When speech is violence and violence is speech

The New York Times has published op-ed pieces by Vladmir Putin and The Freaking Taliban. If staff members had a problem with that, they kept it to themselves.

But an editorial – admittedly, a really, really stupid one – by a sitting US Senator? That’s a bridge too far.

Staffers at The New York Times expressed dismay Wednesday over the newspaper’s decision to publish an op-ed written by Republican Sen. Tom Cotton that called for the U.S. military to be deployed in cities across the country to help restore order.

The op-ed was published in The Times opinion section, but staffers from both opinion and the newsroom — which operate separate from one another — publicly dissented.

A parade of Times journalists tweeted a screen shot showing the headline of Cotton’s piece, “Send In the Troops,” with the accompanying words: “Running this puts Black @NYTimes staff in danger.”

They all tweeted the same mantra. Just like a religious ritual. Matt Welch, formerly of the Los Angeles Times, despairs for the future of journalism and the liberal ideal itself:

Like Defense Secretary Mark Esper, I do not think the president should invoke the Insurrection Act, now or for whatever other hare-brained schemes he may have. And like the army of journalism professors and lefty media critics busy mashing the “like” button on every new anti-Cotton tweet, I am no fan of the senator. My first piece about him, five years ago, was headlined “GOP’s New Foreign Policy Hero Is a Surveillance-Loving Interventionist Nightmare.”

But Tom Cotton is, sadly, a senator. And one of the most longstanding traditions among journals of national aspiration—the TimesThe Washington PostThe Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles TimesUSA Today, The Atlantic—is publishing advocacy essays by people in power.

For instance, then-Rep. Charlie Rangel (D–N.Y.) wrote a 2002 New York Times op-ed headlined “Bring Back the Draft” (talk about “invoking state violence” in a way that “disproportionately hurts Black and brown people”!) without stirring this sort of protest. More recently, Michael Bloomberg took to the Gray Lady to advocate banning flavored vapes. Ask the family of Eric Garner how they feel about the racial distribution of stepped-up anti-nicotine enforcement in New York. One begins to suspect that the objection to Cotton is not a principled observation that state power is disproportionately wielded against the less fortunate.

This publishing flap, which in comparative importance is a sputtering match next to the hell-inferno of spring 2020, is nonetheless symbolic of a shift bearing more tectonic heft. Our liberal institutions, not unlike our conservative intellectuals, are noisily abandoning liberalism.

While the Trump-era trolls on the right gleefully transgress the bounds of discourse (particularly concerning race, gender, and sexuality) to provoke the sensitivities of the forces they call “the Cathedral,” the solons of the institutional left expend a frightful amount of energy serving as intellectual bouncers—deciding, sometimes based on organization affiliation or even immutable characteristics, who is allowed to be in the club and dance on the “platform.” It is an ever-escalating slap-fight between two sides who have given up on the idea of don’t-categorize-me individualism.

“Should the Times publish op-eds by Hitler?” people are asking on social media, because of course Tom Cotton can’t just be an authoritarian idiot, he has to be Hitler. The answer is, they fucking did, back when it was assumed that it is not dangerous just to be exposed to what even awful people are thinking, and in fact it is inherently good to expose it.

The Times is sheepishly backing down, of course. They won’t make the mistake of challenging its readers again.

Sometimes it feels like we’re caught between left-wing ideologues who want to recreate China during the sixties and right-wing ideologues who want to recreate China in 1989, doesn’t it?

Update: This.

Saying the quiet part out loud

Let me be clear: there are absolutely no circumstances, no matter what happens between now and November, under which I will support Donald Trump’s re-election as President. Even if Tara Reade’s allegations against Joe Biden are true, they don’t even come close to the number of times Trump has been accused of assaulting and harassing women, with much stronger evidence to boot. And the Trump Presidency – as the great Anne Appelbaum explains in this Atlantic piece – has strengthened authoritarians around the world and wounded America’s reputation to the point where it may never recover:

…The “disinfectant” comments—and the laughter that followed—mark not so much a turning point as an acceleration point, the moment when a transformation that began much earlier suddenly started to seem unstoppable. Although we are still only weeks into this pandemic, although the true scale of the health crisis and the economic catastrophe is still unknown, the outline of a very different, post-American, post-coronavirus world is already taking shape. It’s a world in which American opinions will count less, while the opinions of America’s rivals will count more. And that will change political dynamics in ways that Americans haven’t yet understood.


