U.K. Says Fox News Isn’t Fair and Balanced

While student protesters on college campuses may not think so, the First Amendment is a beautiful, precious, and rare thing.

Look no further than one of our closest allies, the United Kingdom. This week, the U.K broadcasting regulation office, Ofcom, ruled that Fox News broadcasts violated laws regarding impartiality.

The ruling stems from episodes of Hannity and Tucker Carlson Tonight earlier this year regarding coverage of President Trump’s travel ban in January and the Manchester terrorist bombing in May.

Tucker Carlson’s May 25th episode attacked the U.K. government for engaging in politically correct policy rather than seriously combating the threat of homegrown Islamic terrorism, the Guardian reported. The program included criticism of Prime Minister Theresa May, Manchester Mayor Beverly Hughes, as well as other local and law enforcement officials.

Ofcom’s ruling concluded there was “no reflection of the views of the UK government or any of the authorities or people criticised” and the presenter “did not challenge the views of his contributors; instead, he reinforced their views.”

Sean Hannity’s January 31st episode featured clips of public officials reacting negatively to the executive order banning travelers entering the United States from certain predominantly Muslim countries, followed by a rebuttal and dismissal from Hannity. In short, he did his usual opening monologue. Ofcom was not a fan.

Ofcom acknowledged that viewers were likely to expect Hannity to address controversial issues from a perspective that is generally more supportive of the US Republican party. However, the likely audience expectations did not provide sufficient contextual justification to outweigh the numerous highly critical statements made about people who had opposed the order, coupled with the clear support being expressed for the policies of President Trump.”

Consider for a moment that somewhere in London there is a government bureaucrat who goes to work every day with the sole purpose of watching the previous evening’s cable shows to determine whether critical coverage provided “sufficient contextual justification.” After writing up the report on Hannity this same bureaucrat, after a quick trip to the water cooler and looking in a mirror to check his comb-over, determines whether Tucker Carlson accurately reflected the views of the U.K. government.

These subjective determinations do not come with a mere slap on the wrist. Ofcom violations can result in substantial fines paid by media companies. Fortunately for Rupert Murdoch and Fox, they stopped broadcasting Fox News in Britain in August, so they will not be subject to fines for this activity. Sky, the British satellite broadcast company partially owned by Fox, paid an indirect price, with shares dipping 1.72% upon the announcement. Investors are worried that the announcement does not bode well for the government’s review of Fox’s attempt to purchase the remaining portion of Sky that it does not own.

While it is easy to shake our head at our friends across the ocean, it’s worth noting that such nonsense could easily happen here at home. Despite the First Amendment, the Supreme Court upheld the so-called “fairness doctrine” in 1969. The policy was created to ensure equal time among the conservatives and liberals on radio and television broadcasts. While the policy was repealed in 1987, liberals long sought to restore it under the guise that the federal government must ensure a fair and balanced media environment. For his part, President Trump has opined on Twitter that he would like to see something like the fairness doctrine reinstituted.

Of course, objective and professional journalism is important. Considering the amount of fake news and Russian propaganda which makes its way into our Facebook and Twitter feeds on a daily basis, everyone must be conscious of where they get their news.

None of this means that we need some centralized agency of imperfect and biased human beings making one big collective decision for all of us. No matter what the Supreme Court says (and the Warren Court was wrong a lot), regimes like Ofcom or the fairness doctrine violate the First Amendment’s right to a free press and free speech.

Anyone watching Hannity or Tucker Carlson Tonight for news are fooling themselves. Tucker and Sean do not hold themselves out to be objective broadcasters. They are not journalists. They provide commentary and analysis regarding the day’s events. In 2017, such shows are not a novel concept. Anyone tuning into Fox News at 8 or 9pm over the last 25 years understand this.

While Hannity and Carlson have their detractors across the political spectrum, all Americans should relish the fact that they are not being overseen by some Washington bureaucrat demanding that they play nice. Any opinion, as long there’s a large enough audience, is welcome on American airwaves.

Long live Sean Hannity. Long live Tucker Carlson. Long live Bill Maher and Rachel Maddow, for that matter.

Be thankful for the robust freedoms we enjoy, and how rare and precious the First Amendment is, even among Western democracies.

