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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.

In Our View: Scott Adams exercises his freedom to speak

The Columbian
Published: March 1, 2023, 6:03am

Scott Adams, author of the comic strip “Dilbert,” has every right to spew racist invective. And newspapers that carry the comic have every right to stop doing so in response to his rant during a YouTube livestream.

That is the extent of the free speech questions regarding the latest social media controversy. It is not about cancel culture, woke culture or the basics of the First Amendment. It is only about an American who spouted his views and companies that have decided to no longer do business with him.

Free speech does not mean speech free from consequences.

The Columbian is one of those companies opting to no longer financially support Adams. In a column that appeared in Tuesday’s paper, Editor Craig Brown wrote: “We talk too much about ‘cancel culture.’ What we need to talk more about is uplifting all voices.”

Hundreds of other newspapers across the country agree, having stopped publication of “Dilbert.” So does Adams’ syndication service, Andrews McMeel Universal, which also severed ties with the cartoonist.

All of this followed comments Adams made during a livestream on his YouTube channel. Echoing popular white supremacist talking points, he said of Black people: “That’s a hate group, and I don’t want to have anything to do with them.” He added some advice to fellow white people: “Just get away. Because there’s no fixing this. . . . You just have to escape.” And he said, “it makes no sense whatsoever as a white citizen of America to try to help Black citizens anymore. . . . It’s no longer a rational impulse.” Various expletives also were included.

Reaction has been swift, as has defense of Adams in some corners. Twitter owner Elon Musk wrote on his social media platform that “the media is racist” against white people. Several studies have shown that hate speech has broadly increased on Twitter since Musk took control of the company last year.

But whether or not one agrees with Adams or agrees with Musk or uses Twitter to spread epithets, the episode is an example of America’s free speech guarantees in action.

Adams is free to share his thoughts about race relations or cartooning or his favorite coffee if he desires, and he remains free to do so. In addition to protections for freedom of religion, freedom of the press, the right of the people to peaceably assemble and the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances, the First Amendment guarantees that “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech.”

The Bill of Rights protects Americans from government suppression of free speech, prohibiting laws that punish even the most outlandish of ideas. There are, indeed, rare exceptions (you can’t yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater or advocate for violence), but Americans may belch whatever comes into their fevered minds while standing on a street corner or sitting in their living room. Yes, even while appearing in a livestream video on YouTube.

This basic right is frequently misunderstood, particularly by those desiring to defend the most offensive of speech. Claims of First Amendment violations frequently are the last refuge of scoundrels.

But what often is overshadowed is the aftermath that can result from offensive speech. Scott Adams is no First Amendment martyr; he is a 65-year-old who has a public platform and used it to share racist views. Now he is suffering the consequences, even as his right to free speech remains sacrosanct.