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OPINION

The Killing of Free Speech

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
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Do blondes really have more fun? That's a question often thrown at a serious woman with brainy gray matter under her golden tresses. The popular perception that blondes paid for those tresses with diminished intellectual power remains pervasive in the culture. (You could Google it.) But it's specifically used as a cudgel by the left if a particular blonde is a conservative. These critics increasingly employ a variation on the theme to disparage any good-looking blonde you're likely to find on one specific network. (Guess which one.)

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"So pervasive is the smear that all the female commentators and anchors on Fox (News Channel) are dumb blonde chicks that it was actually fact-checked" by PolitiFact, writes Kirsten Powers, who found many such examples in researching her book about how liberals try to shut up those with whom they disagree.

In the book, "The Silencing: How the Left Is Killing Free Speech," she offers a trenchant analysis of how the "illiberal left" tries to delegitimize and demonize opponents (and not just blondes). As a blond Fox News commentator herself, she's the wolf in chic clothing.

She's actually a liberal Democrat who worked in the Clinton administration and goes where many of her colleagues in big media fear to tread. She finds the illiberal left's attempt to suppress free speech spreads far beyond the women at Fox News Channel and cites the attacks on them as typical of the silencing strategy. Liberal women are quick to challenge sexism aimed at the feminist sisterhood but hit the mute button when the sexism is aimed at conservative women.

"The Silencing" provides chapter and verse for sexist examples against the Fox women. My favorite is from Allure, a women's magazine known mostly for beauty hints and bedroom tips, not politics. When a male editor contributed a mock tribute to Fox News -- saying that "Roger Ailes is such a whiz at the infotainment biz" -- it was titled "Fox News Anchors: Hot or Not? With its bevy of babes, the network should be called the Foxy News Channel."

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In defense of her colleagues, Powers lists the college degrees and television awards of the "babes of Fox," exposing fatuous critics, but she puts larger game on the grill. She exposes those critics from the perspective of classical liberal values, making her points with chapter and verse rather than knee-jerk ideological rants, citing the insights of William Shakespeare, John Milton and George Orwell. Such arguments come from the intellectual tradition once cherished on the left, as well as the right, but lately discarded by the left in its assault on free speech to silence those with whom it disagrees.

As if on cue, President Barack Obama said at Georgetown University that "we're going to have to change how our body politic thinks, which means we're going to have to change how the media reports on ... issues." This should be enough to send a shudder down the spine of every editor, reporter and television personality in town. It was of a piece with the president's obsession with restricting press access to him. He was elected on a promise to be the most transparent president in history, and he will leave office as perhaps the least transparent.

Attacking the press is a time-rested tactic; politicians have been shouting calumny against "them lyin' newspapers" since the earliest days of the republic. But a White House blog is dedicated to denouncing its critics, and the Obama administration obsesses over one specific news organization.

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Silencing those who dissent from the politically correct and aren't willing to "go along to get along" pervades the culture in ways that go well beyond politics. Christians are bullied and forced off college campuses in the name of "tolerance" when Christian religious organizations limit membership to those who share their religious beliefs. Conservative commencement speakers are canceled because students, often with encouragement from their professors, won't listen to contrary views.

Name-calling is particularly nasty. Conservative women are labeled "puppets of the patriarchy" and "gender traitors." Conservative blacks are "Uncle Toms," "house Negroes" or "sambos" for being "white people trapped inside black bodies."

When Wendy Kaminer, a First Amendment advocate, sat in on a Smith College alumnae discussion of campus speech codes, she made her point by saying the N-word out loud, quoting verbatim from Mark Twain's "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn." "Sensitive" students had demanded that the book, recognized by everyone as an American classic, be banned because it includes the word to show the foolishness of racial prejudice. She was nevertheless called a racist for uttering "hate speech."

Silence was once regarded as golden, sure enough, but this kind of enforced silence is successful alchemy, turning silence into base metal from base motives. That's deadly for all of us, including blondes.

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