Thursday, June 3, 2010

Hate Speech

Might as well get this started with a story that combines two of Neal Boortz's favorite subjects. First, immigration. Second, the liberal conspiracy to shut down right-wing talk radio "hate speech" and, I don't know, haul the perpetrators off to 1984-esque re-education centers. Here's the latest development:
In a letter to the FCC, over 30 organizations claim that syndicated radio and cable television programs make it hard for the public to separate facts from "bigotry masquerading as news." They also claim that talk radio and these news programs use hate as a profit model.
What makes the conspiracy especially devious is that hate speech, apparently, is now defined as "[a]ny utterance in opposition to progressive or liberal ideals or in support of liberty." That's comically hyperbolic, but I suppose there may be a grain of truth to it—anti-hate (speech, crimes, etc.) legislation tends to be supported almost exclusively by Democrats, and can therefore be expected to reflect liberal values.

Anyway, the letter to the FCC is something of a follow-up to a petition filed last year. Here are some of the specific complaints from that petition:
-Michael Savage claimed "America is being overrun by an invasion force from Mexico."
-Rush Limbaugh described Mexican immigrants as "a renegade, potential criminal element."
-And Boortz himself suggested that the first English phrase Hispanic immigrants should learn is "hands against the car and hood and spread 'em."
Note that all three statements, rather than being aimed directly at unauthorized aliens,[1] demonize the Latino community as a whole. But that's not how Boortz sees it:
In the case of the [National Hispanic Media Coalition] "hate speech" would be defined as any reminder that "undocumented workers" are, in fact, illegal aliens and have committed a crime coming into this country, and continue to commit crimes by staying and working here.
What? Where did that come from? It looks to me like the NHMC is opposed to generalized, negative depictions of Latino people made under the guise of a discussion on America's immigration problem. In fact, the statements by Savage, Limbaugh, and Boortz come perilously close to racism—a term that, as Boortz astutely observes, should not be thrown around lightly. There are no overt assertions that Latino people are genetically inferior to white people, but when the sentiment is that Latino people are likely to be criminals, isn't a degree of inferiority implied?

Regardless, the point made by the NHMC—with ample evidentiary support—is undeniable. Certain media entities and personalities often depict the Latino community with unfavorable and unfounded generalizations.[2] It logically follows that these depictions, to some difficult-to-quantify extent, cause negative perceptions of Latino people in society at large. To suggest, as Boortz does, that the NHMC considers any honest discussion [3] on immigration to be hate speech is asinine. It is also a dangerous distraction from the real issue (something I suspect will be a recurring theme on this site).

The real issue here—aside from immigration and race relations—is how much authority the FCC should have to enforce governmental notions of fairness or decency or whatever. I'm sure Boortz would agree with my opinion that their authority should be somewhere between minimal and none. The NHMC, we can probably assume, believes FCC authority should be a little broader.[4]

Alas, the balance between (1) maintaining a peaceful and welcoming society, and (2) respecting the guarantee of Freedom of Expression under the First Amendment is relentlessly tricky and nuanced and requires, you know, thought. Why open that can of worms when you can just redefine the issue instead? The NHMC wants the government to shut down talk radio and/or lock up anyone who thinks unauthorized aliens should be held accountable for whatever laws they've broken! Only a brain-dead liberal could support something that ridiculous!

One final thought (and the first appearance of what will likely be another recurring theme). Any conservative or libertarian would agree that one of the key elements of their belief system is personal responsibility. With that in mind, Boortz, Savage, Limbaugh, and others appear to be partially responsible for (1) the perception within the Latino community that there are negative attitudes about Latinos within the white community, and (2) the perceived need, as expressed by the NHMC, for government intervention to combat one of the perceived sources of those negative attitudes—right-wing media personalities. To the extent that Boortz addresses these points at all, he does so by dismissing them. Instead, he mischaracterizes the NHMC's position and accuses them, essentially, of inventing the problem to mask their true goal of destroying conservative talk radio.

If the government does intervene, it will not be the triumphant culmination of some nefarious liberal plot. It will be because Boortz and other conservatives insist on exercising their right to say irresponsible things and intentionally piss people off. Personal responsibility means taking it upon yourself to behave in a way that shows society you can be a mature, respectful adult without the government telling you how to do so, and holding yourself accountable for the consequences of failing to meet that standard. It does not mean acting like a jackass just because you don't think the government should be able to tell you not to.

1. That's right—I prefer "unauthorized" or "undocumented" over "illegal," but that's a discussion for another time.
2. I'm not going to make any judgment as to whether there is a basis for a claim that Latino people are more likely to commit crimes, and I'm sure there is no shortage of data that can be selectively applied in support of a whole spectrum of conclusions. My point is, people like Boortz don't exactly go out of their way to ensure that every broad generalization they make is backed by a preponderance of scholarly research.
3. To call it honest for Boortz to claim that "'undocumented workers' are, in fact, illegal aliens and have committed a crime coming into this country, and continue to commit crimes by staying and working here" requires a somewhat loose definition of honesty. For one thing, many unauthorized aliens entered the country legally and did not violate any laws until several months or years later. It's also a bit of a stretch to call immigration violations crimes, since hearings tend to more closely resemble administrative proceedings and jail time is rarely a possibility. Still, if we can all agree on anything, it should be that there is a large group of people in this country who are not in compliance with the law concerning the rights and duties of non-citizens, and there is another large group of people who are very upset about this. In his usual, unnecessarily inflammatory way, I think that is what Boortz is getting at.
4. It should be noted, however, that their latest letter calls for "non-regulatory" action, such as a study on whether hate speech in the media leads to hate crimes, with the findings to be made available to the public. On the scale of intrusive, unwanted government actions, that would fall just slightly below those beeping "walk" signs designed to help blind people cross the road.


  1. Context is everything. While I have no doubt that boortz et al posed the above quotes in the most dramatic and "entertaining" way possible to keep their ratings high, I'd guess that a careful reading of the whole broadcasts would follow the simple premise that the people who have come into this country and violated some rule or regulation are a problem and should be harshly punished. Whether or not we agree on that, it is still simply his quasi-defensible point of view. What it seems most upsets people is the emotion he injects into his comments in order to make his show entertaining even when it should be boring and intellectual. I blame the citizens for getting what they demand.

  2. Yeah, I'm sure there will be a lot of things I post here that can be countered with "that's just what they say to be entertaining." Still, by catering to people who can't get enough of the vitriolic nonsense, I think conservatives ultimately do a disservice to their own cause. Not everyone who supports big government is an idiot, or a public-school-indoctrinated zombie, or whatever. A lot of them just support big government because conservatives make small government sound so unappealing.

    Also, thanks for commenting!