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Those Who Exercise Free Speech Should Also Defend It—Even When It's Offensive

Originally published at http://www.commondreams.org/views/2020/06/19/those-who-exercise-free-speech-should-also-defend-it-even-when-its-offensive


There is a classic saying that has been attributed to a variety of brilliant individuals. “Though I may detest what you say, I will defend to my death your right to speak it,” Wisdom, indeed.


It is said “you are entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts”; truth is a fragile and threatened reality these days and that must be defended, but not necessarily brazen lies affecting millions, neo-nazi or racist propaganda and bigotry.

Within the framework of the Fourth Estate - our mass media, now an adjunct of lies and propaganda, controlled and dominated by wealth and big-money, a corrupt Congress and WH, TV talking-heads "telling ‘both-sides’ of an issue (glorifying deceit and lies as equal to truth), “alternative facts”, all conspire to negate the intent of “Free Speech” and defending it; now akin to accepting lies as truth

One cannot yell “FIRE” in a crowded theatre, that is “deemed dangerous”, neither can one, arguably incite and/or promote racist hate or bigotry - I know, a slippery slope.

My dad would say: “Son, you tell me your truth and I’ll tell you mine”.
Sonmi 451said: “Truth is singular. Its ‘versions’ are mistruths.” - “Our lives are not our own, from womb to tomb we are bound to others. With each crime, and every act of kindness we birth our future” - .

The intent and aim of this piece is disturbing and perhaps I am not “getting it” entirely - the difference between “offensive free speech” and existential threat free speech - “deemed dangerous” threats to liberty and truth itself in the context of today’s world.


This is the gal who as a director of Amnesty International advanced falsehoods as to what was happening in Libya to force the NATO member nations to destroy that Government. She exercised her “right to free speech” to promote fiction as fact and those claims of mass killings by the Qaddaffi regime, of soldiers running around committing mass rape were used to justify that intervention.


In an event in Chicago Madeline Albright and Ms Nossel gave speeches justifying US Interventions abroad with Ms Albright promoted as one of the speakers claiming this wars abroad as Feminist wars. No advocates for peace were invited and some that showed up (Coleen Rowley and Ann Wright as example) were initially barred from entry and were not given a chance to speak.


So the question I posit to you. Does Free speech include spreading fictions and falsehoods as a member of a group like Amnesty international so as to promote war and my aside to Ms Nossel would be is it ok to bar voices that would have challenged her pro war narrative at events such as that seminar in Chicago so as to ensure only one POV promoted and adopted by the media?

Is propaganda considered Free speech?

Would and were people wrong if they called for Ms Nossel to be removed from her position at AI at that time for the wars she was promoting?

Another question. Is Free Speech equitable when one given viewpoint given access to the Media, to large organizations and institutions so as to make their case while another group is only allowed to carry signs on the street where their thoughts are ignored? Remember George Bushes “Free speech zones?” where even as the media were promoting lies and falsehoods so as to promote war on Iraq, Mr Bush suggested the anti-war crowd be restricted to certain closed off areas so as to carry their signs and express an alternative POV?

Given this the reality of what goes on , is it very wrong for those groups not given that same access to the media or so as to make speeches at those institutions like the Universities to act to stop those pro-establishment voices ?


You were doing great; however, here’s one suggestion, rewrite the last paragraph with a " In conclusion " lead in.

Hey that was all before my first cup of coffee. I think i leave as is :slight_smile:

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Similarly, when people are challenging commonly accepted but misinformative facts, their speech should be protected because doing that is essential to a democracy.

In the news today, there are a number of sets of facts and assumptions which are widely assumed to be factual but which clearly are not. But the misleading situation is being prolonged and perpetuated by both politicians and the media.

People cant be given the ability to continue this misinformation without being challenged because its very destructive, and prevents any resolution of problems.

One of these problems has resulted in the deaths of countless Americans in a situation that should have been solved ages ago.

Its (the same thing, which in this case is a dirty deal conducted in a forum most Americans are not even aware of but which subsumes our own governments power to regulate) It also led to massive financial losses for large numbers of people, including me. People were never told this, and those reponsible deny it. But its easily proven.

Our failure to be allowed to become informed about this problem basically guarantees this will continue. the media has a fiduciary duty because media are a critical necessary resource.

