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April 13, 2006


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» South Park and the First Amendment from PinkDome
Sadly, last night's episode of South Park was perhaps the most insightful and well thought out discussion on the First Amendment, the recent cartoon controversy and terrorism. How the hell did that happen? You can view most of the... [Read More]

» "DO THE RIGHT THING! SHOW MOHAMMED!" from Michelle Malkin
Everyone's buzzing about last night's South Park episode. It's currently the #1 search term at Technorati. So, did Comedy Central censor Mohammed or not? Ed Morrissey and Jim Lindgren provide different views. Bottom line from The Anchoress: All in... [Read More]

» Did Comedy Central Censor South Park? from The Volokh Conspiracy
Did Comedy Central censor tonight's episode of South Park? The answer would appear to be YES. [UPDATE: In response to my inquiries whether the statement aired on South Park on Wednesday night was accurate, early this mor... [Read More]

» South Park GSiHoW: part 2 from Super Fun Power Hour
In an unexpected move, Comedy Central's South Park actually aired a sequel to last weeks "Cartoon of Mohammad/Head in the Sand/Family Guy is poorly written" episode that drew praise across the blogosphere for its satirical handling of the Islamic protests [Read More]

» Comedy Central Censors Muhammad Cartoon from Everything Between
Wednesday, on South Parks Cartoon Wars II episode, Comedy Central for the first time in South Parks eight-year history found a reason to censor Trey Parker and Matt Stones original content. According to Volokh, the ... [Read More]

» Southpark and Mohammed - art imitating life from Sister Toldjah
The big issue of the day today in the blogosphere is Comedy Centrals admitted censoring of a cartoon image of Mohammed on last nights Southpark episode (see here and here for background). Im not a Southpark watcher - have never lik... [Read More]

» Disrespecting Religion from The Conjecturer
Robbie at Malcontent posted the relevant clips of Wednesdays South Park. Comedy Central resolutely refused to show an image of the prophet Mohammed, something South Park went to great lengths to demonstrate. Of course, Mohammed showed up in a ... [Read More]

» "South Park" Ridicules Comedy Central from Ex-Donkey Blog
And deservedly so. I just got around to watching my tape of the episode that's the big meme this morning. The fact that Comedy Central portrays itself as so cutting edge and then pusses out because they won't show a cartoon of Mohammed is the ultimate ... [Read More]

» South Park vs. Cartoon Jihad/2 from The Right Nation
[click here to read the english version of this post] Censurati nella seconda puntata dell'episodio di South Park dedicato alle Cartoon Wars islamiche, Trey Parker e Matt Stone attaccano il network Comedy Central (da Michelle Malkin, qualche propo... [Read More]



Saw that episode last night. Maybe I'm naive, but I honestly expected CC to show Mohammed. I don't think I've ever been so depressed after watching a damn cartoon. I couldn't get myself to watch the rest of the show.

To a certain degree, I think this is less about freedom of speech and more about a runaway legal team advising against potential liability. Still, depressing.


What's so zany about this is South Park showed Mohammed in a 2001 episode. That Comedy Central won't allow it now makes their cowardice even more damning.

Nate the Great

Now, wait, wait, wait. I agree that the networks should be willing to show Mohammed (though I would find it disgusting and disagree with it--I'm very respectful of religious sensibilities, insofar as I wish for my sensibilities to be respected). But, come on. First Amendment? Sorry, buddy. The only freedom you have is the freedom from GOVERNMENT censorship. I don't care who else censors whatever: there are many times when they should. I don't care if there's a chilling effect--the only thing the Constitution guarantees is that the GOVERNMENT will not make a law restricting the freedom of speech. You do not have the positive right to say whatever you want; you have the negative right to not be interfered with by the government when you say what you will.

In short, argue whatever you will about Mohammed and Comedy Central. Don't drag the First Amendment into unless some government agency is interfering.


Don't be dense, Nate - big picture thinking here. It might not be a technical violation of the first amendment, but it's certainly relevant.


Nate - I'm a little crushed for time this morning, so stating it as simply as I can at the moment:

You're correct in that the only thing the First Amendment guarantees is freedom from government interference in speech.

