On the freedom to speak stupidly

Russell Saunders

Russell Saunders is the ridiculously flimsy pseudonym of a pediatrician in New England. He has a husband, three sons, daughter, cat and dog, though not in that order. He enjoys reading, running and cooking. He can be contacted at blindeddoc using his Gmail account. Twitter types can follow him @russellsaunder1.

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96 Responses

  1. Pinky says:

    This is going to sound snarky, but it’s not: who would make a decision about vaccination based on the opinion of Rob Schneider? I know that celebrities have disproportional impact (even though I don’t understand why), but would Deuce Bigalow really sway anyone on this issue?Report

  2. nevermoor says:

    Say it with me: the freedom to speak is not the freedom to speak without (non-governmental) criticism.

    State Farm has no obligation to employ him, and by declining to do so is making a powerful statement about the stupidity of anti-vaxxers. Similarly, Koch Industries would be free to fire an employee who made public statements about fighting global warming, even if the employee’s job was unrelated.

    On the same note, you’re free to criticize State Farm, just like I would be free to criticize Koch Industries. Free speech is messy, but that’s how it works.Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to nevermoor says:

      I generally agree except it goes against my idea that I don’t think employees should be fired for lawful out of work activity.

      Though I admit that ideal/goal is tricky and comes with all sorts of caveats about how some off work activity could lead to legitimate and potential worries about on the clock problemsReport

      • nevermoor in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        So you don’t believe in freedom of contract? Or you just believe freedom of contract is wrong?

        Keep in mind, Schneider is almost certainly not actually a SF employee. He’s almost certainly some sort of vendor hired for temporary services on an at-will basis.Report

      • Patrick in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        I generally agree except it goes against my idea that I don’t think employees should be fired for lawful out of work activity.

        What about out of work activity that is deemed not worthy of prosecution?Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        To what extent does my out-of-work behavior reflect on my employer?

        I don’t like the idea of firing a person for, say, marching in a parade on his or her day off. I don’t like the idea of firing a person for, say, getting an MMJ card for his or her bursitis.

        But David Spade was (or, anyway, I had heard he was… can’t find evidence on the web) fired from his 1-800-COLLECT gig because he said that he wouldn’t use the product himself because it was too expensive.

        Now, I can’t even imagine defending David Spade here, even in principle. Of course he was fired for something he said “off the clock” and, of course, his firing was his own g-darned fault.

        So now I’m stuck wondering where the line is… how much does your behavior reflect upon your employer?

        It seems to me that spokespeople are significantly different from drones, doing something that has nothing to do with the company is significantly different from talking about the company, and more visibility is a lot worse than less visibility.

        But it’s hard to come up with a rule.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Saul Degraw says:


        Not completely no. I am a firm believer in the Employment protection provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and in passing EDNA. I also don’t think people should be at risk of losing their jobs because of sudden personal emergencies or public policy reasons (i.e. terminating someone for being summoned to jury duty or being called up to active duty.)

        I generally like just cause termination over at-will termination.

        That being said this is a very tricky area. There are lots of legal and lawful off-work activities that might embarrass an employer but not really reflect poorly on on the job performance. Should an employer be allowed to fire someone for going being poly or kink? Almost certainly not. Same with marching in a political parade or for a political cause but I can think of exceptions like if an employee turned out to participate in white power and hate groups. That could legitimately cause an employer to worry about a hostile work environment on the job for minority employees, customers, or clients.

        This stuff is very tricky and there are probably no right or good answers, just least bad ones.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Saul Degraw says:


        Probably but I would need more clear examples and there could be really tricky exceptions.Report

      • Patrick in reply to Saul Degraw says:


        But it’s hard to come up with a rule.

        For companies, it’s not really that hard.

        We hired someone to be in a commercial. We got pushback on that commercial from customers. The customers are the ones that buy our product.

        So much for that guy, kthxbye!

        For individuals like thee and me, it’s a little more difficult.

        I’m basically somewhat sympathetic to the good Doctor’s unstated and probably very fuzzy definitions here. I don’t know that we should be attacking people with vectors outside of the one that we find particularly worthy of assault.

        Somebody has bad political opinions, we can not vote for them. Somebody makes a particularly risible speech, we can call them out for it.

        Somebody works as a clerk behind a desk and joins a Tea Party rally, I’m thinking calling for his employer to fire him is a little messed up.

        Celebrities aren’t clerks behind desks. Part and parcel of hiring a celebrity to be part of a public relations campaign (and all commercials are public relations campaigns) is accepting the baggage of the celebrity.

        Or rejecting it if you decide the baggage isn’t to your liking.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Patrick, that implies that Lowe’s didn’t make a mistake when it stopped advertising on All American Muslim. I mean, that it’s silly to think that they might have made one.