Media cant be forced to write articles but they should be open to correcting and responsible to the public in a verifiable and undelayable manner when they contain misinformation, even when its not explicit, disinformation can be created by omitting important facts as well as by letting statements by important people that contain verifiably wrong things be reported on as if they are noncontroversial.

When the facts in an article are challenged they should correct them. There should be a help-desk like ticketing system for correction of misleading or wrong facts so requests for corrections cant vanish into thin air.

In this way even ephemeral Internet based media can be made more substantiative and responsive.

The alternative is an Orwell-like world where no fcats are defined, and communications become retroactively malleable.

Widespread and pervasive “Information gerrymandering” of forums and social media commenting is isolating key discussions to tiny walled gardens depriving the public of all the benefits of a free and open Internet, while still allowing powerful con artists free reign to deceive the public without being challenged.

To prevent this, forums should publish policies of this kind and make themselves and their practices auditable.

Otherwise information gerrymandering will destroy democracy by preventing the existence of any truly democratic public sphere limiting voices to only the annointed - who invariably are too self-censored to be truthful when some important fact needs to be known.


Unfortunately, yes. The best weapon is ultimately education. One of my absolute favorite heroes is Voltaire, whose biting satire can lay bare truths that cannot be denied. At the present time we are stuck with the likes of hate media and the minions that follow them. I think even de Tocqueville recognized that leaning in American culture. Again, I go back to education and to expunge the likes of Betsy DeVos, the queen of the lowest common denominator.


Well I am in disagreement. The consequences of persons in positions of power and authority spreading lies so as to justify a given action are to be seen in Libya and Afghanistan and Iraq where millons have died and the Countries are now failed States.

A Journalist in Nazi Germany was tried and convicted at Nuremberg for his role in promoting war and anti-semitism. His lies and falsehoods were deemed a crime against humanity and one of the causes of the second world war and the Holocaust.

People that LIE whereby that lie leads to persons being harmed should pay for the consequences of that lie. We understand that concept with our perjury laws.

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Thomas Jefferson is a very controversial figure in this latest national dustup. Hopefully, we remember why the First Amendment was placed ( positioned ) where it was by the Founders of this messy and ill-conceived ongoing modern day Greek tragedy ( It is what it is, though ).
Even fallen heroes, like broken clocks, are right twice a day. Jefferson and Franklin, the writings of Paine, etc. etc.- well, heroes are still hard to find. They did get some of it right, imo.
Anyone born into wealth, power and position has always had the right to say whatever floats through their brainpan. Not so true, ya’know, for the rest of us bozos on the bus.
As a lazy atheist I know there’s far too much cheap proselytizing and religious zealotry in the halls of Congress and public spaces, currently. I know some of these Crazy Christians would slit my throat if they thought they could get away with it.
Yet, I’ll allow their religious gobbledygook and nuttery, if I get the chance " to get one word in, even edgewise ". It’s a fair trade, imo.

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I wholly agree with you on moral terms. Unfortunately we are boxed into a legal system that is amoral and often immoral. If I could mete out justice, …

Just a quick note on Libya–Gaddafi could and did ride around Tripoli in an open air Jeep to the chants of happy crowds. And just what did empire have in store for him? We are on the same play sheet, I believe.

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Wasn’t being picky. Liked it. Just sayin’. Enjoy your coffee.

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What kind of process could be used to both verify undisputed facts as well as provide a framework where disputed facts could be represented preserving as many of their important aspects as possible, even when those arguing for these different points of view held profoudly different points of view?

Also, various sources, including primary sources, how could they be presented in a way that recognizes their usefulness?

for example, historical timelines, primary source documents, witness testimonies, written and audio and multimedia/video content, as well as subjective commentary? What kinds of fact checking interface could be used, which would recognize that some “fact checkers” themselves have a hidden agenda which is less fact verification than promoting the “winners point of view” which often is inaccurate or wrong when looked at critically.

She invited Albright to the Chicago event, the sweet lady who thought a hundred thousand Iraqi deaths were “worth it”. She is also a Zionist Israeli apologist who criticized the report on the oppression of Palestinians. She says she, “feels comfortable in Israel”; and has been a major proponent of “soft power”, which is basically shoving neo-liberalism down the world’s collective throats without shooting anyone.

Journalist and peace activist Chris Hedges resigned from PEN in protest of Nossel’s appointment. Hedges saying that “Nossel’s relentless championing of preemptive war—which under international law is illegal—as a State Department official along with her callous disregard for Israeli mistreatment of the Palestinians and her refusal as a government official to denounce the use of torture and use of extrajudicial killings, makes her utterly unfit to lead any human rights organization, especially one that has global concerns.”