And be vigilant at future attempts to infringe upon it.

Chillax, Conservatives – Trump Isn’t Threatening the First Amendment

One of the things I love about the conservative movement is its intellectual honesty and principled consistency.  This is what sets conservatism apart from the GOP, which seems more than content to let progressives run the show in Washington even when Republicans control Congress and the White House.  It’s also the reason that conservative commentators feel freer to level criticism at Republican candidates and the GOP leadership when they believe its warranted.  Ever wonder why there was a serious Never Trump effort among many conservatives, while the Democrat establishment just fell in line behind Hillary Clinton?  It’s because they couldn’t reconcile supporting Trump with upholding their conservative beliefs.  Had the Democrat Party been half as honest, they would have nominated Bernie Sanders.  Instead, they picked the Wall Street crony who put her principles up for sale to the highest bidder.

Obviously, Never Trump didn’t work out.  Fortunately, for the country, neither did Hillary Clinton–but what we have now is a presidency that has exposed some of the deep fault lines within conservatism.  Some leading voices–such as Bill Kristol, who once tweeted that he preferred an unelected Deep State to an elected Trump state–have doubled down on their opposition, and continue to insist that the president can do no right.  Still others–Sean Hannity, with his hell-or-high-water defense of the Trump agenda, comes to mind–seem to think that the president can do no wrong.  The debate rages on, day in and day out, and doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.  Far from showing weakness, however, it really demonstrates the intellectual vitality of the conservative movement.

So when Donald Trump gave a press conference in which he took the mainstream media to task for their coverage of his administration, conservatives naturally stood up and paid close attention.  And as is his wont, the president ignited a firestorm when he complained that NBC had falsely reported his demand for a ten-fold increase in America’s stockpile of nuclear weapons:

No, I never discussed increasing it. I want it in perfect shape. That was just fake news by NBC, which gives a lot of fake news, lately.  No, I never discuss — I think somebody said I want ten times the nuclear weapons that we have right now. Right now, we have so many nuclear weapons. I want them in perfect condition, perfect shape. That’s the only thing I’ve ever discussed.General Mattis put out a statement, or is putting out a statement, saying that that was fake news — that it was just mentioned that way. And it’s, frankly, disgusting the way the press is able to write whatever they want to write. And people should look into it.No, I want to have absolutely perfectly maintained — which we are in the process of doing — nuclear force. But when they said I want ten times what we have right now, it’s totally unnecessary. Believe me. Because I know what we have right now.

Guess which part of the quote the media highlighted?

It’s frankly disgusting the way the press is able to write whatever they want to write.

Of course, it didn’t help much when the president tweeted later:

So the narrative quickly became, “Donald Trump is attacking the First Amendment!”  What’s more, a lot of conservatives picked up that ball and ran with it.  Senator Ben Sasse, a guy who walks the walk better than almost everyone else in Washington, made his displeasure with the president’s remarks crystal clear:

Kat Timpf from National Review also typifies the response from the right, saying in her column today:

Mr. President: The immense freedom that this country grants to its press is not “disgusting”; it’s beautiful. One of the best things about this country is that our leaders have absolutely no say in our criticism of them, because it’s that freedom that keeps us free. Think about it: Here I am, writing a column criticizing the president, and yet I’m not going to get my head chopped off by the Gestapo! Other countries don’t have that; we do have that, and I’ll never, ever accept its being even slightly diminished . . . and you shouldn’t, either.

Timpf also acknowledges that the press do have a vendetta against Trump and that their reporting on his administration has been riddled with inaccuracies and bias–but in terms of the First Amendment, none of that matters.  And she’s absolutely correct about that.  A free press also means that they are also free to lie, cheat and propagandize as they see fit, without fear of government interference.  When conservatives talk about freedom being messy, this is a prime example–and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

But when the media use their positions to advance an agenda other than the truth, the public they are supposed to serve gets the short shrift.  Or, as Bill O’Reilly put it:

In this, O’Reilly is also correct.  Rights under the Constitution may be absolute, but they do not come without responsibility.  The news media, when they push a narrative instead of the facts, are not fulfilling their responsibilities to the public–which is a complete abuse of their rights.  Pointing that out does not in any way put one at odds with the First Amendment.

