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How Much Free Speech Can We Afford As People Die from Covid-19?

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Free speech = reason = progress
Free speech = reason = progress
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As the Delta variant spreads, even more people will get infected, enter the hospital, and die. This may put even more pressure on writers, journalists, editors, and publishers to keep articles within what they deem to be acceptable limits. Honest people, serious people who are not playing political games to advance a short-term political goal, may be shut out of the discussion because their research and views raise questions about or contradict the conventional wisdom put forward by mainstream experts.

My simple insight, expressed in the above paragraph, has led me to raise this question: How much free speech can publishers allow as people die? I think editors and publishers who block certain writers or articles after careful review are brave to this extent. The editorial decision-makers may know that less people will read their publications, which can result in less money coming in. In short, there are editors and publishers who are willing to pay the price of their convictions. I give props to them because it is so hard these days to find people who demonstrate courage. In our aggressively capitalistic culture, it is equally rare to find people who will pay a financial price to stand by their convictions.

Having given these props, I want to circle back to my strong support for free speech and free press. This is a complex matter because legal scholars assert that the Constitution protects us from governmental suppression, not the suppression that occurs in private enterprise as practiced by editors and publishers.

Still, I think our understanding of free speech and free press has changed over time. Many Americans want to see strong, varied articles of reporting and opinion, even articles and opinions that upset the powerful or the experts, even articles that fly in the face of what may be true, to the best of our ability to establish truth as we confront an ongoing pandemic.

The fact that my article, "Fierce Debate Continues Over Issues Related to Covid-19," got more than 100 comments tells me there is a thirst out there for serious, honest people, not political players, to have their say. Therefore, I wonder if there is a way for editors and publishers to make space for these thought outcasts.

Something from the past may provide an answer. When I was young, 60 Minutes used to run a popular segment called Point/Counterpoint. Would a free exchange of ideas from more than one perspective work in an age when people are dying around the world from Covid-19? Could serious publications print conflicting views, right next to each other? In short, could publishers dare to let readers decide between the conflicting reporting and opinions? Or is the threat from the pandemic so profound that we must limit comment, even from sincere people who think rigorously?

Ultimately, I don't envy the decisions editors and publishers must make. They must live with their calls as their neighbors get sick, enter the hospital, and die. Now, more than ever, editorial decision-making carries great risk because the Delta variant is such a potent enemy of the people. And it can't be easy to determine who is a credible source for news and opinion from the community of writers and critics who have become thought outcasts.

They are outcasts because death is a final result. They are also outcasts because many of us have decided to believe the mainstream experts who share their evidence with us. Their evidence says that they are right, that vaccination is the way to escape the death that grips the world now.

I don't know if I have enough insight to sort through the sincere disagreement that exists between the establishment and the outcasts as people die. I'm not sure if it is easy to tell the difference between objectors of conscience and political opportunists. And I don't know if people in editorial positions always have the wisdom to decide how much credence, if any, to give to people who voice dissent when life and death stare us in the face.

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Steve Schneider lives in Florida. He writes articles for Humor Times and Democracy Chronicles.

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