Free speech: It's not cheap

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I love free speech. I love it more than candy, more than Indiana Jones movies, more than banana splits. I love it more than Larry McMurtry novels, more than Kafka's short stories, more than The Onion. Hell, I love it even more than a fat kid loves cake.

Whoops.

My last comment was, undeniably, in bad taste. Luckily, it is still legal for Fifty Cent to say it, legal for me to repeat it, and legal for Walletpop to print it. Unfortunately, however, there has recently been talk of elevating mockery of fat people into hate crime status.


Over the past few years, commentators, including Barbara D'Souza, have begun arguing that fat jokes are, in fact, a form of hate speech. Presumably, this means that such speech should be punished with the same severity that is applied to hate speech against other groups. If found guilty of it, I could be fired from many jobs and kicked out of numerous organizations. In other countries, including the United Kingdom, Germany, and Canada, I could even be imprisoned for it.

To take this issue from the sublime to the ridiculous, it's worth noting that CNN anchor Jack Cafferty is currently facing a $1.3 billion defamation lawsuit that was brought against him by retired schoolteacher Li Lan Li and beautician Lydia Leung. The two women argue that Cafferty made statements that defamed the Chinese people and are demanding reparations of $1 for every Chinese citizen.

Cafferty is in the hot seat for saying, specifically, that the Chinese are "basically the same bunch of goons and thugs that they've been for the last 50 years," and that America continues to "import their junk with the lead paint on them and the poisoned pet food." In addition to the lawsuit currently pending against Cafferty, these words have already gotten him a demand for an apology from China's foreign minister.

Apart from any questions about the veracity of Cafferty's statement, there is a certain amount of irony in the fact that China, a country that has violently put down dissent and is currently oppressing Tibet, is accusing Cafferty of insensitivity. Moreover, the lawsuit has been brought against him by two people who are clearly enjoying the benefits of America's free speech protections; for them to attack free speech in this way is grimly ironic.

I'm not a fan of racial epithets, ethnic insults, and over-generalizations. Truth be told, I even try to avoid making fun of fat people. That having been said, I dearly appreciate the fact that I have the right to do all these things. I am particularly thankful when I look at countries like China, where dissent is punished with imprisonment or (as in the case of Tiananmen Square) with gunfire. Hopefully, this suit will be thrown out of court. If it is, then maybe the Chinese people (not to mention Ms. Li and Ms. Leung) might learn a lesson that is worth a lot more than $1.3 billion.

Bruce Watson is a freelance writer, blogger, and all-around cheapskate. He once skipped class to watch the Ku Klux Klan exercise their First Amendment right to march through his hometown. He exercised his First Amendment right to loudly mock them.
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