Friday, February 06, 2004

Free Hateful Speech 

One of the painful yet ultimately helpful benefits of political and social controversies, particularly those in which patriotism or morality are questioned, is that these times encourage people to express openly what is going on in their heads. This is a good thing, whether you agree or disagree with the statements, for how can you join with or struggle against that which is hidden?

Sometimes it's not that the ideas were hidden, but merely polished and dressed up for public presentation. When the debates really get going and the stakes appear to be at risk, the polish comes off, the fancy outfits are put away and the truth as people perceive it is brought to the front. Where is the benefit of this? Sometimes the ideas behind the glossy veneer turn out to be incredibly ugly, blatantly prejudiced, and grounded in fear. Once these ideas are presented openly, perhaps some of the people who had been following the speakers can re-evaluate whether they wish to continue doing so. It also motivates those who oppose those ideas to speak out.

Margaret Cho posted in her blog last month regarding the effects of Matt Drudge having posted an edited version of a comedy set performed by Cho at a Moveon.org event.

In response to the Drudge Report posting, Margaret Cho was inundated with hate e-mail. Not just critical e-mail, voicing respectful disagreement with her opinions (which were presented in a comedy routine, not a political rally), but hateful, abusive, and violence-threatening invectives. You can link to examples of these e-mails by clicking on the "the site" link in her blog entry, or directly here.

But it doesn't stop there. The complete text of these e-mails were in turn posted on Margaret Cho's website. Readers who were offended by the posted e-mails hit their own keyboards, and sent messages of support to Cho and also sent e-mails of opposition directly to the original anti-Cho e-mailers.

The vociferous proclaimers of patriotism, who were willing to attack Cho's weight, facial features, ethnic heritage, sexual preferences and family members in explicit terms, and some of whom suggested strenuously that she leave this country because she is exercising her free speech right to criticize political leaders, while bolstering this argument by pointing out that she wouldn't have this free speech right in other countries, sent follow up e-mails, requesting that their own e-mail addresses be removed from the site, as they were now receiving hate mail of their very own.

Okay, so this country is great because we have a right to free speech, but should we choose to exercise that right, we forfeit our right to remain in this great country that provides the right to free speech? And you have the right to protest loudly and brutally against what someone else says, but I am not in turn allowed the opportunity to protest what you have to say?

Again, I am reminded of the fictional president Andrew Shepard's speech in "The American President."

The e-mail addresses were indeed removed from the website, and Cho also requested that anyone else who had posted the addresses remove them from their sites as well. Prior to the removal, however, some of the original e-mailers apologized. This is what can come of free dialogue, and this is good.

Margaret, you are fabulous. Keep walking the walk and talking the talk. We'll be here listening, laughing, and growing.

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Posted by Beth Henderson at 10:44 AM