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

What The New York Times gets wrong — and right — in its editorial about free speech

Photo (cc) 2007 by Hossam el-Hamalawy

Whenever The New York Times takes on as large and amorphous an idea as freedom of expression, it quickly escalates into a war of words about the Times itself. That was certainly the case with a nearly 3,000-word editorial it posted last Friday under the headline “America Has a Free Speech Problem.”

The piece launched a thousand hot takes, many of them dripping with mockery and sarcasm. I certainly don’t agree with everything in the editorial, and I find a lot of what the critics are complaining about — especially the paper’s patented “both-sides-ism” — to be right on target. But in the spirit of contrarianism, and in recognition that this is a Major Statement by our leading newspaper, I’m at least going to take it seriously.

Read the rest at GBH News.

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  1. Excellent piece. Great nuance.

  2. Steve Ross

    Interesting. Sort of a combination of editorial and reporting on a survey sponsored by the NYT, which of course if you read the NYT you know is the latest/greatest/most definitive survey on speech freedom ever done. Meh.

    Dan, your take is fine, IMHO.

    I was thinking about it Sunday. I’ve always held the “you can’t yell fire in a crowded theater” line as definitive — but not the way it is misquoted. It was a remark (not in the opinion) by Oliver Wendell Holmes and the Supreme Court decision muffled and jailed a socialist who spoke against World War 1. It had nothing to do with theaters. Nevertheless, you should not yell fire in a crowded theater!

    Opponents to vaccination simply lie. And it is not an innocent lie. Their lies kill people. With several immune-suppressed family members, I regard people who spread this lie as murderers. They lie about the science. They lie about the existing Supreme Court precedents going back to 1905. And they are egged on, even led, by political opportunists and nuts pushing deworming medicine and trying to get Anthony Fauci killed..

    But if they are not free to state their idiocy, where does it all lead? Many of the same politicians who lie about vaccines and non-existent mass fraud in the 2020 elections were themselves elected in 2020. And now many of them wish to suppress teachers and doctors talking about gay and transgender issues, evolution, abortion… so we need to strengthen freedom, not suppress in any way.

    They often get their money through paths that were closed until three Supreme Court decisions culminating in Citizens United made unlimited dark money the norm in American politics. Every one of those decisions was favored by ACLU, which said, well, corporations are people and money is speech.

    I never believed that nonsense and now, apparently, neither does ACLU. But the destruction of a century of limits on campaign donations is 99% complete and has led to many elected officials that want to limit speech and expand another first amendment “freedom” to include the right of any “religious” person or entity to discriminate against anyone their “religion” disdains this week.

    So is it any wonder that so many Americans tell survey-takers what they tell about free speech? The country is full of liars, crooks, nutty opportunists AND THEIR VICTIMS. The NYT tries to handle this with both-sides-ism, whataboutism, and fake balance where there is no balance…. and with unrecognized ignorance. Gee, the Times is often, well, wrong.

    I grew up in majority-Black neighborhoods. Our NYC apartment is in a small Harlem coop building where the poorest and richest families are Black. But I am not Black! I cannot fully imagine what people of color have gone through and continue to go through, even when they are my neighbors. Only the worst experiences are discussed, not the routine annoyances. The NYT aspires for greatness again… but does not aspire to put its money where its opinions are… even when it has unfounded opinions about its home town, let alone its home country.

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