Your Take: Free Speech Works Both Ways
Pat Buchanan is free to be racist, but he's not exempt from the consequences, says Rashad Robinson.
Buchanan has called Adolf Hitler courageous and expressed his admiration for David Duke. In his lament, Buchanan stated that he was let go "without a public hearing" -- but what is writing, publishing and publicizing a book if not a public hearing? Did Buchanan not intend his freely expressed beliefs -- that the nation was better off with segregation; that the Constitution does not require social, racial and gender equality; and that white Americans are now the victims of Jim Crow behavior -- to be used as a way to evaluate the legitimacy of his political commentary? Freedom of speech isn't freedom from the consequences of speech.
Buchanan is entitled to his opinions (even if a reasonable person would consider those views to be extreme and bigoted), just as those of us who represent America's rich diversity are entitled to speak out when broadcasted speech crosses the line into pure racism. Furthermore, news organizations are entitled to -- and have a responsibility to -- value constructive political debate over prejudiced ranting and fire someone who doesn't meet their standards. MSNBC took a brave and principled stand in deciding to cut ties with Buchanan.
Throughout the controversy around Buchanan's firing, we've heard commentators such as Joe Scarborough state that although they do not agree with his opinions, they are worthy of debate. The truth is, though, that they are not. There is no value in debating the concept of racism.
It is simply intolerable for our country to accept hate speech under the pretext of legitimate political commentary. Through the Internet and social media, the Pat Buchanans and David Dukes of the world will continue to speak loudly, but we shouldn't have to sit quietly while mainstream media legitimize their views with a public platform.
The media has a responsibility to air a diverse set of views. What they don't have is a responsibility to send messages fueled by intolerance, prejudice and racism into our homes. Black youths should be encouraged to dream about a future in the Senate -- just like any other dreamers, regardless of their race, gender, religion, nationality or sexual orientation. All Americans have a responsibility to voice our dissent when we see history repeating itself.
Rashad Robinson is executive director of ColorOfChange. With more than 800,000 members, ColorOfChange is the largest online black civil rights organization.