Al Sharpton does get one thing right in this discussion with Ed Schultz on MSNBC: the First Amendment doesn’t give Rush Limbaugh the right to have his show broadcast on the public airwaves. And he gets another point correct in noting that the FCC issues broadcast licenses to radio stations, in part based on public service, in a process that essentially rations a government-rationed commodity, commercial broadcast frequencies in local markets. Apart from those two points, however, Sharpton manages to get just about everything else wrong in demanding that the FCC exercise censorship through prior restraint to take Limbaugh off the air, via Greg Hengler (The Right Scoop has more):
It’s amusing, in a bitterly ironic way, to see people who make their living off of the space created by the First Amendment demand government intervene to stop speech. It’s even more ironic considering that Al Sharpton paid no price at all for his part in the Tawana Brawley hoax, in which Sharpton falsely accused an assistant district attorney of being one of the supposed rapists in a series of allegations found utterly false by a grand jury. Steve Pagones won a $65,000 judgment against Sharpton for false and defamatory statements, which Sharpton’s supporters paid instead. If anyone has grounds to be censored for utterly irresponsible and false speech, it would be Sharpton, not Limbaugh — and yet Sharpton has his own radio show and regularly appears on MSNBC.
So forgive me if I don’t take Sharpton too seriously on the topic of acceptable discourse, but the argument is asinine in any case. While it’s true that the FCC controls licensing, it doesn’t control content in a prior-approval manner, nor should it. Demanding a system where the government requires preapproval for political speech is a recipe for tyranny and is the antithesis of the intent of the First Amendment. Nor is there an overriding right to be free from offense, whatever Sharpton might think; freedom of speech involves tolerating ideas that people dislike as its definition.
The proper remedy for bad speech is more speech. Those who can’t compete want government to fight their battles instead, and it’s clear that Sharpton knows he’s losing.