Your comment is a good description of her disgraceful career. You can sum her up in several words: a State Department flack, a little tamer than Hillary. For her to talk about free speech is bogus and hypocritical. She does not belong on CD’s site; leave her at the LA Times

She does however illustrate how the neo-conservative foreign policy and neo-liberal economic agenda and it proponents have infiltrated supposedly human rights organizations. It could reasonably said that she is a “mole” without any cover.


The Empire, under the OhBummer Adm. provided cover, and a NATO cover-up of Sarcozy’s plans to steal Libyan assets and protect French interests in the MENA. In most instances the French governing elites eat at the same trough as American elites. Pigs are pigs, the world over.
NATO has now moved into the Western Hemisphere ( Columbia ) with similar plans for propping up Neo-Colonial agendas. Again, pigs are pigs, the world over.


Actually, Albright said 500,000 dead was an acceptable #. But, their side doesn’t care about body counts, never has.

Excellent and necessary commentary - most certainly a sigh from the depths! Your comments informing us to remember about Ms Nossel and her history are critical and telling - it seems very cynical and deceitful for her to even write this piece on “free speech”, demanding/allowing it for some but excluding it for others when she had a chance to demonstrate her quality.

It’s also telling she never mentioned restrictions against free speech on college campuses.and elsewhere for the BDS Movement and criticism of Israeli ethnic cleansing, colonization, etc A serious evasion of respecting free speech to cater to a political extremism.

The position of the media/press and who controls it today is central to “free speech” and who gets to tell their truth, and who does not - any nation (or essayist like Ms Nossel) that tolerates or excuses or ignores that inability for some to express their free speech but suggest that speech, even that “deemed dangerous” or racist or fascist or infected by slavery be tolerated and accorded “rights” the voiceless in this manipulated and censored time do not have!

Excellent and thought-provoking! An indictment of the author and her selective notions and actions when it mattered most on “free speech”. Thank You!

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Excellent comment. I quickly scanned through the article and alarm bells of memory rang with her Name and the organisation she headed. Everything can be corrupted (invariably by the CIA): AI was gone decades ago and I imagine that Nosssel carried the same toxin to PEN. What exactly is her background?


I always believed that free speech had to allow all thoughts and ideas. I forget which Supreme Court Justice said it, but we aren’t supposed to shout FIRE in a crowded theatre if there is no fire----otherwise people will be trampled! I don’t think that Trump understands this. : (

Actually, yes. even speech that we might regard as propaganda should be protected. It just should not be protected from contradiction–neither its own, nor contradiction by others. What we call “freedom of speech,” very pointedly including the freedom to say and publish things that are widely regarded as false.

Most human-created horror is accomplished by people who imagine that they are in some sense Right or Just. Even those convinced by money or somebody’s approval are apt to be quite bodily convinced. People not only accomplish astounding denial; we go to war and sacrifice ourselves for causes that a poodle would recognize were contrary to its interests.

It follows, unless there is something to this that I am missing, that a lot of what is usually regarded as deliberate falsification lies somewhere on a continuum between lying and polemic persuasion. To distinguish these, one needs some window into human intentions. We mostly fail to manage this, particularly with people whom we do not meet daily in the flesh.

None of that means that Ms. Nossel should not be removed from her position (I am assuming that you are correct as regards her role with respect to Libya; I have no special reason to doubt you, but that is the relevant case here). What should not happen, however, is that US government or some proxy thereof should be able to determine that Amnesty International or Suzanne Nossel should be removed from public circulation (for “proxies,” let’s include Microsoft, Twitter, Facebook, You-Tube, your ISP, and of course the list is not exhaustive).

As to the next question, no: free speech is not equitable when different points of view have unequal access to media. It is also, under those conditions, not altogether free. Of course, people have not had equal access to media since at least the fireside chats that really took place at the side of a fire, and there appear to have been qualifications then.

So, first, I would say that we should work against that iniquity by removing information from most restrictions based on commodification and ownership, including most copyright-related restrictions. Then, however, I also agree that “institutions like the universities” (and other schools and other non-school institutions) should act against falsehood, both pro-establishment and other.

The distinction here is that calling out falsehood and banning particular expressions are different and usually in conflict, even when the expression banned is mostly false.

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