A few months ago, a picture appeared in The Denver Post. On a local college campus -- an alleged stronghold of free inquiry and debate -- a leftist student, protesting some perceived injustice, was holding a sign that argued:
"Hate speech is not free speech!"
Perhaps this earnest 20-something had not fully thought through her illiberal position on "tolerable" political speech. Perhaps she was part of that broader movement that sees "hate" everywhere among its ideological opponents. Either way, it's tragic that so many young people misunderstand the idea of open debate -- or simply devalue liberty.
Some people accept that certain things cannot -- rather than should not -- be said. Beyond the worrisome assaults on free speech (fairness doctrines, higher education, etc.) there is a slipperier concern. Which brings me to Helen Thomas' now infamous and career-ending comment, in which she helpfully suggested that the Jews get "the hell out of Palestine."
True, I find some comfort in knowing that this unprofessional crackpot never will haunt a president, common sense or the public again. But I wince at the rapidity of her demise. And I feel a nagging anxiety about a journalist's losing her job over nothing more than a controversial statement.
"She should lose her job over this," former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said before Thomas gave in to a forced retirement. "As someone who is Jewish and as someone who worked with her and used to like her, I find this appalling."
Cliff May, president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and former roving reporter for Hearst (which syndicated Thomas' column), in a letter urged the company "strenuously" to "cut all ties" with Thomas "as quickly as possible."
It seems an odd reaction, especially for conservatives, who are accused regularly of thought crimes and hate speech by outfits like Media Matters, which are in the business of smearing and discrediting those who disagree with them.
But an opinion -- in Thomas' case, an ugly opinion that in all probability is more common than some people might believe -- is no more than the strength of the logic behind it. As a regular defender of the moral right of Israel to fight the theocrats and fascists whom Thomas embraces, I never thought she was very credible or articulate on the topic, and she is unworthy of the over-the-top reactions of critics.