I think a big threat to free speech that the above commentors missed is this: career building self-censorship. You may have ideas that you want to express, but you’re going through tenure, or fear a potential employer won’t like them, or you want to be on the Supreme Court someday, and so you don’t say what you really think.
And, of course, Breibart’s response is (predictably) lame and partisan. All his political and religious correctness worries go one way.
Four others issues problematic to contemporary free speech that I’d highlight are these:
- Cowardice in the face of jihadi fanatics and know-nothings. I’m thinking of Salmon Rushdie and the Islamic prohibition on making images of Muhammad.
- The “medium is the message” factor in free speech (or, at least, quality extended speech). Electronic media generally favor the soundbite and this creates problems for one’s ability to communicate complexity in certain media, or engage in real, sustained, and vulnerable dialogue with those who disagree with you.
- The pay-to-play factor in speech. In media outlets like television, money hugely favors establishment politicians and corporations against individuals.
- Politicians and corporations hiding behind soundbite culture. As such, they never really expose themselves to free speech venues where sustained criticism can play themselves out. I’m thinking of Sarah Palin’s media management bubble as an obvious example. The libertarian response to this is that you have a right to speak, but not a right to be heard or to force people into greater public and unmanaged exposure. Maybe so. But isn’t it depressing that so much contemporary media function most naturally in cycles of public relations spin (as opposed to unguarded debate, dialogue, and sustained analysis)?