Good Question: How Free Is Speech?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — When Hank Williams, Jr. first opened his mouth on “Fox and Friends” and didn’t sing “Are you ready for some football?” he was already in trouble. First he talked about President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner playing golf together:

“It’d be like Hitler playing golf with Netanyahu,” he said.

Then he added, “They’re the enemy.”

The anchor asked, “Who’s the enemy?”

Williams, Jr. said, “Obama and Biden!”

When ESPN decided they’d no longer use the famous Williams, Jr. song to open “Monday Night Football,” he lashed out saying, “By pulling my opening Oct. 3, You (ESPN) stepped on the toes of the First Amendment — freedom of speech.”

“No non-governmental entity can step on the toes of the First Amendment,” said Jane Kirtley, director of the Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics and Law at the University of Minnesota. “They can offend the concept of free speech but the First Amendment protects us from government interference not by private individuals or private companies.”

The text of the First Amendment is clear: “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech.”

The Fourteenth Amendment extends that to the states, essentially prohibiting government from abridging the freedom of speech.

“Why do you think people so misunderstand the First Amendment?” asked WCCO-TV reporter Jason DeRusha.

“Because they’ve never read it,” responded Kirtley. “They think freedom is speech is so fundamental in this society, it is for everybody and everything.”

So while you may have the right to say anything, most companies also have the right to fire you because of it.

“We have no insulation from the consequences of what we say,” Kirtley added.

The government holds political speech at the highest level of protection, but there are other types of speech that can be limited — time, place, and manner restrictions.

“Incitement to riot, falsely shouting fire, obscenity, those are about the only things limited by the government,” said Kirtley.

Of course, defining “speech” isn’t always easy. The Supreme Court has ruled that Flag Burning is speech. Nudity isn’t speech, unless it’s attached to dance or theater. Signing a political petition is considered speech.

And talking on “Fox and Friends” is certainly speech.

“We certainly believe in freedom of speech for things we agree with. The problem is supporting that right for people we disagree with,” said Kirtley.

More from Jason DeRusha
  • Angus

    Good article and just hope the conservatives read it. I am certain the far right will start a campaign against ESPC for violating “Hank’s Rights”.

    Nobody said he couldn’t say it but he must also accept the responsibility for saying it.

    • See BS

      Isn’t it fascism when corporate run liberal media companies use public airwaves and public owned cable and internet systems to control what people say on their own time?

      • Scott Funk

        No, actually. Look up the definition of fascism on Wikipedia, moron.

        • See BS

          I think it makes you uncomfortable for me to point out how liberal mega-corporations seem to have a monopoly over public opinion.

          Anyone who steps out of line gets black listed or fired.

  • Hmm

    Maybe wcco should decide, they do it everyday on these comment boards.

    • Uhhhh

      “Why do you think people so misunderstand the First Amendment?” asked WCCO-TV reporter Jason DeRusha.

      “Because they’ve never read it,” responded Kirtley. “They think freedom is speech is so fundamental in this society, it is for everybody and everything.”

      And it’s not.

    • Darren

      “Maybe wcco should decide, they do it everyday on these comment boards.” says the person who, even after reading this article, STILL doesn’t get it.

      • @treestumpDarren

        Darren are your mother and father tree stumps, if you can’t get the point trying to be made by the comment questioning wcco comment boards, then you better not bear children because you understand nothing…………….

  • snowman

    Williams is nothing but a racist ,bigot pig. ESPN has the right
    to decide whether they want to endorse his views

  • Otto

    Give it up, Hank. The only thing that got stepped on is your continuing royalties on your jingle.

    And as for comments on this board, there are terms of use that need to be adhered to, if you cross the lines of that you can have your comment removed. You agree to it every time you click on the “Submit Comment’ button. If you want to say what you want, you can always start your own blog or website, that is freedom of speech.

  • Dave

    I applaud Hank for speaking up. More people should just say what’s on their mind and not worry about what will happen if they do as I personally always do . If others don’t like it, to damn bad. Live with it. I called & emailed ESPN and told them that they had their head up their @#$.

    • Julio

      Hank is an uneducated,ignorant bigot. Typical poor white trash with money. Who charges audiences to see him stumbling drunk and spitt on the paying fans. Say what you want about free speech, some people prove what idiots they are the minute they open their mouths.

