By Katie Kieffer
You’d think every American would love free speech. Wrong. Some ultra sensitive liberals oppose free speech even when applied to their favorite TV hosts—as illustrated by the recent Twitter protest of Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report.
Last Thursday night, Twitter began blowing up with the hashtag #CancelColbert. The online protest started when the Twitter account attached to The Colbert Report posted a tweet that at first glance seemed insensitive to Asians.
In less than five minutes of research—more time than fragile protesters were willing to invest—I was able to learn three vital points: First, unsurprisingly, the quote was never meant to offend Asians. Second, the quote was not posted by The Colbert Report’s host, comedian Stephen Colbert, or anyone on his staff. Third, the quote was pulled from a show bit that Colbert performed while satirizing the Washington Redskins’ name controversy and the bit itself did not seem to offend anyone. It was not until Comedy Central’s social media generalists posted the quote on Twitter, without context, that it came off as insensitive rather than funny.
Twitter limits every post or “tweet” to 140 characters. If you post a photo or a hyperlink in addition to text, it takes up characters. So, it can be challenging to make a point on Twitter that’s more complex than: “Check out this new selfie of me eating Lucky Charms for breakfast!! #sssoooocuttttee I can’t believe how amazing these #marshmallows taste!”—given Twitter’s rules of engagement.
Try writing a joke in 140 characters and you’ll quickly see how easy it is to be taken out of context. Just to make that challenge crystal clear, here are 140 characters:
Stephen Colbert has branded himself as a comedian and has never pretended to be a serious news reporter. Unfortunately, we have a cultural dilemma where many Americans rely on late night television as their primary “news” source and thus take Colbert’s satires far too seriously.
As I’ve said, Stephen Colbert himself did not post the tweet. In fact, no one on Colbert’s staff posted the tweet. But, these facts did not seem to matter to anti-free speech Twitter Trolls looking to pick a fight.
It seems like Americans are becoming a bit too quick to take offense. Our founding fathers knew that the only way to protect free speech for minorities is to protect and defend it for everyone. Certainly, it’s not okay to libel or slander. But we should not be so swift to call for a show’s cancellation or the firing of a talk show host simply because we disagree with them or they have a slip of the tongue.
As founder James Madison writes in “The Federalist No. 51,”
“In a free government the security for civil rights must be the same as that for religious rights. It consists in the one case in the multiplicity of interests, and in the other in the multiplicity of sects. The degree of security in both cases will depend on the number of interests and sects.”
In other words, to protect the civil rights and free speech of all Americans, including minorities, it’s best to tolerate the speech of a plethora of groups and ideologies. When a society limits free speech by categorizing certain types of speech as “offensive” or jumps the gun to firing comedians for posting a joke without full context, the minority is actually at the greatest risk of losing its free speech because the majority will inevitably rule and might will make right.
If hypersensitive liberals actually want to defend free speech for minorities, they should begin by becoming more tolerant of all free speech. #CancelColbert is not the only example of this trend where thin-skinned Americans have rallied against free speech.
Last December, the easily upset crowd began saber rattling for the head of A&E’s Duck Dynasty star, Phil Robertson simply because they disliked the tone of his comments about marriage. (This was quite ironic because Bill Maher makes continual comments that could be taken offensively and no one has been tweeting #CancelRealTimeWithBillMaher.) Firing loud-mouths will not help anyone. What will help everyone—especially minorities—is to champion free speech for all.