By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Romney’s assault on free speech

I’m no expert on Iranian politics, so maybe I was wrong about former president Mohammed Khatami. I’d always thought he was a somewhat pro-Western reformer, albeit one who was gutless enough to do nothing when his enemies thwarted his agenda and jailed his supporters. (Not that the president of Iran is anything more than a front man for the theocrats who actually run the country.)

But the Boston Globe’s Jeff Jacoby, writing yesterday, and the Boston Herald’s Brent Arends, following up today, note that Khatami helped create and continues to praise Hezbollah. Which shows that, as Ronald Reagan learned in the 1980s, the phrase “Iranian moderate” is something of an oxymoron.

Still, the State Department has paved the way for Khatami to visit the United States, and Harvard has invited him to speak. So for Gov. Mitt Romney to refuse to provide State Police protection amounts to something of an assault on Khatami’s right to speak, since Khatami is obviously someone who will be in dire need of protection during his time here. There’s more than a whiff of hypocrisy here as well. As Channel 4’s Jon Keller observes, “The governor had no qualms about chowing down with and paying for police escorts for Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao during his visit here in 2003. Isn’t China a major-league human-rights violator, or have I missed something?”

Good for Mayor Tom Menino for offering the Boston police as a substitute.

What precisely is to be gained by trying to silence Khatami? The Kennedy School’s Graham Allison tells the Globe that he will insist that Khatami answer his successor’s call for “wiping Israel off the map.” That’s a yes-or-no question that’s worth hearing the answer to.

Please note that I’m not saying that inviting Khatami to Harvard is a great idea. Marty Peretz, a Harvard professor and co-owner of The New Republic, tells the Crimson:

[Khatami is] “a front for a despicable dictatorial regime” and that the event would not provide an opportunity to rigorously challenge the former leader.

“Why don’t they invite him to a tough seminar?” he said, adding that he believes the often-crowded question-and-answer sessions at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum are “bullshit.”

Peretz may be right. We’ll see. Certainly Harvard and Kennedy School officials know that the public is counting on them to demand some accountability from Khatami.

Nevertheless, it’s easy to imagine some good coming of this. Even if the “moderate” label doesn’t really fit, Khatami is known to be a bitter enemy of the current Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a hardliner who denies that the Holocaust took place and who is the public face of Iran’s efforts to build a nuclear bomb. Unsavory though Khatami might be, bolstering his prestige could hurt Ahmadinejad. No doubt that’s why the State Department is bringing Khatami over here.

But all of this is really beside the point. Romney has an obligation to provide security for a controversial speaker so that he can exercise his First Amendment rights — rights that neither Khatami nor anyone else possesses in his own country. As the Globe editorializes today:

Romney saw fit to declare that the Kennedy School’s invitation to Khatami is “a disgrace to the memory of all Americans who have lost their lives at the hands of extremists.” The kindest thing to say about this denunciation of Harvard’s devotion to active and open dialogue is that it illustrates the crucial difference between political thinking and the real thing.

Romney may have “a genius for free PR,” as the Phoenix’s Adam Reilly writes. Unfortunately, crowd-pleasing assaults on free speech play well with the conservative voters whom the governor is courting in his pandering campaign for president.

Discover more from Media Nation

Subscribe to get the latest posts to your email.


No news would be bad news


Gilman’s successor’s task


  1. mike_b1

    Three questions. First, Romney declined to offer state security for Khatami (and made a big deal out of it besides). What was unclear from any reports I saw was whether the state would ordinarly be involved in such matters. Whose “responsibility” is it: the feds, the state or the city?Second, did you catch the way the Herald framed Romney’s complaining yesterday? Big piece, left hand side (“Mitt refuses protection for ex-Iran prez”). But inside it was another, smaller piece, with the headline, “Ladser urges kids to out liberal profs.” While that piece in on Ahmadinejad, the suggestion is that the same guy who is speaking at Harvard is the one who wants to kick out all the free-thinking teachers.Finally, do you think the Herald realizes that the latter piece actually defends what is otherwise its favorite group to slur — liberal elites?

  2. Rick in Duxbury

    So Larry Summers and Reagan don’t deserve free speech at Harvard but Khatami does? “Free speech for me but not for thee”, methinks.What B.S.; Peretz is right.

  3. mike_b1

    rick, don’t be silly. Just because he Larry Summers paid certain consequences for what came out of his big mouth doesn’t mean he couldn’t open it at all.