However, when the principles of the constitution are no longer held nor defended in the culture or society, the government is often not far behind.

One more popular example are campus speech codes. Once a significant portion of the population decided what was and was not ok to say, these government funded institutions started setting down speech restrictions. And they routinely get away with it.

Just because the First Amendment is specifically a legal restriction on government power does not mean we shouldn't advocate for it in the private sphere. In fact, the higher the cultural stakes, the more rigorously we should defend it.

It's the principle of the thing.


South Park covered the issue of government vs. private censorship. George Bush is criticized by the press for not stopping Family Guy, but Bush says he can't do it because of the first amendment. This puts the decision square on the shoulders of the Fox executive.

Also, there's a difference between what is right and what is legal. For example, private universities can censor their faculty, but that goes against the foundations of a liberal university.


The most interesting point, imho, is that we've never really had to fight for freedom of speech as much as we have lately. Before, whenever freedom of speech became an issue, it was a more legalistic/scholarly issue. Now human lives are directly at risk.

So far, fear 1 - freedom of speech 0.


The most interesting point, imho, is that we've never really had to fight for freedom of speech as much as we have lately. Before, whenever freedom of speech became an issue, it was a more legalistic/scholarly issue.

Well, actually, Dan, we have. Remember McCarthyism? In theory, it should be perfectly fine to espouse communist beliefs or tendencies, no matter how much we may personally disagree with them ourselves, in our democracy. Yet the fear of the Red Threat curtailed many American's ability to speak as they wished at that time. Nixon was quite a behind-the-scenes force behind that one.

There are quite a few more historical examples that I'm too lazy to look up to properly cite, but often in times of widespread concern, "free speech" becomes not quite so free.

This isn't anything new.

Oh, and P.S. Mal--love the new black/red Calvin & Hobbes layout.


Yes, Jamie, but nobody was at risk of being shot. McCarthy could destroy careers and insite fear, but I think he drew the line at genocide.

Now we literally have our lives on the line. 9-11 is still pretty fresh on our minds, and is inspiring a level of fear McCarthy never touched.

Queer Conservative

Yep, McCarthy was definitely a political pitbull. Unfortunatley he was also right, the U.S. government was being infiltrated by Soviet spies.


Umm... nobody was really disputing McCarthy's basic contention. I think it was his methods that most people had a problem with.


Yes, Jamie, but nobody was at risk of being shot.

You can't possibly know that to be a truism.

Besides, the conversation here was about freedom of speech. At the height of the Red Scare, libraries were purged of books deemed "unpatriotic," federal and private employees were forced to sign "loyalty oaths,"--the list of "consequences" goes on and on. People not only lost their jobs, they were unable to find new ones. (Personally, I'd take a bullet to the head vs. starving to death any day.)

As I said, nothing new here.

Unrelated note: Mal, I think this thread is getting "Malkined" to death.

Queer Conservative

Ummmm....Dan, I guess it's a good thing that I didn't claim that anyone was disputing his basic contention. I merely pointed out that, while McCarthy was a political bully and hurt a lot of people, he was also correct. I think that's an important thing to remember when discussing McCarthy in any context, don't you Dan?


McCarthy saw a powerful problem within our government, and instead of using that insight to be constructive, he chose to take a destructive path. What could have been used to unify the country in true patriotism was instead used to bind us in nominal patriotism powered by fear and blind ideology.

Yes, it's certainly useful to remember just how "correct" Joe McCarthy was.

Queer Conservative

I do not disagree with you on McCarthy's methods Jamie. But a communist spy (or hell, any spy) in the State Department is still a very bad thing, no matter who or how it's revealed.


QC: I think you're missing the point about McCarthy entirely.

Jamie: The whole McCarthy episode was a largely political/academic exercise for most people. People had to think: at what point does my right to free speech supercede the need for national security? How secure should we expect our government to be? How much of a threat is socialism? Back in the 50s, people had to put a lot of thought into how to balance personal liberty with the need for national security. The whole Mohammed/911 problem puts everything into much more stark terms. Show the picture and risk another 9-11 style massacre. If Doug Herzog, CC's prez, allows the episode to run uncensored, the terrorists will be gunning for him... literally.

