Voltaire once said, "I may disagree with what you have to say, but I shall defend to the death your right to say it." Freedom of speech is important for dialogue and information. For centuries, people have been defending and fighting for their right to say anything they want. With the growing number of countries supporting free speech, more opinions and ideas are being expressed than ever. Still, it begs the question: Just because you can say anything, should you?
D.C. political blog Wonkette is trying to figure out the answer after putting up a controversial post. In it, writer Jack Steuf mocked former Alaska governor Sarah Palin's son, Trig. Specifically, Steuf made jokes and comments about the three-year-old's Down Syndrome. As a result, he has gained the wrath of both Palin supporters and supporters of the rights of special needs children.
Comments in the post distressed many readers. At one point, Steuf wrote, "What's he dreaming about? Nothing. He's retarded." Critics spoke up shortly afterwards. NewsBusters' Noel Sheppard called the post "disgraceful." Mediaite's Tommy Christopher said it was "the most irredeemably vile, unfunny thing [he'd] ever seen."
Some writers tried to contact Wonkette editor Ken Layne about the post. Christopher, the father of two special needs children, had an email argument with him. Slate's David Weigel, who had written twice about the post, also disputed with Layne via email. Layne maintained that the piece was intended to mock Palin's use of her son as a political prop, but both Weigel and Christopher took issue with the direct attack on Trip himself. Christopher said to Layne, "You and Jack think your satirical point redeems the vile child-fucking and retard jokes, I disagree."
Some advertisers agreed with Weigel and Christopher. After a large and ongoing Twitter campaign, Politico reported that at least nine companies intended to stop advertising on the site. Boycotters include Papa Johns, Huggies, and Nordstrom.
Wonkette finally decided to remove the post, saying, "A post on this page satirizing Sarah Palin using her baby as a political prop was very badly done and sounded like the author was mocking the child and not just Sarah Palin/Sarah Palin's followers.
"The writer, Jack Stuef, has apologized for it. And we have decided to remove the post as requested by some people who have nothing to do with Sarah Palin, but who do have an interest in the cause of special needs children. We apologize for the poor comedic judgment."
Comments on the post have been disabled, and Steuf has been put on probation.