What’s left to say about the ugly, racist views of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling and the vocal reactions to his comments?
Well, from a First Amendment free expression perspective, several things — some of which may well resonate even longer than Sterling’s repugnant remarks and the lifetime ban imposed on him by Adam Silver, commissioner of the National Basketball Association.
Sterling’s views came to light via a “leaked” audiotape given to a relatively new kind of news media, TMZ.com, which is positioned somewhere between a host of serious news media outlets and a long line of popular and widely read Hollywood gossip columns and magazines.
Not long ago, a digital media outlet like TMZ.com — and online phenoms such as Twitter and Facebook — would not have been able to create the kind of national discussion and rhetorical firestorm that followed the first TMZ.com reports of Sterling’s private-remarks-made-public.
But no longer.
A Pew Research Center’s journalism report on the State of the News Media 2014 found that “digital players have exploded onto the news scene, bringing technological knowhow and new money and luring top talent. BuzzFeed, once scoffed at for content viewed as ‘click bait,’ now has a news staff of 170.
The Sterling incident was yet another example of what the First Amendment’s protection of speech is all about. The amendment restrains government from controlling or punishing most kinds of speech. But nothing in the 45 words shielded the billionaire from public revulsion over his views, suspended endorsement deals, instant campaigns to boycott Clipper tickets and a $2.5 million fine.
The widespread criticism of Sterling echoed earlier public revulsion over negative racial comments by Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who attracted national attention about the same time as Sterling. Welcome to another aspect of free speech protected by the First Amendment: the “marketplace of ideas.”