Journalists love the marketplace of ideas until people start selling ideas they find objectionable. The liberal media somehow manages to shout about its right to speak freely while demanding others be silenced.
Glenn Beck is probably the most popular target for the left's demands for censorship. Cokie Roberts and her husband Steve picked up that ball and ran with it today in their joint syndicated column. They dubbed Beck "a traitor to the American values he professes so loudly to defend" and claimed he is "corrupting the very essence of democracy." And all this just by speaking.
Unsurprisingly, the immense damage Beck is doing to the American political process can only be demonstrated anecdotally:
Steve recently took part in a lunchtime panel sponsored by a local radio station. A beefy young man in the audience grabbed the microphone and challenged the speakers, in a sneering and confrontational tone, to name one good thing about President Obama's health-care proposal.
Steve's answer: People without insurance flood hospital emergency rooms and push up medical bills for everyone. So it would be in the "national interest" to expand insurance and hold down costs.
"The national interest?" retorted the questioner in an even louder voice. "That sounds like fascism!"
We have been in this business a long time. We welcome tough questions and certainly don't believe we have all the answers. But "fascism"? That's over the line -- way over the line -- for any sensible or civilized conversation.
We don't know what the beefy guy reads or to whom he listens, but we would bet he's a disciple of Glenn Beck. The popular author and broadcaster who has turned nonstop name-calling into an art form is a big fan of the "F-word."
The couple goes on to blast Beck for making unfounded accusations, but the whole tirade was based on … an unfounded accusation. He said the word fascist? Case closed. After all, Beck has said the word fascist too!
Beck has made millions spewing such incendiary language, but in the process he is corrupting the very essence of democracy. Our system can only flourish if citizens with varying viewpoints accept the outcome of elections and respect the rule of the majority.
But if you think your rivals are "fascists," if you consider politics a form of holy war, then you place yourself outside basic American traditions.
Whoa, hang on just a minute. As long as we're discussing "American traditions," let us go back to Federalist No. 10. James Madison argued for the establishment of a constitutional republic to prevent rule "by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority." In other words, to prevent a tyranny of the majority.
American democracy is not about "respect[ing] the rule of the majority." It is about protecting the rights of the minority. But enough civics for now. Let us return to the anti-Beck screed.
We defended Fox News when the White House attacked the network in 2009, partly because it employs many fine journalists, including several of Steve's former students. But news folks at Fox are right to be worried. At some point, Beck's fanaticism taints them all.
"They're right on the cusp of losing their image as a news organization," says Andrew Tyndall, a respected television analyst.
We are not denying Beck or anyone else their First Amendment rights. He can say anything he wants. But advertisers don't have to support his brand of hate mongering, and audiences don't have to take Fox News seriously if one of its top names has become a "circus clown."
Actually, Beck is worse than a clown. He's more like a terrorist who believes he has discovered the One True Faith, and condemns everyone else as a heretic. And that makes him something else as well -- a traitor to the American values he professes so loudly to defend.
Well we've already established that the Roberts couple needs to bone up on those values. But it is curious that they would see the restriction of speech as somehow protecting democracy, when it is seemingly antithetical to democracy.
Cokie and Steve are not the first to demand Beck be silenced. They will not be the last. Nor are they the only ones to puzzlingly invoke democracy as a justification for limits on the marketplace of ideas.