Thomas Sowell is a black, conservative columnist in the US. He was born in North Carolina, but was raised in Harlem. Leaving home before graduating from high school, he kicked aroudn until he joined the Marine Corp and became a photographer in the Korean War. When he returned he got accepted to Harvard, where he got his undergraduate economics degree. He graduated magna cum laude in 1958, went on to Columbia for a masters and then got a Ph.D from the U of Chicago in 1968.
He worked as an economist before becoming a teacher at prestigious schools like Rutgers, Amherst College, Brandeis, and UCLA. He had a passion for writing as well and has published several books. He enjoys writing columns though because: "writing for the general public enables him to address the heart of issues without the smoke and mirrors that so often accompany academic writing. "
His writings can often be found on the conservative website townhall.com.
He wrote a piece out today on that site here, about another American conservative, Rush Limbaugh. Football fans will probably be familiar with Rush's bid to purchase a part of the St. Louis Rams recently, along with some other folks. Well, Al Sharpton and others (all liberals, mind you) flooded the media with criticism of the man, especially his racial biases against black people. So, why would Thomas Sowell, who looks pretty black to me, be writing in his defence?
The first clue is in the title of the piece "To Sue or Not". But the article starts thus:
To sue or not to sue? That is the question.
After racist statements were made up out of thin air and then attributed to Rush Limbaugh, these were the options he had.
As Sowell recounts, he knows the position that Limbaugh finds himself in. In his own case, others had been fast and loose with the truth, flipping things he said around, and besmirching his otherwise good name with scurrilous lies. Others have even gone to the extreme of putting columns out into the ether and attributing them to him, though they are not written by him and do not hold to what he believes. But, what is a man or woman to do in that case?
As he then goes on to say, when faced with the sue or not choice, he declined due to his own busyness, in part, but also because the chances of a real victory seemed pretty slim. As he points out, a court case puts the lies out there even more than they were before, and if by chance you lose on a technicality, then the liar is off free and clear, justifying themselves and the lies they told in the first place. To sum him up on the topic, the court process is stacked against the victim of the lie campaign.
But his analysis has a key focus area here:
This, of course is not only true of Limbaugh, but of those criticized by lie and innuendo throughout the US and Canada. You may remember how Jennifer Lynch started a campaign of innuendo against her critics this summer, where she misrepresented things that Mark Steyn had said about Pearl Eliadis by a country mile, and misrepresented a death threat she allegedly received, where the so called writer of the threat even got her name wrong, and only said what should be done with her, which was nasty, but hardly threatening. She, of course also misrepresented to the people she preached to, the minor facts of the misbehaviour of her staff when investigating Marc Lemire by joining and posting on Nazi web sites.
The question for the media to answer is: Are lies to go unchallenged when they are lies against someone you disagree with? Worse yet, are they to be excused, rationalized or even repeated?
Already there are people on television saying that, although Rush didn't actually say the things that have been attributed to him, he has said other things that they choose to call "racist."
If those other things really are racist, why don't they quote them, instead of something that was made up out of whole cloth?
The Rush Limbaugh show has, after all, been broadcast for many years, three hours a day. There are thousands of hours of those broadcasts that people can go back through to look for things to quote.
If critics can't find anything racist in all that material, why should an outright lie about what the man said be given a pass?
Anyway, back to Sowell. In his article he quotes the late Senator Daniel Moynihan who said:
"you are entitled to your own opinion but not to your own facts."
True, but the real meat of his column is in his conclusion:
Ultimately, this is not about Rush Limbaugh or anybody else who is smeared with impunity. It is about the whole climate in which issues are discussed.
Without a range of opposing opinions being available to the public, the basic concept of a self-governing democracy is a mockery. If views that some people don't like can be silenced or discredited by character assassination, the whole country loses.
The courts should not be the only line of defense. Common decency should be the first line of defense, so that people who smear others will pay a price in the outrage that their lies should provoke, even among decent people who do not agree with the target of their smears.
His conclusions are telling, and true in our North American societies. Our Canadian HRCs/HRTs are muzzling opposing opinions with "likely to expose to hatred or contempt" which is such a bogus phrase, but also with many of the so called discrimination cases they take on, in the name of hierarchical rights and privileges being given to special groups.
The problem with the "common decency" that Mr. Sowell calls for as a first line of defence is that it has gone the way of "common sense", neither of which are very common anymore.