Industry honors don’t get bigger than this. Every year at their convention in New York City, talk radio’s premiere industry publication, TALKERS Magazine awards the “Gene Burns Memorial Award for Freedom of Speech”, which prior to Burns’ death in 2013 was called the “Freedom of Speech Award”. Burns was the award’s first recipient in 1988 and I’m extremely honored to be its recipient this year of 2022.
TALKERS has stated their prestigious award is given to broadcasters who “have demonstrated through their words, deeds and courage the First Amendment in action, its purpose and how it operates.” Past recipients include Rush Limbaugh, Howard Stern, Sean Hannity, Thom Hartmann, G. Gordon Liddy, Al Franken, Glenn Beck, Matt Drudge, and more. There’s no doubt that the hosts of Free Talk Live, the country’s only syndicated libertarian radio show, are dedicated to freedom, especially the freedom of speech. While I am the founder of the show, all of our co-hosts share the same philosophy. I’m super grateful to the people at TALKERS for this award.
In any normal year, I’d be attending the TALKERS convention in NYC to accept the award in person. This year however, I’m currently on highly restrictive bail conditions as I await trial in the Crypto Six case. Unless I can get the prosecution to agree to let me attend, I’m stuck at home. Thankfully, Mark Edge will be there to accept the award in my stead. Would I have been able to speak, I’d have said something like this:
I’m grateful to Michael, Kevin, and the rest of TALKERS Magazine’s staff for presenting me with the Freedom of Speech Award. Every year we gather here in New York City and gratitude is often expressed that as an industry, we are free to share our opinions on the radio. However, is it really true that we have free speech? Or, is it simply that most talk radio hosts have opinions that are within an acceptable range?
Free speech is in jeopardy in the United States. No, I don’t mean the targeting of conservatives on social media platforms. Though disturbing, those online platforms are private property and companies can run them how they wish. I’m talking about journalists who are and have been targeted criminally. How many of us in talk media are paying attention to these canaries-in-the-coal-mine, let alone openly supporting them?
How many of you covered the story of Barret Brown? He’s the journalist and vocal supporter of Anonymous who was charged federally for sharing a link to hacked emails from intelligence contractor Stratfor. After spending 63 months in prison, while still in a halfway house, Brown was wrongfully arrested again for conducting media interviews without permission from the Bureau of Prisons.
What about Julian Assange? He’s facing 170 years in federal prison for reporting the truth about the US Military. However, many on both the left and the right have cheered his imprisoning, as one piece of the truth Assange revealed embarrassed the US Military by showing footage of a helicopter crew shooting innocent people to death. If you say you support free speech, but then make an exception for state secrets, you’re not for free speech, you’re for the status quo.
Last year, my studio and the homes of some of my co-hosts were raided, ostensibly for victimless financial “crimes”, but we suspect the real reason is to target us for being libertarian activists who are super-critical of the government. Later in 2021, Project Veritas’ founder and some of his journalists’ homes were also raided, though no charges have yet been brought against them. It’s pretty clear they are being targeted by the FBI for effectively using their right to free speech and for being free press.
The first amendment exists to protect unpopular speech, as popular speech needs no protection. However the amendment does not function on its own. Supporting free speech means standing up and speaking out when there’s injustice against those engaging in speech, even if you disagree with the content. It’s bad enough to be silent as someone’s speech is trampled, but if you find yourself cheering on their prosecution and imprisonment, you are part of the problem.
I’m reminded of the old post-world-war two poem by Pastor Martin Niemoller, but with updated wording:
First they came for the Nazis, but I did not speak up, because I’m not a Nazi.
Then they came for the corporate leakers, but I did not speak up, because I work for a corporation.
Then they came for the government whistleblowers, but I did not speak up, because I’m blinded by nationalism.
Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.
Thank you for listening.