All that being said, however, it seems to me that the storm of criticism is really much ado about nothing–because, as the media does so often, a relevant portion of Trump’s remarks is not being reported.  In a follow up question from the same press conference, a reporter asks the president pointedly:

Mr. President, do you think there should be limits on what the press should write?

Donald J. Trump:  No, the press should speak more honestly. I mean, I’ve seen tremendously dishonest press. It’s not even a question of distortion, like the question that was just asked before about ten times the nuclear capability. I know the capability that we have, believe me, and it is awesome. It is massive.And so when they make up stories like that, that’s just made up. And the generals will tell you that. And then they have their sources that don’t exist. In my opinion, they don’t exist. They make up the sources. There are no sources.

In this context, a more fair reading of his “frankly” comments would imply that he thought it a shame that the news media allowed their reporters to write blatantly false stories.  It would have been far better if he had expressed it that way, because Trump knows very well that the media will report everything he says in the worst possible light.  Conservative commentators, though, should know better than to advance the media narrative without question.

Donald Trump is a blunt instrument, and he inflicts real damage because of that.  He’s not subtle in the way he expresses himself, and he often embarrasses his office when he goes off-script and says whatever pops in his head.  But he’s also not wrong to point out how the media ill serve the public–and it’s not like anyone else in the GOP has the stones to do it.  If that means he breaks some of the delicate figurines in the china shop with his bluster, I say it’s worth the price.

Sasse Responds To Trump’s Attacks On First Amendment

Ben Sasse’s last name has a silent “e,” but Twitter users can be forgiven for thinking the Nebraska Republican’s name is pronounced “sassy.” The adjective is an accurate description of the Sasse on the popular social media platform. Sasse most recently turned his sharp retorts toward President Trump after the president launched into what can only be described as a series of attacks on the First Amendment freedom of the press.

While attacking “fake news” has proven a popular shtick for the president, he reached a new level on Tuesday with a tweet that suggested that NBC News’ license should be “challenged” on the basis of their report that Trump had said that he wanted to increase the US nuclear weapons arsenal by a factor of 10 in a July meeting. The meeting prompted Secretary of State Tillerson to allegedly call the president a “f—ing moron.”

On a day when the sitting president of the United States directly attacked the First Amendment, the response from Republican officials was underwhelming. While Republicans lined up to denounce NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem, it was extremely difficult to find anyone in the GOP who was willing to go on record criticizing Trump’s statements. A piece in The Hill describing the backlash fails to cite a single sitting Republican. In fact, there seemed to be only one Republican responding to the president’s shocking remarks, the sassy Sasse.

It has only been a few weeks since Sasse wowed the non-alternative-right with his Twitter takedown of neo-Nazi Richard Spencer. The viral series of tweets brought adulation from traditional conservatives who felt left behind by the new Republican Party and the lack of condemnation for race-baiters like Spencer, who was an organizer of the riotous Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. Given his history of using Twitter to communicate a strong conservative and pro-freedom message effectively, it should be no surprise that Sasse was the one to put the president’s remarks into constitutional perspective.

“Mr. President,” Sasse tweeted, “Are you recanting of the Oath you took on Jan. 20 to preserve, protect, and defend the 1st Amendment?”

 

[Mic drop.]

The tweet also contained a somewhat longer statement released by Senator Sasse. The full statement reads, “Mr. President: Words spoken by the President of the United States matter. Are you tonight recanting of the oath you took on January 20th to preserve, protect and defend the First Amendment?”

Trump did not respond directly to Sasse, but later in the day, the president doubled down on his attack on the freedom of the press, saying in a White House press conference, “It’s frankly disgusting the way the press is able to write whatever they want to write, and people should look into it.”

Another tweet from the president on Tuesday night was even more specific. “Network news has become so partisan, distorted and fake that licenses must be challenged and, if appropriate, revoked. Not fair to public!” the man sworn to defend the Constitution said.

 

As a refresher, the First Amendment says, “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press….” The Bill of Rights makes no exception for “fake news,” biased reporting or even outright lies.

FCC rules do “prohibit holders of broadcast licenses from broadcasting false information concerning a crime or a catastrophe if the licensee knows the information is false; and the licensee knows beforehand that broadcasting the information will cause substantial ‘public harm.’” Stories critical of President Trump would not fall under this category.

