"He was trying to teach his two young daughters not to
be afraid to buy a newspaper in America." – Peter Katz, Vietnam veteran and small business owner in Little Saigon, Orange County, Calif.
We forget – some of us – that while we lament the decline of
news readership or embrace technology and prepare for new roads ahead, that the
greatest threat to a free press are people, not computers.
The above example is from an incident not in the Middle
East, Russiaor Asia, but in
Orange County, Calif., where a small Vietnamese-language
weekly paper is fighting for its life. When the above-mentioned man bought a
copy from Mr. Katz’s store with his two young children, he had to be escorted back
to his car because protesters confronted and berated him.
The Viet Weekly is an alternative news source in a
conservative area where freedom of speech is accepted as long as you say the
According to the Los Angeles Times, the weekly is the target
of regular protests from demonstrators who accuse the paper of supporting
Vietnam’s Communist government and publishing an editorial critical of U.S.
foreign policy – in other words, opinions you can find almost every day in any
newspaper in America.
Whether the arguments are valid doesn’t matter – nor do the
protests, which is also a right protected by the Constitution. What does matter
is the growing and disturbing inability for people to accept and respect points
of view that diverge from their own.
Perhaps blogs and new media have had some effect. We can
funnel our news sources down to content that we already agree with. We don’t
need to be bothered with different opinions. We can use e-mail and anonymity as
shields for our intolerance.
Yet that logic only goes so far. Someone who watches Fox
News, for example, is not going to be swayed by watching CNN or reading the New
York Times. People have always surrounded themselves with opinions that make
them comfortable; the only difference is now they have a lot more choices.
No, this is about just one thing: Fear.
Why else would the Little Saigon protesters be pressuring
local business owners to stop carrying the newspaper? Why are they phoning
paper’s landlord telling him to “evict the Communists?” Why are they
confronting fathers and kids for the sheer act of buying a newspaper in a free
Speaking up and speaking your mind are fine, even honorable
– but forcing your beliefs onto others is, well, something Communists would do.