Suppose you’re the editorial-page editor of a college newspaper, contemplating the big news on campus: protesters have silenced an invited speaker and gone on a violent rampage. Should you, as a journalist whose profession depends on the First Amendment, write an editorial reaffirming the right to free speech?
If that seems like a no-brainer, you’re behind the times. The question stumped the staff of the Middlebury Campus after protesters silenced conservative social thinker Charles Murray and injured the professor who’d invited him. The prospect of taking a stand on the First Amendment was so daunting that the paper dispensed with its usual weekly editorial, devoting the space instead to a range of opinions from others—most of whom defended the protesters. When a larger and more violent mob at the University of California at Berkeley prevented Milo Yiannopoulos from speaking on campus, students at the Daily Californian did write a forceful editorial—but not in favor of his right to speak. Instead, they reviled Yiannopoulos and denounced those who “invited chaos” by offering a platform to “someone who never belonged here.”
Free speech is no longer sacred among young journalists who have absorbed the campus lessons about “hate speech”—defined more and more broadly—and they’re breaking long-standing taboos as they bring “cancel culture” into professional newsrooms. They’re not yet in charge, but many of their editors are reacting like beleaguered college presidents, terrified of seeming insufficiently “woke.” Most professional journalists, young and old, still pay lip service to the First Amendment, and they certainly believe that it protects their work, but they’re increasingly eager for others to be “de-platformed” or “no-platformed,” as today’s censors like to put it—effectively silenced.
These mostly younger progressive journalists lead campaigns to get conservative journalists fired, banned from Twitter, and “de-monetized” on YouTube. They don’t burn books, but they’ve successfully pressured Amazon to stop selling titles that they deem offensive. They encourage advertising boycotts designed to put ideological rivals out of business. They’re loath to report forthrightly on left-wing censorship and violence, even when fellow journalists get attacked. They equate conservatives’ speech with violence and rationalize leftists’ actual violence as . . . speech.
It’s a strange new world for those who remember liberal journalists like Nat Hentoff, the Village Voice writer who stood with the ACLU in defending the free-speech rights of Nazis, Klansmen, and others whose views he deplored—or who recall the days when the Columbia Journalism Review stood as an unswerving advocate for press freedom. While America has seen its share of politicians eager to limit speech, from John Adams and Woodrow Wilson (who both had journalists prosecuted for “sedition”) to Donald Trump (who has made various unconstitutional threats), journalists on the left and the right have long shared a reverence for the First Amendment, if only out of self-interest. When liberals supported campaign-finance laws restricting corporations’ political messages during election campaigns, they insisted on exemptions for news organizations. One could fault them for being self-serving in this selective censorship, which the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional in its Citizens United decision, but at least they stood up for their profession’s freedom.
Today, though, journalists are becoming zealous to silence their ideological rivals—and the fervor is mainly on the left. During the 1960s, the left-wing activists leading Berkeley’s Free Speech movement fought for the rights of conservatives to speak on campus, but today’s activists embrace the New Left’s intellectual rationalizations for censorship. To justify the protection of an ever-expanding array of victimized groups, theorists of intersectionality—the idea that subgroup identities, such as race, gender, and sexuality, overlap to make people more oppressed—have adapted Herbert Marcuse’s neo-Marxist notion of “repressive tolerance.” Marcuse propounded that Orwellian oxymoron in the 1960s to justify government censorship of right-wing groups that were supposedly oppressing the powerless.
Greg Lukianoff, who has fought free-speech wars on campus for two decades as the head of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), dates the ascendancy of the new censors to 2013, when student protesters at Brown University forced the cancellation of a speech by Raymond Kelly, the New York City police commissioner. “For the first time, rather than being ashamed of this assault on free speech, most people on campus seemed to rally around the protesters,” says Lukianoff, coauthor of The Coddling of the American Mind. “That’s when we started hearing the language of medicalization, that free speech would cause medical harm. Outsiders dismissed this as a college phenomenon and predicted that these intolerant fragile kids would have to change when they hit the real world. But instead, they’re changing the world.”
