When you go to do a news interview for CBS in L.A. (at least the last time I did so) you're directed to the Artists' Entrance at CBS' historic Television City in the Fairfax district. Just a few steps from the famous Farmers Market, the massive TV City complex, built in 1952, still looks futuristic even today.
You carefully snake your way from the parking lot through the bizarre, happy crowd waiting to get into Studio 33 (now named the "Bob Barker Studio") for the The Price is Right, pass through a glass door, and find yourself standing at what was once "ground zero" for much of television history.
The list of shows that have filmed or taped under the "From Television City in Hollywood!" announcement is long indeed, but one particular series that only ran from 1967 to 1969 is of special relevance today, as arguments rage about freedom of speech as applied to Google and other search engines.
Tom and Dick Smothers began performing as a comedy folk-singing duo in 1959. While he was actually the leader of the duo (and, as the world would learn, the initially more politically and socially sensitized of the pair), Tommy's constructed on-stage persona was of a friendly fool, constantly being chided by his brother. When CBS hired them to do The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour they thought they'd be getting a simple music, comedy, variety show hosted by a couple of clean-cut, noncontroversial performers. CBS was wrong. Very wrong.
The tale of the show's rise and fall is legendary, as is the manner in which the brothers increasingly pushed CBS' boundaries to criticize the Vietnam War, spotlight then controversial performers such as Harry Belafonte and Pete Seeger, and in general give CBS a perpetual headache, especially as government pressure to muzzle the brothers came first from the Lyndon Johnson and then even more forcefully from the Nixon presidential administrations.
In the decades since the show's cancellation, Tom and Dick have continued to be outspoken proponents of free speech.
But especially notable as we view attempts to throttle the speech rights associated with search engine results -- which after all are essentially displaying the algorithmically processed opinions and values of the human beings who have created them -- is a concept that Tom Smothers calls "The freedom to hear."
Tom puts it quite succinctly: "What good is freedom of speech if you don't have the freedom to hear?" Like a tree falling in a forest with nobody to perceive it, the rights of listeners are an all too often forgotten aspect of the equation.
When outside parties attempt to censor, micromanage, or dictate the results generated by search engines, they are doing much more than trampling the rights of those search engines to publish their search results. Those outside parties also want to control what persons who have chosen to use those search engines or other sites will be permitted to see, to hear, to read.
There is a popular misconception that search engines exist primarily to serve the websites that they index. I would assert that this is actually a secondary purpose.
The primary purpose of search engines is (or at least always should be) to provide useful results for searchers, those persons who have chosen to use those search engines and who value the opinions and judgments that go into generating those search results.
Damaging concepts such as the EU's dangerous "right to be forgotten" are object examples of how Orwellian attempts to selectively edit slices of history out of existence may serve the desires of parties who wish certain events had never happened, but can catastrophically disrupt the public's right to search and know history as it actually occurred.
Search engine users can freely and easily choose between Google, Bing, Yahoo, and numerous other search services, each with their own take on how to best order search results and present information in useful ways.
Whether governments interfere with the traditional press such as newspapers, newer technologies such as search results, or with the editorial decisions of sites in general --- absent some sort of immediate, truly serious clear and present danger to life or limb -- they are doing much more than unacceptably violating the speech rights of those sites.
The government is also directly interfering with our own "right to hear" -- our right to make our own decisions about which services we choose to use, and our freedom to learn what those services have to say, without courts and bureaucrats forcing their own parochial views down our throats.
The concept of governments trying to plug up our ears is at least as abominable and unacceptable as their trying to cover our mouths.
Tommy Smothers was right all along.