I remember writing the below letter to the editor of the Kalamazoo Gazette, but I had not remembered the topic correctly. I found this one in my e-mail archives, dated August 29, 2004. I did get a call from the Gazette while I was on the road in northern Indiana, but this letter was never published.
I’ve read and re-read the words from your editorial titled “Campaigns unfit for human consumption,” hoping there is some mistake, but each time I look the words are still there: “The downside of freedom of speech in this country is that any individual or organization is free to voice its opinions about the government and its leaders.”
That’s not the downside to freedom of speech. That’s the upside. As a newspaper, you’re supposed to be reminding us of that rather than creating an environment conducive to censorship.
George W. Bush has said that the so-called 527 groups like the Swift Boat Veterans should not be allowed to put out their ads. That statement alone shows he is not suited to the role of leader of the free world. How is he going to bring democracy to Iraq if he doesn’t understand how free speech works at home? He’s no more fit to be president than John Kerry, who is using the courts to try to suppress the same ads, and who still hasn’t repudiated his wife’s statement that uncivil discourse in politics is somehow “un-American.”
Whatever happened to the old days when people said, “I may disagree with what you say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it?” You failed on both counts. You failed to say a single word of disagreement that explains why you don’t like the swifties’ ads, and you failed to defend their right to have their say.
Maybe you should mediate on the following quotes from the past, when people still believed in free speech:
“We can never be sure that the opinion we are endeavoring to stifle is a false opinion; and if we were sure, stifling it would be an evil still.” — John Stuart Mill, “On Liberty”
“The fact is that censorship always defeats its own purpose, for it creates, in the end, the kind of society that is incapable of exercising real discretion.” — Henry Steele Commager”
Censorship reflects society’s lack of confidence in itself. It is a hallmark of an authoritarian regime.” — Potter Stewart
“The only sure weapon against bad ideas is better ideas.” — Alfred Whitney Griswold
“A nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.” — John F. Kennedy
John Gorentz (address redacted)
My home phone is xxx-xxx-xxxxand my office number is xxx-xxx-xxxx. However, if you want to contact me about this, I won’t be at either of those. As soon as I click send, I’m heading off on a 2 week bicycle trip. My cell phone is xxx-xxx-xxxx. I often need a chance to find a place to pull over before I can answer.