The 2022 New England Muzzle Awards: Spotlighting 10 who diminish free speech

Illustration by Meryl Brenner / GBH News

A Boston mayor who trampled on a religious group’s right to freedom of expression. A Worcester city manager who trampled on the public’s right to know about police misconduct. A New Hampshire state legislator who trampled on teachers’ rights by demanding that they take a “loyalty oath” promising not to teach their students about racism.

These are just a few of the winners of the 2022 New England Muzzle Awards.

This year is the 25th anniversary of the Muzzles, a Fourth of July roundup of outrages against freedom of speech and of the press in the six New England states.

Read the rest at GBH News.

Recriminations begin in school’s decision to uninvite Nikole Hannah-Jones

Nikole Hannah-Jones. Photo (cc) 2018 by Associação Brasileira de Jornalismo Investigativo.

That didn’t take long. The head of the elite Middlesex School in Concord has taken what is being described as a “leave of absence” just a little more than a week after reports that the school had rescinded a speaking invitation to Nikole Hannah-Jones, the New York Times journalist and Howard University professor who created The 1619 Project.

The Boston Globe’s Amanda Kaufman writes that the high-priced prep school is launching an “independent review,” according to a letter to parents from the board of trustees. Noah Kirsch has a good overview of the past week’s contretemps at The Daily Beast.

The Middlesex meltdown came after Hannah-Jones made public that her invitation to speak during Black History Month had been withdrawn. David Beare, the head of school, told the Globe that he and other school officials “were concerned that individuals from outside our community might inadvertently distract from the insights and perspective that she intended to share.”

From the moment Beare made his ill-advised announcement, it was obvious that this would end badly for him. The faculty signed a letter of protest and the trustees objected, including Hannah-Jones’ Times colleague Bret Stephens, a critic of The 1619 Project.

We still don’t know how the decision to uninvite Hannah-Jones came about, and I hope the Globe and others will keep digging.

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Bret Stephens speaks out against cancellation of Nikole Hannah-Jones

New York Times columnist Bret Stephens has spoken out against the cancellation of a speaking appearance by his Times colleague Nikole Hannah-Jones at the Middlesex School in Concord. Stephens is an alumnus and a member of the board of trustees. Stephens told Christopher Galvin of Boston.com:

I had no knowledge that an invitation had been extended to Nikole. I had nothing to do with the decision not to bring her to the school. The first I heard about it was when someone sent me her tweet… I don’t believe in canceling speakers.

Stephens is a conservative who has written critically about the 1619 Project, a reimagining of the role of slavery in American history that Hannah-Jones oversaw and for which she won a Pulitzer Prize.

Good for him for standing on principle.

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The latest Nikole Hannah-Jones snub is not going to end well for the Middlesex School

Eliot Hall at the Middlesex School. Public domain photo by Daderot.

I think it’s pretty obvious that we’re only in the beginning stages of learning the story behind the Middlesex School’s decision to invite, and then uninvite, New York Times journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones to speak during Black History Month. Middlesex is an exclusive prep school in Concord. Hannah-Jones is best known for the 1619 Project, a reimagining of the role of slavery in American history that won her a Pulitzer Prize.

What always amazes me when something like this happens is the failure of the imagination we see on the part of those in charge. Does David Beare, the head of school who issued a limp statement about concerns over “individuals from outside our community” making a ruckus, really think this is going to end well either for the school or for him? This is not North Carolina.

A few other points worth noting. Among the school’s trustees is New York Times columnist Bret Stephens, a conservative and frequent critic of so-called cancel culture. Will he speak up on behalf of his Times colleague? Another prominent trustee is Cass Sunstein, a well-known Harvard Law School professor and a good bet to criticize this abomination.

Of possibly more significance is that Robert and Anne Bass are both vice presidents of the board. As Gabriel Snyder observes, the Basses are “part of a billionaire family that has bankrolled a lot of campus conservative outrage over the years.”

Stay tuned. There is going to be much more to come, I’m sure.

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