No one can make a coin that has only one face. A coin will always have an obverse and a reverse. That property of coins has been used in rhetoric innumerable times. Yet among its implications is one that virtually no one has addressed:
If you are free to do X,
You are also free not to do X.
It must be this way. If it isn’t, then what’s been called a “freedom” is in reality a compulsion. Here at Liberty’s Torch, we use words according to their exact meanings. Therefore, freedom of speech must include the freedom not to speak – regardless of who may be listening.
In this light, consider the following:
- The Federal Trade Commission has demanded that Elon Musk release virtually all of Twitter’s post-purchase internal communications. In particular, the FTC wants to know to which journalists Musk has spoken. Why? “Concerns for consumer privacy.”
- Members of Congress have demanded that respected journalists Matt Taibbi and Michael Shellenberger reveal their sources for certain of the stories they’d written about Twitter. Why? No reason given.
- When Taibbi refused to discuss his sources, Representative Stacey Plaskett (D, US Virgin Islands) dismissed him as a “so-called journalist.” The odious Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D, FL) accused him of wanting “to line his pockets.”
Do Musk, Taibbi, and Shellenberger have the right not to speak? To the best of my knowledge, a witness can only be compelled to testify with regard to specific facts at issue in a court of law concerned with a justiciable event. Even then, he can be compelled only if testifying would not make him a witness against himself, as guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment.
Which makes me hope that these gentlemen will remain staunch and refuse to disclose what has been demanded of them. Indeed, I’d love to see an exchange such as this:
Congressvermin: Mr. Musk, name the reporters and journalists to whom you’ve given these supposed files.
Elon Musk: Why do you want to know?
Congressvermin: We’re concerned with the protection of consumer privacy.
Musk: Then no.
Musk: That’s not a good enough reason to violate my privacy…or theirs.
I’d hope that Elon Musk is tough-minded enough to say exactly that, without hemming, hawing, or clothing his refusal in “due respect” language. (Among other things, the amount of respect due a man who’s trying to violate your rights is zero.)
It’s been a while since a witness called before a Congressional committee has exhibited anything like strength of character. Ironically, the only name that comes to mind at the moment is one the media have done their best to blacken: that of G. Gordon Liddy:
Senator Sam Ervin: Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?
G. Gordon Liddy: No.
Think what you will of Liddy; that took balls. Not many who appear before Congress have possessed them. The fear that comes from being called to appear before a Congressional committee chills all but the stoutest hearts. But why? Don’t we have rights? Do we lack the means with which to defend them…or the will?
It’s become the imperative of our place and time that we stand to defense of those rights, in both their positive and negative expressions. A right that goes unexercised and undefended will cease to exist. If we yield to pressure to speak when we prefer not to speak, we will soon be silenced when we are impelled to speak. You cannot have a coin with only one face.
Have a nice day.