It goes like this. First there's the provocation. Then the provocateur rubs it in by deriding those who react to the provocation - they should get a life, get in touch with mainstream New Zealand, get into therapy.

Then comes the apology and a plaintive plea in mitigation: he didn't mean to cause offence.

So while Sir Anand Satyanand might be feeling like a human punching bag right now, he ain't seen nothing yet.

Sure, Paul Henry said he doesn't look or sound like one of us, thereby implying that he wasn't an appropriate governor-general.

Yes, Michael Laws called him a poster boy for obesity who hadn't left the buffet table since he was 20 and likened him to the Monty Python character Mr Creosote, an unfeasibly fat glutton who sits in a restaurant making a hog of himself and spraying vomit everywhere until he bursts.

But here's the thing. Henry and Laws didn't mean to cause offence or set out to be insulting, it just happened that way. Sir Anand would be well-advised to stop drawing attention to himself because if they can be that offensive without even trying, imagine what they could do if they put their minds to it.

Given the likelihood that these episodes were essentially stunts that got out of hand, it's curious that Henry's defenders - a distinct minority among the many readers who responded to last week's column - see it as a freedom of speech issue and the outcry as evidence of creeping totalitarianism in the guise of political correctness.

This freedom of speech is a one-way street. They have the right to say whatever they like and we have to wear it.

As the great American jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes pointed out, using the example of someone falsely shouting 'Fire!' in a crowded theatre, freedom of speech isn't absolute.

Nor has freedom of speech ever included a guarantee of immunity from any consequences that may flow from exercising that freedom. If that were the case, there would be no law of defamation.

These outbursts mightn't have been intended to cause offence, but it defies belief that the idea wasn't to provoke a reaction. That being the case, why do those who see Henry and Laws as blameless portray the inevitable reaction as a bad, if not sinister, thing?

Because the reaction was negative. The populists, so quick to tell others they're out of touch, misread the public mood, probably because they assumed the audiences who lap up their every utterance are representative of the wider community.

Freedom of speech co-exists with other freedoms. Advertisers have the freedom to stop buying ad slots during a particular show if they don't like the content.

Like all freedoms this can be abused - many a company has tried to influence editorial decisions by threatening to pull its advertising - but it's their money to spend or withhold as they please.

And in that grey area where current affairs overlaps with show business, a chief executive who sees ratings or revenue fall because a presenter has alienated viewers or advertisers is free to show him or her the door.

Much as the public would like the media to be driven by public interest considerations, media companies are businesses with the same imperatives as every other commercial entity.

The only time freedom of expression was ever the issue was when the Indian government made a meal of Henry's juvenile antics over the Delhi chief minister's name.

By summoning our representative to explain something said by a rogue broadcaster, the world's biggest democracy showed it still has a bit to learn about what democracy entails.

I'm sure that if Western nations were to sift through the Indian media looking for reasons to be offended, they'd be spoilt for choice.

The diplomatic carpeting triggered some predictable silliness in New Zealand, including suggestions that Henry's comments could jeopardise lucrative trade deals.

Any trade agreement that could be derailed that easily wouldn't be worth the paper it's written on.

Even more risible were claims that Henry had damaged New Zealand's standing in the eyes of the world.

Leaving aside the fact that this country has a long way to fall before it could be looked down upon by most of the countries with which we share this planet, when all's said and done this was a case of someone trying to be amusingly outrageous and getting it lamentably wrong.

Did it make me ashamed to be a New Zealander? No. What makes me ashamed to be a New Zealander is visitors to this country getting robbed, beaten up, raped or murdered.

If only the excesses of attention-seeking media stirrers were the worst blemishes on the face we present to the world.