MATTHEW BOOSE: Samantha Bee shows that free speech isn’t fair speech

June 8, 2018

MATTHEW BOOSE: Samantha Bee shows that free speech isn’t fair speech

Many conservatives have complained that comedian Samantha Bee, who called Ivanka Trump a “feckless c***” on national TV, has not faced the same consequences as Roseanne Barr, who lost her TV show for making a racist tweet.

To many, it looks like Bee got off easy thanks to a liberal double standard.

But this double standard only exists because liberals can afford to be offensive. 

After initially making a brief apology, Bee then walked back her apology on air with a tongue-in-cheek dig at Trump and the immigration policy that motivated her to insult Ivanka in the first place.

“I would do anything to help those kids. I hate that this distracted from them,” Bee said. “So, to them, I am also sorry.”

A half-hearted apology is not really an apology. Bee isn’t sorry.

To the contrary, in fact — she seems smug. Why does she feel so safe walking it back?

When a conservative is targeted, there’s no room for mealy-mouthed talk. Penance must be clear, swift, and abject.

Not so with liberals. Bee feels safe because she is safe.

While Bee did lose some advertisers — a consequence until now suffered mostly by conservatives like Laura Ingraham — she still has her show. The advertisers can come back when the controversy blows over.

And while she has faced some toothless criticism from fellow liberals, the odds are good that Bee will recover.

Bee is safe because the media has her back. The same can’t be said of Roseanne, who can be credited with moving the entertainment industry to briefly and begrudgingly acknowledge that Trump supporters are actual people.

Why is it okay for Barr to lose her job, while Bee keeps hers?

It’s not fair, and it’s not supposed to be. To complain about the double standard privileging liberals is to acknowledge that conservatives are not treated equally in the public space.

Liberals often trivialize conservative ideas by arguing that freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences. They used this line when engineer James Damore was fired from Google over his controversial memo about differences in treatment between the sexes.

The same liberals who cheered Damore’s firing are now complaining about NFL players getting punished for kneeling.

It’s convenient for liberals to argue that free speech does not guarantee freedom from consequences because, generally, the consequences for liberals are trivial.  

The consequences are trivial because their ideas have the backing of the institutions that control our culture.

Liberals are not losing jobs and friends over their ideas like conservatives are. If anything, endorsing progressive ideas is necessary to get ahead in many industries, especially entertainment.

Trying to convince liberals that Bee deserves the same punishment is an exercise in futility, because their idea of the double standard is defined by what works to their advantage.

The notion of a “double standard” suggests that both sides of the political spectrum deserve a fair hearing, but in practice, liberals and conservatives have different ideas of what “the double standard” actually means.

For liberals, it’s a double standard for Trump to ignore Barr’s offense while saying that Bee has “no talent.” When conservatives complain that Bee was privileged by a double standard, liberals say that Bee did not benefit from any double standard, because Barr’s offense was worse.

At the bottom of all of this talk about double standards are conflicting assumptions about what fair and just speech is. In a very religious society, some speech, like blasphemy, is considered bad and, therefore, is not allowed.

The left’s idea of fair speech is defined by their own ideology. You can say anything, as long as it isn’t racist or bigoted.

Of course, racist tweets are beyond the pale. But the left reacts to racism and the pro-life position with equal fury.

They limit speech to only those statements that endorse the ideas they decide are good, like abortion.

The free speech standard sets everything at neutral, but this neutral setting is only surface deep. Recently, many conservatives have felt pressured to go against free market orthodoxy and push to regulate big tech corporations like Google and Facebook because of liberal bias on these platforms.

In the game of free speech, whoever has more clout wins. In football, it’s the league. On Facebook, Twitter, university campuses, the media, and most public spaces these days, it’s the left.

Free speech is not fair speech. The left owns entertainment. There was never a chance that Bee and Barr would have received the same punishment.

The NFL protest is a rare exception to the rule. The left conveniently forgets about the consequences of speech argument when they’re talking about NFL players because the football field is one of the few spaces where conservatives have the upper hand right now.

In most cases though, an appeal to the consequences of speech is a way for the left to coerce conservatives into silence. Eventually, leftists will not need to grand-stand about the consequences of speech if conservative speech is silenced at the outset, either through fear of ruinous consequences or outright censorship.

The Samantha Bee scandal shows that the idea of free speech alone is not enough to ensure that speech is regulated fairly. There can be no guarantee that conservatives get treated equally when the public space is controlled by the left and their sensibilities.

Without power, the future for conservatives will be one of steady marginalization. A flimsy appeal to the notion of free speech won’t protect their livelihoods.


Matthew Boose

Matthew Boose is a staff writer for Conservative Institute. He has a Bachelor's degree from Stony Brook University and has contributed to The Daily Caller and The Stony Brook Press.