After a dozen years working with the Howard Stern Show — the side savaged by the FCC and hit with million-dollar fines — I have firm opinions about censorship and the First Amendment. I am against almost all suppression of expression.

Freedom of expression was where I used to find myself lining up with liberals, such as Norman Lear and the ACLU. That was before Donald Trump won the presidency. 

Obviously, the only way Trump could have won was with Russian disinformation. Wait, make that Russian collusion! Democrats nodded in unison.

A few hundred Facebook ads, well-placed Tweets, and YouTube videos containing disinformation became existential threats to democracy. Suddenly liberals found social media had become dangerous. It was a mistake they would not allow again.

Independent journalist Matt Taibbi revealed a lot over the past week. Twitter has been censoring users and voices inconsistent with the ideas of the prior management team. Liberals denied that Twitter was censoring conservatives, who knew it was true.

As suspected, Twitter acted internally to benefit Joe Biden and the detriment of Donald Trump as much as possible. The more the media tells us there’s “nothing to see here,” the more ridiculous it looks. 

READ MORE — Andy Bloom: The story of Grifter Joe

We already knew that the FBI warned Facebook to be vigilant in looking for “Russian propaganda” (similar to what happened in 2016), Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg told Joe Rogan in August. Those warnings led to the suppression of the Hunter Biden laptop story during the campaign. Again, the media pretends it’s a nothing-burger about Hunter’s appendage when it’s about the “Big Guy.”

We didn’t know the FBI had regular weekly meetings with the social media platforms to advise them on what content to filter.

If the idea of Russia meddling in U.S. elections is troubling, the notion of the FBI interfering in elections is cause to be apoplectic. That’s a page from the KGB, Gestapo, or Stasi playbook. 

A government agency interfering with media content and pressuring — the FBI doesn’t “suggest” — what should or should not be posted, printed, or broadcast violates the First Amendment. Yes, the FCC has regulatory authority over broadcast airwaves, but it still cannot tell a news organization which topics to select.

Enter Elon Musk. A few years ago, Musk was one of the loudest voices calling for the end of the internal combustion engine. Owning a Tesla was a virtue signal. Today he calls freedom of expression “a battle for the future of civilization.” For this crusade, people who once supported free speech and admired Musk put him on a level previously reserved exclusively for Trump.

Musk promised to free Twitter from the shackles of “content moderation,” a.k.a. censorship. Liberals learned in 2016 that too much freedom of speech is dangerous. They will not let Musk get away with allowing “dangerous people” to speak freely. 

What’s really happening is liberals lamenting their loss of control in Musk’s new world order.

Even the news media has discovered they are in favor of censorship. 

In a “pinch me, I’m dreaming” moment, Reuters correspondent Andrea Shalal asked press secretary Karin Jean-Pierre if the White House was concerned that Twitter was becoming a “vector of misinformation.” She continued asking what tools they had to use against it and who was keeping track of it, rather than if the president was for censorship.

Shalal and Jean-Pierre imagined two dangers. The first is “misinformation.” The question is, what exactly is misinformation?

You may think you know misinformation when you hear it, but sometimes the truth is elusive. CNN and MSNBC went full-time with the Russian collusion story. Former FBI director Robert Mueller and a team of lawyers spent eighteen months and $35 million looking for criminal collusion. They put people in jail for process crimes and other offenses unrelated to the 2016 election. Outgoing House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff said he had proof of this plot. 

Well, there’s yet to be one conviction for the actual crime. I know liberals are sure it happened. They’ll even point to Mueller’s report and say, “SEE!” Still, it is over six years past when this collusion allegedly happened, with massive resources dedicated to getting Trump. Yet nobody has been convicted or even indicted for collusion. The New York Times and Washington Post won Pulitzer Prizes for reporting a story that wasn’t true. Talk about misinformation!

Here’s the absolute truth: one person’s misinformation is another’s gospel. Most of the time, the truth lies somewhere in between.

How will small-minded people ever figure out the truth without Big Brother telling them? Musk thinks we can determine it ourselves. Based on the results of the 2022 midterm elections, you might think liberals would understand; the majority knows the truth.

Jean-Pierre provided the second boogeyman by saying that the White House was monitoring Twitter. She added that “hate speech” will not be tolerated.

She is wrong.

In the United States, permitting speech that may be repugnant is part of the covenant in the First Amendment. The only thing more dangerous than freedom of expression is censoring it — including what we disagree with and find objectionable. 

In the years I worked with the Howard Stern Show, some of the most challenging days were when he played “Guess Who’s the Jew,” or had Daniel Carver, the former KKK Grand Dragon, on the show. Carver said some of the nastiest, crudest, and most racist invective on either side of the Mason-Dixon line, and he wasn’t joking. 

