We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people. ~John F. Kennedy
Next Monday, November 22, marks the 47th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. My oldest son, Stephen, and I will be making our way to Dallas the Saturday after Thanksgiving for his doctor’s appointment at Scottish Rite Children’s Hospital.
While in the city, we plan on visiting Dealey Plaza, the site where President Kennedy was shot and killed by Lee Harvey Oswald. In my 44 years of life, this will be my first trip to Dallas (suggestions for good BBQ places would be welcomed and appreciated). As a student of history and politics, I am looking forward to taking my son to that (in)famous spot where one of our country’s most patriotic and charismatic leaders was felled by an assassin’s bullet.
Even though I do not share many of Kennedy’s beliefs (although he was more conservative than the present generation of Kennedys), I do share his belief in the intelligence and discernment of the American people. That belief, sadly, is under attack in many of our institutions today, including the worlds of politics, religion, and business.
One of the front lines of attack is on the various 24-hour news channels. Love them or hate them, both Fox News Channel and MSNBC are not only purveyors of straight news, but also of strong opinions. Most reasonable observers understand that Fox’ opinion makers lean right while MSNBC’s lean left. No one will mistake Sean Hannity for a liberal firebrand and no one will confuse Keith Olbermann for a conservative pundit.
As a conservative, I watch Fox News almost exclusively. There are times when I will change channels to see what the talking heads on MSNBC are saying. Truth be told, I can’t stand to listen very long to any of the MSNBC lineup, even former Republican Congressman Joe Scarborough. I’m sure that there are many folks, including some of my readers, who feel the same way about Fox News, affectionately dubbed Faux News by so many on the left.
Although I do not care for the opinions of Olbermann, Madow, Matthews, Shultz, or O’Donnell, I would never support a move to censor their opinions. They have a right to be wrong, but I will defend their First Amendment right to freely express their beliefs. I simply trust Americans to be able to discern between competing ideas and values and to change the channels accordingly. I do not need the government to do that for me!
Likewise, John F. Kennedy believed that when the government or other institutions became so afraid that they would not “entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values,” that this revealed that the leaders of those institutions were in reality afraid of the people themselves.
Apparently, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) is afraid, very afraid! How else to explain his idea to prevent the American people judge competing ideas for themselves. Well, at least judging any ideas coming from Fox News or MSNBC. You see, he would rather the FCC force both Fox News and MSNBC off the air instead of allowing Amercans to view and decide for themselves. Rockefeller opines:
“There’s a little bug inside of me which wants to get the FCC to say to FOX and to MSNBC: ‘Out. Off. End. Goodbye.’ It would be a big favor to political discourse; our ability to do our work here in Congress, and to the American people, to be able to talk with each other and have some faith in their government and more importantly, in their future.”
I think I know where Rockefeller’s bug is located, but . . . Let’s get this straight. A sitting United States Senator thinks that Big Brother would be doing the American people a “big favor” if the FCC banned Fox News and MSNBC. Not only is that anathema to the letter and spirit of the First Amendment, but evinces a deep-seated fear that establishment leaders like Rockefeller have of people being able to judge between competing ideas.
He, unfortunately, is not alone in his attitude. Jay Rockefeller may have made the “mistake” of being more open and transparent about what he really believed, but too many people in positions of power — in government, business, or religion — fear the free-flow of information in the public marketplace of ideas.
Instead of encouraging more speech, some leaders would rather censor speech that they find offensive or “bad.” They would rather silence voices that do not fit into their neat and tidy view of the world. But, as Alan Dershowitz, famed attorney and Harvard Law Professor once said, “The best answer to bad speech is good speech.” That’s a pretty good idea that trumps censorship. I think President Kennedy would approve!