Free Speech vs. The Free Market


By now, everyone has heard about the firestorm surrounding ABC cancelling the show “Roseanne” due to an insanely stupid tweet by the show’s namesake, the ever-controversial Ms. Roseanne Barr. For anyone living under a rock/who may have missed it, Ms. Barr, in response to a previous tweet about former senior adviser to Barack Obama Valerie Jarrett, wrote that if the “muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj (Ms. Jarrett’s initials)”. Her show was cancelled within a matter of hours, prompting many of her fans to take to social media to denounce her firing as an example of double standards when it comes to freedom of speech in this country.

Somewhere, Kathy Griffin is no doubt having a chuckle.

For those who may have forgotten, Griffin had a similar experience following the now infamous photo of her holding a faux severed head of President Trump. This cost her commercial endorsements, her job at CNN, as well other opportunities in the entertainment industry, as no one wanted to be publically associated with such hate and vitriol. Ironically enough, just over 8 months ago many of the same people defending Barr now were cheering as Griffin lost her livelihood, while Griffin herself was claiming to be a victim of the same “double standards” Barr’s supporters are currently lamenting.

For the record, she was every bit as wrong then as Roseanne’s supporters are now.

There is no “free speech” issue here, nor are there any nefarious double standards at play. Rather, what we are seeing is the result of the free-market doing what it is designed to do. While the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution specifically forbids the Federal Government from infringing on the free speech rights of individuals, there is nothing that prohibits the consumer-driven market from imposing its own consequences on whoever it sees fit. While their supporters may disagree, the people who sign the checks for both Barr and Griffin know that most of their customers find racism and violence repugnant, and have taken the steps to ensure their customers know they share these values.

The NFL went through a similar experience over the last few seasons with the controversy surrounding players choosing to kneel during National Anthem to protest inequality and police brutality. The difference then, however, was that the NFL chose not to act right away, much to the chagrin of a sizable chunk of its customer base. As a result, NFL ratings fell nearly 10 percent in 2017, as many customers chose to boycott their Sunday fix in protest of the players’ chosen form of protest. This in turn prompted the league to adopt new rules surrounding protests during the National Anthem for the upcoming season.

Regardless of your opinion of this change (and for the record I oppose it) Or Roseanne, this is a text book example of a consumer-driven free-market based decision, and thus a beautiful thing. The same holds true for the decisions surrounding Barr and Griffin, as each proves what most libertarians have been saying forever; namely, that the government has no business deciding what speech is acceptable, as long as it doesn’t voluntarily endanger people’s lives or property. As with discrimination, the legal obligation not to impose restrictions on speech only applies to governments, not to private citizens or businesses.

Each of which, incidentally, prove time and time again they are more than up to the challenge…just as they should be.

You can read more from Matthew McGowan on Think Liberty here.


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