Scott Mendelson:

Bill Maher famously lost his television show on ABC after outcry over commentary that one of his guests made (which he agreed with) concerning the 9/11 hijackers not being cowards, given that they were willing to kill themselves in pursuit of their mission. It was this statement that famously led President George W. Bush’s press secretary at the time, Ari Fleischer, to state that “all Americans … need to watch what they say, watch what they do.” Never mind that Maher didn’t even utter the offending statement, or that it was technically correct (suicide bombers, come what may, aren’t cowards in the strictest sense of the term), the post-9/11 “sensitivity” caused his comments to create a firestorm of (arguably) manufactured controversy that forced his show off the air even as ratings had gone up after the 9/11 attacks. And let’s not forget any number of “controversies” that were sparked during the run-up to the Iraq invasion in 2002 and 2003. Let’s not forget the outcry over Natalie Maines’ comments that she was ashamed that President Bush was from Texas (which led to death threats and mass album-burning), or the politically motivated firing of Phil Donahue from MSNBC because his liberal ideology didn’t fit with the nationalistic fervor (never mind that he had the highest-rated show on the network at the time). And that’s not counting the various “scalps” that the GOP has claimed during Barack Obama’s first term (Shirley Sherrod, Van Jones, etc.). Yes, there is a difference between the above incidents, which allegedly had behind-the-scenes government support, and what appears to be a purely grassroots effort in feminist (and humanist) activism, but it’s still almost scary how fast the fire spread.

I don’t have any profound conclusions to draw from this, nor do I have any “answers.” I guess what I’m saying is that, having lived through 10 years of countless liberal/progressive or just-plain-not-crazy people being targeted and/or persecuted because they said something that was deemed inflammatory, like when Michael Moore was targeted for murder purely for making an anti-war statement at the 2003 Oscars (after winning his Oscar for making an anti-gun-violence documentary), I can only take so much pleasure with the shoe being on the other foot.

I don’t have anything profound to add, myself. I just detest mob mentality by its very nature, regardless of what the inspirational cause is. When the argument becomes about the righteous intensity of our feelings instead of what we can know, the right to free speech is just a hollow formality. Fine, you can have your megaphone. We’ll just take away your soapbox and quarantine you somewhere out of earshot.