        Doesn’t it?Report

      • Patrick in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        A business mistake or a mistake of conscience?

        I can readily agree that you can make a correct business decision while making a horrible decision of conscience, for whatever that’s worth.

        But I’d probably not make a great businessman.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Well, isn’t that distinction the one we’re hammering on?Report

    • Criticism is a-OK with me. Criticize away!

      I just don’t think that calling for him to be dropped from the ad campaign is a just consequence of his being anti-vaccine. Particularly since he was playing a well-established character among a handful of others used for the same campaign.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Russell Saunders says:


        That shiny medical headband thing is soooo yesterdayReport

      • In this country we formerly had what was called at-will employment.

        At-will employment meant that the employee could be fired at any time, for any reason – or for no reason at all.

        We have since then established so many carve-outs and exceptions that employment at will has all but been forgotten by the general public. Yet it was a good rule, and the exceptions to it should remain few and exceptional – I’m thinking of things like racial discrimination here.

        But having odious beliefs, and expecting to remain a spokesperson? Forget it. Even the standard objection to at-will employment doesn’t hold water here, because it’s not as if we’re dealing with a guy who can’t afford to lose a job. Or two. Or three.Report

      • But having odious beliefs, and expecting to remain a spokesperson? Forget it.

        What happens when the word “odious” is removed?Report

      • What happens when the word “odious” is removed?

        Wellll… then you’d get a sentence that I hadn’t written. Also an absurd one.

        In what I did write, “odious” is in the eyes of the employer.Report

      • @jason-kuznicki Schneider wasn’t a spokesperson. He was an actor in an ad.

        But that doesn’t really matter, and I’m not criticizing State Farm. I am directing my objections to those who are on the same side as me about an issue I feel strongly that I would have preferred a different approach to dealing with someone whose views conflict with ours.Report

    • Dan Miller in reply to nevermoor says:

      “Free speech” only gets you so far when your boss can fire you for being too vocal. I’m no fan of Schneider or the anti-vaccine movement, but I’m siding with Russell on this one. Unlike the Mozilla case, where the CEO’s anti-gay-marriage stance could have a detrimental impact on the company’s image and ability to attract talent, this is a case where the admittedly terrible views of an employee don’t really have any impact on his ability to represent State Farm as a insurance company, and so he should keep his job.Report

      • nevermoor in reply to Dan Miller says:

        Disagree. I see this as much cleaner than Mozilla.

        State Farm is in the business of providing health care, which means that they have to pay for the costs associated with adoption of crazy anti-scientific refusals to vaccinate. Someone they contract with the improve their image supports this belief, which will go straight to SF’s bottom line.

        In Mozilla, you have a permanent employee expressing a (stupid) opinion on a live political issue, and the only harm is that it might make people dislike the company.Report

      • Mo in reply to Dan Miller says:

        Also, I think representing the company in a commercial is closer to spokesperson/face of the company than AP guy. If the guy working payables is an anti-vaxxer, NBD. If the guy that people see on countless commercials goes against your company ethos, do you want them associated with your brand? Imagine if Aaron Rodgers went on a televised, racist rant. Would you think that State Farm should keep him? Do you think State Farm wants people saying, “Hey, did you hear that crazy racist stuff the State Farm, Discount Double Check guy said?”Report

      • Dan Miller in reply to Dan Miller says:

        To be honest, the first time I had heard that Schneider was an anti-vaxxer was this post. And a hired actor in commercials, IMHO, represents the company much less than does the CEO. It’s a tough situation to make a hard-and-fast rule for; but in general, we should veer away from punishing people for their political beliefs, so I’m inclined to cast the benefit of the doubt Schneider’s way here.Report

      • Pinky in reply to Dan Miller says:

        Schneider is getting paid solely to represent the company. A CEO is getting paid for a lot of things; his role as the public face of a company is minimal. (Steve Jobs, Donald Trump, and a few others are exceptions.) The CEO of Mozilla wasn’t saying that people should use Internet Explorer – oh, wait, I’ve got a perfect analogy – he wasn’t saying that there’s no such thing as viruses, so everyone should turn off their firewalls.Report

      • Tod Kelly in reply to Dan Miller says:

        “State Farm is in the business of providing health care”

        It is? I had thought they were in the business of providing property and casualty insurance for small businesses and individuals.Report

      • Tod Kelly in reply to Dan Miller says:

        Huh! I just googles to see that I am a step behind, and that they are now teaming up with BSBC to get into the HI biz. Man, ya retire for two years and the world doesn’t have the common decency to stay the same as it was when you were working.

        On a side note, that’s a kind of slap in the face to everyone who said that Obamacare would drive insurers away from wanting to do HI.Report

      • nevermoor in reply to Dan Miller says:

        Just saw your second comment while writing this (and I meant health insurance, not health care, which is dumb of me to confuse).

