Bill Maher: Leave Laura Ingraham alone

He’s right to be creeped out but does a poor job of articulating why, arguing that boycotts are anti-free-speech and un-American. Eliot Spitzer counters with the obvious, that boycotts are themselves a form of speech: Ingraham’s free to make fun of David Hogg for his college rejections and his allies are free to express their disapproval by calling up her sponsors and demanding that they pull ads. The civil-rights movement started with a boycott, Spitzer might have reminded him. Even Maher’s point in passing about not being able to shout fire in a crowded theater is all kinds of “problematic,” to borrow a word momentarily in vogue.

What he means to say (or should have said) is that boycotts are an extraordinary remedy that’s become increasingly ordinary. I have no data to offer you on how common they are now versus 30 years ago but self-organization by human beings has never been easier than it is at this moment, in the Internet age. Joining a movement is one Google search away. It took less than three days for a single tweet from a 17-year-old to generate enough public pressure to convince 16 corporations to stop advertising on a primetime show on the country’s most-watched cable news channel. Boycotts have effectively become a costless exercise for those participating, and as the price drops, demand naturally increases.

As it does, it means they’re destined to be overused. Sixty years ago a boycott ended racist transportation policies in Montgomery. Today it’s the weapon of choice against a talk-show host who was snotty for a minute to a kid known for being snotty to his own political enemies. The punishment, jeopardizing Ingraham’s livelihood, doesn’t seem to fit the crime, which is why fans of this particular boycott are always scrambling to mention nastier things she’s said over the years that they either didn’t know or didn’t care about five minutes ago. Maher doesn’t understand why trying to end her career is necessary when a slew of “Ingraham sucks” tweets would have communicated unhappiness with her jab at Hogg just as well. Instead of swatting the fly they’re shooting it with a bazooka.

What makes the boycott un-American to him, I think, is that at bottom it’s an attempt to silence her. Not completely — as Spitzer would remind you, even if Fox News and radio dropped her, she could always go stand on a soapbox in a local park and give her opinions there. She’s free to speak! That’s her right, not the right to an audience. True, but censors ultimately don’t care what a speaker says, they care what the audience hears. The point of the boycott is to silence her *in the public square* so that she can’t influence anyone any longer. Rendering her unemployable would be as close as one could legally get to preventing her from speaking without actually doing so. It’s not something that would be done lightly, one would hope. It’s a tactic that logically should be reserved for the worst of the worst. Yet here we are.

There’s another entire post that could be written about where boycott fever fits in the trend towards grossly disproportionate overreaction to disfavored speech, from campus freakouts over the likes of Charles Murray to social-media “HasJustineLandedYet” mobs to the public’s surprising receptivity to “hate speech” laws. All of that is probably weighing on Maher too; we need people to be more chill when they read something that makes them upset, not less. But it’s Saturday and that’s a depressing topic. Suffice it to say, things are getting worse, not better.