Why Sarah Palin Should Not Defend Glenn Beck

By Conor Clarke

Sarah Palin takes to the digital pages of Facebook in praise of embattled and boycotted TV host Glenn Beck:

FOX News' Glenn Beck is doing an extraordinary job this week walking America behind the scenes of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and outlining who is actually running the White House.

Monday night he asked us to invite one friend to watch; tonight I invite all my friends to watch.

Palin thus ensures that the current Beck controversy will continue for at least another week. And I continue to be impressed and befuddled by two features of this controversy. The first is the degree to which Beck's supporters are largely unwilling to defend or engage with what Beck actually said to start the boycott. (Namely, that Obama is a "racist" with a "a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture.") The vast majority of what you hear from Beck supporters is that the left has been mendacious in handling the boycott campaign, by listing among the boycott signatories some companies that never advertised with Beck to begin with. But even if this were entirely true (it's partially true), it misses the point: The factual question of whether the boycott is calculating is unrelated to the interpretive question of whether what Beck said is defensible. And what Beck said was, I submit, stupid and indefensible. Does anyone disagree?
 
The second surprising feature is the degree to which this is wrongly described as a free-speech issue. This is a pretty big, basic misunderstanding of how free speech works. Free speech is a "negative" right: It prevents the government from silencing you. But it doesn't guarantee you the right to a soapbox or a megaphone or an audience. And it certainly doesn't guarantee a gigantic corporate paycheck for speaking your mind.

You might believe, as Charles Warner apparently does, that the Beck boycott is counterproductive because it gives Beck additional attention and notoriety -- which are Beck's bread and butter. Perhaps that's right. But this tactical debate -- what's the fastest way to have Beck wither on the vine? -- shouldn't be confused with a debate over whether losing an advertiser is like a chunk of the Bill of Rights. On that subject, there's really nothing to debate.  

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2009/08/why-sarah-palin-should-not-defend-glenn-beck/23999/