This change can be seen at the once-stalwart ACLU, which has retreated to a new policy of rejecting First Amendment cases when the speech in question “can inflict serious harms” on “marginalized communities.” That’s the paternalistic rationale for campus speech codes, which have repeatedly been declared unconstitutional but remain popular, especially among Democrats and young people. In a national survey in 2017 by the Cato Institute, a majority of Democrats (versus a quarter of Republicans) said that the government should prohibit hate speech, and 60 percent of respondents under age 30 agreed that hate speech constitutes an act of violence.
Even journalists are adopting these attitudes, as Robby Soave observed while reporting on young radicals in his book Panic Attack. A decade ago, when Soave was an undergraduate on the University of Michigan’s student paper, his fellow editors stood in the Hentoff tradition: devout leftists but also free-speech absolutists. Starting around 2013, though, Soave saw a change at Michigan and other schools. “The power dynamic switched on campus so that the anti-speech activists began dominating the discourse while those who believed in free speech became afraid to speak up,” says Soave, now a writer for Reason. “Campus newspapers, especially at elite institutions, have become increasingly sympathetic to the notion that speech isn’t protected if it makes students feel unsafe. And now you’re seeing these graduates going into professional journalism and demanding that their editors provide a safe workplace by not employing people whose views make them uncomfortable.”
The result is what Dean Baquet, the New York Times executive editor, recently called a “generational divide” in newsrooms. The progressive activism of younger journalists often leaves their older colleagues exasperated. “The paper is now written by 25-year-old gender studies majors,” said one Washington Post veteran. She wouldn’t speak for the record, though: as fragile and marginalized as these young progressives claim to be, they know how to make life miserable for unwoke colleagues.
If their publication is considering hiring a conservative, or if a colleague writes or tweets something that offends them, young progressives express their outrage on social media—sometimes publicly on Twitter, sometimes in internal chat rooms. The internal chat is supposed to be confidential, but comments often get leaked, stoking online outrage. It takes remarkably little to start the cycle, as Times opinion writer Bari Weiss discovered last year. Weiss, already in disfavor among progressives for criticizing aspects of the #MeToo movement, got into trouble for celebrating the Olympic performance of gymnast Mirai Nagasu, the American-born daughter of Japanese immigrants. Weiss adapted a line from the Hamilton musical to tweet: “Immigrants: They get the job done.” Weiss was promptly attacked for describing Nagasu as an immigrant, making her guilty of a progressive offense known as “othering.”
“Today, journalists are becoming zealous to silence their ideological rivals—and the fervor is mainly on the left.”
HuffPost’s Ashley Feinberg, who did her own version of othering by labeling Weiss a “feminist apostate” and “troll,” published the leaked transcript of an internal chat among Times staffers in which Weiss’s tweet was compared to the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. The staffers called for an expansion of the company’s program in implicit-bias training to combat the paper’s “microaggressions” and “hostile work environment.” Weiss tried explaining that she’d been aware of the gymnast’s family background and had been using poetic license, but eventually she tweeted her surrender: “I am being told that I am a racist, a ghoul and that I deserve to die. So I deleted the tweet. That’s where we are.”
Ian Buruma, the editor of The New York Review of Books, was fired for publishing an article by a man accused of sexual assault (a Canadian journalist who’d been acquitted of the charges in court but saw his career ruined). Buruma was doomed by online outrage, a staff revolt, and threats from university presses to withdraw advertising. Harper’s was similarly roiled by internal rebellion and online fury for publishing articles by John Hockenberry, the NPR host who lost his job over sexual harassment accusations, and by Katie Roiphe, whose criticism of #MeToo was controversial even before the magazine published it. Rumors about the pending article prompted Nicole Cliffe, a columnist at Slate, to call for freelance writers to boycott Harper’s unless it killed Roiphe’s piece; Cliffe even offered to compensate them for any money they lost by withdrawing their articles. Her preemptive strike didn’t stop publication of the Roiphe article, but it did inspire at least one company to withdraw an ad from Harper’s.
