Saturday, April 15, 2006

Comedy Central and the violence veto 

I have not written about Comedy Central's decision to censor an episode of "South Park" that featured a depiction of Mohammed (yes, that Mohammed). As usual, Michelle Malkin and many others got to it first.

Comedy Central has, at least, been forthcoming about its reason for censoring "South Park":
Comedy Central's belief in the First Amendment has not wavered, despite our decision not to air an image of Muhammad. Our decision was made not to mute the voices of Trey and Matt or because we value one religion over any other. This decision was based solely on concern for public safety in light of recent world events.

With the power of freedom of speech and expression also comes the obligation to use that power in a responsible way. Much as we wish it weren't the case, times have changed and, as witnessed by the intense and deadly reaction to the publication of the Danish cartoons, decisions cannot be made in a vacuum without considering what impact they may have on innocent individuals around the globe.

We appreciate the transparency, because it prevents us from having to imagine the reasons Comedy Central might have had. This admission clarifies the issue. Comedy Central censored "South Park" because it feared that Muslim extremists would do violence if it did not.

Now, businesses like Comedy Central and Border's Books and the major newspapers have every reason to want to avoid violence, so it is understandable that threatened or potential violence motivates them to censor themselves. They are fiduciaries. But they cannot also claim to stand for freedom of speech. That requires courage, and above all the willingness to stare down the threat of violence.

The right of freedom of speech -- as I tirelessly and tiresomely remind my readers at every opportunity -- is only relevant for people who say unpopular or controversial things. If speech is sufficiently unpopular or controversial, people may threaten violence with the goal of coercing the speaker into withdrawing the speech or suspending its publication and intimidating future speakers from saying the controversial thing in the first place. Actual or threatened violence is the method that mobs of ignorant or unthinking people use to confront ideas that they do not like, because they are incapable of suffering the idea to exist and lack the capacity to argue against it. The mob does not accept freedom of speech, and seeks to destroy it. The only way to stand for freedom of speech, therefore, is to stand up to the mob and its violence. If we do not do that, we give violent people a veto over our speech, and we therefore have no freedom of speech. None that matters, anyway.

So I don't blame Comedy Central, or Border's Books, or the world's media organizations, for refusing to depict Mohammed out of fear of retaliation. Their job is not to defend freedom of speech, but to earn profits for their stockholders. Acting as a fiduciary, I would make the same decision. But let us not tolerate these same organizations claiming that they also support freedom of speech. They are lying when they say they do, because in order to defend freedom of speech, you have to be willing to protect speech against the inevitable threat of violence.


By Blogger Dan Collins, at Sat Apr 15, 08:42:00 PM:

Bravo, Tigerhawk. But can they still be, like, y'know--hip and sophisticated and edgy, or do they pretty much just suck?  

By Blogger John B. Chilton, at Sun Apr 16, 03:00:00 PM:

As usual, I find myself agreeing with you TigerHawk.

Except: "because in order to defend freedom of speech, you have to be willing to protect speech against the inevitable threat of violence."

Hmm. But isn't protecting against violence the job of government? Comedy Central is saying it cannot rely on government to protect it or others from violence that might be triggered if it did not edit according to the terrorists' demands.

And what if the government whose responsibility it is is not your own, but in another country where the violence might be triggered?

If someone holds a gun to your head, or to the head of an innocent and says your action will trigger a shot, then that's not selling out (fiduciary responsibility). That's paying ransom in the form of keeping your mouth shut.

Instapundit comes close to saying to the same conclusion as TigerHawk does, but not quite, I think. His point is that the more TV executive capitulate the more violence they breed.

I'd have disagree on the hypothetical that you both use: that the inevitable violence a TV exec might trigger would necessarily be directed at them personally or their shareholders.

More likely violence would be triggered and innocents would die. Capitulating to that does not demonstrate a lack of overriding moral principles. It demonstrates compassion. If only Comedy Central lacked compassion the terrorists' threat would lack effect and the breeding would stop.

Blame is misplaced. Freedom is the victim. And the perps are the terrorists. Let's roll.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Sun Apr 16, 03:47:00 PM:

On the question of the target of the violence, I agree that it would almost certainly be some innocent third party. However, it is a safe bet that in at least some of these circumstances the corporation in question would find itself at the receiving end of a lawsuit. Border's, for example, if extremists attacked their customers.

