Original Letter

Re: Public figures find free speech costs them 9/30

Yes, the stations that suspended Bill Maher's show, "Politically Incorrect," had the right to do so. Whether they reacted to revenue loss, or whether they sought to protect their viewers from such talk (which would really be incredible considering the name of the show), or whether they were just spineless worms, they did nothing legally wrong.

And yes, Bill Maher did have the right to question whether flying a plane into a building is really cowardly compared to the U.S. firing a cruise missile from thousands of miles away. Whether one is sympathetic with Maher, or thinks the statement crude and distasteful, most Americans realize that in order to have free speech, we have to put up with the guy on the corner screaming about spaceships, in order to retain the right to speak out on causes that stir our own hearts.

But White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, representing the President of the United States, did not have the right to publicly denounced Maher, saying that Americans "need to watch what they say," and that this is not the time to be talking in such a way, adding, incredulously, "There never is." (A remark which was mysteriously left out of the White House's official transcript of the news conference.)

Dissent is a vital part of our democracy, so much so that it is provided for by name in the highest courts of our judicial system. Fleischer might have been justified in countering Maher with arguments as to why these two events are different, or taken a number of other avenues. But, that the spokesman for the President - the elected protectorate of that essential liberty of free speech -- would wag a finger at an American citizen and essentially tell him to watch his mouth, is yet another of the many conundrums of these confusing times.

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