The Atlantic faced a campaign to fire Kevin Williamson shortly after he was hired away from National Review. Writers at the New Republic, the New York Times, Slate, Vox, the Daily Beast, and other outlets called him unfit for the job. They were particularly appalled by an earlier podcast in which Williamson, in a spirit of provocation, said that women who have abortions deserved the same punishment as those who commit first-degree murder, even if that meant hanging. The Atlantic initially stood by him, and Ta-Nehisi Coates, one of its star progressive writers, even praised Williamson’s work and said that he’d advised hiring him. But the online dragging and internal discontent soon led to his exit. At a staff meeting (a video of which was leaked to HuffPost) after Williamson’s firing, Coates apologized to his colleagues. “I feel like I kind of failed you guys,” he said.
The online outrage against Williamson was fanned by Media Matters for America, the nonprofit that employs dozens of researchers to dig up damaging material on conservatives—or, at least, material that will sound especially bad if it’s quoted without context. (Williamson, for instance, had also expressed reservations about imposing the death penalty for any crime.) One Media Matters researcher, heroically profiled in the Washington Post, spent ten hours a day listening to recordings from 2006 to 2011 of Tucker Carlson’s conversations with Bubba the Love Sponge, a shock-jock radio host. Media Matters published some of Carlson’s cruder comments and followed up with new ones on subsequent days to keep the story alive and provide ammunition for activists demanding that corporations stop advertising on Carlson’s Fox News show. The campaign succeeded in pressuring advertisers like Land Rover and IHOP to abandon the program, which runs fewer commercials than it did last year.
It’s easy to see why progressive activists have made advertising boycotts one of their chief weapons against Fox, Breitbart, and other conservative outlets. What’s harder to fathom is why so many journalists have cheered a tactic that’s bad for their profession. This kind of boycott is different from the traditional ones against companies accused of bad behavior like mistreating their workers or polluting the environment. In this case, companies are targeted not for the way they run their businesses but simply for advertising their wares. Jack Shafer, the longtime media critic, has been a lonely libertarian voice warning of the threat that this poses to journalism and public discourse. “I barely trust IHOP to make my breakfast,” he wrote in Politico. “Why would I expect it to vet my cable news content for me?”
Journalists have traditionally prided themselves on their independence from advertisers. Now the boycotters want to end that independence. If advertisers start being held accountable for content, their aversion to controversy will put pressure on media companies to churn out bland fare that won’t risk offending anyone. “It’s easy to imagine today’s boycotts turning into tomorrow’s blacklist,” wrote Shafer.
Instead of worrying about this threat to their autonomy, journalists at progressive and mainstream publications have promoted it. Activists announce boycotts regularly, but these rarely make an impact unless they get widespread public attention. Sleeping Giants, an activist group leading the boycotts, has gotten lots of publicity (and web traffic) from largely uncritical articles heralding its leaders’ pure motives. Margaret Sullivan, the Washington Post’s media columnist, acknowledged that there might be a problem if boycotters aimed at a provocative outlet like Gawker—a left-leaning site that meets her approval—but she couldn’t bring herself to condemn the tactic. Quite the reverse: “To those who sympathize with Sleeping Giants’ objections to online racism, sexism and hate-mongering—count me in this number—their efforts seem worthwhile, sometimes even noble.”
Other journalists have explicitly endorsed the Carlson boycott, including Kevin Drum of Mother Jones, and Michelangelo Signorile of HuffPost. Some have even pitched in to pressure the advertisers directly. Jenna Amatulli, a reporter at HuffPost, published a list of the show’s advertisers, complete with links to their contact information, and wrote that she had “reached out” for statements from each company—meaning, in effect, that she had personally threatened them with bad publicity. No one wants to be named in a story accusing an advertiser of supporting “racism,” “white nationalism,” and “misogyny,” Carlson’s alleged sins, reported as established facts in HuffPost articles.