      • Dale Gribble

        Hank is a great American with the courage to stand up for White Christian America. All Real Americans should boycott communistic ESPN to show their patriotism. God Bless America!!! Ron Paul in 2012!!!!! Support Our Troops!!!

        • Exp

          So, everyone that doesn’t agree with you is a communist and everyone that does is a white Christian patriot? You may want to go back to the 50’s during the Red Scare. I’m sure you’d fit in perfectly. You are either trolling hard or are so seriously bigoted that it astonishes me.

        • Gale Dribble

          great American? HOW? YOU’RE AN IDIOT!

      • @Immi

        Your names Julio enough said!

        • Aaron

          Leaving a comment that bashes someone simply because he has a name that IMPLIES he COULD be from another country is remarkably ignorant. Classy move. If I wanted to stoop to your level I could say something like; your sentence structure, punctuation, and overall grasp of the English language in a simple sentence are terrible. Enough said.

        • Julio

          P.S. I’m female, born and raised in the USA and of Irish/German decent. How’s them apples @lmmi?

          • Joke

            Julio and you’re a female? Were your parents drug addicts?

        • Meep

          Seriously? In the land of Lena and Oli jokes you want to make an ASSumption about one Julio?

    • Julio

      I’m white, republican, educated and employed for 35 years at the same company. Julio is simply a nickname. Like I said, some people tell us so much about themselves the first time they open their mouths. Thanks for enlightening us all.

    • Paul

      You always say what’s on your mind without worrying about the consequences? You obviously have no family or friends, because if this is how you lead your life, no one could stand to be around you for long.

      • @Paul

        There are no consequences, none of you matter to me in my life, and you probably don’t matter to people in you own lives. Every one of you can live 50 more years or 5 more minutes I could care less either way, and in many cases your family probably feels the same way!

  • Trev

    Rules must have changed for Obama. I remember countless times where Bush was called and referred to anything and everything negative. Yet those correspondents got a pass…

  • The Voice

    I just love this, WCCO you are so two faced! You report on free speech, and you block the IP addresses of people who post? It does not matter to you if they are left, right or in the middle, you just delete.

    • Mark

      Cause they can? The whole point of free speech is the government can’t stop you… not that no one can. If your employer doesn’t like what you say, you are gone. If a message board mod doesn’t like what you say, deleted and blocked. You can say what you want, but I can kick you out of my house for it.

      • Justin

        Couldn’t have said it any better Mark

      • @Mark

        I doubt anyone ever goes to your trailer, and you probably couldn’t kick a 125lb man out, you’re a punk and a puke.

        • Scott Funk

          You can’t make an effective argument, so you stoop to childish behavior? Impressive.

  • zee the reporter

    Hank Williams is a clown you old hoof!

  • Historic

    Poor memory gets a pass…slander doesn’t. Free speech does exist but you really ought to be careful of what you say and claim if it’s falsely damaging to someone else. Don’t know if it is? Check it out first….

  • Mike

    How Free Is Speech? As free as a free society……………

  • Bp

    I applaud ESPN for what they did. Its no different than Tiger Woods losing endorsements because of his behavior. This was a natural consequence of Hank’s actions. Even my 5 and 7 year old know that doing things that are wrong bring consequences that they might not like. It seems that Hank didn’t like being told he can’t do something. He reacted very much like a child would react.

  • Nothing to do with Free Speech!!

    I don’t think what Hank did was bad, he was expressing his views but I also don’t think what ESPN did was bad either. Whether ESPN agrees with him or not they have millions of viewers and those viewers are what pay the bills at ESPN. There are a lot of people that don’t agree with Hank (I happen to agree with him) so instead of ESPN losing business or endorsements they removed him. Any other company would do the same thing even if they agree with him they are not going to come out and say they do because they rely on all different political viewers to watch their channels and they don’t want to lose those viewers because they pay the bills. To me it had nothing to do with free speech at all; it had to do with keeping all different types of viewers watching their channels.

    • Mark

      Exactly, it was a marketing decision. Businesses have the right to buy and sell what they choose, if Hank wants to say A and ESPN knows A won’t sell and in fact will keep people from buying X, Y and Z from them… sorry Hank, ESPN has no need for you.

