The latest brouhaha in the blogosphere has been sparked by one John Stossel, a columnist for Fox News. Mr. Stossel has expressed the opinion that a major section of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 should be repealed, to allow businesses serving the public to refuse service on the basis of race. He may have thought this up himself, although we heard the proposal first from Rand Paul. His position seems to be that, since "everybody" now knows that discriminating on the basis of race is wrong, businesses that do so will lose customers through the operation of the market. Since it didn't work that way in the Jim Crow era, I don't know why he thinks it will work now, but he's entitled to make a public fool of himself if he chooses.
I learned of this through a FaceBook "share" of a petition, originating on ColorOfChange.org, entitled, Tell Fox: "Fire John Stossel." The petition is addressed to Rupert Murdoch, and asks him to fire Stossel to "show America that your media company has no place for the values Mr. Stossel espouses."
I agree with the petition originators that Mr. Stossel's (and Mr. Paul's) opinions are offensive. I also believe they're wrong. But I'm afraid they (the petitioners) display a total lack of understanding, first of the First Amendment to the Constitution, and secondly of Rupert Murdoch.
I feel quite strongly about the First Amendment. Like Voltaire, I don't agree with a single word Messrs. Stossel and Paul say, but I will defend to the death their right to say it. There've been a lot of arguments recently over what does and doesn't constitute protected political speech, but this case is practically the type specimen. He thinks we should repeal part of a law. He has every right to express that opinion. It's a long, long journey from an opinion on a news broadcast and the actual repeal of part of the Civil Rights Act.
If you only allow free expression of opinions that you approve of, you don't support free speech. Speech is only truly free when it's available to the opinions we despise. What better way to refute these positions than to state them publicly and debate them openly? Sunshine is a great disinfectant.
Then there's the petitioners' misunderstanding of Rupert Murdoch, which is quite spectacular. Mr. Murdoch is a known quantity. He's been around for a long time. Fox News allows Mr. Stossel to express his opinions there because Fox, and Mr. Murdoch, understand that controversial opinions sell air-time; and selling air-time is what Fox and Mr. Murdoch are all about. Are they exploiting the First Amendment for commercial gain? Sure they are. So are a lot of people. And it's perfectly legal as long as all they state is opinion, and they don't try to present it as fact. I don't know whether Rupert Murdoch personally agrees with John Stossel or not, but it doesn't matter. Mr. Murdoch's personal opinions are irrelevant; the political slant of the Fox News organization is very clear, extremely consistent over time, and lined up perfectly with Mr. Stossel's rabble-rousing opinions.