Other HuffPost reporters used similar tactics against Daryush Valizadeh, known as Roosh, a male critic of feminism who ran a website called Return of Kings. After the reporters “reached out” to Amazon, YouTube, and other companies that enabled Roosh to collect online revenue, Amazon removed some of his books, and YouTube banned him from live-streaming. HuffPost triumphantly reported the campaign’s outcome: “Rape Apologist ‘Roosh’ Shutting Down Website After Running Out of Money.”
How would the management of HuffPost react if conservative journalists similarly “reached out” to its advertisers? I put that question to Lydia Polgreen, the editor-in-chief, noting that it would be easy to find articles (like one by Jesse Been defending violence against Trump supporters) that could scare off corporations. She dodged the question, referring me to a spokesperson’s bland statement about HuffPost being trusted by advertisers because of its “factual insights.”
A few conservatives have tried these censorious tactics against liberals, with little success. They’ve hired researchers to dig up damaging social-media posts by liberal reporters—a move that Polgreen called an “extremely alarming” threat to “independent journalism,” though it’s precisely what her HuffPost staff and Media Matters do to conservative journalists. Some conservatives responded to the Fox boycotts by announcing counter-boycotts against MSNBC, but these efforts got virtually no press coverage. Conservative journalists eagerly criticize the bias of their progressive colleagues, but they don’t have the same power to censor—or the same zeal.
To get an idea of the imbalance, consider the cases of Quinn Norton, a libertarian technology writer, and Sarah Jeong, a progressive technology writer. After the Times announced that it was hiring Norton for its editorial page, it took just seven hours for progressives to get her fired. On Twitter and in an internal Times chat room (as HuffPost reported), Norton was attacked for having tweeted that she was friends with a neo-Nazi hacker whom she had covered. She had always repudiated his ideology, calling him a “terrible person,” but that wasn’t enough to save her job. Six months later, in August 2018, when the Times hired Jeong for the editorial page, conservative activists unearthed tweets from Jeong, an Asian-American, denigrating white men as well as whites as a race. One used a hashtag “#CancelWhitePeople”; another predicted that whites would soon go extinct and said, “This was my plan all along.” The Times stuck with its decision to hire her. (The paper recently announced that Jeong would no longer be part of its editorial board, though she will continue as a contributing writer.)
Conservative journalists criticized the Times for its double standard, but they didn’t unite with the online activists demanding that Jeong be fired. The Times’s Bret Stephens wrote a column urging the paper to overlook the offensive tweets. In New York, Andrew Sullivan lambasted Jeong’s bigotry and the progressive dogma that it’s impossible to be racist against whites, but he, too, urged the Times not to fire her because media companies should not succumb to online mobs. You might think that Sullivan’s forbearance would win him some points with progressives, and perhaps even make them question their own enthusiasm for purges, but the column didn’t play well even with Sullivan’s colleagues at New York. Brian Feldman, an associate editor, tweeted: “Andrew Sullivan’s newest column is complete garbage and I’m embarrassed to be even tangentially associated with it.” Not exactly collegial, but again, that’s where we are.
Another thought experiment: suppose, after a small organization announces a march in support of abortion rights, that an alliance of antiabortion protesters vows to shut it down. As the marchers proceed, they’re confronted by a much larger group of counterprotesters wearing masks, carrying clubs, and chanting, “Whose streets? Our streets!” The counterprotesters block the marchers’ progress and throw eggs, milk shakes, and rocks at them. Fights break out, inspiring a news article: “Six people were injured today in clashes between anti-murder demonstrators and a far-left group linked to infanticide. Leaders of the anti-murder protesters blamed the left-wing group for provoking the violence and vowed to ‘continue defending ourselves and the most vulnerable members of our society.’ ”
Are there any right-wing journalists capable of misreporting a story so dishonestly? They haven’t had a chance to try. There’s no group of right-wing masked thugs who regularly try to stop left-wing speeches and marches. The “no-platforming” strategy is a specialty of Antifa, the left-wing network whose members have brawled at conservative and Republican events in Berkeley, San Jose, Charlottesville, Washington, D.C., Boston, Portland, Vancouver, and other cities. They describe themselves as “anti-fascist,” a ludicrous term for a masked mob suppressing free speech, but journalists respectfully use it anyway.
