Scott D. Pierce: Freedom of speech bites back at TV stars

By Scott D. Pierce

The Salt Lake Tribune

Published: July 8, 2014 09:22AM
Updated: July 8, 2014 09:21AM
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Adam Richman before he lost 70 pounds. Travel Channel | Courtesy

Another celebrity has learned that freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom from consequences of what you say.

Or, in the case of Adam Richman, what you put out on social media..

The longtime star of “Man vs. Food” has produced a new series for the Travel Channel, “Man Finds Food,” which was to debut last week. It’s on indefinite hold after Richman got in an Instagram fight that devolved into what he admitted were “inexcusable comments.”

Richman, who has long gobbled down food for a living, lost 70 pounds. He is justifiably proud of his achievement, even appearing nearly nude in Cosmopolitan. He shared that photo on Instagram, along with the hashtag #thinspiration.

That set some people off, because that hashtag is associated with eating disorders. Richman said he was unaware of that, and I believe him — in no small part because I was also unaware of that link.

As happens so often, folks on social media attacked Richman for his faux pas. Some saw themselves as simply “educating” Richman,” but it’s not hard to see how he saw their responses as an attack.

That doesn’t excuse Richman’s counterattack. He should have just deleted the #thinspiration hashtag and ignored them. But he didn’t. He even told one commentor to “grab a razor blade and draw a bath. I doubt anyone will miss you.”

Yikes. Big mistake. And quickly followed by a postponed TV show.

Richman certainly isn’t the first to get himself in trouble like that. A&E suspended “Duck Dynasty” star Phil Robertson because of his racist, anti-gay statements. The Food Network parted ways with Paula Deen because of her use of racist language. And last fall, HGTV canceled a show before it premiered because controversy erupted over the hosts, brothers Jason and David Benham, and their anti-abortion, anti-gay activism.

David Benham told CNN at the time that he believed HGTV had been “bullied” into canceling their show. And, essentially, he was right. All television programmers are “bullied” by viewers and the choices they make — or the choices programmers believe they’ll make.

It’s all about money. And the Travel Channel, A&E, Food Network and HGTV all figure that controversy is bad for business.

We all have free speech rights. I can say whatever I want in public, but that doesn’t mean the Tribune can’t fire me if I say something incendiary.

Yes, the anonymous folks on social media say all sorts of mean-spirited, downright vicious things. But even celebrities have to be careful about how they respond.

I hope Richman’s apology was sincere. I hope he learned a lesson. I hope he gets another chance.

Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at spierce@sltrib.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.