Free speech can have consequences

January 3, 2014 

In this country at least, speech is free, which many Americans cited in defense of that “Duck Dynasty” guy who said something disparaging about homosexuals. But it’s equally true that speech can have consequences, which A&E proved when it suspended that same “Duck Dynasty” cast member.

Put simply, if we need something or want something from someone else, we need to be careful what we say. That doesn’t make it right, but it does make it so.

Most of us of course want something or need something from someone else. Most often, that’s a paycheck. I happen to like the people I work for, but if I didn’t, I could hardly expect to rail publicly against my employers and keep my job.

Granted, the “Duck Dynasty” guy didn’t speak ill of his employer, but his words did subject the A&E network to a boatload of criticism – and possible economic repercussions – so surely he wasn’t surprised when the network moved to protect its reputation and its bottom line.

Even rich people, we suspect, are mindful of what they say, or least they should be. One might assume, for example, that billionaire Bill Gates is free to speak his mind because he is one of the richest men in the world. But if Mr. Gates wants his company to keep selling Microsoft software and hardware, he will watch his words.

The actor Mel Gibson perhaps wishes he had been mindful of his words. With the “Mad Max” and “Lethal Weapon” franchises, he became one of the most bankable actors in Hollywood, but then he went on an anti-Semitic rant, and now he is persona non grata in the movie industry.

Much the same can be said of the Dixie Chicks, who dropped off the country music map after their lead singer told a foreign audience that she was embarrassed to be from the same state as George Bush. The Dixie Chicks can at least take comfort in knowing that people bought their records before burning them.

The knowledge that speech isn’t truly free might come as a disappointment; we might think the Founding Fathers pulled one over on us. But words have consequences. They always have, and they always will.

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