I believe Stern understood that by having Carver on, he showed him to be the ignorant, uneducated jackass he was. He was much less scary after Howard (Jewish) and Robin (African American) stood toe-to-toe with him and pushed back. Somewhere along the line, I think — I don’t know, that even Carver had to stop hating, at least as much, and started doing it as an act. But I’ve never met the man or spoken to Stern about him.

Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once said, “Sunshine is the best disinfectant.” During the time I observed Stern from the program director’s chair, that’s what I saw when I wasn’t laughing at the humor. 

Many countries in the European Union have laws against “hate speech.” One of the hallmarks of American exceptionalism is that when we say “free speech,” we include the problematic kind, the type that most people don’t like.

Here’s the absolute truth: one person’s misinformation is another’s gospel. Most of the time, the truth lies somewhere in between.

The United States Supreme Court has upheld so-called hate speech as protected under the First Amendment in cases dating back to the 1960s. Some of the most significant include:

The New York Times v. Sullivan (1964): In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court found that criticism of the government, and public officials, even if vehement, caustic, or unpleasant, is at the core of American rights to freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969): Clarence Brandenburg led a KKK rally. Men in robes and hoods, some carrying firearms, burned a cross and made anti-Semitic and anti-Black remarks. He also suggested violence against both groups. Brandenburg was convicted of violating Ohio’s Criminal Syndicalism Law, which basically makes it illegal to use terroristic threats to achieve political reform. 

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously to overturn the conviction because the Ohio statute punishing mere advocacy of force violated the First Amendment. The Court devised a new test, “imminent lawless action,” that remains the standard for evaluating attempts by the government to punish inflammatory speech. It was part of Trump’s defense during his second impeachment trial. 

National Socialist Party v. Village of Skokie (1977): The Nazi Party of America sought a permit for a march in the Chicago suburb of Skokie. One-sixth of its families included Holocaust survivors. The County blocked the permit, setting up court challenges. The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld lower rulings that the ban was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court declined to hear the case, effectively accepting the ruling that banning the march violated the First Amendment. 

More recently, the Supreme Court has heard two cases regarding cross-burning. In both cases, the Court found that it was an expression under the First Amendment, with exceptions if specific intent to inspire bodily harm to individuals is proven, but the bar is set high.

When members of a church disrupted the funeral of a soldier killed in combat in Iraq with taunts, insults, and abuse that most Americans found despicable (like behaviors in the above cases), the family sued for intentional infliction of emotional distress. The Court found that the protesters were within their rights, even as Chief Justice Roberts noted their “contribution to public discourse may be negligible.”

Time and time again, the Supreme Court has ruled that expression, no matter how vile and disgusting, is protected by the First Amendment unless proven to cause imminent lawless action.

Twitter has options. One is to cordon off objectionable speech types to specific sections of the platform. There’s lots of bad stuff on the Internet. Most of us don’t run into it daily because we know where the dark alleys are. Twitter could isolate objectionable Tweets.

The free market sorts out problems. Users will gravitate to other platforms if Twitter becomes a wasteland for hate and extremism. Musk’s record speaks for itself. He’s betting that people will find a platform where they can have a free exchange of opinions attractive and where there isn’t a right and wrong view of the world. People will go elsewhere if it becomes a swamp of vulgarity and hate. 

For my liberal friends: It isn’t fascism to advocate for freedom of expression, even if that means that you will receive messages you disagree with, some even ugly. History demonstrates that when fascists get power, their first action is to stifle free expression. 

If democracy was on the ballot in 2022, the First Amendment is at stake now.

Andy Bloom is president of Andy Bloom Communications. He specializes in media training and political communications. He has programmed legendary stations including WIP, WPHT and WYSP/Philadelphia, KLSX, Los Angeles and WCCO Minneapolis. He was Vice President Programming for Emmis International, Greater Media Inc. and Coleman Research. Andy also served as communications director for Rep. Michael R. Turner (R-Ohio). He can be reached by email at or you can follow him on Twitter @AndyBloomCom.

4 thoughts on “Andy Bloom: What a dozen years working with the Howard Stern Show taught me about freedom of expression”

  1. Ah yes, how the right loves virtue signaling their support for free speech. As long as it’s their own speech and that of, for instance, Colin Kaepernick. “Do as I say not as I do” should be their motto.

    Let’s see what the right actually thinks about free speech in practice:

    An Oklahoma teacher was put on administrative leave by the “free speech” right after telling students how to access books through the Brooklyn Public Library.

    In September, the “free speech” right wingers in charge of University of Idaho issued “guidance” that it might be illegal for employees to “promote” birth control or abortion.

