New York Times columnist Clyde Haberman took on the hypocrisy of New York City’s selective celebration of free speech in his Tuesday “NYC” column, “Where Freedom of Expression Runs Headlong Into the Impulse to Censor.”
A Texas group put up a pro-life billboard with a provocative message showing a black girl under the words “The most dangerous place for an African American is in the womb.” The billboard was taken down a week later after pressure was applied by influential city officials.
Haberman hit out at the city’s phony facade of tolerance.
New York, never at a loss for self-congratulatory words, regards itself as the most tolerant of cities, a place where one may express any thought freely. It is true. In New York, one may articulate any idea whatsoever -- as long as that idea parallels popular opinion.
Stray too far from generally accepted wisdom, though, and you are asking for trouble.
The latest to discover this reality is a Texas group called Life Always, which bought billboard space in SoHo to deliver an anti-abortion message rooted in recent statistics from the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. They showed that in 2009, 41 percent of all pregnancies here ended in abortion. The abortion rate for black women was even higher, almost 60 percent.
Was this anti-abortion statement subtle? Hardly. Accurate? Depends on your politics. Offensive? For some people, yes. Out of step with mainstream thought in New York? For sure. And so, a few days ago in this most tolerant of cities, a raft of elected officials wasted no time calling for the billboard’s removal.
Lickety-split, the sign came down.
Haberman was blunt:
This plain act of censorship was not isolated. Rather, it fit into an established New York pattern of squelching unpopular opinions. Examples over the past decade abound.