In the 21st Century, America’s 18th Century foundational freedom of expression is under attack, usually from those who see themselves as progressive, caring, inclusive, and stuffed with Political Correctness.
On college campuses, the incubator of tender feelings and future leaders, 1 out of 5 believe in prohibitions on free speech, according to a Gallup/Knight Foundation poll released in May 2020.
Within the 81% who endorse free expression are 78% who endorse “safe spaces” where students can be protected from “threatening” ideas, words or conversations. A growing majority of 78% believes colleges should prohibit racial slurs (a big jump up from 69% in 2016).
Not many of us like racial slurs — which can be hard to define — but they are protected speech, as envisioned by the Founding Fathers. While the First Amendment prohibits only government censorship, the intent should be broadly applied: Bad or ugly speech is best countered by good speech, not by a gag.
In recent weeks, we have learned that gags, perhaps figurative, are being applied by some major publications themselves.
The New York Times op-ed editor Bari Weiss quit her job with a damning letter to her boss that she shared with the world.
A self-described moderate, Weiss said she was hired by the Times after it was blind-sided by Donald J. Trump’s victory. I remember a surprising post-election mea culpa the paper published, saying it had missed the Trump groundswell and promised to do better. Confession is good for the soul, they say.
Weiss was hired to expose Times’ readers to ideas outside their Leftist bubble. All good.
It did not work. “A new consensus has emerged,” she wrote, “that truth isn’t a process of collective discovery, but an orthodoxy already known to the enlightened few whose job is to inform everyone else.”
Worse than rule by the elite, is rule by the mob heard through Twitter, which has become the Times’ “ultimate editor,” said Weiss. “Stories are chosen and told in a way to satisfy the narrowest of audiences.”
Because she didn’t join the Groupthink, Weiss wrote that she was bullied. “They have called me a Nazi and a racist.”
Well, I know how that feels.
She claimed to have been attacked openly and on social media by her colleagues, which I find believable, but the important issue isn’t the attack on a colleague, but the attempt to silence a different point of view. Some journalists at the Philadelphia Inquirer have complained they are required to present both sides of a story when they don’t believe there are legitimate opposing points of view.
This is exactly the opposite of what journalists were long taught and long practiced. It is GroupThink, which is antithetical to the exploration of truth.
Weiss’ painful letter resulted in an open letter published in the Leftist Harper’s Magazine, under the headline “A Letter on Justice and Open Debate.” It was signed by more than 150 authors, journalists and academics, from Anne Applebaum to Fareed Zakaria.
It talked about the “needed reckoning” in racial and social justice, but “The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted. While we have come to expect this on the radical right, censoriousness is also spreading more widely in our culture,” meaning the Left, the letter said.
The letter was instantly attacked by other Leftists in The Objective, who took issue with the “privilege” of Harper’s signers, “many of them white, wealthy, and endowed with massive platforms,” but blind to restrictions minorities in the profession experience.
Not only minorities experience “restrictions,” but I’ll let that pass.
As this controversy was brewing, conservative columnist Andrew Sullivan said he was leaving New York magazine.
Well, maybe he is Conservative Lite.
“In academia, a tiny fraction of professors and administrators have not yet bent the knee to the whole woke program — and those few left are being purged….” and there are even fewer right-wingers at CNN, The New York Times and New York magazIne, Sullivan wrote.
“And maybe it’s worth pointing out that ‘conservative’ in my case means that I have passionately opposed Donald J. Trump and pioneered marriage equality, that I support legalized drugs, criminal-justice reform, more redistribution of wealth… I intend to vote for Joe Biden in November.”
News flash to Sullivan: You are not a conservative.
All of this put me in mind of “The Silencing: How the Left is Killing Free Speech,” a book by liberal columnist Kirstin Powers.
She argues that some on her side, she calls them the illiberal left, want no part of fair debate and are taking an axe to free speech.
I gave her credit at that time for breaking ranks with her cohorts, as I applaud Weiss and Sullivan now for blowing the whistle on the people who should be the guardians of free speech, but who instead are guided by ideology and slam shut the gates.
Their moral certainty makes them a danger to democracy.