Elites on Free Speech: Shut the Bleep Up

There’s much fainting and grasping for smelling salts among the editorial page elites these days. Young people aren’t listening to them, I take it.

You’ll remember Brooks advising us that the reason we don’t get anywhere with the gun control debate is that gun control advocates are too nasty to the second amendment activists, and we must all simply treat the rubes  simple country people gun enthusiasts with respect and let them lead the way to sensible legislation. No, seriously that’s what he said. If in a subsequent column so much as hinted at the death threats and smears the fascists thugs gun enthusiasts were visiting upon the student survivors of the Parkland school massacre, I must have missed it.

Now Brooks has a column up in which he tries to put himself in the place of a Young Person and understand all this disrespectful heckling of their betters public intellectuals going on at colleges these days. This is what he came up with:

Today’s young people were raised within an educational ideology that taught them that individual reason and emotion were less important than perspectivism — what perspective you bring as a white man, a black woman, a transgender Mexican, or whatever.

These students were raised with the idea that individual reason is downstream from group identity. Then along came the 2016 election to validate that point of view! If reason and deliberation are central to democracy, how on earth did Donald Trump get elected?

The fact that young people and minorities and a lot of other groups routinely get shafted by an economic and political elite who aren’t listening to them doesn’t cross his mind. That they have genuine grievances that our government refuses to address is not on his radar. He doesn’t like their tone, apparently.

And isn’t it the case that whenever oppressed peoples rise up against their overlords, the overlords always complain but we did so much for them! How could they turn on us like that?

 For example, well-paid elitist idiot  public intellectual Christina Hoff Sommers was recently heckled at a talk she gave at Lewis & Clark Law School in Oregon. Bari Weiss at the New York Times wasn’t having it. “Yes, these future lawyers believe that free speech is acceptable only when it doesn’t offend them. Which is to say, they don’t believe in it at all,” she sniffed.

Whereupon Glenn Greenwald at The Intercept called out Weiss for her long career of “trying to ruin the careers of Arab and Muslim scholars for the crime of criticizing Israel.”

Anyone remotely familiar with the wars over the Middle East Studies Department at Columbia University, in which Weiss played a starring role, knows that her claim here — that the campaign was just a benign attempt to protect students’ rights — is utterly false. The campaign was designed to ruin the careers of Arab professors by equating their criticisms of Israel with racism, anti-Semitism, and bullying, and its central demand was that those professors (some of whom lacked tenure) be disciplined for their transgressions.

Greenwald provides links, testimony and examples. In other words, to Bari Weiss, free speech is acceptable only when it doesn’t offend her. And, in fact, egregious twit public intellectual Sommers was allowed to finish her speech. Indeed, there is broad suspicion that the students were set up. Alex Pareene:

Last weekend, the Lewis & Clark College chapter of the Federalist Society, the enormously influential legal arm of the conservative movement, invited contrarian political personality Christina Hoff Sommers to speak on campus. They did this mainly because they knew it would annoy or outrage liberal, left-wing, and feminist students, and some small number of them would ask the school to cancel the appearance or show up to protest it. All of that happened. Some students protested and heckled Sommers, footage of which was immediately made grist for the “free speech wars” mill.

But the New York Times editorial page isn’t done making an ass of itself.  It’s also hosting a column by Katherine Mangu-Ward, editor in chief of hard-core libertarian Reason magazine. She blames our dysfunctional public discourse on Jon Stewart.

WTF? Seriously. I’m not making that up.

The explosion of the smugs-vs.-trolls phase of our political discourse is traceable to a now infamous 2004 confrontation between Jon Stewart and Tucker Carlson in the waning days of “Crossfire,” in which Mr. Stewart, a comedian, dropped his jester’s mask and accused Mr. Carlson and his ilk of undermining serious discourse with their partisan feuding and made-for-TV talking points. “Stop hurting America,” was his specific request. Mr. Carlson sputtered and fumed; it was generally agreed that Mr. Stewart won the day. …

… for many on the right, the real lesson of the Stewart-Carlson exchange was “Do as I say, not as I do.” Mr. Stewart urged sincerity and good-faith efforts at dialogue when lecturing Mr. Carlson but practiced the opposite when it suited him. Mr. Stewart’s smugness was itself a form of trolling. And conservatives, no matter what liberals might think of them, are not stupid. The clear lesson was that if you want to win, stop being the debate team kid in the bow tie and start being the class clown who gives that guy a wedgie.

