After Playboy retracted its vile misogynistic fantasy about “hate-f***ing” conservative women, I wondered how long it would take before a clueless pundit bemoaned the criticism as an attack on free speech. It didn’t take long. Susannah Breslin at DoubleX laments:
Apparently, free speech is so over when the masses rule the media: “It’s only OK if I think it’s funny. It’s only OK if it fits my politics. It’s only OK if I say it is.” I wish Playboy hadn’t pulled it. Censoring the piece doesn’t make it any less real, any less politically incorrect, any less true. Attempting to police human nature is the real joke here.
No one infringed on anyone’s right to free speech. In fact, the entire process was an exercise in free speech. Playboy had every right to publish its vile fantasy, and everyone else had the right to (a) criticize it, and (b) suggest a boycott of the private enterprises that published it and sponsored it. No one “made” Playboy take down the article, except the execs who rightly got embarrassed by it.
Breslin apparently believes that “free speech” is limited to publications and institutions, and not to individuals. If so, she’s living in the wrong decade, but it’s not as if she’s alone, either. Whenever people feel the need to retract a poorly-written or poorly-conceived article, someone wails about “mob mentality” and how it spells the end to free speech. You can set your watch to this predictable reaction.
Well, believe it or not, but “freedom of speech” does not mean freedom from criticism. In a free society, everyone has the right to speak. Playboy retracted the piece not because of some unconstitutional governmental intervention, but because the article damaged their brand and their business. Had their editors been better at their jobs, it never would have appeared in the first place.
When the government tells people they can’t speak or write on a topic, that’s the end of free speech. When people criticize what others write, that’s actual free speech. And when publishers remove a vile piece of effluvium in response to overwhelming criticism, that’s the free market at work. It would be helpful if people who make their living on free speech actually understood those distinctions.