  4. Anonymous

    Reagan? You’ve got to stop listening to WRKO (the official radio station of people that hate Massachusetts). Mitt can say what he wants, but he wasn’t even living in this state then.The Globe backs up my memory of events: also said Harvard “effectively disinvited” Ronald Reagan from speaking on the university’s 350th anniversary in 1986. There was an outcry on campus over rumors that Reagan would be granted an honorary degree. After Harvard decided not to give out any honorary degrees, Reagan declined the invitation.Does anyone remember that Romney ran on a pledge to be this state’s number one salesperson? Can anyone name a governor who spends more time trashing their “home?”

  5. Harvey Silverglate

    Dan: This is really a no-brainer. There is no question, and can be no question, that Khatami should be not only allowed, but encouraged, to speak at Harvard, and be accorded whatever protection is necessary. The governor has acted utterly outrageously and, alas, hypocritically. Speaking of hypocritically, invite the Israeli former head of state to Harvard, and watch the Arts & Sciences faculty suddenly forget about academic freedom and begin to holler about coddling human rights violators. Hypocrisy knows few bounds these days, in both the corner office and in Harvard Yard. Harvey Silverglate

  6. Peter Porcupine

    My blog sugests that Harvard be presented with an invoice for the security detail, as a way of ensuring this ‘free’ exchange of ideas.After all those times we’ve had to provide State Police escorts for Bill Clinton coming in to the Park Plaza, SURELY we have a ballpark cost for such a visit!

  7. Stealth

    Funny, I consider most things Marty Peretz says to be bullshit.

  8. Ron Newman

    I have no problems with Khatami being invited to Harvard but I also see no reason that the state or any city should pay for special protection of any kind. He is no longer an elected official, he is now just an ordinary person. Let him mingle freely among the crowds.

  9. mike_b1

    Great idea Ron. Let’s do the same with Clinton, GB 41, etc.

  10. Anonymous

    I made the mistake of going over to “Peter’s” blblog. I’m not sure which is most offensive:1) Stealing a dead person’s psuedonym (i.e. William Cobbett).1a) Pretending William Cobbett would have been a “party line” Republican and Bush supporter.2) Using that pseudonym to blog in the third person (Porcupine feels…).3) Running a “conservative” blog consisting almost entirely of Howie Carr rants rehashed in a pseudo-Colonial style.3a) Using the phrase “corrupt midget” without attribution.4) Using the comment section of other people’s blogs to promote your own.

  11. Rick in Duxbury

    Got it, Mike. Free speech absolutists aren’t ALL so absolute.

  12. Bill Baar

    Khatami is a butcher… check my post Drug use, fabrication of alcohol, homosexual activity on the arrest and murder of Iranian Poet Ali Akbar Saidi Sirjani.

  13. magschmooz

    Why has no one asked for either a list of previous guests to check out inconsistancy OR analysed tthe public cost of his out of state trips w/ taxpayer funded state troopers…And to those who say ‘he’s the Gov., he needs the protection, i respond that you should close your eyes and remember what the Govs of the 5 other NE states look like and if they’d need ‘protection’ in Mass?? If no, that answers the question of Mitt’s vulnerability outsid our State…

  14. Anonymous

    12:26, Given the breathtaking volume of corrections in the Globe, I’d be a little careful about citing them as a primary source. (Also, anyone who says they, or the Herald, have no agenda is not paying attention).

  15. Anonymous

    Anon 7:48. I didn’t cite the Globe as the primary source. I said they backed up MY memory of events. I lived here then. Mitt didn’t. For Mitt to say Harvard “effectively disinvited “Ronald Reagan” is just more pandering. And yes, I heard I heard Mitt on WRKO with my own ears. I also listened to him on the Jay Severin show way back when. It’s fun to hear him on WRKO; he drops all pretense of liking the people of this state.

  16. mike_b1

    Rick, the First Amendment doesn’t protect what you say, just your right to say it. Summers deserved to get canned because he was a lousy leader. When your organization is in chaos because half your employees emphatically want you gone and the rest of them are arguing over whether you should stay, that comes down to poor leadership.

  17. mike from norwell

    With respect to the Globe, anyone see this in today’s paper?Correction: Because of incorrect information provided to the Globe, a front-page article Wednesday about the US visit of Mohammad Khatami, the former president of Iran, incorrectly stated that he had speaking engagements at Columbia and Georgetown universities. Khatami is attending a private meeting at Georgetown, and he is not speaking at Columbia. kind of mistake kind of skews things a little against Harvard’s protestations, ya think?