        For the record, SF does provide health insurance: https://www.statefarm.com/insurance/health

        As to your other point, we are long past the point where there is any evidence of a death spiral. There is good evidence (like this) of exactly the reverse. That won’t stop people from pretending otherwise.Report

      • Burt Likko in reply to Dan Miller says:

        Why ever wouldn’t Obamacare be good for health insurers? It’s a subsidy for health insurance premiums! They’re the ones getting the sweet, sweet government sugar.Report

      • Dan Miller in reply to Dan Miller says:

        @pinky I presume that a CEO will have a major impact on his company’s culture, workplace environment, etc (especially for high-level hires who will be working closely with him). The same definitely can’t be said for an actor, who’s a hired gun that won’t be making any hiring/firing decisions and probably won’t be affiliated with the company for a huge amount of time.Report

      • Pinky in reply to Dan Miller says:

        Yes. The CEO gets paid more than the advertising spokesman, has a longer contract, makes more decisions, hires and fires personnel, and affects the bottom line of the company in a variety of ways. The spokesman does one thing: represent the company. His value is derived strictly from the image he presents.

        I can see the point you’re making. Both people affect the company’s destiny differently. If the President of Progressive Insurance gets caught with cocaine, the company has to seriously review all the decisions he’s made in recent months/years, and send him to rehab. If Flo gets caught with cocaine, they’ve got to pull the ads.Report

      • Dan Miller in reply to Dan Miller says:

        @pinky Have you seenthose ads? I’d be shocked if Flo wasn’t on cocaine.Report

      • Bert The Turtle in reply to Dan Miller says:

        @Pinky Using Progressive as an example is extra funny considering that their late CEO Peter B Lewis was an outspoken supporter of marijuana legalization and actually was arrested for marijuana possesion in New Zealand in 2000.Report

    • ScarletNumbers in reply to nevermoor says:

      the freedom to speak is not the freedom to speak without (non-governmental) criticism.

      Yes, that’s what Voltaire said. No, wait, it’s not.

      Thanks for admitting you don’t believe in freedom of speech, unlike Voltaire and I.Report

      • nevermoor in reply to ScarletNumbers says:

        Thanks for admitting you don’t believe in freedom of speech.

        Incorrect. The controversy about Helvétius’ book was sparked by the French Parliament’s attempt to burn the book. Not about some book critic saying the book sucked or some book store refusing to carry it.

        If you can’t understand that distinction, you shouldn’t snark on the internet.Report

      • ScarletNumbers in reply to ScarletNumbers says:


        I will snark all I like, and you won’t stop me.

        As in: if you can’t properly use italics, you shouldn’t.Report

      • ScarletNumbers in reply to ScarletNumbers says:

        ICYMI @nevermoor ‘s comment at 6:01 pm was completely italicized.

        It was edited since I made my comment at 6:10 pm.Report

  3. Burt Likko says:

    Schneider also ought not to be denied work despite his atrocious taste in political endorsements. Now, the value of a celebrity endorsement might diminish as a celebrity’s credibility declines, but I think we can leave that to the forces of the free market.Report

  4. North says:

    I don’t know Doc…
    We’re talking about private activism here and this is really really harmful idiocy that it’s being unleashed upon. This might be one of the only ways that massive civilizationally destructive meme’s like anti-vax movements get defeated. Anti-Vax was catapulted to destructive prominance by the sweaty embrace of idiot public figures, targetting the trasmission vectors of the contagion strikes me as a sound treatment plan.Report

    • Tod Kelly in reply to North says:

      @north “This might be one of the only ways that massive civilizationally destructive meme’s like anti-vax movements get defeated.”


      But if part of what helps an anti-science movement fester is the pervasive suspicion of conspiracies and censorship, I think it could actually have the opposite effect.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Tod Kelly says:


        I’m cynical these days and wondering if we are at a point called past-convincing where everyone has made up their minds and nothing can get them to go the other way. I seem to remember a depressing study from a few months ago that said an anti-vaxxers viewpoint will be bolstered by any and every piece of information that they receive.Report

  5. Tod Kelly says:

    @russell-saunders Assuming that even as the Copy Guy Schneider is essentially a spokesperson, does that change the dynamic in any way? I confess, I think of spokespeople as being different in this category.

    And maybe it doesn’t, at least in this case. I have to agree with @pinky up top, in that I have a hard time seeing someone not by a consumer of State Farm because the actor who plays the Copy Guy is anti-vaccination. But what do I know?Report

    • I don’t view him as a spokesperson. He’s an actor playing a character, albeit a famous actor playing a well-known character. In fact, it’s the shopworn nature of that character that makes me more uneasy about this. He’s in no way speaking in any capacity other than as an actor, his own opinions nowhere to be found.