As the president becomes increasingly bold in his attacks on the First Amendment, the big question for conservatives is where the other defenders of the Constitution are. The silence from other Republicans is deafening.

BREAKING: President Threatens FCC License Challenge Over Latest NBC Report

In a constantly-evolving news cycle, the latest target of President Trump’s Twitter account is a favorite of his: NBC. Issuing a lengthy report this morning, they revealed that the comment drawing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s ire in July was Trump’s assertion that we have a tenfold increase in our nuclear stockpile. It was in response to this, and other tense moments that Tillerson is reported to have called the President a “f***ing moron.”

Oh, so that’s why.

The report was written by four journalists, and is backed by three sources who were in the room at the time. According to the piece, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and members of the State Department were part of a meeting of top military brass, and they were taken aback by the comment from the President. Military leaders told the President that there are legal and practical obstacles to such a buildup, and it was likely unnecessary, because our military position in the world is stronger than in past, when our arsenal was still growing. We have several treaties around the world limiting our expansion of the nuclear stockpile.

But, the report that he asked about an increase clearly got under the President’s skin, as he responded in the last hour – not surprisingly – on Twitter, this time threatening the FCC license of NBC, and comparing them to CNN. He calls them both “fake news” any time they report negative news on the administration.

 

At issue may be semantics, as the officials present were quoted as saying the president’s comments came during a slide presentation on nuclear stockpiles showing we had over 32,000 nuclear warheads in the 1960’s. President Trump said he wanted us to have that many now. The U.S. currently has just under 4,000. The “nearly tenfold” headline is drawn from the simple math between the two numbers.

This is in contrast to then-candidate Trump’s comments in December 2015, when he stated during a CNN interview in Milwaukee, “I don’t want more nuclear weapons.” Although, he’s left military observers in confusion, as he’s suggested “changes” to nuclear non-proliferation treaties before becoming President.

The chain of stories has left the White House in an awkward place. First, the report came out that Sec Tillerson once called the President a “f***ing moron,” to which Trump called it “fake news.” Then, the press continued to expand on the report and while questioning the President about Tillerson’s non-denial denial, Trump said “if it’s true,” he challenges Sec Tillerson to an IQ test match, something Press Sec Sarah Sanders called “a joke.” Now, with this report, we see some of what caused Tillerson to allegedly use the language following the meeting.

For it’s part, NBC is standing it’s ground, and defending it’s report. In the midst of the contentious relationship between the President and the press corps, editors have been making their journalists gather three, sometimes four or more sources on stories before publication. Although, the White House is leaking so much over the last nine months, it hasn’t been that hard to find them.

UPDATE 3:37pm: During Oval Office remarks at a press conference with Canada’s Justin Trudeau, the President went further, saying “disgusting the press is able to write whatever it wants to write.”

Yeah, that’s how it works, Mr. President.

Is President Trump Pushing For Return To The Fairness Doctrine?

Many of today’s conservatives probably don’t remember the Fairness Doctrine. Many in the political world today never lived under it since it was repealed 30 years ago in 1987. If it still existed, the world of political talk radio would never have come into being. So why would President Trump want to bring it back?

In a series of tweets on Saturday morning, President Trump once again attacked the media, which is not unusual, but in two tweets he raised the question of whether the Administration should get “equal time.” In the first tweet, Trump said, “Late Night host are dealing with the Democrats for their very ‘unfunny’ & repetitive material, always anti-Trump! Should we get Equal Time?”

A few minutes later, in a second tweet, he said, “More and more people are suggesting that Republicans (and me) should be given Equal Time on T.V. when you look at the one-sided coverage?”

Equal time is essentially what the Fairness Doctrine was about. The Fairness Doctrine was implemented by the FCC under the Radio Act of 1927. In 1949, the FCC interpreted the law to mean that radio and television stations must provide contrasting views on issues of public importance and that, if a public personality was attacked on the air, they had to be given an opportunity to answer.

The policy was upheld in 1969 by the Supreme Court in Red Lion Broadcasting v. FCC. In a unanimous decision, the Court ruled that the Fairness Doctrine did not violate the First Amendment and upheld the FCC rule that the subject of a personal on-air attack must be provided with a tape, transcript or summary as well as an opportunity to respond regardless of ability to pay for air time. In 1987, the FCC panel repealed the Fairness Doctrine with a 4-0 vote.