The idea that right-wing television pundits had been the “debate team kid in the bow tie” before the famous Crossfire incident is too ludicrous even to qualify as farce. For years, the Right had engaged in such verbal aggression in public debate that whoever represented “the Left” on television — often, someone more centrist than Left — was never allowed to speak. At some point in the 1980s, right-wing political hacks began the tactic of simply refusing to stop talking and allow whoever they were debating to get a word in edgewise. Many years ago I wrote,

For years it’s been an ironclad law that no progressive is allowed to speak on a television political talk show without having a rightie goon at his side, shouting him down. I once decided that if I ever saw Joe Conason appear on Hardball and be allowed to finish a sentence without interruption I could die happy.

Crossfire itself encouraged the degradation of political discourse by turning two hacks screaming talking points at each other into a crude form of reality television. This was, of course, Jon Stewart’s point, totally lost on clueless ideologue hack editor-in-chief Mangu-Ward. The hosts, of course, never corrected the many lies or provided any sort of editorial context; it was all propaganda. This works well for demagogues, but not so much for poor schmucks who are serious about public policy.

So, having set the Rule of Public Debate is that the “winner” is the guy who talks loudest and won’t shut up and listen, the elites are shocked, shocked I tell you, that public discourse ain’t what it probably never was to begin with.

Alex Pareene’s takedown of this whole conceit of anti-free speech liberalism is worth reading, and savoring.

If you think offensive speech shouldn’t be aired in certain contexts and venues, you don’t believe in free speech. Which is why it is incumbent on Weiss, and her bosses, to ask me to come to the offices of the New York Times and give a talk to the editors and columnists of the opinion page about how stupid they are.

It is absolutely necessary, for the sake of democratic ideals, that the staff attend my talk, and they must listen politely (and quietly) as I condescendingly dismiss their idiotic worldviews and personally insult them. They cannot yell at me or express indignation in any way. For them not to allow this to happen would be an alarming sign of the decline of liberalism in the West. …

… I can criticize editorial page editor James Bennet as clearly not up to the task of running a vibrant and interesting op-ed section at a time when finding smart new voices has never been easier or more necessary, but I can’t also call him a pompous twit to his face, while he just has to sit there and take it, because it would be anti-speech of him to object.

How is that acceptable? How will the minds of the New York Times opinion section staff ever be expanded, how will they ever leave their ideological bubble, if they aren’t exposed to ideas that challenge them, like “all of you are charlatans”?

Preach it, brother Alex.

And you know what this is heading for, don’t you? The Right wants laws and regulations quashing campus speech, for the sake of “freedom.”  That’s the whole point of this obviously coordinated campaign.

At Slate, Jamelle Bouie discusses some real threats to free speech. And they aren’t coming from the young folks, or the Left.

What actually looms are more traditional threats to free speech, from the state using its power to suppress dissidents and minorities (or protect those who would), to extremist groups using the threat of violence to monopolize and control public space. Focusing on campus protesters in the face of this danger is like worrying about the crumbs on your floor when your kitchen is on fire.

For example,

On campuses, it’s clear the most dangerous attacks on free expression are coming from state lawmakers. Last year in Wisconsin, the GOP-controlled Assembly passed a bill that would suspend or expel University of Wisconsin students who disrupted campus speakers or presentations. Gov. Scott Walker supports the measure, which is based on a proposal from the conservative Goldwater Institute in Arizona, and backed by Americans for Prosperity, a right-wing advocacy group.

Stunts like Sommers’s trolling of the students, or anyone inviting professional trolls like Milo Yiannopoulos to speak anywhere, look to me like coordinated efforts to accomplish exactly that — take away the free speech of college students on their own campuses. Further,

Republican lawmakers in several states proposed bills that would protect drivers who caused injury or death to someone blocking a roadway, as long as they exercised “due care.”

And how about,

In 2016, Arizona passed a statute that bars the state from “entering into government contracts with companies or persons who engage in or advocate for economic boycotts of Israel,” a policy that banned pro-boycott speakers from Arizona college campuses.

Alabama, Arizona, Texas, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Mississippi all have laws that ban the positive portrayals of homosexuality in public schools. In Alabama, the law states that “any program or curriculum in the public schools in Alabama that includes sex education or the human reproductive process shall, as a minimum, include and emphasize…in a factual manner and from a public health perspective, that homosexuality is not a lifestyle acceptable to the general public and that homosexual conduct is a criminal offense under the laws of the state.”

Bouie doesn’t mention it, but several states have laws dictating what doctors must say to women seeking abortions, including medical “facts” that aren’t true, such as “abortion causes breast cancer.” See “New laws force doctors to lie to patients about abortion” at MSNBC.

President Trump encouraged team owners in the National Football League to fire players who protested police brutality by taking a knee during the national anthem, a clear call to punish speech. The White House took a similar line on a sports journalist who labeled the president a “white supremacist.”

We can go on and on about the many ways Trump has signaled his contempt for the First Amendment. But I think the point is made.