Free Speech versus Responsible Speech

This morning on Twitter, I saw a post with a link that I read, felt sick to my stomach and retweeted for those who follow my tweets. Here it is for you all to read and to understand the basis of my next rant:

“Sickening: Obama staffer dies tragically in Chicago OFA office, right wingers dance on his grave”

I did not agree with Andrew Breitbart, I found his style of journalism vile and misleading from using Timothy McVeigh look-a-like James O’Keefe performing a “60 Minutes” parody piece to take down ACORN and his purposefully mis-editing of the speech Shirley Sherrod gave that ended up with her suing him, up to the events just prior to his tragic (yes I said tragic) death. His apparently “drunken” rants against OWS protesters and how he bullied those on Twitter with the assistance of his followers. I thought the man was vile. After his death, I found it interesting to hear from those on the left who knew Breitbart personally say that when the cameras weren’t around, when people weren’t tweeting, he was actually a kind, reasonable man with a good sense of humor. The man actually advocated for gay marriage rights. He was conservative no doubt and he saw himself as a messenger of that position and he knew that the style he used grabbed at the base anger of many who felt the same way and galvanized them into action. It was his job as he saw it, and he did it effectively, Rest In Peace Andrew.

This being said, when he died, there was Twitter traffic out there, similar to what the Right Wing has done with Alex Okrent, some of it just as vile. Even before hearing more about Breitbart post-mortem, and even though his death happened just a couple of days after I was a victim of his bullying attacks on Twitter, I called out some of the more vile people on the left with their rhetoric. Although Andrew Breitbart personally attacked people who believed outside his belief system, had personally caused harm to many in this country, in death, he did not deserve the angry attacks. The fact of the matter is, being dead, he had no idea what was being said, but his family was very much alive and if only for that reason, caution and respectful comments should have been the rule of the day. His family loved him and did not deserve to be made a part of the people’s anger.

Many felt that in their attacks and insults on Andrew Breitbart following his death, they were exercising their Freedom of Speech. I whole heartedly agree, they were. In fact the people Tweeting the vile stuff regarding Alex Okrent are also exercising their Freedom of Speech. But there’s something else. Speech can never, ever, be one-sided. Though I agree with the maxim, “I may not agree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” there is still more to this concept. It’s where Responsible Speech comes into play. When you hear or read people telling lies, insulting the personhood of others because of their political views, race, sexual orientation, socio-economic situation, etc, as Americans we have a RESPONSIBILITY to counter that speech, to correct that speech, to give those listening/reading both sides of the argument. The attacks on Breitbart were there from the left, but so were the calls from the left to the people of like-minds to calm it down. To not have done so would have been clearly Irresponsible.

I have yet to read or hear from people on the Right, from the Romney Camp, calling out on those who maliciously bully a poor dead young man who’s only crime was believing the way he did and working for that belief. That’s all Andrew Breitbart was doing, it albeit in a more vocal and obvious way.

To not call out these people on either side of the political divide is ultimately very dangerous. As someone tweeted back to me this morning:

“RW often does that kind of despicable behavior. Look at Germany & Italy in the 1930s, 40s. There’s no place 4 Fascism in the USA”

He was of course referring to the deafening silence from the German and Italian people to the written and vocal attacks of those considered to be the domestic enemies of the State. They did very little to counter it and we all know what happened in the end.

On the left, we need to be responsible, if the right truly believe in a Free America and the rights of all Americans to do what they see fit to make this country better for themselves and others, then there should be universal condemnation from both sides for this vile, unchristian, un-American attack on a poor dead boy and his family for committing the grievance crime of trying to help his country. Those who attack him need to be called out to defend their words, that is Responsible Speech

2 thoughts on “Free Speech versus Responsible Speech

  1. Very well put. Not sucking up but I didn’t join in the rejoicing over Breitbart’s death either for much the same reasons you state. As far as I’m concerned, he was a vile despicable man and acting like an asshole to make a point is no different than being one. But beating up on dead people should best be left to the other side. It serves no purpose other than to make you as bad as you claim your target was.

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