When Barack Obama took office in 2009, conservatives such as Rush Limbaugh feared that the new administration would reinstitute the Fairness Doctrine. Instead, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski killed the policy permanently in 2011.

Now President Trump’s tweets seem to indicate that the president would like a new version of the Fairness Doctrine. Although Republican politicians do not seem to be lining up to support the president’s call for “equal time,” many of the president’s supporters vocally support the idea on social media.

Although it survived an encounter with the Supreme Court, the Fairness Doctrine has traditionally been viewed as an assault on the First Amendment by conservatives. It is difficult to imagine how conservative talk radio would survive if stations had to provide equal time to the liberal targets of conservative talkers every day. Advertising revenue would be lost and listeners driven away as Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and others got their equal time every day. It is no coincidence that The Rush Limbaugh Show premiered in 1988, the year after the Fairness Doctrine was repealed, kicking off the golden age of political talk radio.

The intention of the Fairness Doctrine was to protect free speech, but, as government regulations so often do, it had the opposite effect. Free speech blossomed with the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine where before, the Big Three networks had an effective monopoly on news and political commentary.

There is no shortage of news outlets who present the conservative side of stories. Even among the mainstream media there are the Wall Street Journal, the most successful newspaper in the country, the Washington Times and Fox News, to name just a few. There are many more conservative voices in the alternative media and blogosphere.

The traditional conservative answer to a problem with a free speech problem has been to call for more speech. It is troubling that Mr. Trump’s instincts are to call for more government oversight of speech and limitations on the First Amendment.

 

Schools Ban National Anthem Protests

As the NFL begins to pay the price in popularity and falling ticket sales for the spreading anthem protests, some high schools and colleges are taking action to prevent their athletes from following in the footsteps of the professional players. Some schools are emphasizing existing policies that prohibit players from taking a knee during the national anthem as well as instituting new bans on the protest.

The Daily Wire notes that at least three schools around the country have released statements that point out that school policy prohibits players from kneeling during the anthem. While the Daily Wire says that the schools are instituting bans on taking a knee, statements from some of the schools point out that the policies are not new.

Colorado Christian University released a statement that said, “The University athletic department has always required our student athletes and coaches to stand respectfully for any pre-game or post-game prayers, as well as for the National Anthem. Contrary to several reports, this is not a new position.”

The superintendent of Manatee County schools in Florida, Jason Montgomery, sent an email to schools in his district pointing out that both federal and state laws mandate that students stand for the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem. Montgomery wrote, “The Code of Student Conduct complies with all statutory requirements that include requiring a student to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem, unless excused in writing by a parent.”

Some schools are setting new policies in response to the controversy. In Louisiana, Parkway High School Principal Waylon Bates said in a letter to students and parents that “the Louisiana High School Athletic Association allows school principals to make decisions regarding student participation in the National Anthem.” Bates instructs his students and faculty to “stand in a respectful manner throughout the National Anthem” and warns that “failure to comply will result in loss of playing time and/or participation” and even “removal from the team.”

The First Amendment protects Americans from attacks on freedom of speech and expression by the government, not private employers. Private companies can take action against employees who exercise their First Amendment rights even though the government cannot.

The NFL is a private organization with its own rules. If the NFL quashed the anthem protests, it would not be a violation of the First Amendment. In spite of internet rumors, the NFL does not have a rule requiring players to stand for the National Anthem. If it did, the government would have no legal standing to require the organization to enforce such a rule.

The Constitution does protect the right to protest from government interference. The Supreme Court has even protected the act of burning the flag under the First Amendment. When President Trump urges the NFL to fire players who take a knee during the National Anthem, using the power of the “bully pulpit” to attempt to limit free speech, he comes close to a violation of the First Amendment.

Ironically, schools may have a more difficult time banning the anthem protests than the NFL. Public schools are government entities and school policies are limited by the First Amendment. The Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that students do not give up their free speech rights when they enter a school, but that schools do have the right to limit actions that disrupt the educational process. A public school might well lose a lawsuit over a kneeling ban.

