What ABC could — and should — have said

Draft ABC press release — full-page ads in all print media; also release to all online news outlets (alternate universe):

New York, NY – June 1, 2018.

To all our advertisers, our staff, our viewers, and all the citizens of our great and FREE country….

We at ABC have experienced a firestorm of criticism for the on-line behavior of Roseanne Barr. To those who are apoplectic with politically-correct rage, we say: calm down.

We will not fire Roseanne or cancel her show over her behavior outside the workplace.

As offensive as her tweet was, it was just words. I repeat: just words.

There are nine categories of speech not protected by the First Amendment. Some are reasonable — slander, threats – because they can result in real-world damage.

But two categories do not belong. One is obscenity, almost impossible to define. The other is fighting words.

Fighting words are, as first defined by the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) in Chaplinsky v New Hampshire, 315 U.S. 568 (1942), words which “by their very utterance, inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace. It has been well observed that such utterances are no essential part of any exposition of ideas, and are of such slight social value as a step to truth that any benefit that may be derived from them is clearly outweighed by the social interest in order and morality.”

Racial and ethnic slurs have historically been considered fighting words.

But the Supreme Court utterly fails to define fighting words.

The second half of the legal decision is meaningless. Fighting words have “slight social value as a step to truth”?

Our language has over a million words. Who’s going to decide which ones have enough “social value?”

Furthermore, there is no list. How do we know which words to avoid?

But most importantly – and this fact weighed heavily in our decision about Roseanne – words themselves have no power. “Utterances” cannot “inflict injury.” They do not “incite an immediate breach of the peace.” People give them the power to do all this.

We know it is in some people’s interest to vastly multiply the number of offensive terms, to deliberately take offense, and then to inflict punishment on the offender, in an endless cycle of outrage and guilt. We refuse to become an actor in that drama.
Besides, comedians are constantly stretching the boundaries of what they can say. I thought we all understood that.

To cancel Roseanne would be a seriously costly move, one that would affect our profitability, and thus our fiduciary obligation to our investors.

More importantly (because I know this alternative will also be costly, as sponsors abandon us), canceling Roseanne would send exactly the wrong message: that we are so terrified of causing offense, we will do anything to avoid it, even forfeit millions of dollars and throw people out of work over – and again I emphasize – non-workplace verbal behavior.

It is up to us as a society to realize that they are just words, that some words are meant to cause offense – and then we deprive them of their power. Roll your eyes or even laugh at Roseanne’s juvenile joke – and then move on. Surely you have more important things to do.

If we cannot do this, political correctness will keep us in its grasp – and fuel endless division and conflict in our great nation.

We at ABC are dedicated to freedom of speech. We will not be cowed by made-up and constantly stoked fury – over…mere words.

[signed by CEO and top corporate officers and lawyers]