      To @north (supra) I would say that, much as I object (vociferously) to the anti-vaccine movement, I do not think belonging to it should make one unable to work in this kind of way.Report

      • I do agree with you here.

        But it does bring up interesting questions about which cases I’m willing to write a post and say, “Don’t fire that guy for having an opinion,” and which cases I swallow my tongue and privately think to myself, “serves the bastard right.” (And no, Schneider would not fall into that latter category for me.)Report

      • I am incredibly loath to punish people for what they say, unless it is truly egregious and/or they are in a capacity where they function as a representative of the firing entity outright. Much as I despise the anti-vaccine movement, I cannot repress my unease with this.Report

      • “unless it is truly egregious”

        And therein lies the rub, eh?

        There was a sports radio producer from Dallas a few years ago that, one night after the Dallas Mavs lost to the San Antonio Spurs, send out a tweet on his private account that said some pretty angry things about “dirty Mexicans” who populated places like San Antonio. Turned out, rather unsurprisingly, that he was very, very drunk at the time.

        He wasn’t an on-air personality, even though he had (like Schneider!) been something of a minor-celeb in the past, because he had played baseball professionally. When the tweets hit the local news, the station terminated him.

        In so many ways, that story is very much like the State Farm one you brought up. And yet if I’m being honest, even though I agree with your post I think I would have fired the racist-tweeing producer too.Report

  6. Chris says:

    Excepting public office, since I just posted something on the subject, I don’t really understand the “go after their jobs” thing that has become so common on social media.

    “Oh my God. Did this guy post on his twitter account something I don’t like? Get him fired from his job at Pizza Hut, now! In fact, boycott Pizza Hut until they fire his ass.”

    Granted, celebrities are a bit different because they have a bigger megaphone than some random dude on Twitter, and on top of that, the more a celebrity works, the bigger his or her megaphone can be, but I’m still hesitant to want to take someone’s livelihood away unless what they’ve done that’s bad has something to do with their job.Report

    • Kolohe in reply to Chris says:

      “I’m still hesitant to want to take someone’s livelihood away unless what they’ve done that’s bad has something to do with their job.”

      Domestic violence has very little to do with one’s ability to avoid linebackers.Report

      • Chris in reply to Kolohe says:

        A suspension for violating the conduct policy of the league was probably a good idea. Kicking him out altogether, as it looks like might be the case for Peterson, if not Rice? I’m not sure who that’s serving. I was kind of hoping they’d suspend him for like half the season, and then be done with it.

        I can understand their employers releasing them, though. They are ambassadors for the league and the team, and a guy who hits his wife so hard he knocks her out is not a very good ambassador. Celebrities are different.Report

      • zic in reply to Kolohe says:

        @kolohe was it wrong for the Miss America pageant to dethrone Vanessa Williams? That was her livelihood, too. But she’s also signed a contract with a clause about moral turpitude. I’m presuming there was some similar clause about conduct unbecoming a member of an NFL team in both Rice and Peterson’s contract.Report

      • Physically assaulting someone is a whole other ball of wax than holding stupid beliefs, even if those beliefs are a threat to public health if broadly adopted.

        One is a crime. The other is constitutionally protected behavior.Report

      • nevermoor in reply to Kolohe says:

        Appearing in State Farm commercials is not his “livelihood”. He almost certainly isn’t even an employee.Report

      • Kolohe in reply to Kolohe says:

        @russell-saunders Yes, but it gives us a chance to connect a few things.

        1) Should employers take into account criminal convictions in hiring decisions? The easy answer is yes, but keep in mind, a sizable sociological problem in the so called inner-city is an overabundance of young men with criminal records of various levels of egregiousness that are, at any level of egregiousness, significant impediments to gainful employment. Thus perpetuating the cycle of poverty, etc.

        2) The backup plan for most professional athletes (even ones with modestly successful careers) is to coach, with the preponderance of opportunities for this at the youth level. One boundary line previously proffered was that ownership of Hooters is enough to make one unsuitable for having any responsible for educating young people. Is domestic violence a similar disqualified? Why would it be ok to appear on national TV making around 1/2 million dollars a year* but not ok to appear in front of 50-100 teenagers on a high school football team? Or are both OK? Or are Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson permanently unemployable and better hope they had decent financial management and/or insurance?

        *the current league minimum that Rice will probably be hired for when the union successfully gets his ‘indefinite’ suspension term converted to a fixed timeReport

      • Bert The Turtle in reply to Kolohe says:

        Ah, but the ability to avoid linebackers isn’t the most important part of the job for the Rices and Petersons of the world. They are employed to put butts in stadium seats and eyes on TVs, to increase advertising rates and sell team paraphernalia. To the extent that they’ve “tarnished the brand” by beating up on someone who isn’t on the field, their actions have a direct correlation to their job performance.