Americans seem to understand this balanced view of protest and respect for the flag. The Seton Hall Sports Poll found that 49 percent of respondents thought that NFL players had a right to protest, but also thought that they should stand for the National Anthem.

As the controversy continues, schools and professional sports organizations will be challenged to find a balance between these opposing viewpoints. While the initial reaction of schools may be to institute bans on taking a knee, such policies may not be a quick resolution to the issue.

A Civics Discourse

Recently two extremely depressing studies have been released demonstrating the understanding (or lack thereof) that American citizens have about their government and their fundamental rights. Reading the results are somewhat terrifying in a constitutional republic that is supposed to have a government that operates with the consent of the governed. What is worse, it would seem we are putting our children through a compulsory educational system that allows them to know less about their system of government than those who wish to gain naturalized citizenship. Shall we take a look?

The Naturalization Test, is a set of 100 questions where 10 are randomly selected by an examiner and answered orally. So an applicant must study the answers to all 100 to ensure passing with a 6 out of 10 score. This is a single component of the full process, but I would think it is instructive on the basic expectations we as a society should have for citizens who are going to, oh I don’t know, vote?

The test is broken down into several categories:

  1. Principles of American Democracy – This section covers the purpose and content of our founding documents and includes the understanding that the Constitution is the supreme law of the land. Don’t tell the Democrats. Shhhhh!
  2. System of Government – Questions here include the three branches of government and how they operate, to include how laws are created and the separation of powers. It also asks questions about who is currently in office and differentiates federal and state powers.
  3. Rights and Responsibilities – New citizens are asked who can vote, who can hold office and to articulate one of several rights guaranteed under the Bill of Rights. Believe it or not an acceptable answer is the right to bear arms. This must confuse new citizens is a few states.
  4. American History – covers major events from colonization to to September 11, 2001.
  5. Integrated Civics – Includes major geographical features of the US, our flag, anthem and holidays.

Seems pretty legit and appears to be a body of information we would want all fully functional adults capable of casting a ballot to know. So how do new citizens who study all of this information stack up against our own citizens educated in an expensive and compulsory system? Well…..

Headline from the Annenburg Policy Center – “Americans Are Poorly Informed About Basic Constitutional Provisions”. In a survey of 1,013 adults in the United States released on September 12, 2017 the following results were noted:

  • More than half of Americans (53 percent) incorrectly think it is accurate to say that immigrants who are here illegally do not have any rights under the U.S. Constitution;
  • More than a third of those surveyed (37 percent) can’t name any of the rights guaranteed under the First Amendment;
  • Only a quarter of Americans (26 percent) can name all three branches of government.

As compared with results in 2011, the first year of the survey, 33% not being able to name a single branch is steady, but the number that can name all three has declined from 38% to 26%. Further, unprompted, 37% of respondents could not name a single right articulated in the First Amendment.

The next equally depressing result came from the Brooking Institute with a survey of college students and their views on the First Amendment. The most worrisome result on this survey is about 1/5 of college students believe it is okay to resort to violence to shut down a speaker they do not like. Nearly 2/3 of self identified campus Democrats believe shouting down a speaker is okay. And across the board a majority of these students believe if an offensive speaker in on campus there is a legal obligation for the university to provide an alternate point of view. Across the political spectrum students also expressed a desire for a more sheltered college environment that bans “offensive” speech.

The only way the results listed above can be explained is that we have what can only be called a crisis in basic civics education. I learned civics from the day I started school. Knowing what the Stars and Stripes in our flag stand for, how a bill becomes a law, what my First Amendment Rights are and that the Constitution is the supreme law of the land are things I do not remember not knowing. From coloring sheets in kindergarten to Saturday morning cartoons and Schoolhouse Rock, these concepts were reinforced continuously from my early childhood through my post graduate education. Somewhere along the line it be became more important to teach new pronouns like ze/zhe and apologize for our colonial history then it was to raise responsible citizens.

So perhaps Secretary DeVos has one more challenge to add to her list. In addition to restoring due process protections for college age men and expanding educational choice, perhaps we need to consider a national civics curriculum. I am not generally a fan of mandates, but in leaving no child behind and creating a common core of progressive nonsense we have clearly lost sight of the fundamental responsibility to create functional citizens in a republic. We have a national set of criteria to test the knowledge of new citizens. Perhaps we need a national set of criteria to produce our own good citizens. Based not on progressive apology, but rather Supreme Court decisions involving our most basic rights and the Constitution.

