Harris County, Georgia sounds like a great place to live and visit:
A Georgia sheriff, whose politically incorrect welcome sign went viral in 2015, has a new, bold message for visitors to his county.
“Our citizens have concealed weapons,” the welcome sign reads in part. “If you kill someone, we might kill you back.”
But it doesn’t stop there.
“Enjoy your stay!” the sign added. “We have ONE jail and 356 cemeteries.”
See that? That’s what freedom and proper self-government look like: confident, bold, and utterly unapologetic.
I participated in a symposium yesterday at the National Press Club in D.C. called Truth, Trust, and the First Amendment in the Digital Age. It was sponsored by the University of Missouri Law School and the Mizzou School of Journalism – one of the oldest journalism program’s in the country. There were two panels. The first was constituted of first amendment lawyers, the second of journalists. I was supposed to be on the first, but was asked to pinch-hit on the second for Greta van Sustern who had to cancel due to a family matter.
Both panels were quite good. The people both interesting and cordial. Clarence Page in particular, my neighbor on the panel, was convivial and talked a great deal of good sense.
I was struck by a few things, each of which is worthy of more concentrated attention but here are my initial thoughts:
- “The press” is an abstraction. Yet, when people wring their hands about perceived threats to the “the free press” they usually mean that the elite, legacy media has come in for some uncomfortable and unwelcome criticism. Journalism, reporting, and free political expression are not and should not be monolithic. But guilds and incumbents don’t like competition.
- The First Amendment guarantees the right to speak freely both individually and institutionally. Floyd Abrams, the dean of first amendment lawyers, and my companion at lunch helped define that when he won the Citizens United case. The first amendment does not create an institution known as “the press” that holds a privileged position above and outside of civil society. Yes, I know there are certain carve-outs that allow journalists to protect sources, but the central point remains the same: the first amendment exists to protect the right of all citizens to freely engage in political, even and especially adversarial, political discourse. It is not intended to created oligopoly.
- “The press,” especially since Watergate, takes itself very seriously and does not like being the butt end of any jokes. That’s why the president’s liberal use of the term “fake news” causes so much consternation. “Fake news” is rarely used to mean lies and falsehoods. More often it is a simple barb meant to elicit an indignant response. In that respect, it is very effective. As a criticism, it is commonly understood to mean agenda journalism and bias. Nearly as often it is just a wry joke.
- Free political speech and journalism are practiced by all kinds of people and institutions, not just the established organs of elite orthodoxy. From the major television networks to the papers, to podcasts, blogs, YouTube, and Twitter there are more people freely speaking out on politics and culture than ever before. The old cartel that dominated roughly from the end of World War II until the turn of the century has competition. That’s a good thing. Diversity is our strength, right?
- But what about standards and accuracy? Good question. Remember when President Trump tweeted that his campaign’s communications had been tapped? He was roundly denounced for making baseless accusations. But he was right. (see also the Nunes Memo) What about when CNN falsely reported Anthony Scaramucci had clandestine ties to Russia? No fact-checking, no confirmation, just a rush to accuse because the claim fit a pre-approved conclusion. Except it was wrong. That’s fake news. And it’s because of these sorts of incidents that the term “fake news” resonates with people.
- The crisis of elite media is just a subset of the larger crisis facing all elite institutions but especially the media, the academy, the arts, and the federal government. (I intentionally exempt state and local government because they enjoy much more confidence than their D.C. counterparts.) This is the direct result of the concentration of power implemented by progressives beginning over a century ago. Rule by experts was considered the mark of enlightened governance for a scientific age. Technocrats would do what self-government couldn’t. Or so they claimed. Instead, centralization of power has bred distrust, alienation, and finally, we hope, a corrective.
