My favorite college professor, Rev. Mark Massa, introduced me to Reinhold Niebuhr’s classic The Irony of American History more than 20 years ago. Niebuhr posited that irony was the best lens through which to view American history. And not Alanis Morissette irony, real irony. For example, it is truly ironic that a land settled by religious pilgrims became the first nation to explicitly separate government and religion. Nearly every year that passes something happens in the US that proves just how right he was.
The most recent is the HOF voting being by the Baseball Writers Association of America. You see, election to the Baseball Hall of Fame is akin to sainthood to some of the writers who bear the responsibility of voting on the Hall. Drunkards, philanderers, cheaters or racists are all expressly forbidden. So writers have decided to punish known and rumored users of performance enhancing drugs by keeping them out of the Hall.
The result is, ironically, a less-important Hall of Fame. Every time the honor is withheld for these reasons, the honor itself becomes less valuable as do the votes these writers cherish. The very act of using the HOF votes as a weapon weakens them. Mr. Niebuhr’s thesis is proven once again.
Two recent media events point to be a selective misunderstanding of the First Amendment in America today and it’s relationship to free market capitalism.
When A&E chose to suspend Phil Robertson from Duck Dynasty they were not following government orders to silence someone whose comments were rightfully deemed ignorant and hateful by many citizens. Was the network taking a moral stand based on principles? Maybe. More likely they were making a business decision that they would lose more viewers, advertisers, employees and dollars through silence than thru the suspension. It was a business decision that is not regulated by the government.
Today’s New York Times highlights an issue that is strikingly similar to the Duck Dynasty affair. The Times details the blacklisting of Dick Metcalf, a gun journalist who dared to question the hard line NRA stance on gun rights. When readers and advertisers became outraged at the writer’s stance, his employer made the same financial decision AMC did and parted ways with the writer.
Depending on your level of cynicism, the NYT and the “I Support Phil” group are either ignorant of the Constitution or choosing to apply different arguments on similar issues to fit their position on the issue. The typically free-market loving right should be supporting A&E’s freedom to make the best financial decision for their shareholders but instead they decry the infringement of Phil Robertson’s first amendment rights. The Times implies that Guns & Ammo magazine caved to financial interest instead of supporting Metcalf. Again, maybe the magazine was taking a moral stand supporting the 2nd Amendment, but they were likely just making a business decision.
The First Amendment prevents the government from restricting speech, not corporations. When media companies like A&E or Guns & Ammo dismiss employees for their speech the companies are exercising their 1st Amendment rights while making free market capitalist decisions.