Many readers are bristling over my statement, “It’s a free country, but I get queasy with boycotts to target disgusting but free speech.” One writes:
For your information, Mr. Sullivan, the only recourse we have against the revolting Rush Limbaugh is to boycott his advertisers. He’s got big, big money behind him and absolutely no sense of shame. I can think of no reason why the people of this country should be involuntarily exposed to the increasingly vicious and mendacious rants of this individual, when there is a way to dial him back. Nobody from the government is trying to stop him. His fellow citizens are simply exercising THEIR rights.
No one is involuntarily exposed to his poison; and he earned the big bucks by peddling this crap. That’s the American way. Yes, I’m relieved that the government is not intervening, but the First Amendment ensures that. The right way to counter his speech, in my view, is with speech, not threats to his livelihood. Another writes:
Free speech is my unabashed favorite of our constitutional protections. And as much as I loathe Limbaugh’s politics, public persona, and recent remarks, I’d side with you against anyone arguing that he shouldn’t be allowed to say those things, or that people shouldn’t be allowed to listen to him. But I fail to see how that’s happening here. Like anyone’s free speech, Limbaugh’s has consequences.
People are choosing not to listen to him, and they’re choosing to pull their financial support from the people who, by funding him, give tacit approval to his opinions and expressions. They’re voting with their feet and their dollars, and protesting what he said, not his right to say it. If Limbaugh’s loyal fans and listeners agree with his remarks, they can similarly pledge their patronage to other companies that might now step in to sponsor his show. So how is this particular form of protest anything but the free market in action?
Even if his radio show goes off the air – and I doubt it will – Rush will still be able to broadcast his views freely to the entire world over the Internet. His actual ability to speak and be heard might be more limited than it is now, but it won’t be stifled. The people behind this boycott are simply exercising their right not to financially support (directly or otherwise) the content of his discourse.
This is right, of course. And I am not saying that boycotts are somehow illegal or always disturbing. It simply remains a guiding principle of mine that you argue your case, you counter and expose arguments that don’t work, or lies that can be debunked, or smears that are disgusting. But I don’t like the desire to silence someone through economic pressure. It comes from an illiberal place.
We can be better than the Greater Israel lobby and its assorted backers.