Media coverage obscures Antifa’s aggression by vaguely reporting “clashes” between antifascists who claim to be acting in “self-defense” (though they typically outnumber their enemies by at least four to one) against the violence of “racists” and “white supremacists” of the “alt-right.” It doesn’t matter if the conservative group is rallying to support free speech—hardly a traditional priority for fascists—and has specifically banned white supremacists from participating. Enterprising journalists can always find someone at the rally somehow linked to what some left-wing organization has designated a dangerous “hate group.” And journalists can turn to the much-quoted Mark Bray, a historian at Dartmouth, to provide a rationale for the masked mob’s tactics. In his Anti-Fascist Handbook, Bray acknowledges that Antifa’s no-platforming strategy infringes on others’ free speech but maintains that it is “justified for its role in the political struggle against fascism” and approvingly describes violence as “a small though vital sliver of anti-fascist activity.”
This coverage jibes with the media narrative that the great threat to civil liberties comes from the right, a rationale used for censoring conservatives. If a lone sociopath with right-wing leanings turns violent, commentators rush to blame it on the “climate” created by President Trump and Fox News, which makes no more sense than blaming Elizabeth Warren for the recent killing spree in Dayton by a supporter of hers, or blaming MSNBC for the Rachel Maddow fan who opened fire on Republican members of Congress in Alexandria, Virginia. Violent young men certainly exist on the right, but no conservative academic or journalist tries to rationalize their attacks as “self-defense.” They can post online threats and domination fantasies, but they don’t have the numbers or the institutional power to silence their opponents.
“Most journalists obsess over right-wing dangers while ignoring or downplaying the actual violence on the left.”
Yet most journalists obsess over right-wing dangers while ignoring or downplaying the actual violence on the left. There are exceptions, like Peter Beinart of The Atlantic, who has warned about Antifa and criticized The Nation and Slate for celebrating one of its assaults (the punching of white nationalist Richard Spencer). But few others have paid much heed to Antifa. Some, like Carlos Maza and the New Republic’s Matt Ford, have praised its milk-shaking tactic. While working at Vox, Maza tweeted, “Milkshake them all. Humiliate them at every turn. Make them dread public organizing.” He has also tweeted, “Deplatform the bigots,” and put that idea into practice with the outspoken support of Vox’s executives. His pressure on YouTube triggered the “Vox Adpocalypse,” in which YouTube cut off advertising revenue to Steven Crowder and other conservative commentators.
Outside of conservative and libertarian outlets, Antifa hasn’t attracted much scrutiny, even as its followers have assaulted journalists. (They also stood outside Carlson’s home, chanting, “Tucker Carlson, we will fight! We know where you sleep at night!”) The latest victim is Andy Ngo, a writer for Quillette, City Journal, the Wall Street Journal, and other publications, whose coverage of Antifa’s violence led to threats and harassment from the group’s members over the last two years. In June, Ngo was attacked at a rally in Portland for men’s rights that attracted two dozen supporters. They were opposed by 400 protesters who blocked streets and threw milkshakes handed out by organizers. As Ngo was reporting, masked Antifa protesters rushed him, stole his camera, showered him with milkshakes and eggs, kicked him, and pummeled his head, cutting his face and tearing his earlobe. He was hospitalized with a brain hemorrhage.
Among major newspapers, only the Wall Street Journal editorialized against the Antifa assault on right-leaning journalist Andy Ngo, who was seriously injured in June.