I also agree that it is the job of government to protect people, but the truth is that government is hard-pressed to act as a prior restraint against the sort of violence that Comedy Central and Borders worry about. All government can do is punish people after the fact.

Tough problem, all around.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Apr 16, 05:43:00 PM:

vermontaigne: Lenny Bruce was edgy. He was also prepared to take the heat for what he said. Comedy Central gets no respect from me now. They wimped out.

john b. chilton: The whole point of the Second Amendment is decentralized security. The states and citizens are responsible for making the lives of trouble-makers difficult as quickly as possible, to mitigate the havoc they wreak. Tigerhawk is spot-on when he points out that the government can step in only after the crime is committed. OTOH, Borders and Comedy Central can hire armed guards for the specific purpose of hindering/stopping professional offense-takers.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Apr 16, 06:15:00 PM:

And their the same ones who kill kenny every episode and support gun control what a bunch of wussies  

By Blogger al fin, at Sun Apr 16, 06:37:00 PM:

We are all responsible for maintaining our freedom. Comedy Central sucks--plain and simple. They want the money that comes from freedom of economic action, but not the rewsponsibility to maintain that freedom.

It is not the government's responsibility, unless you want to be a helpless sheep herded by wolves. That is old world style thinking, and the quickest road to fascism there is.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Apr 16, 08:22:00 PM:

Their job is not to defend freedom of speech, but to earn profits for their stockholders. Acting as a fiduciary, I would make the same decision.

Taking the argument on these grounds, I say nonsense.

As a professional risk analyst (from a somewhat unusual finance and information technology/security background), I am familiar with numerous methodologies for assessing and mitigating risk. In both the case of Comedy Central and Borders, neither appears to have followed any reasonable risk management application that would be expected pursuant to their executive responsibility.

Furthermore, I've asked both for an explanation regarding the assessment process they used to evaluate the perceived risk. How was it identified? Whas there a specific threat by a Muslim extremist or just an imagined threat? How was the threat quantified? What other responses were identified and why where they disregarded?

Numerous more appropriate mitigation/response strategies appear to have been ignored. Why has law enforcement not been engaged respective to specific threats? I've checked with employees at Borders regarding the new security training I would expect to be mandatory when a threat of this nature, specific or abstract, is identified. No such training has occured. Not even a newsletter article advising them of appropriate steps potentially necessary for their security has been provided. Borders has also not changed their physical security program from sources I've consulted. I would expect a review of employee training and facility security to be a minimum response in the event of threats so serious that they jeopardize their credibility as a neutral bookseller. After all, both have used the safety of their employees as the rationale for such significant actions.

The most serious concern, however, is that there appears to have been no assessment of the potential for both Comedy Central and Borders appeasement actions and the strong probability that it will encourage new threats from other parties who recognize them as easy targets for manipulation. What new risks do they incur to their organizations, employees and financial condition by announcing to the public that they are easy targets and only require abstract, imagined threats to materially change their corporate behavior? Corporate ethics programs often discuss the critical necessity of political neutrality because once this position is lost, the most effective defense of "common carrier absent any specific position on an issue" is lost. Borders and Comedy Central are now arguably pro-Sharia law in their editorial and operational position.

In both cases, senior management's approach disregards risk completely and cannot be rationally motivated on that basis. It should be no surprise that neither has provided any evidence of a threat as their actions have nothing to do with any legitimate response.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Apr 16, 08:58:00 PM:

It will be interesting to see if this has follow-on consequences. If the message is that violence works, will other organizations conclude that non-violence is for chumps? If the CEOs of Borders and Viacom are so cowardly, why not physically threaten them? This, in essence, was bin Ladens' view. He thought the US was so craven and cowardly that it would never step up to defend itself. He miscalculated by an act of mass murder. His successors have been more cautious in targeting their threats. So it seems to be, threaten to kill only those who specifically don't do what you want. If it works for the muslims, you can believe other types of extremists will be busy taking notes. Provided that they have the ability to convince the target that their group is so widespread that is can't be easily suppressed by law enforcement action, it seems to have a chance of succeeding.

