What Free Speech Really Means

Download Audio

With guest host Jane Clayson.

Two new books on free speech–one by a former New York Times correspondent, the other a Fox News contributor. They don’t see eye to eye—and tell us why.

Blogger and activist Pamela Geller speaks at a conference she organized entitled “Stop Islamization of America,” in New York on Sept. 11, 2012. (AP)
Blogger and activist Pamela Geller speaks at a conference she organized entitled “Stop Islamization of America,” in New York on Sept. 11, 2012. (AP)

One thing we don’t lack for in America is free speech. We’ve got it.. And with the explosion of the Internet, we’ve got it in spades. Our comedians, our talk radio, our cable news shows can say the most shocking things and nobody ends up in jail. But maybe it’s the conversation that comes after you’ve spoken your mind that needs improvement. Two new books argue we have developed some bad habits, that we don’t debate, we vilify, we attack. That we don’t need more free speech, we need more of the spirit of free speech. This hour On Point: speech in America today.
-- Jane Clayson


Kirsten Powers, a Fox News contributor and a columnist for both USA Today and The Daily Beast. Author of "The Silencing: How the Left Is Killing Free Speech." (@KirstenPowers)

David K. Shipler, Author of "Freedom of Speech: Mightier Than The Sword." From 1966 to 1988 he reported for the New York Times in New York, Saigon, Moscow, Jerusalem, and Washington, D.C. Author of six previous books.

From The Reading List

New Yorker: Pamela Geller and the Anti-Islam Movement - "...[T]he principle of free speech confronted American society’s unwritten code of restraint on contemptuous stereotyping. Mocking Islam’s ban on images of Muhammad, the [Draw Prophet Muhammad] contest’s organizer, Pamela Geller, of a crusading anti-Muslim group called the American Freedom Defense Initiative, invited cartoonists to compete for a ten-thousand-dollar prize. The winner, Bosch Fawstin, an Albanian Muslim who had renounced Islam, went into hiding. Freedom of expression suddenly looked like two overlays on a map, the legal landscape and the cultural landscape, each with its own boundaries. The First Amendment protects the legal right to almost all expression, on the understanding that the best answer to offensive speech is more speech. Culturally, however, Americans have generally limited what they say out of respect for the dignity of others."

The Washington Post: Obama joins twitter. Racism quickly follows - "There are moments when I come thisclose to quitting Twitter. The amount of hatred squeezed into 140 characters or less by lunatics usually cloaked in anonymity is enough to make you question your support for the First Amendment and your faith in the decency of other people. To the uninitiated, the torrent of bigotry can leave you feeling violated. Even the most seasoned, battle-scarred, seen-it-all, can’t-nuthin’-shock-me individual will be left O-o by the filth in his or her Twitter feed. If you follow me on the beast that is Twitter, you have seen me do battle with racists, homophobes and the willfully uninformed and ignorant. I strongly believe those folks need to be exposed for sunlight is the best disinfectant, as the saying goes."

Real Clear Politics: Kirsten Powers: Obama's Latest Attack On FOX News "Gratuitous," Is "Beneath The Office Of The President" - "'The chapter that I have starts with the very beginning of the administration and the systematic they ran trying to delegitimize FOX News. It's an obsessions that I think if George Bush had done toward any news organization — first of all, I would've been the first person standing up against it and defending them if he was doing this to MSNBC. And when they went through and said that FOX News is not a legitimate news organization, we will not treat as a legitimate news organization, nor should you. They said this to CNN, they said this to other news organizations which is absolutely not the role of the president. Look, if they don't like FOX News, don't watch it.'"

Read An Excerpt Of "The Silencing" By Kirsten Powers

Read An Excerpt Of "The Freedom Of Speech" By David K. Shipler

This program aired on May 26, 2015.


More from On Point

Listen Live