Any attack on a journalist for reporting usually inspires displays of professional solidarity, but the Wall Street Journal was the only major newspaper to editorialize in support of Ngo. The Committee to Protect Journalists, which issues frequent news bulletins on threats to the press, published nothing on the assault. Last year, the committee ran a detailed report on American journalists who felt threatened by the far-right (none of whom had been physically injured), but it seems uninterested in Antifa.
Some progressive journalists condemned the assault on Ngo but faulted him and the conservative organizers of the rally for inviting violence, as in a HuffPost article headlined “Far-Right Extremists Wanted Blood in Portland’s Streets. Once Again, They Got It.” Aymann Ismail, a staff writer at Slate, tweeted, “This is bad, but Ngo has done worse.” The Portland Mercury tried discrediting Ngo by claiming that he previously had been complicit in an attack by right-wingers on Antifa—a baseless claim debunked by Reason’s Soave but nonetheless repeated by the Daily Beast, Vice, and Rolling Stone. Zack Beauchamp of Vox condemned the physical assault on Ngo but offered excruciating rationalizations for Antifa’s rage. “The mere fact that Ngo was assaulted doesn’t say what the meaning of that assault is, or what the broader context is that’s necessary to understand it,” he wrote, explaining that the controversy “isn’t really a debate about press freedoms” but rather about “two divergent visions of where American politics is.” One of those visions just happens to require silencing the other side.
Free speech should be of special interest to the Columbia Journalism Review, which calls itself “the leading global voice on journalism news and commentary.” But CJR sees the issue through a progressive filter. It not only criticized The New York Review of Books and Harper’s for publishing articles by journalists fired for sexual harassment but also essentially advocated a blacklist: “The men who feel they have been unfairly treated following accusations of harassment or abuse are entitled to their perspective, but nothing demands that editors turn over the pages of their publications to these figures.” CJR applauded Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube for “stemming the flow of toxic ideas” by banning “hate-mongers like Milo Yiannopoulos and Alex Jones.” After the violence at Berkeley and Middlebury, CJR urged reporters covering campus unrest to “be wary of amplifying flashpoints that match Trump’s own ‘intolerant left’ narrative,” and it has been following its own advice.
CJR showed little interest in Antifa’s censorious tactics until prompted recently by Quillette, the online magazine devoted to “dangerous ideas,” which has run articles by journalists and academics on the culture wars over free speech. Eoin Lenihan, a researcher in online extremism, reported in May on an analysis of the Twitter users who interact most heavily with Antifa sites. Most turned out to be journalists, including writers for the Guardian, the New Republic, and HuffPost as well for pro-Antifa publications. Following a group closely on Twitter, of course, doesn’t mean that one endorses its activity; journalists do need to track the subjects they cover. But these journalists seemed more devoted to promoting the cause than covering it impartially. “Of all 15 verified national-level journalists in our subset, we couldn’t find a single article, by any of them, that was markedly critical of Antifa in any way,” Lenihan wrote. “In all cases, their work in this area consisted primarily of downplaying Antifa violence while advancing Antifa talking points, and in some cases quoting Antifa extremists as if they were impartial experts.”
CJR responded to Lenihan’s article—but not by analyzing the press coverage of Antifa. Instead, it ran an article, “Right-Wing Publications Launder an Anti-Journalist Smear Campaign,” by Jared Holt of Right Wing Watch, a project of the liberal advocacy group People for the American Way. Holt’s article was a mix of ad hominem attacks, irrelevancies, and inaccuracies. Cathy Young, who wrote about the controversy for Arc Digital, concluded that every key point in his argument was wrong. Even worse was what Holt omitted. He didn’t even address Lenihan’s main conclusion: that press coverage of Antifa was biased—the issue that should have been most relevant to a journalism review.
