Kevin D. Williamson puts the hundreds of newspaper editorials recently deploring Donald Trump’s criticisms of the establishment media into proper perspective.
If we want a culture of open and robust discourse, then we do not want a culture in which Brendan Eich is driven from his job for having an unpopular view on gay marriage. If we want a culture of open and robust discourse, then we do not want a culture in which there is an organized-campaign-style effort to have journalists dismissed from their positions for holding unpopular views, or a boycott every time the New York Times or the Washington Post (or, I suppose, The Atlantic) adds a columnist who is not likely to please the Bernie Sanders Campaign Historical Re-enactors Society at Reed College. It is true that none of these things is a formal violation of the First Amendment, because the First Amendment is a restriction on what kind of laws the federal government may enact. But calling CNNâ€™s daily output â€œfake newsâ€ isnâ€™t a violation of the First Amendment, either.
Whatâ€™s actually at work here is a variation on â€œHeads I Win/Tails You Lose.â€ When the Left wants to stop an unpopular speaker from delivering remarks at Berkeley, then thatâ€™s just meeting speech with more speech and some firebombs. And, itâ€™s true: There isnâ€™t any First Amendment reason why you canâ€™t have a riot at Berkeley every time Ann Coulter gets invited to speak there. But there are all sorts of other reasons.
If there is going to be more to freedom of speech than â€œCongress shall make no lawâ€ â€” which is what we should want â€” then that has to be true for everyone.
Freedom of the press is not some special license granted to organizations that incorporate as media companies. There is no intellectually defensible model of free expression that protects the editorial page of the New York Times but not Hillary: The Movie. Of course, itâ€™s easy to think of a pretext for suppressing communication you donâ€™t like: If you donâ€™t like what Citizens United is saying, then you shut it down with â€œcampaign finance reform,â€ which, we should remember, worked â€” until the Supreme Court stopped it. If you donâ€™t like that oil companies fund organizations that criticize global-warming policies, then you claim that this amounts to â€œsecurities fraud.â€ If you donâ€™t like that the NRA is an effective advocate for its positions, you use banking regulations to hamstring it financially. Donâ€™t like somebodyâ€™s social or religious views? â€œHate speech.â€ Easy as that.
We donâ€™t need conjecture: Weâ€™ve seen how this goes. The Obama administration used the Espionage Act to punish whistleblowers, spy on journalists, and interfere with reporting it didnâ€™t want done. Under Obama, the IRS targeted conservative nonprofits for harassment and more under the guise of enforcing the tax code â€” and it illegally disclosed private information about an advocacy group that irritated Democrats. The same people demand the power to set the terms for political debate, saying they want to â€œkeep money out of politics,â€ a claim that it is impossible for any mentally functional adult to take very seriously.
Freedom of the press does not mean extending special privileges, legal or customary, to the New York Times and CNN. And freedom of speech means a lot more than the absence of formal censorship by the federal government. Formal protections for free speech are important and necessary, but they do not amount to very much without a free-speech culture to back them up.
A must read.