Free Speech, Ours and Theirs


The New York Times Editorial Board published a long essay on free speech on Friday, titled “America Has a Free Speech Problem.” It acknowledges the problem forthrightly:

For all the tolerance and enlightenment that modern society claims, Americans are losing hold of a fundamental right as citizens of a free country: the right to speak their minds and voice their opinions in public without fear of being shamed or shunned.

The editorial includes poll data in which Americans, especially conservatives, confirm their fear of expressing their opinions lest they be canceled or even fired. None of this is new. The editorialists purport to be even-handed in assigning responsibility for today’s anti-free speech climate, but, weirdly, they put most blame on conservatives.

Thus, while decrying cancel culture, the Times can see some merit in conservatives losing their jobs:

On college campuses and in many workplaces, speech that others find harmful or offensive can result not only in online shaming but also in the loss of livelihood. Some progressives believe this has provided a necessary, and even welcome, check on those in power.

Those in power? How powerful can you be if you lose your job when you disagree with leftists? Aren’t they, obviously, the ones in power?

The editorialists cite the role of social media in the current hostile climate, in particular the prevalence of online “misinformation and disinformation,” which is the purported ground of much contemporary censorship:

[S]ocial media is awash in speech of the point-scoring, picking-apart, piling-on, put-down variety. A deluge of misinformation and disinformation online has heightened this tension.

Here, the Times’s lack of self-awareness is comical. One of the main arenas of censorship over the last two years has been covid. Liberal outlets, including the Times, have censored, suppressed and dismissed views contrary to those of a handful of politicized bureaucrats as “misinformation.” But in many cases, probably most, the dissenters have turned out to be right. And the Times was one of many press outlets that labeled the data on Hunter Biden’s laptop as “disinformation” in order to help Joe Biden win the presidential election.

It no doubt is true, as the editorialists say, that there is plenty of misinformation and disinformation on the internet. Some of it originates with, or is promoted by, the New York Times. But this is nothing new. The point of free speech is to sort out what is, and what is not, misinformation. As it relates to censorship, the key issue is the collusion among liberal press outlets to label as “misinformation,” and to suppress, what is in reality true.

Given the almost daily horror stories of conservatives being silenced, deplatformed, libeled and fired, you may wonder how the Times can possibly think that the main threat to free speech comes from the right. This is their logic:

Many on the right, for all their braying…

“Braying.”

…about cancel culture, have embraced an even more extreme version of censoriousness as a bulwark against a rapidly changing society, with laws that would ban books, stifle teachers and discourage open discussion in classrooms.

To my knowledge, no book has been banned in the U.S. in the last 100 years. Choosing books to be purchased for a public school library is an entirely different matter. Deciding that a book is not appropriate for a junior high bookshelf is not “banning” the book; indeed, a large majority of the books now in print undoubtedly fall into that category. The lack of seriousness the Times editorialists display when they make this kind of argument is appalling. But then, no one ever thought that members of the Times Editorial Board are smart.

[A]ll Americans should be deeply concerned about an avalanche of legislation passed by Republican-controlled legislatures around the country that gags discussion of certain topics and clearly violates the spirit of the First Amendment, if not the letter of the law.

It goes far beyond conservative states yanking books about race and sex from public school libraries. Since 2021 in 40 state legislatures, 175 bills have been introduced or prefiled that target what teachers can say and what students can learn, often with severe penalties.
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These bills include Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which would restrict what teachers and students can talk about and allows for parents to file lawsuits.
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The new gag laws coincide with a similar barrage of bills that ostensibly target critical race theory, an idea that has percolated down from law schools to the broader public in recent years as a way to understand the pervasiveness of racism. The moral panic around critical race theory has morphed into a vast effort to restrict discussions of race, sex, American history and other topics that conservatives say are divisive. Several states have now passed these gag laws restricting what can be said in public schools, colleges and universities, and state agencies and institutions.

The Times editorialists fail to understand that the public schools are–like it or not!–governed by the public. It is appropriate, indeed necessary and inevitable, that parents and voters will ultimately decide the content of public school curricula. Left wingers like those at the Times hate this fact, because in recent decades, while parents have generally failed to pay attention, they have had their way: most public schools have been run by far-left teachers’ unions that promote racist dogmas (CRT) and hate America.

But these far-left views do not align with the beliefs of the people who pay the public schools’ bills and whose children attend them. So we are witnessing a tectonic collision as parents and voters finally assert their right to control how their children are taught.

This has nothing to do with free speech. Left-wing teachers and administrators are free to spout their anti-American and racist views on their own time. They just can’t make those repellent opinions part of the public school curriculum that is paid for, and therefore determined by, normal people who are neither racist nor anti-American.

Americans do indeed face a crisis with regard to our traditional right to say what we think, but don’t look to the New York Times as an ally in the fight for free speech.



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