whined and whined about the prospective Veep’s reluctance to allow them access to her life and thoughts at every second of the day. Just this week, many members of the media threw a fit because they couldn’t be in the room with Palin as she met with world leaders in New York. The press increasingly loathe Palin because she dares to scoff at their self-endowed prerogative to be “in on” whatever “story” they want. Just read this bitter rant from Campbell “Obama’s biggest fan” Brown.

Resentful members of the press claim that Palin’s avoidance is harming the free flow of information, of “truth.” As journalists, they are all about the freedom of information. But the unspoken truth of most journalists is that they are the biggest censors of all. They get the facts, then selectively report them. They hear and see the story, then re-tell it in the way they would like it to be.

Of course, it is not just journalists who do this. All of us believe in free speech in theory. But when that speech is dangerous or threatens something we hold dear, we don’t really shy away from trying to stifle it.

Two recent examples of the suspicious suppression of free speech:

YouTube Removes Obama Abortion Video
YouTube is increasingly showing its partisan colors this election cycle, as evidenced in the removal of a video produced by The Kansas Coalition for Life, called “Obama: WRONG Change for Children.” Sure, the video contains a few brief images of aborted fetuses, but there is far worse elsewhere on YouTube. Apparently YouTube’s only explanation for the video’s removal is that it did not meet a “Community Guideline.” This seems a nebulous reason to remove the video, which—as you can see if you watch below—may be creepily over-the-top, but is not really deserving of censorship.

Southern Baptist bookstore chain hides magazine with female pastors on cover

Bookstores have the right to carry and sell whatever they want, but when you have a deal to distribute a magazine and then take it off shelves because you disagree with the image on the cover, that is a little suspect. Such was the case when Lifeway Christian Stores, a chain of 100+ bookstores owned by the Southern Baptist Convention, took this month’s issue of GospelToday off its shelves and hid it behind the counter. Why? Because the cover of the magazine featured a photo of five female pastors—an idea that is evidently too hot to handle for the SBC.

Alas, these are just two current events that showcase the widespread practice of censorship in America today. Of course the argument could be made that censorship isn’t such a bad thing, in which case I’m totally fine with YouTube and the SBC censoring whatever they wish. But the problem is when these institutions feign protection of the free flow of thought and ideas—branding themselves as “open-minded” but then closing off discourse to the ideas they dislike. This is hypocrisy, which is even more annoying than censorship.

4 responses to “Instances of Inappropriate Censorship

  1. This isn’t suppression of free speech. Free speech is a constitutional right to have zero legal consequences or restrictions pertaining to self expression. This has nothing to do with whether private entities such as YouTube, ABC, the New York Times, or Clear Channel choose to remove material from publication for whatever reasons they deem appropriate. Don Imus’ job loss was not a free speech issue; fines levied against network broadcasters for FCC violations are not free speech issues; YouTube removing a video, even if their explicit and public reasoning is that it makes Barack Obama look bad is not a free speech issue.

    Regarding Sarah Palin, the press is often referred to as the ‘fourth estate,’ which is, in the words of Edmund Burke, ‘more important than them all.’ As the Washington Post puts it, ‘Mr. McCain is entitled to choose the person he thinks would be best for the job. He is not entitled to keep the public from being able to make an informed assessment of that judgment.’

    Part of McCain’s original appeal in 2000 was his accessibility by the press and his candor with them; he referred jokingly to them as his ‘base.’ McCain promised to have weekly press conferences when he is president: This is considered a good thing, reflecting transparency and accountability and a firm belief in one’s positions and ideals and the ability to answer difficult questions with regard to these things. It is not considered pandering to the press’ ‘self-endowed prerogative to be “in on” whatever “story” they want.’

    Ignoring the press is a good way to avoid answering questions— it’s a good way to build a solid, consistent message without regard for obvious criticisms and necessary discussion. And it reminds me of another politician who likes to stonewall the press and only allow those who agree with him to have access to him, and that guy is not someone whose presidency I’d like to see repeated.

  2. I never said anything about these things being constitutionally or legally wrong… censorship exists in a much larger scope than that, and there are both appropriate and inappropriate places for it. Do you not think it okay to judge an institution on moral or ethical grounds for inconsistent and hypocritical censorship policies?

  3. I do, but couching such discussion in terms of ‘free speech’ makes no sense. Commercial websites and bookstores are in no sense dedicated to free speech, and thus have no public obligation to uphold it. You referred to both instances above as ‘suspicious suppression of free speech,’ which makes no sense— both are business decisions, plain and simple. There is absolutely zero evidence that YouTube’s decision was politically-based; in fact, even a cursory search of that website will reveal a wealth of anti-Obama videos, many of which center upon his abortion-related views— many of which make exactly the arguments of the video in question, but do not include graphic images. Regarding Lifeway, it seems quite reasonable to believe that a bookstore owned by the SBC caters largely to a Southern Baptist demographic, a demographic that would look rather unfavorably upon the magazine cover in question: and any retail manager can tell you that offending your key demographic is an awful idea. And I have absolutely no idea why Roland S. Martin of CNN includes this thought: ‘So does Lifeway and, by extension, the Southern Baptist Convention, fight vigorously for freedom of religion, but it doesn’t give a hoot about the other freedoms guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution?’

    In what sense do either of the above two stories showcase ‘inconsistent’ or ‘hypocritical’ policies?

  4. Come on now… if you’re running for what could be the most powerful office in the entire world, I want to know everything about you. There should be very few questions off limits. We’re talking about asking questions here! Questions… Let’s see a press conference or open town hall meeting. When those run live, there’s no way a station can selectively choose what to run. That’s a free flowing discussion. The same that the other candidates have done for a loooong time. But she’s exempt? That’s ridiculous.

    Furthermore, if spin is what you want, there’s plenty on both sides to spin it however you’d like. This isn’t some big machine that’s entirely one sided. I hate spin. But I hate secrecy even more.

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