        That said, the same argument could be put forth to justify firing a player with outspoken political views. I’m close to a free speech absolutist when it comes down to it, but I do think there’s probably a line for “fireable offense” for certain employees when it comes to speech. I just don’t know exactly where it lies or how to define it explicitly.Report

      • Kolohe in reply to Kolohe says:

        @zic you’ll probably find no one here that appreciates ‘a contract is a contract’ more than I do. (BTW, catch John Oliver’s take on Miss America from this weekend if you haven’t). I also found myself thinking of Williams during this recent hacked celebrity nudes imbroglio.

        I think Williams got shafted by a corrupt system, but had the brains and the talent to overcome that and good for her. I also note that the Miss America folks didn’t have an evolving level of punishment depending on how bad the pr got. If nothing else, Rice has had some significant violations of what (as I understand it*) would be procedural due process in the legal world. (hence, why I think the union has a winning case for re-instatement. The commissioner of a sports league can have near plenary power, but it can’t be arbitrary, and going from a 2 game suspension to an indefinite one for the same exact misconduct is definitely arbitrary)

        *IANAL, of courseReport

      • Michael Drew in reply to Kolohe says:

        Wasn’t her livelihood music, even by the time she was miss America? Being Miss America is aone-year stint.

        More generally, the distinction isn’t so much whether it was a deserved outcome. As @tod-kelly says in Mike Dwyer’ thread on organizational responsibility, the distinction is really just an organization’s own understanding of its interests. The Ravens didn’t terminate Ray Rice until they felt it was in their interest to do so, which took a public backlash. At the outset, apparently they didn’t feel that this behavior was such that anything in the contract forced them to terminate him, nor did they feel it made them want to do so.

        OTOH, fromn the outset, apparently the Miss America pageant felt that what Williams did was enough contrary to its interests (and perhaps writtenpolicy) that they wanted to dethrone her. Organizations are going to what they think is in their interest. The question is why different organizations have different perceptions about that. In the case of MIss America, I think it’s worth reflecting on what you have been saying in the other other thread, relating to prevailing attitudes about the shamefulness of sex, especially for women.

        There’s no way to generally understand these standards or control them. Private organizations are squirrelly bastards. If you conscript them in a public effort to apply accountability for bad behavior, you’re going to have an experience that feels like renting a truckful of housecats to pull a sled for you.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Kolohe says:

        …I could be wrong about when her singing career started.Report

      • Tod Kelly in reply to Kolohe says:

        I remember it the other way around, actually.

        I remember thinking at the time that she broke big that it might have had everything to do with becoming a mega-celebrity for having been dethroned from posing for sexy photos. I think I’ve always assumed that if she never took the pics and she was just Miss America for the whole year, she’d have been a D-list celebrity her whole life.Report

      • zic in reply to Kolohe says:

        @michael-drew as I understand such pageants (which is very little, not my thing,) Williams would also have lost scholarship money and future work doing endorsements as a former beauty-pageant queen.

        As to the rest, I agree. I was pondering another woman, Paula Deen, who lost endorsement contracts for racist comments and who also gave up her food network gig because she’d hidden the fact that she’d been diabetic for several years and couldn’t actually eat the food she cooked — food known for leading to diabetes if eaten regularly. Deen’s a good look at the differences here because she’s not trading on her sex appeal. Apparently, she’s launched <a href="http://time.com/3421319/paula-deen-today-show-nbc/"her own network, built on her relocated content for The Food Network.

        So that's the other side of the coin here for those who hold celebrity status; your name out there, even in a negative way, creates interest. And that's the really valuable commodity.

        Bad football players, up to a point, are exciting. Wife beater and child beater, we now know, crosses that line of excitement and interest to consumer boycott. Redemption? That's a whole other show, a next chapter. Stay tuned.Report

    • Tod Kelly in reply to Chris says:

      @chris “Excepting public office, since I just posted something on the subject, I don’t really understand the “go after their jobs” thing that has become so common on social media.”

      Except, of course, for people who head up high tech companies.Report

    • ScarletNumbers in reply to Chris says:

      I don’t really understand the “go after their jobs” thing that has become so common on social media.

      I understand it; generally speaking, people are vindictive pricks. People who disagree MUST suffer some degree of punishment for having a different opinion.Report

  7. Patrick says:

    I don’t really understand the “go after their jobs” thing that has become so common on social media.

