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September 13th, 2012
04:59 PM ET

Letters to the President #1333: 'What did I say?'

Reporter's Note: I write to President Obama all the time. Hey, it’s a free country.

Dear Mr. President,

For starters, let me say that I am not certain all this uproar overseas is about that bad movie. I realize it may be offensive to some Muslims, but much of this has the smack of opportunism about it; like some of these folks have had a chip on their shoulder about us for some time and this is just the latest excuse to storm the embassies.

I’m not making light of it. The consequences, as you and I both know, are already too dire for anyone to act as if this is not serious business. But I think we need to tread two paths here. The first: We need to recognize that indeed some people were upset by this film. The second: That is a good excuse for others who are upset over other things.

Since I’m not sure what to do about the second, I want to talk about the first.

A friend of mine suggested an idea to me years ago; that living in a free society means being offended now and then. His logic: If we are free to say whatever we wish, others are too, and occasionally they’re going to let loose with something that we don’t like. Fair enough. I’ve taken that lesson to heart and it has helped me whenever I’ve been cornered at a party listening to someone say something patently offensive like, oh say, “Boy, that Nicolas Cage can really act!”

At one point in my life I would have probably punched the speaker in the nose, but now I smile benignly, sip my Diet Dr. Pepper, and say, “I think they have crab puffs in the kitchen. I’m going to look.”

But not everyone in the world sees it that way. Indeed, free speech is a remarkably threatening concept in some places; a potential affront to all they consider proper, decent, and sacred. That said, I don’t think that we should change our views of free speech. I think America is made stronger by Americans saying what they think. As long as the speech is not directly inciting violence, it is good for us even if some of us find it offensive. But as the world is made smaller by international trade, travel, and the Internet, I suspect a lot more of us need to be more aware of the consequences.

As my teachers taught me when I was a smart-mouthed kid in Junior High, just because you can say anything you wish, doesn’t always make it wise.

Hope all is well with you. Call if you can.

Regards,
Tom

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