FREE SPEECH AIN’T FREE

Daniel Drezner makes several observations about anti-Semitism, the Easterbrook controversy, and the blogosphere today. Of especial interest are two points:

1. A couple years ago, Easterbrook himself argued that people should expect economic repurcussions from unpopular speech. As I note in Dan’s comments section, I agree that ESPN/Disney has every right to fire someone for speech they disagree with. But we, of course, have the right to criticize them for the decision. For a journalistic enterprise to fire someone for ideas expressed in a column is rather dubious; this is all the more true when it’s at another venue on a topic other than for which he’s employed to write there.

2. Dan also makes an interesting point here:

Atrios concludes his last post by saying, “I find the rallying around him rather creepy.” You know what I find creepy? Anonymous bloggers hypocritically lambasting Easterbrook and other bloggers with the guts to write under their own name.

A hypothetical: what happens if Atrios had posted something equally offensive? Does he lose his day job? No, because of his anonymity. He clearly prefers it this way, and I’m not saying that bloggers must out themselves. However, the cloak of anonymity does give Atrios a degree of insulation that other bloggers don’t have. Say what you will about Easterbrook — at least he put his real name on his posts. It’s not clear to me that Atrios is willing to bear the real costs of free speech that have now entangled Easterbrook.

I’m a little dubious of anonymous blogging myself, but find it understandable. Steven Taylor initially wrote as “PoliBlogger” until deciding to just blog under his own name. John Lemon–who is alive and well and intends to start blogging again once his busy schedule abates–is still pseudononymous because he feels it necessary to protect his career. In the vast majority of instances, I’m not sure that it much matters–one’s arguments can stand or fall on their own merits.

But, perhaps, if your argument is that one must be prepared to face consequences of controversial speech, one should sign one’s own name? At a visceral level, I tend to think so. Still, this is somewhat analogous to the “chicken hawk” argument: How dare you speak out in favor of a war if you’re not prepared to pick up a rifle and get shot at? Christopher Hitchens did a pretty good job taking that one apart.

FILED UNDER: Media
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Mercutio says:

    You seem to be ingoring the main reason for anonomity. Today’s politic is highly polarized and their a a significant number of nutballs out there on either side of the spectrum. One may reasonbly wish to express an opinion in a public forum without being the target of said nutballs.

  2. Mercutio says:

    You seem to be ingoring the main reason for anonomity. Today’s politic is highly polarized and there are a significant number of nutballs out there on either side of the spectrum. One may reasonbly wish to express an opinion in a public forum without being the target of said nutballs.

  3. James Joyner says:

    I suppose, although I think the fear is overblown. Ann Coulter, Al Franken, Rush Limbaugh, Howard Stern… and dozens of others seem to avoid being accosted.

  4. Mercutio says:

    My apologies for the double posting. The Posting pop-up window apparently did not recognize the “Cancel” button.

  5. Mercutio says:

    James__

    A letter from Mark Steyn’s website:

    “TAKE PRECAUTIONS
    Have just read your latest rift on the California recall thing and the column on Maria the Terminatrix. Both marvelous, but got to wondering why the left hasn’t let a contract on you. I would certainly hire a security detail for my protection if I were in your place.”


    Apparently, thoughts of rampant nutballism are fairly widespread.

    Let’s remember that Blogs are fairly recent. Internet chat rooms, bulletin boards and uselists have been up and running for at least a decade now, and those of us who actively use them have much experience in the stalking, annoyances, attacks and occasional violence that can occur when some moke learns who you are and takes exception to your opinions.

  6. JC says:

    Remember Moxie vs. Moxie… And that was tame compared to some things in the past.

  7. I’m anonymous partly because I’d rather that potential clients not know all the sexy (and, more often, unsexy) details of my private life.

    But my real overarching reason for anonymity is concern over my physical safety. A handful of bloggers know my real first name, but that’s it. I do *not* want potential stalkers out there to know who I am.

    Ann Coulter can afford to insulate herself from the commoners to some degree. I cannot.

    I hate to say this, but I really do think it’s different for women.

  8. Didn’t a bunch of Drumm supporters start phoning up people and threatening those who disagreed with them? I also remember some of the same people messing with Tacitus, but that must have been email spam. I distinctly remember Drumm issuing a “STOP IT!” posting.

    Mine is a nom de plume, but more so since I blog from work (although it’s not like I have anything else to do)

  9. Mercutio says:

    This posting may be in the nature of beating a dead horse, but I do think it is an important issue.

    Should opinions published publicly (that may be a redundant phrase) be anonymous?

    1) The founding fathers thought it was desirable in at least one case. The one public venue in which a private citizen is likely to publish his/her opinion is in the exercise of the vote, which is mandated to be by secret ballot. Some may argue that a vote is not the same as posting a comment on a blog, but if a vote isn’t the expression of one’s opinions and preferences, then what is it?

    2) Those who run blogs and or choose to sign their true names to their opinion are no longer acting as private citizens but public citizens. There are those who may wish to be heard but still remain private citizens.

    3) Yes, anonomity can be abused – most often by those with strong emotions about a subject but lacking in the ability to make a cogent argument. If someone launches an ad hominem diatribe, the issue shouldn’t be that the moke was too lowlife to sign it, but that it took place at all.

  10. FREE SPEECH AND ANONYMITY
    Daniel Drezner on Atrios and blogger anonymity:A final thought on Atrios’ criticism of Easterbrook. I think that he makes a good point in this post — namely, that Easterbrook assumed way too much about Eisner and Weinstein’s faith. There’s also…

  11. Easterbrook II
    Not everyone agrees with the “serves him right” view. Outside the Beltway got it right.:

  12. FREE SPEECH AND ANONYMITY
    Daniel Drezner on Atrios and blogger anonymity:A final thought on Atrios’ criticism of Easterbrook. I think that he makes a good point in this post — namely, that Easterbrook assumed way too much about Eisner and Weinstein’s faith. There’s also…