    Ragequitting, basically, projected outwards.Report

  8. I’m actually quite a bit more torn on this than the Mozilla case (at least as widely reported, as I understand there were some less-reported facts that would have changed the equation for me), where I thought that the firing was inappropriate. I think I still come out on the side of this being inappropriate, but it’s a very close issue for me:

    1. Schneider is an actor, but in this case he is an actual spokesperson for the company at issue, and the views are obviously relevant to what the company does. While the Mozilla case involved a CEO, who has to act as a spokesperson, his support of Prop 8 was not, in and of itself relevant to what Mozilla does. While there may have been concern about his treatment of gay employees, that concern requires an inference that does not necessarily follow from the fact of a single donation to support Prop 8. No inference is needed here – Schneider is anti-vax, and State Farm is unequivocal in its support of vaccination.

    3. My primary concern with the Eich situation (detailed in the comments to this thread: https://ordinary-times.com/blog/2014/04/29/free-speech-is-dead-donald-sterling-edition) wasn’t that it had a tendency to chill speech, but rather that it tended to blur the line between political participation and the rest of life. But here, Schneider’s intentionally blurred that line himself by using his non-political reputation to promote a political cause, so my primary concern disappears.

    That said, I think I still come out against the campaign to fire him, but not out of any free speech or political participation concerns, although my reasons are functionally still similar to Russell’s. Specifically, as Russell pointed out, Schneider’s spokesperson role with State Farm did not offer him an opportunity to promote his views. Until now. While he previously said some things on Twitter and in other fora and tried to put his views out there, it doesn’t seem like anyone really cared what he had to say or paid him any attention. His efforts, in other words, were largely unsuccessful.

    Now? By campaigning so vigorously against him, it makes it look as if his views on the topic are actually important and worth considering. How many more people have now listened to Rob Schneider talking about vaccination than a week or two ago? The optics are probably also not terribly good to fence-sitters, and might make it appear to them that there’s something to hide here.

    With Jenny McCarthy, the equation was different – she already had a disturbingly large following on this subject and a lot of people already cared for some reason what she had to say. She was a leading anti-vaxxer who had largely become associated as much or more with that fact as she was associated with doing anything else. Privileging her with a position on The View where she could and would promote her anti-vaxxer claims thus quite likely lent legitimacy to those claims and to the anti-vaxxer movement writ large. But Schneider’s role with State Farm did none of that, and was not giving him an opportunity to amplify his views.

    I strongly suspect that the campaign to dump Schneider has thus created something along the lines of a reverse Streisand Effect.

    2. Schneider hasn’t just made a donation that would have been kept secret in many states and that was discovered only because someone decided to research his views; instead, he’s actively sought to use his fame and name to promote the view in question. One of my biggest concerns with the Mozilla case was that it felt like an inquisition – Eich’s beliefs had to be more or less reverse engineered. Had Eich appeared in a commercial or spoke at a rally, I’d have had much less, if any, concern. Schneider is actively relying on his name and “reputation” to promote and amplify anti-vaccination. If you intentionally put your reputation on the line to promote something, then you shouldn’t be upset when you lose that gamble.Report

  9. Alan Scott says:

    So it occurs to me that the commercial was filmed and Mr. Schneider was likely paid a one-time sum for his participation. It’s quite likely that dropping his commercial from the ad rotation is taking exactly zero dollars out of his pocket.

    Does that change the calculus?Report

    • Maybe a negative effect on residuals? I don’t know nearly enough about entertainment law (which is to say, I don’t know a blessed thing about entertainment law) to say.

      It still looks like mau-mauing a bit to me.Report

      • Alan Scott in reply to Russell Saunders says:

        Residuals don’t generally cover the initial planned run of an entertainment product. The studio just pays them whatever their contract specifies (Although some contracts specify that the actors receive some percentage of gross box-office revenue.)

        So an actor doesn’t get residuals for the initial box-office run of a movie, or the initial broadcast of a TV episode, but they do get residuals for dvd sets, re-runs, and so forth. I’m not familiar with the specific rules regarding commercials, but I suspect it goes something like “we can run these ads for up to six months, but if we run them after that, we’ll have to pay you more.” I cant imagine that SNL reference ads are the sort of thing that will be re-run after the initial campaign.Report

    • Chris in reply to Alan Scott says:

      For an actor, dropping one commercial for reasons of public controversy likely means fewer (if any) subsequent commercials with any company.Report

  10. Kazzy says:


    How much does it matter that State Farm was responding to outside complaints as opposed to firing him on their own? It seems like those are two different scenarios and I think it is less objectionable if SF acted on their own, but I’m not really sure. Thoughts?Report

  11. Vikram Bath says:

    I think part of why this was an issue at all is that vaccines are a litmus test. I bet if he had gone on a Twitter rant about how great heroin is no one would have made the connection between heroin being unhealthy and a thing an insurance company should disapprove of.Report