  • Nikki Faulkner

    you know I think it would be one thing to get on TV and make threats or something but to simply make an opinion, wow! Look at David Letterman and other late night show hosts….They say what they want and nobody says anything to them. So why are we having a temper tantrum over an opinion? I don’t like Obama either-has nothing to do with his skin color or where he is from (although the controversy around that one is still being debated and I find it completely hilarious to hear about) so does that mean I should be judged and ridiculed for my opinion? Grow up, not everyone in life is going to be liked by everyone else…..but I suppose than that means that I am a horrible person for my opinion too….oh well…….WAH!

  • sorty

    Free speech implies you will not be arrested or charged with a crime. It has nothing to do with whether or not you are going to remain employed.

  • DaveG

    ESPN compensated Mr. Williams for his appearances each week. They hired him and they have the right to FIRE him if they felt it was necessary. Has nothing to do with free speech. See how far the right of free speech will get you when you tell the boss the f’off to his or her face!

  • See BS

    So fascist media coporations are allowed to use public airwaves and public owned cable systems to filter Hank Williams Jr? and allow people like Bill Mayer and Michael Moore to say anything they want without getting black listed?

    It’s called Fascism when coporations control free speech outside the workplace.

    • MM

      They were born blacklisted.

    • Todd W. Olson

      Hank was getting paid, BS. He embarrassed his bosses and he lost his job. He was a paid spokesman and his employers felt that he reflected poorly upon them, so they terminated his contract. That isn’t fascism, it’s business.

      • Otto

        All musicians get royalties for their music. Those royalties keep coming as long as the music is getting played. No one is so stupid as to let monday night football use their music completely free. And it is not a one way street. Hank could have just as easily pulled his jingle if MNF did something that he did not want to be associated with anymore.

    • hard rains

      So you are saying Corporations are Fascists…

    • Scott Funk

      You are a moron. Before you go about labeling everyone fascists, try looking up the definition of fascism. This is why you far right wing types have such trouble maintaining power; poorly educated and arrogant. Oh, and I’m a moderate, not a liberal or conservative.

      • See BS

        Right wing Socialism isn’t the same as Right Wing Capitalism.

        Right Wingers in the USA passed all the biggest civil rights laws in the history of the world.

  • Dave Seavy

    The article hit it right – freedom of speech is constitutionally guaranteed – when you’re stating an opinion about the government. Those who “say what they think no matter what” apparently have never hear of common sense. Unfortunately part of our society holds a “me first and to hell with you” attitude, which is why morals are at an all time low.

  • ang

    I’m with Hank Jr. on this. The only people who currently have the right to their opinions are liberals. Everyone else to heck with you is the current state of government and everything else. The pres tells people to stop whining but anytime someone criticizes him he throws a temper tantrum. Has anyone heard the tale of how if you stick a frog in a pot of boiling water he will immediately jump out but if you stick it in cold water and gradually heat it up the frog will sit there and slowly boil to death because by the time it realizes what’s going on it can’t move. That is what is happening to this country!!

    • Scott Funk

      Look who’s talking. Whine much? Instead of sitting on your butt and complaining, try offering us better solutions. That’s the trouble with Republicans. Whine and moan about the sky falling all day long, but you never offer anything better. No concept of logic nor reason, no creativity and no common sense. I’m proud to be a moderate, because I think both sides are completely out to lunch!

  • ang

    Also, why is he a racist? Oh yeah if you disagree with anything B.O. says that’s what you are. I choose to disagree with him and almost all he stands for and I am not a racist. What excuse will people use if Herman Cain runs for president against B.O.. Than that garbage will be out the window.

  • blue skies

    Williams is a moron but just because he (or anyone else for that matter) doesn’t like Obama he’s suddenly a racist? Why is it when African-Americans speak negatively of Caucasian politicians nobody throws that word at them. It’s asinine in either case. Also, ESPN had the right to drop Williams – just like people had the right to not buy Dixie Chicks CDs or go to their concerts after they disparaging remarks about Bush a few years ago. Free speech doesn’t necessarily mean free from consequences…

  • cell phone

    Wow, amazing weblog format! How lengthy have you been running a blog for? you made running a blog glance easy. The overall glance of your site is great, as neatly as the content!

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