I wish I could say for certain that a President Joe Biden could turn this all around, but by next year it may be too late. The memories of the prime minister at the airport, welcoming Chinese doctors, will remain. The bleach jokes and memes will still cause the occasional chuckle. Whoever replaces Pompeo will have only four short years to repair the damage, and that might not be enough.

And if Trump wins a second term? Any nation can make a mistake once, elect a bad leader once. But if Americans choose Trump again, that will send a clear message: We are no longer a serious nation. We are as ignorant as our thoughtless, narcissistic, ignorant president. Don’t be surprised if the rest of the world takes note of that, too.

That said, don’t think I didn’t notice this:

Tolchin, a former New York Times reporter and founder of Politico, was responding to a Times editorial calling for the Democratic National Committee to investigate allegations against its nominee. And Tolchin, an alleged journalist, thought this was too much and that the media has a duty to cover for Biden.

I, too, think defeating Trump is our top priority. But I am not a journalist and do not pretend to be a journalist. I express my opinions on a blog when I’m not busy with my day job.

Tolchin does purport to be a journalist, and he is demanding that his colleagues put their thumbs on the scale. He is entitled to his opinion as much as anyone else – indeed, I kind of appreciate it when journalists reveal their partisan and ideological leanings – but that is not the same as openly calling for his profession to refrain from doing its job.

And I don’t doubt for a second that many of his colleagues agree with him, even if they’re more discreet about it. In the long run, that will destroy the reputation of mainstream journalism more than anything the President tweets about.

Capitulation at Harvard

Intersectionality or the rule of law. Pick one.

Harvard Law professor Randall Kennedy, in the New York Times, on the treatment of his colleague Ronald Sullivan:

I have been a professor at Harvard University for 34 years. In that time, the school has made some mistakes. But it has never so thoroughly embarrassed itself as it did this past weekend. At the center of the controversy is Ronald Sullivan, a law professor who ran afoul of student activists enraged that he was willing to represent Harvey Weinstein.


…On Saturday, Dean Khurana announced that Mr. Sullivan and Ms. Robinson would no longer be deans of the college, citing their “ineffective” efforts to improve “the climate” at Winthrop.

Although Dean Khurana declared that his decision was “informed by a number of considerations,” he said nothing in his announcement about the issue that lay at the heart of the controversy: the claim that Mr. Sullivan’s representation of Mr. Weinstein was in and of itself inconsistent with his role as a faculty dean. No wonder the students who campaigned for his dismissal on that basis celebrated the administration’s action.

Harvard College appears to have ratified the proposition that it is inappropriate for a faculty dean to defend a person reviled by a substantial number of students — a position that would disqualify a long list of stalwart defenders of civil liberties and civil rights, including Charles Hamilton Houston and Thurgood Marshall.

Student opposition to Mr. Sullivan has hinged on the idea of safety — that they would not feel safe confiding in Mr. Sullivan about matters having to do with sexual harassment or assault given his willingness to serve as a lawyer for Mr. Weinstein. Let’s assume the good faith of such declarations (though some are likely mere parroting). Even still, they should not be accepted simply because they represent sincere beliefs or feelings.

Suppose atheist students claimed that they did not feel “safe” confiding in a faculty dean who was an outspoken Christian or if conservative students claimed that they did not feel “safe” confiding in a faculty dean who was a prominent leftist. One would hope that university officials would say more than that they “take seriously” the concerns raised and fears expressed. One would hope that they would say that Harvard University defends — broadly — the right of people to express themselves aesthetically, ideologically, intellectually and professionally. One would hope that they would say that the acceptability of a faculty dean must rest upon the way in which he meets his duties, not on his personal beliefs or professional associations. One would hope, in short, that Harvard would seek to educate its students and not simply defer to vague apprehensions or pander to the imperatives of misguided rage.

Now, of course, Harvard authorities are dredging up various supposed delinquencies on Mr. