The 2011 winner of the Freedom of Speech Award, handed out by watchdog The Media Institute, is none other than FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell. The Media Institiute explained, “He has fostered free speech by helping consumers expand their communications choices, and by vigorously opposing regulatory policies that would amount to government censorship of media content. The Freedom of Speech Award will recognize his efforts in these areas.”
In remarks delivered as he accepted the award, McDowell steered clear of specifics as they relate to broadcasters, focusing on general speech matters, the history of the Bill of Rights’ origins, and the First Amendment’s prominent location at the head of that list.
He quoted three individuals in wrapping up his talk, two of which were not surprising at all, and one that was very surprising.
“As we leave here tonight,” said McDowell, “I hope you will remember the words of three historic figures. The first is none other than one of the most quotable Americans of all time, Benjamin Franklin. On this topic he wrote, ‘Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech.’”
McDowell continued, “The second is from Senator Warner’s and my fellow Virginian, and my favorite President, my father’s friend, George Washington: ‘If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.’”
Then McDowell dished up his surprise: “The third is from someone I’ve never quoted before, and I may never do so again: ‘When one makes a Revolution, one cannot mark time; one must always go forward – or go back. He who now talks about the ‘freedom of the press’ goes backward, and halts our headlong course towards Socialism.’ That’s Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. Ol’ Vlad, the ultimate statist, apparently was quite serious. And evidently he had read Franklin and Washington.”
McDowell concluded, “We should heed all three of these warnings. Otherwise, by seemingly innocuous increments our freedoms may be led to the slaughter. And don’t be duped. As Rod Smolla can attest, sometimes the act of defending the freedom of speech can be confused with endorsing a terrible message or odious messenger. It is a tortuous dilemma for many to protect the rights of those with whom we disagree profoundly. Yet it is the sacred nature of the First Amendment that this right be for all, including our adversaries. Let us remain eternally vigilant and never take our liberty for granted.”