Intolerating Willamette Week

You can spot the first mistake Willamette Week reporter James Pitkin made in the subtitle to his article: “The Anti-Protester: WW tests the limits of Portland’s tolerance by sending a reporter posed as a war supporter to last week’s antiwar rally.”

Pitkin posed as a war supporter to “see what happens to those who don’t parrot the popular line” in “a town that claims to believe in free speech.” That was his second mistake.

First off, being willing to protest the war in Iraq doesn’t make you some sort of all-welcoming, accepting lump. There are a sizable number of Iraq war veterans involved in anti-war protests across the country at this point, as well as veterans of previous wars and other eras. I don’t think they’re necessarily non-combative by nature.

Veterans (and families of dead soldiers like Casey Sheehan and Pat Tillman) aside, participating in non-violent protest doesn’t mean someone’s tolerant — I’m certainly not — or peaceful. I’m rather angry about the stupidity of people who’ve supported the war. I’d be happy to yell at an idiot like Pitkin even if he was just playing the part. Hell, I’d be happy to yell at him for playing the part.

Because (second) Pitkin makes the same assumption as people like Rush Limbaugh that “free speech” means uncontested speech. Like Limbaugh, Pitkin assumes that he should be able to say whatever he wants, whenever he wants, to whomever he wants, without consequence. Someone arguing with them or calling them names in response to their free speech is seen not as an exercise of someone else’s free speech but as an abridgment of their own.

That’s not what free speech means, though. You’d think that a reporter would know better. Antiwar protestors certainly do. If Pitkin’s as thin-skinned as he seems to be, perhaps he should find a different line of work, although he’d fit in well with pundits on the right who can dish it out but can’t take it.

UPDATE: I do have to wonder what Pitkin — ostensibly a wordsmith of some sort — thinks the term “protest” means. In most references, it’s a synonym for dissent, complaint, objection, and disapproval. How unaware of the meaning of a common English word do you have to be to wander into a crowd of people expressing dissent and disapproval and expect them to accept you without criticism?