After the Dixie Chicks' lead singer, Natalie Maines, informed a concert hall on foreign soil that "just so you know, we're ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas," the New York Times reported that for several days there was not "a ripple about the remark."
Then Matt Drudge posted it on his website. The Drudge Report has been getting 11 million hits a day recently. In response to the instant uproar, including radio boycotts and public CD burnings, Maines was forced to issue a written apology for the remark. Then Maines explained it was a "joke," which is only slightly less enraging than being told to "chill out." At the Country Music Television awards last Monday, the very mention of the Dixie Chicks prompted booing.
Weeks after the Dixie Chicks imploded, Pearl Jam singer Eddie Vedder showed he's still got a way with words by repeatedly smashing a George W. Bush mask against the stage during a concert. Predictable heckling and booing broke out – robust even by Pearl Jam concert standards. Vedder asked in astonishment: "You're booing the story, right? You're not booing me?" Published claims that dozens of fans walked out at this point seem dubious, since that would require Pearl Jam's fan base to still number in the dozens.
Vedder continued with a rambling diatribe against the free speech of his audience, during which he announced – in a worldwide exclusive – that next year Americans will no longer be allowed to speak. When someone yelled at him to shut up, Vedder shouted down the dissenters with a microphone and 50,000 amps, saying, "I don't know if you heard about this thing called freedom of speech, man." This qualified as one of the most profound public statements ever punctuated with the term "man."
Soon, Vedder was backpedaling faster than a Dixie Chick: "Just to clarify ... we support the troops." To prove it, he cited his short haircut: "How could we not be for the military? I mean, look at this [expletive] haircut." Vedder said his remarks had been "misconstrued." The band issued a statement saying Vedder was just talking about "freedom of speech."
Also celebrating "free speech" recently was Columbia University professor Nicholas De Genova. Speaking at a "teach-in" a few weeks ago, he said patriots were white supremacists and that the "only true heroes are those who find ways that help defeat the U.S. military." Most charmingly, De Genova said: "I personally would like to see a million Mogadishus," referring to the dismembered bodies of American servicemen being dragged through the streets of Somalia in 1993. De Genova was given rousing applause from the college audience when he said: "If we really [believe] that this war is criminal ... then we have to believe in the victory of the Iraqi people and the defeat of the U.S. war machine."
The speech by this esteemed member of our nation's higher education system was followed by other Columbia professors, such as Eric Foner, who tepidly took exception only to De Genova's description of patriots as white supremacists. (Has anything good ever come of a "teach-in"? Even the promisingly titled "die-ins" always fail to deliver.)
The university initially responded to complaints about De Genova by issuing the usual traitors' dodge: free speech! But the uproar continued, eventually propelling the president of the university, Lee Bollinger, to say that De Genova's "million Mogadishus" comment "crosses the line."
Most auspiciously, Peter Arnett was fired from NBC for pinch-hitting for Tariq Aziz, Saddam Hussein's minister of information. Consider that Arnett has retailed propaganda for the Iraqi regime about a "milk factory" being bombed by the Americans in 1991 – and that didn't get him fired. He has bragged that he would allow American servicemen to die rather than reveal enemy war plans he had acquired as a journalist – that didn't get him fired. Arnett once falsely reported that the U.S. military used poison gas on American defectors – and then hid behind his producers' skirts when CNN was forced to retract the report and fire the producers. That didn't get him fired.
Like Columbia University, NBC initially tried to stand by Tokyo Pete this time, issuing a statement that called his reporting "outstanding" and saying simply that his interview with Iraqi TV "was done as a professional courtesy." By 7 o'clock the next morning, deluged with thousands of e-mails demanding Arnett's head, NBC fired him.
Freedom of speech isn't working out so well for liberals now that they aren't the only ones with a microphone. It's not so much fun when the rabbit's got the gun.