Jacob Sullum

If anything qualifies as incredible, it's McCain's understanding of the Constitution. The First Amendment says, "Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech." It does not impose any obligations on radio stations.

McCain was not the only senator at the hearing who had trouble telling the difference between a private business decision and government censorship. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., likened Dixie Chicks boycotters to Nazi book burners and "communist dictators" who "strip out all the works of art that they don't agree with."

In case that was not enough to scare you, both McCain and Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., summoned up the most nightmarish scenario they could imagine if, heaven forbid, radio stations started routinely responding to the demands of their listeners: What if a senator said something offensive, and a chain of radio stations decided to keep him off the air for a month?

Simon Renshaw, the Dixie Chicks' manager, conceded that "the (radio) networks enjoy the same First Amendment rights as my clients." Those rights include the freedom to choose the music they play. Yet Renshaw insisted it was inappropriate to consider politics in writing playlists because doing so would "undermine free speech."

Like McCain, Boxer and Dorgan, Renshaw seems to think the right to free speech means the right to say what you want not only without being punished by the government but without paying any cost at all. He's wrong.

Just ask Michael Savage, whose MSNBC talk show was recently canceled after he made some nasty remarks to a gay radio caller, or Dr. Laura, who suffered a similar fate because of her statements about homosexuality. Both were exercising their freedom of speech, but so were the critics who wanted them off the air.


Jacob Sullum

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a contributing columnist on Townhall.com.
 
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