The fight for our personal liberties has never been more stark, that's my whole point.


Maybe I should point out that just because fights for liberties seem to be cyclical, they are nevertheless worth fighting. That speech was once restricted is not an argument for restricting it now, in any form.

Queer Conservative

Well Dan, what would you do?


QC: It depends on what you're talking about. I think McCarthy panned out exactly as he should have. The american people aren't stupid and they caught on eventually... Just like they will with Dubya ;)

On Osama, I would've aired the episode uncensored. We're in serious danger of eroding our personal liberties. As much as I prefer to keep things practical, there are some lines we can't allow ourselves to cross.



No disagreement here. But where Dan sees this as inordinately threatening now, I think it has been just as much so in previous eras.

Dan, they may well come literally gunning for him. I'd still run it if the decision were up to me. When we start letting the terrorists make the decisions for us, they've won, haven't they?

As for McCarthyism being mainly a political/academic argumentfor most people . . . you're a city boy, aren't you? Because things are different out here in the sticks--where 60% of Americans live. People were beat up, threatened merely on suspicion of communism. Talk to some older people about the social climate back then.

But as I said, there are other examples besides the Red Scare. How about the Civil War, for another example? Fought over State's Rights, or civil liberties? Sympathetic whites were HUNG in the south for speaking their mind.

So forgive me if I don't buy that the fight has "never been more stark." The rules of the game may have been changed slightly, but the stakes are always the same. Our Freedoms or our Lives.


>>McCarthy saw a powerful problem within our government, and instead of using that insight to be constructive, he chose to take a destructive path. What could have been used to unify the country in true patriotism was instead used to bind us in nominal patriotism powered by fear and blind ideology.

Yes, this is the accepted common wisdom wrt McCarthy. So tell us, please: how could Communist infiltration of our government been used to "unify the country in true patriotism"? How could anyone have done anything differently to stop the fear engendered by Communist infiltration, to stop the rise of "nominal" patriotism?



Nate the Great was 100% correct.

Queer Conservative is right, too. He isn't missing the point at all.


Boy, I think this conversation got way off track. It's really not important right now to resolve the extremely complicated debate around McCarthy's means, justifications, and effects. I think we can all agree that his period of authority will fuel a lot of discussion for years to come, and we will continue to suss out valuable lessons about how to orient ourselves and our government in order to preserve a democracy under threat.

That said, the real question at hand is, what responsibility does a media company like Viacom have to defend free speech? If it is not a responsibility, would it be a virtuous thing to do? What responsibility do the artists presented on a television network have to challenge their corporate sponsors? If it is not their responsiblity, would it be virtuous? In the case of a commercial broadcast, we are primarily consumers but we are also always citizens--how can we exercise our citizenship in the marketplace? Ought we to do so?



When I wrote " . . . to defend free speech," I should have added that a distinction between threats to free speech from our own state, and threats from outside enemies. There may be--I should assume there would be--different responses to those different kind of threats. This also expands and complicates the debate over McCarthy.


Yes, this is the accepted common wisdom wrt McCarthy. So tell us, please: how could Communist infiltration of our government been used to "unify the country in true patriotism"?

Well, MakeMineRed, a less disingenuous question would be: How could McCarthy's awareness of Communist infiltration, not the infiltration itself, have been used to unify the country?

McCarthy could have taken any other number of roads with this information. But conflating those American Citizens who believed in some parts of communist theory, or simply signed a petition, with actual Soviet Spies would NOT be the route I'd have taken.

Does it seem practical to you to announce, loudly, that you're hunting for someone, or to hunt for them and then cry loudly once they're caught, giving you the element of surprise to your advantage? The spies could have been caught without a public nightmare, but there was one simply because McCarthy wanted to use it for political gain. At the expense of his fellow Americans, and perhaps at the expense of the very security he purported to champion. Who knows what our spy-hunters missed because McCarthy tipped their hand?

Regardless, I also use the Civil War as an example, and if any of you pick up a friggin history book you'll find plenty more. MY POINT was that this is not the first, nor the most arduous, threat to our freedom of speech.

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