I for one wish that people had more backbone. As the saying goes, "If you want peace, prepare for war". By standing up to the current gang of thugs, we hopefully discourage others from following in their footsteps.  

By Blogger Vulgorilla, at Sun Apr 16, 09:21:00 PM:

The other problem with Comedy Central, Borders, and the MSM is that from now on I can only wonder what they censored after consuming their product, or put another way, how much do I miss by consuming their product as opposed to an alternate source that is willing to actually stand up and protect freedom of speech? Pretty soon all the news that's fit to print will be the obits, and nothing more. As far as I'm concerned, they have stopped becoming a source of information that I'm willing to consume, and if there are a lot of folks like me, that will impact their bottom line, and hence their stock holders ROI.  

By Blogger Bob Ellison, at Sun Apr 16, 09:43:00 PM:

Excellent logic.  

By Blogger bains, at Sun Apr 16, 09:53:00 PM:

John Chilton says: Hmm. But isn't protecting against violence the job of government?

Hmm, are not we the government? Does not the government reflect our will?

Or have we all succumbed to the modern-day Democrat version of America where the state provides all, protects all, and nurtures all. Do we wait until our government is unanimous, or even a super-majority, before we find things unacceptable? Do we wait until foreign powers bless our actions?

Freedom of speech, nay, all liberty depend upon tolerating that which one finds detestable - as long as it is presented and promoted within the acceptable limits of the host society. Convince me that I ought to adhere to Allah; convince me that I ought to accept homosexual marrige... but dont force upon me, by mob, nor judicial fiat anothers dogma.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Apr 16, 09:57:00 PM:

"With the power of freedom of speech and expression also comes the obligation to use that power in a responsible way."

Liberals,as always, turn on a dime when it comes to their heretofore most cherished principles. They even shamelessly use the exact rhetoric of their former opponents.

Back when the "Piss Christ" controversy arose, I thought the liberals' reaction would have been much different if it had been "Piss Moses" or "Piss MLK, Jr." I was dead right. "Piss Mohammed" would probably get us an H-bomb.

It's "responsible" to show a defecating Christ in the same episode it's "responsible" not to show a harmless image of Mohammed? Show both or neither. Anything else is complete and utterly despicable hypocrisy.  

By Blogger Jeremy, at Sun Apr 16, 10:01:00 PM:

But Bin Laden didn't miscalculate. He knew he was right when he judged the West as being weak. Most people in the US are like Borders and Comedy Central.

After the 2006 mid term elections are over, and the Dems have won the house (which now looks inevitable), do you seriously think Bush won't be impeached? And if by some miracle that doesn't happen, whoever is President in 2008 won't be much interested in the WoT, seeing what happened to Bush.  

By Blogger AST, at Sun Apr 16, 10:20:00 PM:

"Our decision was made not to mute the voices of Trey and Matt or because we value one religion over any other. This decision was based solely on concern for public safety in light of recent world events."

Whose public safety? There haven't been any riots here, have there? If Muslims want to tear up their own countries, it's their problem. I don't think we encourage them to become more civilized by letting them intimindate us.

I see no reason why Muslims wouldn't be just as offended by the censored version as by an actual image. Either way they're being made fun of. Maybe they just don't know it. The point is that there is no way to discuss this with them in a civilized way, so why bother trying to engage them.  

By Blogger John B. Chilton, at Sun Apr 16, 11:25:00 PM:

Credentials alert - There's not much I believe in a very limited role for government, but the war on terror is part of that role. Most of my fellow libertarian travelers agree - e.g., TigerHawk, Instapundit.

Bains wrote: Hmm, are not we the government? Does not the government reflect our will?

Agreed - And if Comedy Central et al. have not participated in the strengthen the will of the US to strike back they are part of the problem, including the erosion of freedom of speech under the threat of violence.

gus3 wrote: Tigerhawk is spot-on when he points out that the government can step in only after the crime is committed.

Really? Somebody tell Bush. When I wrote "let's roll" I meant I fully support the war on terrorism. It of course cannot fully insulate us from terrorism, but going out pulling it by the roots instead hiring guards to shield our private persons is the way to go if we as a society want to create an environment where it is safe to say what you think without terrorists taking extreme and random offense.