  18. Rick in Duxbury

    Mike,Enough already with the straw men. The odds of ANYONE getting a decent consensus at TWGU are slim indeed. If their idea of a “leader” is a Huey Long-type panderer, fine. But don’t pretend that the world agrees with you, just the small part you control. When a member of the Clinton Administration is considered too far to the right, mirrors should be consulted , quickly. As I recall, people with “don’t blame me” bumper stickers usually support losing candidates. MFN,my point exactly. As long as one is predisposed to follow his own world view rather than vigorously searching for facts, the Globe’s “correction-palooza” will continue ad infinitum.

  19. bostonph

    Rick,”Huey Long type panderer?” What planet are you from? Huey Long was many things including a demagogue and a lunatic, but a panderer was not one of them. Full disclosure: my grandfather crossed Huey, which is why I grew up in Houston, not New Orleans.Statements like that, combined with provably false claims like “Larry Summers and Reagan don’t deserve free speech at Harvard but Khatami does” really damage your credibility.I live in Cambridge and am no fan of Harvard, but let’s stick with reality.

  20. Anonymous

    Panderer, demagogue, whatever. Semantics. Fact remains that crossing the same people that Summers crossed will yield the same result. There’s a good reason Mass. and Louisiana are often mentioned in the same breath.

  21. mike_b1

    Rick, you basically seem to be saying that Harvard can’t be led. I would disagree.

  22. neil

    Not to meander back to the subject or anything but…I looked at Bill Baar’s post, in which former President Khatami is accused of being Sirjani’s “murderer” (the word is in quotes in the excerpt) by the daughter, twelve years ago. I assume putting the word in quotes indicates that she is speaking figuratively. The other quote is from somebody’s blog and says “Khatami’s team murdered…”.So. He has been accused of “murder”, and of having a team who has murdered, someone twelve years ago. Find me a leader in the Middle East free of similar accusations. By the same measure hotheads abroad who disapprove of our recent imperial adventures can say that President Bush’s team has “murdered” people at Guantanamo, and that therefore Bush is a butcher. You are a murderer. No, you are a murderer! No, you are! Thus does the dialectic advance.Should we only engage in dialog with Iranians who meet with Bill’s approval? Also, Bill like any good Republican expresses concern for the rights of homosexuals. When they’re in Iran.It’s all irrelevant to the issue of whether a state official is denying a controversial figure the right to speak, by declining to provide security. If Romney is providing or withholding security based upon his particular opinion of the speaker, that’s a disgrace.I saw Kim Dae-jung speak at Harvard in the early 80s when he was in exile, to a packed house. That was a brave guy. Don’t know who provided the security–not Mitt of course, before his time.

  23. mike_b1

    If memory serves, a fun-loving dictator named Fidel Castro spoke in 2000 in New York City. A certain future Republican presedential candidate named Guiliani happened to be mayor then. And a Republican named Pataki happened to be governor.I’m sure that sparked a similar outcry by the Herald…and the folks here.

  24. Bill Baar

    Neil,Khatami lead the group cracking down on dissidents with moral charges on homosexual acts, drinking etc… 12 years ago or yesterday, he’s I guy I would stand outside protesting against…not inside listening too.Paul Gigot writes today that Bush personally signed off on Khatami’s visa,Intriguingly, the president broke a little news on the subject of Iran, acknowledging that he personally signed off on the U.S. visit this week by former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami. The trip has angered many conservatives because Mr. Khatami presided over the nuclear weapons development and cheating that Mr. Bush has pledged to stop. Why let him visit?”I was interested to hear what he had to say,” Mr. Bush responds without hesitation. “I’m interested in learning more about the Iranian government, how they think, what people think within the government. My hope is that diplomacy will work in convincing the Iranians to give up their nuclear weapons ambitions. And in order for diplomacy to work, it’s important to hear voices other than [current President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad’s.”

  25. Dan Kennedy

    Mitt Romney should not be deciding whether or not to provide security for a controversial speaker based on what that speaker has to say.But let’s pretend for a moment that content is relevant. Conservatives should be applauding Bush for giving a boost to a relatively moderate, reformist Iranian leader in the hopes that it will undermine Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.It is hilarious that Harvard is being denounced for its elitist liberalism when, in fact, in this case it’s doing the bidding of the Bush administration. And, in this case, it would appear that the Bush administration is doing precisely the right thing.

