Formal protections for free speech are important and necessary, but they do not amount to very much without a free-speech culture to back them up.
In response to a proposal from the editors of the Boston Globe, hundreds of newspapers on Thursday published editorials about the importance of a free press. The New York Times was among them, quoting William Brennan’s decision in Times v. Sullivan, which insisted that “debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.”
Presumably, such “vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks” on public officials would include, inter alia, showing a film critical of Hillary Rodham Clinton while she was seeking the presidency, publishing material critical of the Obama administration’s climate policies, or advocating the protection of the right enshrined in the Second Amendment. But, of course, the same people who are patting themselves on the back today for their championing of the First Amendment are the same people who have celebrated the suppression of such “uninhibited, robust, and wide-open” public discourse, often with the New York Times cheering them on.