    In Oklahoma, some library workers were warned by the “free speech” right about helping patrons find information about abortion, or even uttering the word. In an email, the employees were told they could face a $10,000 fine, jail time or even lose their jobs if they didn’t comply.

    In Idaho, the “free speech” right Is trying to pass a law that forbids dressing in clothes of the opposite sex in public. You may still salute Hitler and incite lawless insurrections in public, of course, just can’t wear the wrong clothes.

    In Nebraska, law enforcement obtained a warrant to search a teenager’s private Facebook messages, in which she told her mother of her urgent desire to end her pregnancy. The mother is now being prosecuted on charges of helping her daughter abort the pregnancy by giving advice about abortion pills.

    Proposed legislation in South Carolina would have made it unlawful to provide information about abortions.

    Can the right point to a single instance of Democratic lawmakers stifling free speech *BY LAW*?

    And here’s what the far-right really thinks about “free speech” online:

    Suspended Twitter users, since “free speech absolutist” and right-wing darling Musk took over, include Chad Loder, an antifascist researcher whose open-source investigation of the U.S. Capitol riot led to the identification and arrest of a masked Proud Boy criminal who attacked police officers. Meanwhile the lawless gang of thugs involved in the insurrection were welcomed back.

    The account of video journalist Vishal Pratap Singh, who reports on far-right protests in Southern California, has also been suspended. Neither user was given a clear reason or allowed to appeal.

    1. The examples cited are all essential endorsements of the theme of the article. There are two wrinkles in the free speech debate that need to be further discussed. The first is when a person is paid to deliver a message or represent a point of view and then deviates from it. Being an engaged agent of the employer may result in the employee losing some right for the benefit of pay An actor who is paid to deliver the lines of a play and decides that those lines are something disagreeable has the right to quit the role, but not to change the lines of the play. And that would go for other types of employment as well. The second is when a citizen is compelled by the government to say something against the citizen’s will. Compelled speech is the antithesis of free speech. This last point is being argued before the Supreme Court in the recent Colorado case involving a web site designer. It will be interesting to see how this works out.
      Bottom line is that I have to agree with Mr. Bloom inasmuch as there is suppression of speech on much of social media – the alarming part is that there may be government coercion affecting the decisions that the media make. And that is the most frightening thing of all.

  2. Cicero,
    Have you ever heard the expression about people who assume things? You have certainly assumed a lot.

    One of those I am for, the others are a lot of smoke. The one I am for is the one regarding students. Sorry, teachers should not be providing minors with information outside of what is approved. That is a decision for parents and not teachers.

    I’m very big on speech that doesn’t violate the law. If you read what I wrote, you might note that is what I wrote. I’m also against child porn and other illegal acts.

    Now let’s look at your other examples.
    — University of Idaho issued “guidance” it “might” so there’s no speech being prevented. Sounds like boogiemen.
    –Oklahoma “warned” and “could” – still haven’t cited a law or an order. More “right-wing” boogiemen.
    –Nebraska law enforcement obtained a warrant to search a teen’s FB because she wanted an abortion. The mother is being prosecuted on charges of helping her daughter? Since abortion is legal in Nebraska until the 20th week, this is called misinformation. Here’s what actually happened: The mother and daughter were charged with removing, concealing or abandoning a dead human body – a felony – concealing the death of another person, and false reporting. Apparently, they burned and buried the fetus. But by all means, continue to make this about abortion if you like. BTW, there is a third person who helped with the burning and burying of the fetus. They have already pleaded no contest.

    In South Carolina you are again talking about “proposed” law. I suggest you hurry down there and exercise your free speech rights to get people to stop it.

    Chad Loder? Really? You want to go there? He is a self-proclaimed ANTIFA member There are restraining orders on him. He has doxed numerous people. Again, READ what I wrote instead of proclaiming me part of the vast right-wing conspiracy. I didn’t declare Loder an ANTIFA member, he did. And I didn’t put the restraining order on him. The other guy looks like he’s been getting complaints. He says he’s a victim and he’s innocent. Well, I guess you’ll find out how many conservatives have felt for years.

    You are fixated on abortion. Obviously, you haven’t read other columns I’ve written. I am pro-choice – for all the same reasons I don’t believe in vax mandates (ya know, my body, my choice), through viability (give or take 20 weeks). But if the state has laws, then it is not for somebody working for the state to decide that they aren’t going to follow the laws (like sanctuary cities, for example).

    Looks to me like you do a lot of liberal blog reading and a lot of cutting and pasting but don’t read what somebody like me actually writes. You don’t make an attempt to debate the merits of any of my points. If you are capable of producing an original thought, you don’t display it. Please try to do better. I’ve heard this liberal clap track before.

    1. Well stated Mr. Bloom. Perhaps whoever it is behind the alias of “Cicero” should change it to Aesop.

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