Or, we could always make everyone take the citizenship test prior to registering to vote. Don’t @ me. I’m not sure I think it’s a bad idea. Maybe then Carl Reiner couldn’t tweet stupid things like this and get 4,500 faves. Jerk.

NYT: Speech, Violence – What’s the Diff?

It’s ironic when a business that depends on the free speech rights guaranteed under the First Amendment presents an argument that undermines that core liberty–but that’s the New York Times for you.  In an op-ed written by Lisa Feldman Barrett, a professor of psychology at Northeastern University, the Newspaper of Record attempts to rationalize the social justice canard that equates speech with violence, thus making censorship in certain circumstances not only justified, but scientifically so.  No, really:

Your body also contains little packets of genetic material that sit on the ends of your chromosomes. They’re called telomeres. Each time your cells divide, their telomeres get a little shorter, and when they become too short, you die. This is normal aging. But guess what else shrinks your telomeres? Chronic stress.

If words can cause stress, and if prolonged stress can cause physical harm, then it seems that speech — at least certain types of speech — can be a form of violence.

You know what else causes chronic stress?  Having a job.  And having kids.  You own a house with a mortgage and you practically have a license to feel stressed.  Granted, sometimes I feel like I’m getting spanked by Fannie Mae, but does that mean she’s actually taking the paddle to my cheeks?

Barrett elucidates:

The scientific findings I described above provide empirical guidance for which kinds of controversial speech should and shouldn’t be acceptable on campus and in civil society. In short, the answer depends on whether the speech is abusive or merely offensive.

Whew, I’m glad we cleared that up!  Just one question:  what constitutes abusive speech versus offensive speech?

[I]t’s reasonable, scientifically speaking, not to allow a provocateur and hatemonger like Milo Yiannopoulos to speak at your school. He is part of something noxious, a campaign of abuse. There is nothing to be gained from debating him, for debate is not what he is offering.

On the other hand, when the political scientist Charles Murray argues that genetic factors help account for racial disparities in I.Q. scores, you might find his view to be repugnant and misguided, but it’s only offensive. It is offered as a scholarly hypothesis to be debated, not thrown like a grenade. There is a difference between permitting a culture of casual brutality and entertaining an opinion you strongly oppose. The former is a danger to a civil society (and to our health); the latter is the lifeblood of democracy.

So Murray is okay because he’s offering a scientific theory that makes some people uncomfortable, but Milo is abusive because he just tosses out obnoxious non-sequiturs that he uses to shut down debate.  By that standard, couldn’t you lump Al Gore in with the abusive crowd?  After all, he has flatly stated that the time to debate global warming is over–and with all the ecological disasters Gore has predicted, he sure has caused a lot of stress.  Does that make An Inconvenient Truth torture porn?  Maybe we should pull that movie out of our schools before somebody gets triggered.

Barrett concludes:

By all means, we should have open conversations and vigorous debate about controversial or offensive topics. But we must also halt speech that bullies and torments. From the perspective of our brain cells, the latter is literally a form of violence.

Translation:  Yes, by all means we should have open conversations–but only about the stuff that I deem appropriate.  Because all of you, even though you’re supposed to be functioning adults in a world filled with stress, are incapable of sorting free speech from harmful speech by yourselves.  In other words, you simply cannot be trusted to exercise your First Amendment rights responsibly–but don’t worry, I’m here to do the thinking for you.

Oh, and because #Science.

I’ve often said that inside every progressive is a little totalitarian struggling to get out, and Barrett really drives the point home here.  First, she frames the issue as if she has come to her conclusions via the scientific method, when in reality her analysis is completely subjective:  “Milo bad/Murray good” is pure opinion, no matter how she tries to present it as objective data.  Second, Barrett takes it upon herself to determine how people should react to controversial speech, even though the threshold of what’s offensive differs based on personal experience.  What gives her the authority to say otherwise?

No, what we have here is more bunk dressed up as science, in service of an agenda that seeks to get people to voluntarily surrender their civil liberties.  It should be dismissed out of hand–but not without a hearty laugh.