I Dare Say – Freedom of speech? (11-17-44)

The Pittsburgh Press (November 17, 1944)


Freedom of speech?

By Florence Fisher Parry

How much would you take for the life of your son – or your husband, if you were a bride? A million dollars? Five million? 10 million? You wouldn’t accept it. His life beyond the riches of the world.

The United States Army knows this. At the very moment when it has to send hundreds, thousands of your boys and mine to almost certain death, because it knows they are expendable, because it knows that in order to win its objective – at this very moment, the cause they are fighting for and dying for, the cause of freedom, is being treated shabbily at home.

Now ask any American what he thinks freedom is. He will give you different answers, but answers all to be found in our Declaration of Independence, in our Constitution and our Bill of Rights. And among those answers, freedom of speech looms large.

Americans pride themselves upon their freedom of speech. Even now, as the sound and fury of the presidential campaign subside, the disappointment of millions gives place to good sportsmanship and a really sincere attempt at internal peace. We are displaying to our Allies a wonderful example of what we really mean by freedom of speech.

What better proof, we brag, than that in the midst of war we can conduct a heated political campaign and return instantly when it is over to one united front.


So what happens? Mr. Craig Sheaffer, president of the Sheaffer Pen Company, sponsor of Upton Close on the radio, has been told by the National Broadcasting Company that his company will be denied any further time on its network if he continues to engage as radio commentator, Upton Close.

Yes, my readers, this has happened to a company which has received the Navy “E” for its wonderful production in supplying the men in the Army and Navy with an indispensable gadget. Now it is denied radio advertising on a major network.

Who is this Upton Close? He is not a mountebank or a demagogue. He does not offend the sensibilities of his listeners by vulgarity or trash. He is a recognized scholar; he is a widely traveled observer at home and abroad. He is an American sprung from Americans who have been Americans for many generations. He has drawn a wide and highly intelligent audience; he has been recognized as one of the most highly qualified commentators on the air. His talks have been frank, factual and fearless.

Why, then, this boycott from a major broadcasting company, whose sacred obligation must be protection and maintenance of free speech in America? If we are not to have a free radio, can we long hope to have a free press? If minority opinion is not given as full expression as that of the majority which now rules what, pray, is to become of this Republic and the democratic principles which it is supposed to embody?

New era

This is the first time, I believe, that free speech has been threatened by any such act of a broadcasting company. There have been many instances of timid sponsors not permitting their employed commentators to express opinions which might antagonize potential purchasers of the commodity sponsored. But this was merely business discretion, and in no way imperiled free speech in abstract.

Here is something very different. It is a threat to every free institution in our land. All oppressive measures had a first time. This first time has finally come to radio, the greatest medium of expression human communication has ever known!

It exerts the greatest of all powers in forming opinions in the world today. It reaches into every outpost. Its listeners are legion. It has been the most potent instrument of this war. Without it, Hitler could not have destroyed half the world and plunged the rest into such chaos as will take a hundred years to bring to decent order.

It may not seem important to us today, busy on the little treadmills of our special squirrel cages, that one mere radio commentator, by name of Upton Close, has been the means of his sponsor’s being denied time on the radio. Yet I say that this action on the part of the National Broadcasting Company marks the start of a new era in the history of this Republic.

This theme is familiar if not exactly the same situation we experience today. History repeating itself.

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