Yet CJR remained uninterested in Antifa even after the subsequent assault on Andy Ngo. This past summer, it ran an article about rightists attacking journalists in Greece, but Ngo’s assault didn’t even rate a mention in CJR’s daily digest of journalism news. The only reference to the Portland melee was a summary of a Media Matters article criticizing Fox News for its coverage. Fox, like other outlets, had quoted a report from the Portland police that some of the milk shakes handed out by Antifa contained quick-drying cement, but no other evidence existed that this was true. To the nation’s leading journalism review, that was apparently the most important lesson of the episode for reporters: be careful not to exaggerate the violence of leftists opposed to free speech. And never mind that a journalist is in the hospital as a result of that violence.
Is there any hope of reviving the spirit of Nat Hentoff on the left? The zeal for banning “hate speech” doesn’t seem to be abating, though some progressives are developing a new appreciation for the First Amendment, thanks to Trump’s incoherent comments about it, like his offhand remark that “bad” speech is not “free speech” because it is “dangerous.” While the dangers of Trump’s “war on the press” have been exaggerated—no matter how much he’d like to silence “fake news CNN” or the “failing New York Times,” the courts won’t suspend the First Amendment to please him—there is a danger of the federal government stifling speech on social media.
There’s some bipartisan support in Congress and even among journalists for removing what’s been called the Internet’s First Amendment: the exemption that allows social media platforms to publish controversial material without being held legally liable for it. Removing the exemption appeals to some Democrats who want to restrict “hate speech,” and to some Republicans, too, angry at the platforms for censoring right-wing voices. This censorship is often blamed on social media companies’ progressive bias, which may well exist, but it’s due at least in part simply to the greater external pressure from progressive activists and journalists. If progressives keep trying to de-platform their opponents—and if Twitter and Facebook and YouTube keep caving to the pressure—there’ll be more bipartisan enthusiasm to restrict all speech on social media.
A more immediate danger is self-censorship by writers fearful of being fired or blacklisted and by editors fearful of online rage, staff revolts, and advertising boycotts. After the firing of Williamson, The Atlantic (to its credit) published a dissent from that decision by Conor Friedersdorf, in which he worried about the chilling effect it would have on the magazine’s writers and editors, and how their fear of taking chances would ultimately hurt readers. That’s the danger at every publication that bows to the new censors. Resisting them won’t be easy if journalism keeps going the way of academia.
But all editors and publishers can take a couple of basic steps. One is to concentrate on hiring journalists committed to the most important kind of diversity: a wide range of ideas open for vigorous debate. The other step is even simpler: stop capitulating. Ignore the online speech police, and don’t reward the staff censors, either. Instead of feeling their pain or acceding to their demands, give them a copy of Nat Hentoff’s Free Speech for Me—but Not for Thee. If they still don’t get it—if they still don’t see that free speech is their profession’s paramount principle—tactfully suggest that their talents would be better suited to another line of work.
This article, originally published in City Journal, is reprinted here with permission.
9 thoughts on “‘Woke’ Journalists Undermine America’s Newsrooms”
I’m sure it is comforting to be always correct and secure in an environment full of absolutes imposed upon a community. I do not welcome such comfort.
In the late sixties & early seventies I enjoyed being taught by professors who, indirectly, taught debating and rhetorical skills during discussion sessions. These sessions occurred in all subjects: science, math, literature, history, social sciences; the professors were intelligent adults and knew their subjects enough to be able to handle any question or statement without condescension and were able to admit when some things were indeterminate or undetermined, subject to interpretation. They were neither insulted nor insulting when asked about anything. And the students, free to utter anything, did not feel threatened or insulted by any topic or statement; we were free to agree or disagree — preferably on purpose with understanding.
This happened at both SUNY Stony Brook and RIT, Discussing controversial or absurd things was productive, realizing “How do you know that you know that?” is a valid question, and learning how to argue, how to see both sides and, especially, how to defend things you don’t agree with expands the mind. All of this encouraged us to develop into productive adults.
That’s what education was. R.I.P.
My only disagreement is in calling Marcuse’s theories “Neo-Marxist.” Marcuse was a self-proclaimed Maoist, maybe not a member of the Communist Party, but a devoted believer in the ideals of communism. And he’s he lodestar for today’s young journalists. Most of whom are too uneducated to realize that they are merely rehashing Marcuse in less sophisticated language.