    • Said differently, should all companies that do anything related to health make sure that all employees including one-day-of-work actors have clean histories of never advocating for something that contradicts your views about what is healthy? I’m going with “no”.Report

    • Alan Scott in reply to Vikram Bath says:

      OTOH, that rant would have got those commercials pulled in five seconds, without the need for a public outcry a la the one we saw from the pro-vax crowd.Report

  12. trizzlor says:

    Here’s the thing: does knowing Schneider’s view on vaccinations make you see State Farm in a more positive or less positive light when you see the ad? Would it be wrong of you to call up State Farm and tell them that this guy – for whatever reason – is making you feel down on their brand (while the president from 24 makes Allstate seem safe and welcoming)? Would it be wrong for State Farm to take that call and decide to fire Schneider?

    I guess I don’t see a wrong-doer in any step of this chain, and without one it’s hard to see this as a wrongful act. I can see similar instances that are problematic; say you don’t like the guy because of his skin color. But when it’s his speech, should I feel guilty for immediately wanting to change the channel whenever I see Schneider’s face?Report

  13. zic says:

    So should we be free to speak stupidly thusly?

    If you were outed as one of the people threatening Emma Watson, is that cool? No problem for your employer? What about the cops and the legal system?Report

    • nevermoor in reply to zic says:

      I (as you would guess from this thread) do not have a particularly hard time with these questions.

      Is it cool? No.
      Can you be fired? Depends on your contract. If a temporary contractor absolutely, if a tenured professor likely not.
      What about government? Only if your statements cross the line from speech into a specific crime. That’s a tough, and fact-specific, legal test. But most ugly statements fall well short.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to nevermoor says:

        In some cases, “that’s not cool” is all a lot of us are saying. Criticizing State Farm’s decision to fire Schneider, for example, is not the same as suggesting that State Farm doesn’t have the right to. Criticizing people for calling State Farm to tell them that they should fire Schneider is not the same as suggesting that they should not have the right to do so. Even within the context of what is legal, or should be legal, or absolutely has to be legal, there are decisions to be condemned.

        (In Zic’s case, I would have no problem with outing said individual. Firing… would depend on the circumstances.)Report

      • nevermoor in reply to nevermoor says:

        Completely agree. That’s part of the point I was making in my first comment.

        Saying Schneider AND/OR State Farm is being stupid is totally legit. Saying SF is violating some right Schneider has to free speech is incorrect.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to nevermoor says:

        The only thing I would add (or add disagreement) is that “stupid” in some of these cases can go beyond the sense of tactical or strategic managerial error, and into the terrain where I would consider there to be a wronged party. (And that can apply to the people using their freedoms to demand that somebody be fired, in place of or in addition to the company doing the firing.)Report

    • Michael Drew in reply to zic says:

      You know, whether it’s cool with the employer is not really what we’re discussing, I don’t think. Well, it’s what Russell is discussing here, more or less. But what I feel like we’re discussing, certainly with Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson, is whether it’s cool with *us* if it *is* cool with the employer. I.e., not whether it’s okay if an employer wants to fire an employee for outside conduct, but whether it’s okay if they don’t want to – whether we in the public should try to insert ourselves into that decision to make any other than one decision about that no viable.Report

      • This is closer to what’s on my mind.

        I read a comment either this week or last on Twitter saying “So… who are we going to try to get fired this week?!”

        The answer turned out to be Rob Schneider, apparently.

        There are axes to this sort of thing. How serious is the offense? What does it reveal about the offender? How close in proximity is the offense to what the job we think they should be removed from is?

        Obviously a CEO that says “Hitler had the right idea” represents something that needs to be addressed. John the Electrician signed the Proposition Eight is something that I feel strongly shouldn’t be addressed. Everything else is in between, and I think there is some merit and a lack of merit to a lot of it… but in the overall this seems to me to be more of a thing than I would prefer it be.

        But anyway, my focus is more on the demanding of the firing, or the complaint of the hire, than the company actually acting on it.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

        …It’s even as extreme as whether it’s cool to dissent from a particular view about whether it’s cool if the employer is cool with it.Report

      • I was about to say that I didn’t think the conversation being shifted that far, but I do recall a person or two previously saying that to have a problem with the firing of Eich is to be some level of indifferent to gay rights.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

        I think it’s pretty clearly gotten that far with the conversation about Goodell. Not that there’s universal sentiment that it’s not cool to dissent from the idea that he should be fired, but that that sentiment is very much extant.

        To some extent, of course, that’s a function of the fact that there are extant in the public conversation people for whom it’s not cool to to dissent from what they think on a whole host of issues on a regular basis, so it’s not really unique here.Report

  14. PPNL says:

    God I hate how these issues get trotted out as a free speech violation. That does more harm to free speech than anything State Farm did.

