Free Speech Insurance: An Idea That Could Even Help The Oscars

I was mulling a New York Post report that half the employees at The New York Times are afraid to say what they’re thinking when it hit me.  It’s time for Free Speech Insurance.

This is nothing like libel insurance, which protects a publisher, and maybe a writer, from defamation claims. Under a Free Speech policy from Mutual of Nowhere, you wouldn’t be allowed to defame, abuse or promise violence against anyone. TJ Ducklo would still be out of a White House job if he threatened to “destroy” a Politico reporter. No claim there. No compensation.

But good free speech coverage would pay if you are fired, suspended, banned from professional status or otherwise deprived of income or community standing for voicing a thought that bothers someone else.

This might be an entirely new thing for insurance. (With a quick Google search, I couldn’t find much beyond a satire claiming it was tried at Berkeley in 2016.)

It would pay if you get cancelled.

The premiums would be higher if you’re on Instagram or Twitter. That makes you high-risk. Unfortunately, students would also pay more: Underwriters have to factor in special speech problems on campus. But it should be fairly cheap if you’re an ordinary, work-at-home type whose only exposure is to a badly expressed thought or misplaced pronoun on the daily Zoom call.

As for the impact, it would be immense, and almost immediate.

After all, no self-respecting insurance company, not even Mutual of Nowhere, is going to write a check without hunting for third parties who contributed to the cancellation. Panicky employers, skittish advertisers and social media hall monitors wouldn’t be so quick to suppress an out-of-turn voice if they knew a sharp-eyed insurance investigator was looking for ways to lay off liability. Remember Edward G. Robinson in Double Indemnity? Those characters are tough.

So the pressure on free expression lets up after two or three well-publicized cases. It gets riskier to snuff speech than to just let things ride. Before long, even the repressed half of The New York Times is talking out loud.

Best of all, for a price, Free Speech Insurance would be available to those of any political persuasion—left, right or center.

Imagine what that could do for the Oscar show. Presenters, at least some of them, might sound more like Gina Carano than Jane Fonda. What fun! The host, if there were one, could tell bipartisan jokes again. (Hey, Jon Stewart did it.)

And who knows? Joaquin Phoenix might even tell us what he really thinks.




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