- So what about quality, integrity, honesty? Well…what about it? Straight stick—crooked stick, I like to say. D.L. Moody said it makes no sense to argue over whether or not a crooked stick is actually crooked or not. Just lay a straight stick next to it and everyone will see. That goes for journalism too. Quality journalism will always be in demand. Those fretting over perceived threats to legacy media that have come in for criticism from the president should remember that “the failing New York Times” is in the midst of a Trump-driven boom. Paid subscriptions have soared since his election. Ditto for The Washington Post. We should all be so fortunate to fail so distinctly upwards.
- Is freedom of the press or freedom of speech imperiled because Donald Trump criticizes certain news outlets? No. Criticism of news media is perfectly acceptable—just as acceptable, even desirable, as is criticism of politicians and government. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes right? On the contrary, Major Garret reported at the symposium that reporters actually have much more direct access to this president than they have had to past presidents whose carefully scripted messages were conveyed through their comms team.
Click here for video of the symposium.
I tend to run hot and cold when it comes to Peggy Noonan’s columns at the Wall Street Journal, but this week’s piece really sings:
I have spent the past few days watching old videos of the civil-rights era, the King era, and there is something unexpectedly poignant in them. When you see those involved in that momentous time, you notice: They dressed as adults, with dignity. They presented themselves with self-respect. Those who moved against segregation and racial indignity went forward in adult attire—suits, dresses, coats, ties, hats—as if adulthood were something to which to aspire. As if a claiming of just rights required a showing of gravity. Look at the pictures of Martin Luther King Jr. speaking, the pictures of those marching across the Edmund Pettus bridge, of those in attendance that day when George Wallace stood in the schoolhouse door and then stepped aside to the force of the federal government, and suddenly the University of Alabama was integrated. Even the first students who went in, all young, acted and presented themselves as adults. Of course they won. Who could stop such people?
I miss their style and seriousness. What we’re stuck with now is Mark Zuckerberg’s.
Facebook’s failings are now famous and so far include but are perhaps not limited to misusing, sharing and scraping of private user data, selling space to Russian propagandists in the 2016 campaign, playing games with political content, starving journalism of ad revenues, increasing polarization, and turning eager users into the unknowing product. The signal fact of Mr. Zuckerberg is that he is supremely gifted in one area—monetizing technical expertise by marrying it to a canny sense of human weakness. Beyond that, what a shallow and banal figure. He too appears to have difficulties coming to terms with who he is. Perhaps he hopes to keep you, too, from coming to terms with it, by literally dressing as a child, in T-shirts, hoodies and jeans—soft clothes, the kind 5-year-olds favor. In interviews, he presents an oddly blank look, as if perhaps his audiences will take blankness for innocence. As has been said here, he is like one of those hollow-eyed busts of forgotten Caesars you see in museums.
Zuckerberg will appear before the U.S. Senate next week. We’ll have more to say then.
Real News: “A Third Of Millennials Aren’t Sure The Earth Is Round, Survey Finds” (CBS Pittsburgh)
Post-correction: Governor Watts writes: “Your correction needs a correction. :) 18-24 year olds are still Millennials. All generations are arbitrary, but most definitions of Millennials include those born 1980/1982 to 2000/2004. Today’s 18-24 year olds were born in 1994-2000, falling well within the Millennial range.”
Michelle Obama had some . . . enlightening things to say on Thursday at Simmons Leadership Conference in Boston concerning the American political scene. According to The Hill:
The Obama administration “was like having the ‘good parent’ at home,” the former first lady said. “The responsible parent, the one who told you to eat your carrots and go to bed on time.”
And President Trump?
“And now we have the other parent,” Obama added. “We thought it’d feel fun — maybe it feels fun for now because we can eat candy all day and stay up late and not follow the rules.”
What about Hillary Clinton?
Clinton was “the best-qualified candidate,” Obama said. “She wasn’t perfect, but she was way more perfect than many of the alternatives.”
. . . “We’ve got to be willing, when we do find qualified people, to vote for them,” Obama said. “And we didn’t do that in this election.”
