Richard Sandomir offers us a truly remarkable bit of weaselly reporting — he really takes contrived “balance” to brave new heights with this one…

ESPN said Thursday that it was its decision to end a long association with Williams, but he disputed that on his Web site: “After reading hundreds of e-mails, I have made my decision. By pulling my opening Oct. 3, you (ESPN) stepped on the toes of the First Amendment freedom of speech, so therefore me, my song and all my rowdy friends are out of here. It’s been a great run.”

Williams may not be right about his First Amendment rights being violated

But, really, who are we to say? Maybe the First Amendment does guarantee right-wing country singers the right to a TV contract. Perhaps the right to say offensive shit without people taking offense is enshrined in our Constitution. Who knows? It’s super-complicated!

This only gets better, because Sandomir, rather than, say, reading the 45 words of the First Amendment to determine if it pertains to “Congress” or “Sports Networks,” seeks out an expert opinion, and boy does he find a good one.

Bruce W. Sanford, a First Amendment expert at the law firm Baker Hostetler, said he “wouldn’t pounce too hard on him for not being a constitutional lawyer.”

“He seems to be saying that ESPN is discouraging his freedom of speech, which it certainly is,” Sanford said. “But it is entitled to do so as a private company which does not have to use a tone-deaf politico to sing into its kickoffs.”

Now, I don’t know if Bruce W. Sanford is the dumbest First Amendment expert in the country or, as I suspect, Sandomir used a quote that makes him seem that way. But I do know that statement is incoherent — in order for ESPN to ‘discourage his freedom of speech,’ the network would have to encourage the government to limit it. As far as it goes, I’m sure the network is quite happy that Williams is free to say whatever he wants, no matter how moronic or whiskey-drenched it might be. They’re not happy to associate their brand with that speech, however, which has absolutely nothing in the world to do with anyone’s “rights.”

The funny thing is that this “balance” may well be a product of the right’s decades-long campaign to paint the New York Times as hopelessly biased to the left — you know, they’re exercising an abundance of caution — but it’s never going to change anyone’s mind.

[HT: Oliver Willis]

About the Author

Joshua Holland

I write for AlterNet. I've written a book, The 15 Biggest Lies About the Economy, which I recommend. You might also consider following me on Twitter.

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