Comprehensive article, but it misses this:
It’s funny that Bari Weiss’s colleagues attacked her, and some people called her a ‘racist’, for a minor error, calling someone an ‘immigrant’ who is actually a 2nd generation American, when they could have found more egregious examples of alleged racism and definite opposition to freedom of speech:
I’ll be mercifully brief. Firstly – the whole “MAGA” thing? Will never happen without great journalism.
Secondly – I find Zack Beauchamp’s response in writing to the Ngo attack gorgeously and brilliantly and correctly exemplary of faux journalism that is as ruthless, dispassionate, and lacking in any real human warmth….as what one would expect from a common jellyfish or a black mamba.
And so goes the profession. Bought and sold for pennies’ worth of some of the most incredibly narrow human thinking since the golden calf days. Like a highjacked jetliner on its way to Havana, like the machinery of modern education, business bureaucracy, and what passes for some species of government, the Press withers and faints just like a virgin caught suddenly by the Taliban on public streets without a veil.
While PDT has done much to expose the hypocrisy, condescension, fake “leaks,” and narrative-over-truth of the corporate media, the idea that he is trying to “silence” them is silly. He’s a businessman himself who understands the “free market” (such as it is) and has made no attempts to “silence” or de-platform any source, even as panels of corporate “journalists” have spent years discussing his supposed status as a Russian spy, mentally disturbed, a traitor, or a lawless, Constitution-shredder…while they, themselves take great advantage of the revolving door between Dems who work as activists, those in government, and those in the media.
Fighting back is not the same as attacking.
“…suppose, after a small organization announces a march in support of abortion rights, that an alliance of antiabortion protesters vows to shut it down…”
The antiabortion protesters would be arrested en masse and everyone knows it.
I respectfully disagree with Greg Lukianoff, the concept of “medicalization” started in 2007, not 2013, and it started in the response to the Virginia Tech Shooting.
That is when the concept that free speech would (not could) cause medical harm arose, and with it the related concept of “cognitive aggression”, that those who engage in unpopular speech will inexorably progress to physical violence — unless stopped.
A couple years later came the Behavioral Intervention Teams — secretive groups of top level university administrators who silenced unpopular students via the use of force (including campus police) and that served to legitimize the concept of silencing speech through force as a means of self defense to prevent medical harm.
This is all based on the fallacy that there is no distinction between a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and a Seung-Hui Cho (the Virginia Tech shooter). “Cognitive aggression” is the psychobable concept that sane people will change their views (and values) to those of those of the majority, and hence anyone who persists with a viewpoint with which the majority disagrees (as Dr. King clearly did) will escalate to mass murder.
The scary thing is that the people running our nation’s colleges and universities actually believe this, and they have been teaching it to young people for more than a decade now.
Very well put.
How far away are the thought police? We already have language police, who have played no small part in the reasons why so many schoolchildren do not read, and many who do, do not read well.
We have indeed, become a ‘medicalized’ society. Many tens of billions’ worth of revenue drive many hundreds of thousands of nice jobs with nice paychecks and benefits. All of them requiring victims of one sort or another.
The minions are played for their benefit – and benefit they do.
It is a difficult thing these days to not wind up being a victim of something – unless of course, you’re ‘privileged.’ Indeed, one can be privileged and still live on the street, or in a tent, or even in a prison cell.
The conflation of speech, thought, expression, ideas – with violence….comports a huge disparity which hurls a truly violent insult into the faces of all those who do in fact, suffer real violence in constant and systemic ways. Thus has their lived experience of danger become “appropriated” for political purposes. All in the long lust to power.
And meanwhile our very language becomes ever more pretzel-twisted into something approaching pure chaos. Which is why so many just shut up.
Leaving the barking at walls to echo our sublime social dysfunction.
Sadly, the thought police are already here — the Behavioral Intervention Teams are the thought police…..