    First of all you can’t prevent people from calling for others to be fired for whatever reason. That really would be a free speech issue. You can say they “ought” not. You can say it is immoral. You can say that it is bad tactics. But then you are just playing net nanny or back seat strategist.

    Second, you could try and pass a law to prevent Decisions like the one State Farm made. I doubt that you could do it constitutionally. Even if you could I am absolutely sure few would like the results. So absent a proposal for a law we are reduced to toothless Nannyism again.

    The constitution allows us to be mean to each other. Sometimes being mean can be useful. Other times its just mean. We each make choices and follow a path through a moral minefield. Our right and ability to choose a path for others is limited.Report

    • Russell Saunders in reply to PPNL says:

      Please direct me to where I have, in any way, tried to abrogate the right of anyone to do anything, or criticized State Farm. Further, please show me where I have in any way implied that I would like a law that would have prevented State Farm from doing as it did.

      I have most certainly said that people with whom I philosophically strongly agree ought to think about how best to direct their message against Rob Schneider, particularly with regard to his anti-vaccination views. I have said that I do not think it meet consequence for expressing those views to pressure State Farm to drop an ad, in which he plays a character and says nothing whatsoever about those views. This is not being a nanny, but simply expressing an opinion about an issue about which I feel strongly. Which is, y’know, what people on blogs do.

      Nothing that I have said has anything whatsoever to do with the constitution. It has to do with how we collectively decide to punish people for views we don’t like. I do not happen to agree with this particular way.Report

      • nevermoor in reply to Russell Saunders says:

        “As vehemently as I oppose the anti-vaccination movement, belonging to it should not mean that you are not permitted to speak publicly about your views. It should not render you unemployable, even if your employment keeps you in the public eye as a celebrity. Much as I ardently support vaccines’ role in public health, I do not value it more than our freedom to speak freely, stupidly or otherwise.”

        “The answer to wrong or bad speech is not, as I’ve often seen said, to advocate that it be silenced. Such a response is anathema to a truly free society.”

        How is that anything other than criticizing State Farm? You called them “anathema to a truly free society.” And I had the same reaction as PPNL because of the citation to “freedom to speak freely, stupidly or otherwise” which is a great definition of the constitutional right when tweaked to “freedom [from government sanction] to speak freely, stupidly or otherwise.”

        All that said, if your point was only “I think State Farm made the wrong choice” then that’s fine.Report

      • @nevermoor No, read more closely. The response that I describe as anathema (which, in hindsight, I acknowledge is probably overstating things a bit) is advocating for him to be fired, not the decision by State Farm to jettison an ad that’s causing more bad PR than good.

        The only argument that I think is persuasive is the one that centers around State Farm being in the business of insuring customers’ health, which is distinctly undermined by the efforts of anti-vaccinators like Schneider. I think that holds some water. But otherwise, I think agitating for them to drop an ad that features him strikes me as the wrong way of going about advocacy.Report

  15. Lenoxus says:

    It feels like there are a lot of different “levels of oughtness” involved in these discussions.

    One level is whether or not something (speech acts and/or firing someone for them) should be legal. That’s a conversation few here are having, except perhaps by emphasizing the principle just-cause employment, implying that anything equivalent to firing must be backed by a valid reason, and that personal views can’t be a valid reason.

    Then there’s “They should have the legal right to do this, but it’s still scummy.”

    Then there’s “I’m personally against this in this case, but firing or not-hiring someone for their views, especially if that someone is a spokesperson, is not inherently scummy as a tool.” For example, under this view, it might be different if we were talking about someone as extreme and wholly-obssessed with anti-vaccination as Jenny McCarthy, or if there was a more direct relationship between the spokesperson and the company, as with David Spade bad-mouthing his own product.

    That middle one — “it’s right for this to be legal, but it’s scummy behavior” is rather interesting because how are we, the people, supposed to respond to that scumminess? After all, many of us would agree that anti-vaccine views are themselves in a “you have the right to say it, but it’s scummy” domain. Presumably, to boycott State Farm on the grounds of (a particular sort of) free-expression absolutism would be hypocritical — unless there are additional levels, whereby joining hands in action against such anti-free-speech use of freedom-of-contract is acceptable. Or to put it another way, if Schneider fired his agent for being pro-vaccine, then State Farm would be permitted to “fire” (or whatever the right word is) Schneider for that.

    Myself, I’m in the “legitimate tool” camp. (Except I’m also okay with this case.) When conservatives use the same tool against a spokesperson (such as Ellen DeGeneres for being a lesbian, though that’s something they’re unlikely to try these days), I am upset, but only in the sense that I’m upset that conservatives sometimes vote for awful people. It’s the core ethics they have wrong, not the tools they use.Report