Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Boycott Bill Maher?

Posted by Craig Westover | 9:23 AM |  

I received an email this morning from the Intellectual Conservative asking me to tell HBO that I don’t want Bill Maher hosting another political show, specifically Real Time, which begins on February 25. The email cited several examples of statements Maher has made that are ignorant and offensive. The email asks --
Why are we giving this self-hating, Christian-despising bigot another show? And asking HBO to remove him is not an affront on free speech, rather, it is using your free speech to ask a private corporation to deny someone a venue.
Well, here’s my problem -- I don’t subscribe to HBO, and I generally don’t listen to or read Bill Maher. If HBO removed Bill Maher from its line-up, I’m still not likely to subscribe to the service. What do I think about Bill Maher? I don’t think about Bill Maher. So why should I write a letter to HBO?

There's a good reason not to.

I disagree with the premise that demanding HBO to remove Maher is not an affront to free speech. It is. The email cites Thomas Sowell’s excellent column on the theme that free speech has consequences, an idea I completely agree with, but one of those consequences should not be an organized boycott.

An organized boycott of a private business is an attempt to collectively coerce that business, through economic force, to air only “acceptable” speech -- as the email states, “deny someone a venue.” That is as much a curtailment of free speech as university students shouting down a conservative speaker.

As individuals, we have the right to boycott businesses as part of our daily routine. But we do not have the right to form a mob, physically or digitally, to force others to conceal their opinions out of fear of reprisal. If the economics work out, and people individually don’t watch Maher’s program or independently cancel their subscriptions, then HBO will make the economic decision on its own, Sowell will be proved right (free speech has consequences) and liberty and justice will be served.

When it comes to boycotts, the end doesn’t justify the means.