What about her plans for, say, 2020?
“So I think people should be less … disheartened that me and Oprah don’t want to run, and more disheartened by the fact that Hillary Clinton, probably the most qualified person to ever seek the office of the presidency, lost. She lost.”
Despite her recent politically charged remarks, the former first lady reiterated that she does not want to run for political office in the future.
Keep your fingers crossed.
Reports Jonathan Chait: “Trump Staffers Are Freaking Out Even More Than Usual Right Now.” To read New York (and the New York Times, and the Washington Post, and . . . ) they’re never not freaking out. #FakeNews
Why care about Kevin Williamson’s firing from The Atlantic? Because it isn’t really about Williamson. It’s part of a larger, more dangerous shift in the culture. As Ben Domenech writes at The Federalist today:
This story is a predictable continuation of the left’s ownership not just of media but indeed of all institutions. It is depressing. It is predictable. And it is where we are as a country now. It is not confined to the realm of ideas. . . . If you have wrongthink, you will not be allowed for long to make your living within any space the left has determined they own – first the academy, then the media, then corporate America, and now the public square. You will bake the cake, you will use the proper pronoun, and you will never say that what Planned Parenthood does is murder for hire, and should be punished as such under the law.
(For what it’s worth, I quibble with The Federalist‘s headline. It isn’t just the beginning. It’s already begun—as Domenech makes clear in the piece.)
Rod Dreher makes a similar point, with a twist:
If we are going to start refusing to hire writers for holding or having stated harsh opinions in the past, this is going to cost us plenty. Of course we’re not going to do that across the board. It’s only going to apply to writers who offend against left-liberal politics. Mind you — and this has to be repeated — most pro-lifers would find Williamson’s remark beyond the pale. But you do not see pro-lifers, or any other conservatives, coalescing to fire writers.
Dreher points out that when Ruth Marcus at the Washington Post made the case the other week for aborting Down Syndrome babies, you didn’t see pro-lifers forming a mob to get her fired, and he wouldn’t have joined them if they had. But if certain stances are beyond the pale on the Right, why isn’t advocating a particular form of genocide from the Left also beyond the pale? Why is there no price to pay?
Kevin Williamson’s short-lived tenure at The Atlantic is instructive, not so much for what he had to say (and the targets he picked), as for the response to his dismissal. Taken in isolation, the story doesn’t amount to much. Mainstream publications have hired (irony alert) and quickly fired controversial writers before. Add the erstwhile National Review writer and anti-Trump conservative to an ever-growing list.
Now, the story is that Williamson was fired because he tweeted and later repeated something intemperate about women who have abortions. That might have been his most incendiary and controversial public utterance, but the Left’s indictment against Williamson was much, much longer than just that. Here’s what the far-Left Media Matters for America put out earlier today. If it wasn’t abortion, they would have howled for his ouster for some other reason. Williamson was unacceptable to the Left, period.
Let the handwringing commence!
Kevin Williamson: hired for his talent, fired for his views. This is chilling.
— Noah Rothman (@NoahCRothman) April 5, 2018
I’ve publicly argued with Kevin Williamson (who’s a friend) over harsh things he’s written, but he is one of the bravest and most talented writers I know. The Atlantic’s cutting him loose under left-wing fire is deplorable. But clarifying. Definitely clarifying.
— Rod Dreher (@roddreher) April 5, 2018
The Atlantic’s firing of Kevin Williamson is a disgusting and shameful cave to the pressure of fanatics who seek to live in silos that contain no views counter to their own. This only furthers the partisan divide and is to the detriment of all.
— Evan Siegfried (@evansiegfried) April 5, 2018
I’ve grown up in the midst of an elite media/academic world that positively delights in shocking the conservative and Christian conscience. Yet the same elite can’t coexist with a talented, provocative conservative? Contemptible: https://t.co/F8E6ldnEEZ
— David French (@DavidAFrench) April 6, 2018
Report: @TheAtlantic has already fired Kevin Williamson. This strikes me as a terrible, respect-losing move on the editor’s part.
