It seems the Land of the Free is not what it used to be. While you can say virtually anything about a US president, freedom of speech does not seem to apply to some other topics in America.
That is according to some American celebrities who have been forced to publicly eat humble pie for voicing their views.
An American icon – legendary singer, World War II veteran and pacifist, Tony Bennett – has come under fire for speaking his mind on a radio talk show.
He said America’s actions abroad have provoked terror.
“Who are the terrorists? Are we the terrorists, or are they the terrorists? Two wrongs don’t make a right,” Bennett said.
Tony Bennett was attacked afterwards with stinging criticism from some quarters – before going to great lengths to apologize to those his remarks may have offended.
“I am sorry if my statements suggested anything other than an expression of my love for my country,” he said.
America calls itself the Land of the Free. But some are asking why a living legend like Tony Bennett has to apologize for his thoughts.
“There is no tolerance really for any deviation from the official line, even though here in America we are very proud of freedom of speech, and the right to speak is considered holy, except if you say the wrong things,” says journalist and television producer Danny Schechter. “You can get in trouble and many artists have, musicians have. Now, Tony Bennett is being questioned.”
Freedom of speech proved no defense in protecting the jobs of a number of public figures in America, sacked after comments that appeared to challenge conventional US establishment views.
After journalist Helen Thomas, who had been a White House reporter for over half a century, said Israelis should leave land they had taken from Palestinians, she was forced to resign, and afterwards apologized. She says that criticism of Israel is a no-go area in America.
“Everybody is being fired for what they say these days,” she says. “Not if you say anything about the president of the United States, you can call him anything you want. But you can’t say anything about Israel – that automatically makes you anti-Semitic.”
CNN’s former senior editor of Middle East affairs, Octavia Nasr, was sacked a year ago because of a Tweet.
She wrote about her respect for a Lebanese cleric who at one time had been seen as the spiritual leader of the Hezbollah, but had later broken ties with them. Nasr also apologized, but was promptly pushed out of the US mainstream media.
Chris Chambers, journalism professor at Georgetown University, believes that freedom of speech comes with consequences.
“It is all about consequences, social and economic,” he said. “Just pressure rather than real censorship.”
Politicians expressing ideas against the establishment view come under fire too, like Congressman Ron Paul who is running for president.
“This whole idea that they’re attacking us because we are free and prosperous, that is just not true,” Ron Paul said. “Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda have been explicit. They wrote and said – ‘we attacked America, because you had bases on our holy land in Saudi Arabia, you do not give Palestinians fair treatment, and you have been bombing…’ We have been bombing and killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis for ten years. Would you be annoyed? If you are not annoyed then there is some problem.”
Ron Paul was booed and labeled unpatriotic by some, just like Tony Bennett was, when he spoke his mind.
It is not so much about what these people said that caused them to be booed at or even fired from their jobs. It is rather about the fact that in a country that prides itself on freedom of speech – that freedom often comes at a hefty price.