Carol Platt Liebau: Political Discourse & the First Amendment

Monday, April 11, 2005

Political Discourse & the First Amendment

There are a couple of stories this morning that inspire sober reflection about the First Amendment as it's currently treated in America today. Coupled with the post about The New York Times and Columbia University from last night, it's hard to escape the conclusion that something is rotten - quite rotten - in the way that "free speech" is understood by many elites today.

First, check out this piece by Robert Novak. It's an account of how The New York Times (them again!) went shopping for an opinon piece on Tom DeLay. Not any piece, mind you -- but one that would denounce him and call for his resignation. "All the news that's fit to print," indeed. It's really "all the news we print to fit [our ideological persuasion]."

Then look at this oped from The Washington Times, discussing the lighthearted approach the media has taken to various incidents of food throwing toward conservative speakers on college campuses. It's hard to believe that, if Michael Kinsley or Al Franken were attacked in this way, it would be so blithely dismissed. (That being said, it's a step forward that it's even being generally discussed -- during my years at Harvard Law School, memories were still fresh of how Contra leader Adolfo Calero's speech was cancelled after he was attacked. A very biting poster showed a photo of the protester jumping at Calero, with the phrase "Free Speech at Harvard" printed underneath).

The First Amendment is a right, but it's also a gift. And it is infuriating when the two entities that benefit most from it -- newspapers and universities -- are its greatest abusers. No one can dispute that it's wrong for "the newspaper of record" to try to spearhead a drive to force the majority leader from office, just as no one can deny that it's wrong for that paper to make deals where it agrees to cover stories unfairly in exchange for a "scoop." It's wrong for universities -- and their newspapers -- to largely overlook the suppression of unpopular speech, and intimidation of the speakers.

And what's more, it's a betrayal of the principle of free speech -- an attempt to impose Marxist ideology, as it were, on the marketplace of ideas. It's a slap in the face to every soldier who has died to secure the freedom that The New York Times and the universities devalue by behavior unworthy of the liberties they enjoy.

Is it any coincidence that the universities and the newspapers are the last, best preserve of left-wing liberalism today?


Blogger jchess said...

But, wait. It gets worse and worse: I am increasingly seeing left-leaning newspapers in my neck of the woods denying some their First Amendment Rights because they live on the wrong side of the tracks.

The Greeley Tribune, for example, recently decided, by way of editorial policy, that anyone who does not live in Greeley proper will NOT be allowed to publish letters to the editor in the pages of The Greeley Tribune. Given the southern boundary of Greeley and Evans are one and the same this policy has understandably outraged more than a few folks.

But this is how Liberals are getting around the First Amendment: By parsing it out.

The Coloradoan (Fort Collins, CO), for example, gives preference to letter and op/ed writers who support their ever-anti American agenda.

Given The Coloradoan is owned by Gannett this does bode well for the rest of the country, because, presumably, this editorial mandate is also a corporate mandate.

James C. Hess

2:18 PM  

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