Filtering Free Speech

Photo illustration by Mark Riechers. Original image by Kristina Paparo (CC0).

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September 28, 2019

The line between free speech and hate speech isn't always clear. When college students shout down a campus speaker, when a woman yells racial slurs in a parking lot, or when HR calls with a reprimand — when does free speech violate safe space? When does sensitivity become censorship?

This weekend’s program "Filtering Free Speech" examines the difficult subject of censorship and free expression. In our first interview, acclaimed writer Walter Mosley uses the "N-word" four times to describe a very troubling experience when he was reprimanded for using this word in a Hollywood writers’ room. Mosley, who himself is black, was so angered by the exchange that he resigned from his job.

The "N-word" is intrinsic to his story — not gratuitous — so we have chosen not to bleep the word. On the broadcast our host provides a very clear warning to alert listeners to what they will hear. 

If you'd prefer to listen to a censored version, you can listen to one here.

censored wall

After a polite HR representative called screenwriter and novelist Walter Mosley up to ask why he'd said the "N-word" during a story meeting, he realized how important it was to him to be able to have uncomfortable conversations as part of his work.


College students on the left are demanding protection from words and ideas they consider harmful. Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt worries that the end result will be a generation that doesn’t know how to have real debates or constructive arguments.

medieval knight

Medievalist Dorothy Kim argues that colleagues in her field need to speak out against hate speech being cloaked in iconography of the Middle Ages. An argument that has earned her harassment, hate, and violent threats from the self-described "alt-right."


Journalist Alissa Quart thinks it's unfair when people's reputations are torn to shreds on Twitter for saying the wrong thing. She even wrote a poem about it.

The Maraniss family in 1952, shortly after Elliott went before the House Un-American Activities Committee.

There’s a word that’s popping up a lot lately — McCarthyism. Are there really parallels today to the censorship that dominated America during that period? To find out, journalist and historian David Maraniss decided to dig up his own family history.

blurred man

College campuses have long been hotbeds of political activity, fervent debate and occasionally violence stemming from a war of words, but today, in this era of call outs and cancel culture, there is a renewed and controversial argument over free speech playing out at universities and colleges around the country.

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September 28, 2019
June 06, 2020
Last modified: 
January 28, 2021