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Free speech in a fishbowl

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Scott Audette/Reuters

(Read caption) The media surround Dr. K. A. Paul outside of the Dove World Outreach Center following a news conference by pastor Terry Jones in Gainesville, Fla., on Sept. 10 at which Rev. Jones abandoned his threat to burn the Koran.

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Free speech was swell when it was just a few early Americans talking amongst themselves, their flintlocks leaning in the corner as they debated the fine points of the Federalist Papers. Other than the threat of being hauled up for sedition, those were the days. Then along came Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, Larry Flint, the ACLU, 24-hour cable, and the Circus Maximus of the Internet. Not only can anybody say and show anything – and you know what I mean by anything – but people all over the world are tuning in.

Free listening is the flip side of free speech. It is about 200 years younger than the First Amendment. I’d date its birth to 1987, when Moscow stopped jamming the Voice of America and other external broadcasters. Free societies don’t jam. They let the marketplace of ideas decide, as John Stuart Mill said they should. They trust their people, even when they say and do jerky things. North Korea, China, Iran, and a few other countries still don’t allow unfettered
access to the Internet, but most of the world is clicking, watching, and listening.

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