Joetopia: The freedom to criticize what others have said

jtarica@thetribunenews.comSeptember 29, 2012 

We’ve seen this again and again. Some misguided person inserts an inordinately large foot into his equally oversized mouth — usually purposefully with full faculties intact — and draws howls of outrage from an offended audience.

In response, all sorts of people inevitably leap to the defense, citing a potentially powerful but not necessarily relevant argument.

“It’s called freedom of speech!” they’ll say. “Ever heard of it?”

Unfortunately in these cases, yes — too often.

Our most recent local instance involved the loose-lipped rodeo clown who used the arena in Creston as his stage for a litany of off-color jokes.

But we see this all the time, from crude comments made by blowhards on the radio (like Rush Limbaugh calling Sandra Fluke a “slut”) to intentionally inflammatory expressions generated by overzealous no-names (like that hack of a filmmaker with his anti-Islam hit piece).

Yes, they all have the right to mouth off.

But just because you can say something, doesn’t mean you should.

And it also doesn’t mean you won’t face consequences.

You have the freedom to speak your mind, and we have the freedom to hold you accountable for your foolishness, using whatever social and economic forces that may be appropriate.

Of course, there are extremes that go beyond what even the Constitution will protect.

Hate speech or overt threats, for example, will have a good chance of earning you a ride in a police car.

Whoever’s behind the harassment of Mission Prep athletic director Bailey Brown now has the FBI on their trail and will likely face criminal charges if caught.

Of course, most cases of badly conceived speech don’t rise to this level.

The rodeo clown, Mike Hayhurst, didn’t say anything that would land him behind bars.

But he said more than enough to cause himself all kinds of personal grief.

He’s out of a gig in Creston, and I doubt we’ll see him dodging bulls anywhere else on the Central Coast any time soon.

Even more seriously, he’s now lost his day job as well, having resigned as superintendent of a charter school in Victorville.

This is a heavy price to pay for speaking without thinking.

It’s a sobering lesson for all the aspiring loudmouths out there, as well as those who would defend them: You have a right to say what’s on your mind.

But you’d be smart to mind what you say.

Joe Tarica is the presentation editor for The Tribune. Reach him at

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