Megyn Kelly and the Flirtation With Censorship That Could Eventually Hurt Free Speech for All of Us
by Emily Peck
The outrage machine may be careening out of control.
Last Sunday, Delta and Bank of America dropped sponsorship from a production of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” because it depicts the assassination of a Trump-like ruler. And the very next day JPMorgan Chase pulled its ads from NBC and its affiliates over displeasure that NBC News anchor Megyn Kelly interviewed Alex Jones, a far-right conspiracy theorist who has spread the abhorrent and false idea that the murders of 20 children in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, in 2012 were faked.
Advertisers these days are reacting at breakneck speed, distancing themselves from controversy almost as soon as it earns a hashtag on Twitter.
“Right now any time anybody doesn’t like anything, they go to the advertisers and that’s ridiculous,” Angelo Carusone of Media Matters tells HuffPost. As president of the liberal nonprofit, Carusone is intimately involved in the mechanisms at play here. Media Matters was instrumental in the successful campaign earlier this year to get advertisers to drop Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, which ultimately led to the conservative host’s ouster.
It’s fine to be mad at Kelly and to criticize her, Carusone said. The parents of those children killed in Sandy Hook have received death threats because of Jones’ rabid rhetoric. Their anger is well-founded.
Jones is now leaking pieces of the interview that make it appear Kelly went easy on him, but the conspiracy theorist’s version of the truth can hardly be trusted on its own. The fact is, we haven’t yet seen the whole interview.
ut trying to scare off sponsors and move the show off the air before anyone even sees it is going too far, Carusone said, echoing comments from other progressive activists HuffPost spoke with for this article. There is a flirtation with censorship happening now that could ultimately endanger free speech on both sides.
It’s worth asking: How did we even get to this place?
Trying to scare away advertisers, historically, has been the province of conservatives. In 1989, the TV show “ThirtySomething” ― an angsty drama about baby boomers struggling to become adults in an era without avocado toast ― lost a reported $1 million in ads because of a scene on the show depicting two men in a post-coital conversation. Much of the pressure came from the conservative, anti-gay American Family Association, now considered a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
In 1997, advertisers ― again pressured by the AFA ― backed away from Ellen Degeneres’ sitcom after her character came out as gay.
“We don’t think it is a smart business decision to be advertising in an environment that is so polarized,” a spokeswoman for Chrysler said at the time.
But thanks to the growing bravery and activism of the gay rights movement ― with more and more Americans coming out of the closet ― the culture grew more accepting. And by 2000 ― two years into the successful run of “Will & Grace,” which depicted a gay man living with a straight woman ― the left picked up the mantle of outrage and censorship.
By all accounts, the first target of gay rights activists ― including GLAAD, founded in 1985, and other grassroots players ― was another controversial conservative woman. Dr. Laura Schlessinger, a popular radio host in the 1990s known simply as Dr. Laura, had been spewing rabidly anti-gay comments for years: regularly calling gay men pedophiles, for example, and categorizing homosexuality as deviant and unnatural. She was as popular as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity in her heyday.
But in 2000, Paramount gave her a TV show, which CBS picked up, and all hell broke lose.
SOURCE: The Huffington Post