SID SALTER: In modern digital crossfire, is it really a free country?



There’s a lot things I see and hear in the media – traditional and digital – that I disagree with. I find a growing amount of it offensive in some way. A little of it actually angers me.

But I think back to what I used to hear my late father say back in the 1960s and 1970s when someone popped off about something he disagreed with: “Well, that’s not for me, but it’s a free country.”

Is that still true? Are we a still a “free country” when it comes to expressing our individual beliefs and opinions? Many believe the jury’s out on that question and from both the left and the right sides of the political spectrum.

Earlier this year, Edward Snowden captured a major spot on the international stage for his leaks revealing U.S. National Security Agency surveillance programs. The Obama administration holds that Snowden’s leaks of potentially thousands of classified and sensitive documents to the media constitute a felony. Critics suggest Snowden’s a traitor and a criminal.

Others say Snowden’s a hero and a champion of free speech and a defender of constitutional rights who exposed the fact that the NSA went too far.

The debate rages online, and the political bedfellows engaged in alternatively defending or indicting Snowden get stranger and stranger.

The same can be said for the digital post mortems on “Duck Dynasty” star Phil Robertson’s unfiltered comments to GQ Magazine. The explosion of reaction, pro and con, to Robertson’s coarse description of his religious beliefs brings to the fore the fact that social media fosters an instant and often frighteningly brutal trial, conviction and execution in the court of public opinion.

Social media also fuels battles of wits that are often fought by philosophical combatants who are woefully unarmed. More than anything else, it provides great catharsis for those who professionally and institutionally offended and for those who don’t care to let the facts interfere with their opinions.

Tiger Woods, Paula Deen, you name it, our society now approaches people’s failings or shortcomings as people approach TV wrestling – we need a hero, we need a heel. More than simply reality TV series, we like reality TV news in which the offending parties must be drawn, quartered, sliced and diced.

We want tearful confessions and we want winners and losers. Part of social media mob mentality is that those who offend must lose something – a title, a contract, fame, fortune, etc. Then, when sufficient time has passed and the mob believes that a sufficient penalty has been exacted, we love a good comeback story as well. Hey, but like my dad used to say, “It’s a free country,” right?

Like I said, there are a lot things I see and hear in the media – traditional and digital – that I disagree with. I find a growing amount of it offensive in some way. A little of it actually angers me.

But social media seems to beckon us to do more. For many, it’s the digital equivalent of the practice of stoning. And the abusive language, the threats, the insults, they’re all safe because the targets of attacks are not really present to defend themselves.

There’s a divide in America that can be defined by a couple of TV shows. One’s “Duck Dynasty” and the other is “Modern Family.” Both have loyal followings, both are wildly popular, both offer different moral and political world views.

I watch and enjoy both shows. But I’ve never lost a minute on Sunday mornings on the pew of the Methodist church and with my own family wondering if my moral compass is appropriately aligned with either Phil Robertson or Eric Stonestreet.

We are responsible, each of us, for our own beliefs and opinions, and in America, there’s no guarantee that those many and varied beliefs will be pleasing, uniform or inoffensive. Some of those beliefs are volatile in some circles and some will carry consequences.

Like the old man said, it’s a free country.

Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at (601) 507-8004 or

Click video to hear audio

  • vechorik

    Some have more freedom of expression than others. You seem to have a platform for getting your opinions across. Many Mississippians are not so lucky. I would count you as being in the privileged class due to your position at MSU and your experience in journalism.


    Comment sections and online forums can be wonderful formats to share experiences and opinions respectfully; they can be a learning experience for all parties involved. Unfortunately, that’s pretty rare, which is a shame.