Sunday, October 15, 2017

Many People Are The Real Threat To Free Speech

Right-wing hecklers shouted down and ultimately forced the cancellation of talk by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra at Whittier College. The hecklers were protesting Beccara's efforts to protect immigrants against predation by the Trump administration.

I mention this story in part because FIRE is the body who picked it up (I periodically hear people claim FIRE doesn't care about free speech violations emanating from the right, but that has not been my experience and this represents a good counterexample). I also mention it because it is a clear example of a free speech violation on a college campus. I do not mention this story to play "right-wingers are the real threat to free speech in this country" game.

The fact is, lots of people don't like free speech; mostly when it's exercised by groups they dislike. Sometimes it's right-wingers at Whittier, sometimes it's left-wingers at William & Mary (what a terrible example to pick, by the way, as the fulcrum for "protest is speech too". Yes, it is, precisely because the overwhelmingly majority of the time it does not manifest as censorial disruption as it did at W&M).

That they actually indict free speech on the regular doesn't stop them from racing off to cry "free speech" when the speaker is someone they like -- the lead heckler at Whittier, as FIRE observes, is rather flagrantly ... opportunistic, we'll say ... on this issue; one could see George Ciccariello-Maher on the other side (as the National Review rightly observes, in GCM's case not believing in academic freedom doesn't mean he doesn't deserve it, but it's fair to call things what they are).

It's perhaps not surprising that this issue -- like so many others -- has devolved into little more than partisan point scoring and desires to push a narrative. But the fact is that there are threats to free speech from all over the political spectrum. I don't tend to think college campuses should be the epicenter of this conversation, particularly when the President of the United States is talking about shutting down broadcast television networks whose coverage he dislikes. Yet even on campus, one can see plenty of offenders on both sides.

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