Note that the better you do in protecting yourself (nonviolently at least) the more the violence may turn on others. Classic externalities problem. So if you do bear arms, don't advertise it - leave the perps uncertain who has the guns so the benefit of your bearing arms has external benefit to your neighbors.

I am attracted, though, to the notion of "decentralized security." The right to bear arms (and using that right) is part of that. But note this: the right to free speech (and using that right) has a bigger part in decentralized security. Part of the problem for Comedy Central is that everyone else has already chickened out. Speaking out would leave them easy for terrorists to single out. Let's blame ourselves for not all posting the cartoons on our car bumpers.

As Tigerhawk wrote "Tough problem, all around." Nobody said the war on terror would be easy.  

By Blogger David Foster, at Sun Apr 16, 11:58:00 PM:

These decisions were easy for the respective corporations to make (looking only at the short term and ignoring their responsibilities as citizens) because there was no meaningful money at stake. The magazine in question was not even a roundoff error in Borders revenue. The impact on SP ratings will not be significant, and may even be possible.

What will they do when the financial implications of caving to extortion *are* meaningful? What if "animal rights" groups threaten networks that carry drug company ads? What if someone threatens a bookstore over a best seller that has a whole family of related products keying off it? (some books are practically industries in themselves) Will the "safety" tradeoff look different?  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Apr 17, 01:44:00 AM:

Why don't we all form a nonprofit organization and put the cartoons on billboards at the busiest intersections in the 30 biggest cities in the USA?  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Apr 17, 06:15:00 AM:

Where's the risk to public safety?
Which "recent events"?

There is no threat of violence. Not any more than any other thing that is in South Park or any other show.

It would be one thing if we had examples of violence in the USA as a result of publishing similar material. But there is NO record of such a thing. So here we have CC caving into PERCEIVED and IMAGINED threats which are non-existent. Man, talk about being a pussy!

CC just didn't want the controversy or the hassle. Pure greed, selfishness, and cowardice.

So even if it's not their job to stand up for free speech (which is debatable), that still doesnt' excuse them from this craven behavior. They should be made to pay a price for their behavior, i.e. fewer viewers.

And where does it stop? Does the NYT not print stories about Muslims in fear of violent consequences? Other elements of the MSM?

All part of a very disturbing trend.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Apr 17, 06:26:00 AM:

I think I learned something today. See, if we want freedom of speech, we have to have the backbone to take to the streets and burn a few cars in the Comedy Central parking lot.  

By Blogger Cosmo, at Mon Apr 17, 07:46:00 AM:

Add to the threat of violence the threat of legal intimidation and shakedowns by greivance hustlers; or, on a more persoanl level, financial immiseration and loss of employment.

When a university librarian can be credibly threatened with an accusation of 'human rights abuse' over book recommendations, we see that freedom of speech is under seige on several fronts.  

By Blogger Cosmo, at Mon Apr 17, 08:33:00 AM:

And when the EU discusses banishing expressions like 'Islamic terrorism' or 'Islamofascism,' we also see that freedom of speech is threatened from within, as well.  

By Blogger Mark Buehner, at Mon Apr 17, 09:13:00 AM:

This had nothing to do with avoiding violence (which doesnt exist here) and everything to do with ducking a fight with CAIR and other Muslim organizations.  

By Blogger Cardinalpark, at Mon Apr 17, 09:49:00 AM:

And these are the same guys who talk about the Patriot Act taing away their civil liberties, while they censor a show so as not to insult Islam. Pathetic. They did more in that single decision to disrupt our freedom than the Patriot Act could ever do.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Apr 17, 10:39:00 AM:

The executives at Comedy Central are not in the least bit concerned about public safety. That is a fig leaf, a lie.

The executives at Comedy Central are concerned with two things: saving their skins and making more money.

On the one hand anyt controversy that brings them free publicity helps the ratings which leads to more money. On the other hand they want to avoid any risk of being stabbed to death by Muslims. They saw what happened to Theo van Gogh and Pim Fortuyn.

The lesson proves it. Extortion works. Violence works. Threats of violence work.

Corporate Media love to boast about ''speaking truth to power''. But they know it's safe to speak against civilized powers who will tolerate them, even turn the other cheek.

The corporate media are afraid to speak truth to a power who might actually fight back.

