Civil society requires the toleration of the expression of opposing viewpoints, no matter how personally discomforting you may find them. Therefore, it would be profoundly hypocritical for the editorial staff of the New York Times opinion section not to immediately invite me to come to their offices to call them all morons and trolls.
Some background: Last weekend, the Lewis & Clark College chapter of the Federalist Society, the enormously influential legal arm of the conservative movement, invited contrarian political personality Christina Hoff Sommers to speak on campus. They did this mainly because they knew it would annoy or outrage liberal, left-wing, and feminist students, and some small number of them would ask the school to cancel the appearance or show up to protest it. All of that happened. Some students protested and heckled Sommers, footage of which was immediately made grist for the “free speech wars” mill.
Then, after the protesting and heckling, Sommers gave her talk, as scheduled, and took questions.
As you can clearly see, the entire incident was an egregious attack on free speech by dangerously illiberal student activists.
Bari Weiss, an editor for the Times opinion section, has written a column about the incident, arguing that these students, who asked that Sommers not address their school, then heckled and insulted her (as she insulted them), and then finally let her speak and engaged in dialogue with her, fundamentally don’t understand how “free speech” works.
“Yes,” Weiss says, “these future lawyers believe that free speech is acceptable only when it doesn’t offend them. Which is to say, they don’t believe in it at all.”
I couldn’t agree more: If you think offensive speech shouldn’t be aired in certain contexts and venues, you don’t believe in free speech. Which is why it is incumbent on Weiss, and her bosses, to ask me to come to the offices of the New York Times and give a talk to the editors and columnists of the opinion page about how stupid they are.
It is absolutely necessary, for the sake of democratic ideals, that the staff attend my talk, and they must listen politely (and quietly) as I condescendingly dismiss their idiotic worldviews and personally insult them. They cannot yell at me or express indignation in any way. For them not to allow this to happen would be an alarming sign of the decline of liberalism in the West.
It’s not enough that I have the right to criticize Bari Weiss, James Bennet, and Bret Stephens here at the web publication I work for, or on Twitter, or really any other platform I have access to. The problem is that there is a platform I don’t have access to—the offices of the New York Times, specifically the opinion section—and, therefore, I have no way to personally and directly criticize the people I find objectionable. That is a clear-cut violation of the principle of open and lively democratic debate.
For example, I can call Bari Weiss a ridiculous hypocrite for posing as a champion of free speech on campus after spending her own time in college organizing a harassment campaign intended to deny or strip tenure from “pro-Palestinian” professors, but, absent that invitation, I have no way of making her listen to me say that, which has an obvious chilling effect. (Just ask my colleague Anna Merlan, who was shamefully silenced earlier this week, when Weiss didn’t respond to her tweet.)
I can criticize editorial page editor James Bennet as clearly not up to the task of running a vibrant and interesting op-ed section at a time when finding smart new voices has never been easier or more necessary, but I can’t also call him a pompous twit to his face, while he just has to sit there and take it, because it would be anti-speech of him to object.
How is that acceptable? How will the minds of the New York Times opinion section staff ever be expanded, how will they ever leave their ideological bubble, if they aren’t exposed to ideas that challenge them, like “all of you are charlatans”?
I’m a reasonable person. I am willing to compromise. If they don’t want to personally attend my talk, perhaps they can be allowed to skip it. But at the very least, someone at the Times needs to extend the invitation, and it needs to be well-publicized. The editors and writers of the opinion section must know that their colleagues chose to invite me to their place of work to insult them, as the people they work with sit in attendance at my talk, enjoying it a lot. The obvious contempt shown for the opinion page staff by their colleagues in inviting me in the first place would basically the most important part of the whole thing, speech-wise.
It is truly shameful that I continue to be “no-platformed” by the thought police of the New York Times opinion section.