Matthew Yglesias takes up a well-worn battle standard, saying that it “really annoys him” when people say stuff like this:
I remember when TV networks believed in the First Amendment. http://t.co/IK2fvrqGPn
— Gov. Bobby Jindal (@BobbyJindal) December 19, 2013
Specifically, Yglesias says,
The First Amendment very much does not prevent private firms from declining to air certain kinds of content that they think will alienate their audience, or private citizens from engaging in organized criticism of private broadcasters who don’t bend to their will.
And, yes, of course, absolutely.
But I think that sometimes people say “the First Amendment” when they mean “free speech.” Like, Jindal is plausibly saying, “I remember when TV networks believed in free speech.” And I’d like to argue for some nuance here. The First Amendment rightly very strongly limits the government’s ability to suppress speech, and it just as rightly does not so limit individuals or corporations, which of course have much less coercive power.
But I want people in the United States to believe in “free speech” in the sense of not just “no government censorship,” but “the best cure for bad speech is more speech.” While that doesn’t mean tolerating every kind of speech everywhere (and I have not read whatever the Duck Dynasty guy said, and have no comment on his particular indiscretion), it does mean giving people a space to say things that you think are objectionable or wrong, and arguing with them. The First Amendment is a law. Freedom of speech is an ideal, and an important one, that is not entirely preserved simply by the First Amendment.