That's why Comedy Central will censor criticism of Muslims and Scientologists alike.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Apr 17, 12:33:00 PM:

Comedy Central also axed Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn which was way out there on the borders of free and offensive speech.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Apr 17, 02:54:00 PM:

Zell Miller was right:

It's not the journalist who establishes and protects freedom of speech, it's the soldier. The threat of Muslim rioting in the face of free speech is a perfect example of why this is so.

Borders and Comedy Central don't have the power to protect people from violence if it breaks out because of their actions. There's no telling where the violence would break out or against whom it would be aimed. If it were merely a matter of protecting their stores or studios, they could hire protection, but the riots break out on the other side of the ocean, and people who don't deserve it get hurt or killed.

If publishing the cartoons and such earned us riots on our own soil, then I'd say we should do it and punish the perps who engage in violence. But we don't have the power to defend against violence all over the Muslim world.

On the other hand, maybe if everybody kept showing Mohammed depictions all the time, they'd get sick of rioting and chill out already. Or not.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Apr 17, 04:04:00 PM:

I thought the perfect line in the South Park Cartoon Wars first episode was during their "Muslim Sensitvity Training" where (I think) it was Kyle who corrected Ms. Garrison with "No, MUSLIMS can't show pics of Mohammed." That is the bottom line.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Apr 18, 05:40:00 AM:

All media practise censorship - censorship of sex, (anti-)religious topics, contraception, extreme violence, euthenasia and certain political views are standard. I'm more concerned about censorship of information regarding contraception and abortion (which can be useful) rather than depicting Mohammed for one shows worth of mild entertainment and upsetting Muslims (who feel more strongly than the anti-abortion groups).  

By Blogger Stephen M. St. Onge, at Tue Apr 18, 08:29:00 AM:

        If Comedy Central was threatened by Nazis, would they back down?  I doubt it.

        I think rather that the people running the network are afraid to stand for principle when it would mean facing down anti-Americans.  There's nothing more to the decision, and nothing less.

        And I disagree that this behavior is expected and acceptable.  It isn't.  We and Border's Books and Comedy Central have to live in this society, and backing down on free speech this way undermines our society. I will no longer watch shows on Comedy Central, or buy books at Border's, and I urge you to do the same.

        The actions of these businesses are contemptible, and border-line treasonous.

Delendam Esse Wahabism!  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Apr 23, 05:17:00 AM:

Here are two related comments from another blog that I thought could be of use being reposted. The first one is before I heard the "public safety" bit, and the second is after:

(Number One)

Yeah, well, I think it's rather lame to censor the portrayal of one religious sub-deity (the prophet of God, who, although he hasn't obtained Deity status, he is a major fixture of the religion), while they allow the portrayal of an actual deity from another religion (Jesus). I've seen some Christian sects that are so rigidly opposed to any portrayal of Jesus that they flat out call it idolatry. To them, a picture of Jesus is the ultimate insult.

No matter how you turn the words about, the fact of the matter is that they copped out. Had the cartoon come out in any other time, when this wasn't a hot topic, they would not have censored it. However, keep in mind that the cartoon wouldn't have portrayed Muhammad (PBUH) if it were written at any other time.

This is just their way of saying that "We censored this because it'd cause too much trouble to air. But don't worry! We're still cool people."


(Number two)

I correct my previous comment. After reading the Tigerhawk post, it may have been a smart decision. They decided to not air that portion for public safety. In other word, they didn't want the zealous crazies to start bombing people over here because they've got their prayer rugs stuffed up their cavities... (Please note that this refers to the fanatics, and not the devoted)

It's a valid decision, for one reason only: The UN, US (who is the only real power in the UN, although we always roll over), and the other major governments of the world will not protect the citizens and the innocents, and will not retaliate for all of this violence. If this was not the case I would call [Comedy Central] out publicly as a pack of jackals and wankers.

The world governments will not stand up and tell the extremists to shut up and deal with it like big boys and girls. So the victims are forced to deal with violence and lawsuits from juvenile people who think they've somehow been offended more than anyone else.

Until the governments are willing to do this, all valiant efforts are wasted. Which is why I agree with the "save lives" option. For now.

That being said, I still think it's sad that we get our kicks out of mocking other peoples beliefs. But far be it from me to forbid someone from saying their piece.  

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