Fox News host Laura Ingraham is all about the First Amendment these days. It’s kind of refreshing to see her shift her attentions from the Second Amendment, which was all she could talk about a couple of weeks ago when she lashed out at survivors of a mass shooting. Ingraham lobbed a vicious and irrelevant personal attack on high school student David Hogg. Hogg responded by calling for a boycott of Ingraham’s advertisers. After about a dozen companies pulled their ads from her show, Ingraham issued a grudging apology and disappeared from the airwaves for a week.
Now she’s back and angrier than ever, which is kind of impressive because Ingraham’s default setting is rage. She claims Hogg’s calls for a boycott were part of a liberal conspiracy to silence conservative voices. Nonsense. Ingraham was outwitted by a 17-year-old boy. She used her freedom of speech to lob a juvenile taunt across the Twittersphere. Hogg used his to persuade others to pull support from her show. Ingraham can’t seem to accept that the kid she maligned for not getting into a few colleges outsmarted her in a public debate. And, lest we forget, this is the same woman who railed against NFL players taking a knee during the National Anthem and told NBA players to “shut up and dribble.” Her efforts to silence others are legendary. It’s rich that she’s suddenly outraged when the tables are turned.
Lest you think I only feel this way about conservative commentators, let’s talk about Bill Maher. The liberal host of HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher” came to Ingraham’s defense and called Hogg a bully. Why? Because Maher once lost his own television time slot after calls for a boycott. Maher has no more right to the airwaves than Ingraham does. No one is required to pay Maher for his brand of self-righteous indignation and his (annoying) tendency to giggle at his own jokes. If HBO cancelled his show tomorrow, it wouldn’t be a violation of his First Amendment rights; it would be a business decision.
Freedom of speech is not threatened by outraged students, angry audience members, fleeing advertisers, or athletes trying to make a point. The real threat comes from media conglomerates like the Sinclair Broadcast Group. Sinclair, which operates almost 200 television stations in more than 100 markets, recently sent down a mandate to local stations requiring anchors to deliver a corporate editorial as if it were their own opinion. The results are chilling.
The media giant also inundates local stations with “must run” editorial packages that have nothing to do with the local markets. This forced, uncredited, and dangerous propaganda is a far greater threat to our democracy than any boycott. In fact, Sinclair is no better than the Russian hackers who posed as Americans in an effort to upend our election process. Just like the Russians, they are pretending to be one of us, they are passing off odious views as organic content, and their primary goal seems to be to disrupt the system.
If Ingraham and Maher want to rail against bullies, pound their fists about the First Amendment, and whine about people who don’t like them, fine. It’s their right. But let’s take note: for all their whining, neither Maher nor Ingraham has been silenced. On the other hand, real journalists and anchors across America have been forced to say things they don’t believe. That’s a real Orwellian nightmare and it scares the hell out of me.