— Robby Soave (@robbysoave) April 5, 2018
At this point, however, laments about Jeffrey Goldberg’s hypocrisy or the slow death of civilized discourse are wastes of breath (or pixels). (And to Noah Rothman: “Chilling”? Where have you been, man?) Better to heed Ace, or Kurt Schlichter:
Never Trump, the public humiliation of Kevin Williamson demonstrates the indisputable fact…
You can side with the left and hope to be allowed to exist as a domesticates lap dog like David Brooks or Bret Stephens…
Or you can accept this is an existential fight and join us.
— Kurt Schlichter (@KurtSchlichter) April 5, 2018
This is the direction we’re headed: Kevin Williamson must be banished from respectable discourse. Christina Hoff Sommers is a fascist. Victor Davis Hanson is a white supremacist. James Damore cannot work at Google anymore. Brandon Eich was purged from the company he built. On and on. Notice, those stories—and many more just like them—span years. This has been happening for a good, long while. It won’t stop anytime soon. It’s going to get worse. Much worse.
Senior contributor Julie Kelly is at work on a follow-up to her Thursday article, which was only partially a response to Williamson’s initial (and final) salvo at The Atlantic. But here’s a hint of what she’s up to:
The replies to his tweet are a warning to anyone who defends Williamson that-if you do-you also support hanging women who had abortions. Because that’s how the Left operates. https://t.co/ktV54bPvc1
— Julie Kelly (@julie_kelly2) April 5, 2018
Most Americans just want to live peacefully. But some of us, anyway, will not be told what and how to think. Then it’s just a power exercise. It’s hard to imagine how that ends well.
Sacked. Turns out that tweet was what hanged him. (The proximate cause was podcast audio reiterating the tweet—but you get the point.) Read Julie Kelly’s piece today anyway—just mentally insert “former Atlantic writer” in front of Williamson’s name.
Erick Erikson tweets: “Kevin Williamson’s firing is a reminder that there are two Americas and one side will stop at nothing to silence the other. This is not about a bad tweet or a bad view. It is about the left wanting a monopoly on the public square so none can be exposed to competing ideas.”
Some people who should know better are just now figuring this out—which is amazing. But . . . better late than never.
Meantime, Ace administers the hard medicine:
Where you been all this time? Do you only get bothered by Social Justice Warrior scalp-hunting when they start coming after members of your tiny, tiny, microscopic class of Liberal Republicans Working for Liberal Republican Magazines Who Would Like One Day to Work at Liberal Democrat Magazines?
Oh that’s right — you and your ilk have been spending these past few years attacking Kurt Schlichter for correctly saying that the left is imposing an intolerable speech code on us through sociocorporate power and that it’s time to impose “New Rules” on them so they feel a similar pain (and are encouraged to de-escalate).
Read it all.
Blast from the past: Publius Decius Mus on the coming silencing:
I believe the Left, as it increasingly feels its oats, will openly discard the pretense that it need face any opposition. It’s already started. This will rise to a crescendo during the 2020 election, which the Left will of course win, after which it will be open-season on remaining “conservative” dissent. Audits. Investigations. Prosecutions. Regulatory dictates. Media leaks. Denunciations from the bully pulpit. SJW witch-hunts. The whole panoply of persecution tools now at their disposal, plus some they’ve yet to deploy or invent.
The only ways out from under that will be to shut up, slink off, and find other things to do—not so easy when one’s entire career has been “senior fellow” and “contributing editor.” Or else keep modifying the message in the hope that the beast will eat you last. That shouldn’t be so hard—Conservatism, Inc.’s been doing it for a couple of decades at least. But it does bring us back to the first problem. The more feckless the “opposition,” the less interest from the donors.
By the way, that was his prediction if Hillary won.
Update: More reaction.