The "insensitive speech" police

Kathleen Parker:

Free speech isn't quite free, as it turns out. Nor is its exercise evenly enjoyed. Here's the breakdown:

In New York Monday, the president of Iran -- a liar who denies the Holocaust, sponsors terror and abuses human rights -- spoke at Columbia University.

Ahmadinejad (A'jad for short) was mocked, booed, jeered and laughed at -- especially when he insisted there are no gays in Iran despite documented public hangings of homosexuals, including teenagers. But he got to speak.

Summers wasn't so lucky. In California, the former president of Harvard University did not get to speak at a University of California Board of Regents meeting after professors petitioned to withdraw his invitation.

Summers didn't hang anybody in public or stone any adulterers, as is still common in Iran. Summers' offense was more nuanced. He was insensitive.

A couple of years ago at a conference, Summers suggested that disparities in accomplishment and college tenure among men and women could be explained (possibly, maybe, but maybe not) by "availability of aptitude at the high end," as well as socialization, patterns of discrimination and, not least, the "high-powered job hypothesis" that more men than women opt for 80-hour workweeks.

It's surprising only that Summers wasn't Tasered on the spot.


America has toiled more than two centuries now, trying to craft a system of free expression that respects both the individual and the larger community. When should your right to express yourself prevail over my right not to share your expression? That's the trick question and the answer requires more than magic. It requires maturity, responsibility and vigilance.


Free speech does not mean a right to an audience. Prevent Summers' speech reflects the bias of some in the audience and allowing Ahmadinejad's demonstrates the bias of Columbia. Neither bias reflects well on either audience.

Most of us with something to say have to earn our audience. It would be interesting to see if Ahmadinejad could sustain an audience with a blog. I suspect his rant would get pretty boring and too much like the Daily Kos. But some over there do love him as the anti Bush. I suspect that is more the result of hate than true love.


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