  26. Anonymous

    “a relatively moderate, reformist Iranian leader in the hopes that it will undermine Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.”Dan,He’s no moderate, no reformist leader,

  27. Bill Baar

    Mitt Romney should not be deciding whether or not to provide security for a controversial speaker based on what that speaker has to say.Feel the same way Dan about Reid and Durbin’s letter to ABC?PJ Media did a video presentation on Khatami at the Nat Cathedral.

  28. bostonph

    anon244The difference is not semantic.Let’s take Saturday’s visit from Dick Cheney. He had a state police escort, provided by the people of MA. Was there any question about whether it was the city, state, or feds paying? No. More to the point, where were Mitt and Ms. Healy? Hiding out with Dick Eagan so there would be no pictures of them with Mr. Cheney. They sent a couple of lessor party functionaries instead…To continue the contrast, Huey Long was corrupt as hell, but he was a strong leader and willing to openly break with his party, including the President. He loved his state and its people and built up the state economy and infrastructure. He was a lunatic, but also a a man off deeply held beliefs. Not to mention wildly popular. He had an amazing ability to bring people around to his way of thinking (by hook or by crook, but that’s another story).Mitt, on the other hand, appears to do nothing without a focus group. You can draw your own comparisons on the rest. Same with Mr. Summers.BTW, Harvard is not Massachusetts. It’s not even Cambridge.

  29. Dan Kennedy

    Bill — I have no idea what you’re even asking, but I’ll take a shot at it: Yes, Mitt Romney should provide security for Harry Reid and Dick Durbin!

  30. Anonymous

    Bill is almost certainly referring to Mr. Reid and Mr. Durbin’s letter to Walt Disney urging them to cancel their 9/11 mini-series. Media and PunditReview are whining about liberal censorship. Never mind that the series fictionalizes portions of the 9/11 commission report.PunditReview was childish enough to suggest it be replaced with a “Monica Lewinsky-Clinton phone sex recreation.” Yeah, that’s fair and balanced…

  31. Bill Baar

    Yep, that’s it anon… Since when has it been the Senate’s job to decide what’s fair and balanced news.

  32. neil

    Okay, so I watched the movie pointed to by Anonymous and Bill. The basic objection seems to be that Khatami made promises of reform, then forgot about them once elected and instead oversaw further repression, all the while benefiting from the moderate label. So he is either a “dupe” or a “willing accomplice”.Miniter puts words into the mouths of the protesters he talks to. Check out the last question to the guy wearing the gold necktie towards the end. Miniter calls Khatami’s appearance at the National Cathedral “ironic” because that’s where Bush spoke after 9/11, and now five years later, Khatami who is “so connected to terrorism” (oops did we invade the wrong country?), is speaking there too. Miniter doesn’t bother to make the connection, he just states it as a given. Saddam, bin Laden, now Khatami too, all in cahoots! He presents one side of the case then says, these are the stories you don’t hear in the MSM. Brave Richard! Again though, even if you take the point that Khatami should not be called a moderate, even relatively speaking, it is irrelevant to the question of whether his speech should be protected when here. I have no doubt that Khatami is as expedient and ruthless as they come. Part of the job description I think. But when Miniter ends with righteous comments about why the protest he has covered is so important to democracy, his irony antennae, so sensitive moments ago, fail him, as he doesn’t note the irony of objecting to the right of someone whom he and the protesters revile, to speak.

  33. Dan Kennedy

    Bill — You just referred to a fictional movie that puts false words into the mouths of real people as “news.” Just thought I’d point that out.

  34. mike from norwell

    Did note this observation from Andrew Sullivan today on Khatami:

  35. Dan Kennedy

    Mike — But let’s not overlook the real issue. Reasonable people can disagree over whether Harvard and the K-School should have provided Khatami with a platform. On the other hand, Mitt Romney failed to fulfill his public duties by refusing to provide a security detail.

  36. neil

    Just to probably conclude this thread, the Globe had a pretty good editorial about a question-and-answer session Khatami had at MIT on Monday. The next-to-last paragraph says that he does after all represent a “reformist current”, however mild that current may seem to our eyes. And it points out that, as Bill Baar and Dan both noted, President Bush himself granted Khatami the special diplomatic visa for this visit, so it wasn’t just some liberal outrage. In fact, along with Bush’s supposed reading of Camus’ The Stranger in the summer, which features ambiguity (imagine!) maybe this is evidence of a new willingness on the President’s part to put down the broad brush for a moment and ponder the existence of complexity. If so all well and good, though too bad it didn’t happen a bit sooner.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén