This AP article appearing in the Christian Science Monitor is an example of a missed opportunity for civic education.
While on Fox and Friends for some reason, Hank Williams Jr. made a comparison related to President Obama involving Hitler. The details of the comparison itself aren’t really that important. Pro tip for anyone near a microphone of some kind: unless your comparison involves a war of aggression, genocide, or other extremely literal comparison of Hitler, just look elsewhere for your metaphors. What if maybe your comparison is apt in some way? Doesn’t matter. Pick someone else in human history for your comparison. (Someone on the Internet suggested, “comparing Obama to Hitler is as ridiculous as comparing Hank Williams Jr. to his much, much more talented father.”)
But, that’s not what this post is about. As a consequence of his choice to use Hitler metaphors on television, ESPN decided to end its business relationship with Hank Jr. They no longer want to use him or his singing to introduce the Monday Night Football broadcast. Hank Jr. responded by saying that ESPN is violating his free speech rights.
“After reading hundreds of e-mails, I have made MY decision,” Williams said in a statement to The Associated Press. “By pulling my opening Oct 3rd, You (ESPN) stepped on the Toes of The First Amendment Freedom of Speech, so therefore Me, My Song, and All My Rowdy Friends are OUT OF HERE. It’s been a great run.”
This, in and of itself, isn’t a huge deal. Lots of people who wrap themselves in the flag don’t actually know much about the country’s founding document. (See, e.g., The Onion: “Area Man Passionate Defender Of What He Imagines Constitution To Be”)
The problem is that the First Amendment precludes government regulation of speech. It does not, contrary to what Hank Jr. seems to assert, guarantee the right to be lucratively compensated by a private entity for appearing on the entity’s television show regardless of what one says in other places.
The second problem is that it would have taken the AP very little space to point out that the First Amendment to the United States Constitution has no bearing on this situation. It would have been a factual observation, requiring no independent opinion, that the AP could have included without using a lot of space. It would have made Hank Jr. look foolish, of course. But that ought not be he AP’s concern. Another option for the AP would have been to not report on Hank Jr.’s mutterings about the Constitution at all.