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Be Careful What Gets Stifled

After last month’s terrorism, Dan Guthrie, a columnist for the Grants Pass (Ore.) Daily Courier, accused President Bush of “hiding in a Nebraska hole” instead of immediately returning to Washington. Guthrie’s publisher fired him.

In a column for the Texas City (Texas) Sun, Tom Gutting wrote that Bush “was flying around the country like a scared child seeking refuge in his mother’s bed after having a nightmare.” Gutting too was canned.

Talk show host Bill Maher got into hot water by saying that the hijackers were not cowardly but that the United States was, for launching cruise missiles at far-off targets. Some sponsors of Maher’s show abruptly peeled away.

Ari Fleischer, the White House press secretary, denounced Maher, ominously warning that in times like these, “people have to watch what they say and watch what they do.” Earlier, it was Fleischer who, in reaction to criticism of how long it took Bush to get back to Washington on Sept. 11, announced that Air Force One had been threatened by terrorists--apparently a lie.

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If this nation is indeed at war, this time we’re not fighting to defend oil supplies or human rights abroad. This time, we’re fighting to defend our democracy and the principles embodied in our Constitution. Foremost among those is the extraordinary freedom that Americans have to say what they think. That liberty set this nation apart 200 years ago and has allowed it to endure. Without it, as Idaho’s William Borah told his Senate colleagues in 1917, “it makes no difference under what form of government you live, you are a subject, not a citizen.”

Advertisers and publishers have a right to express themselves via their checkbooks. But now is not the time to limit debate. This nation is in for a long struggle against deadly foes. The freedom to speak one’s mind about how the government is waging that battle must not become a casualty.


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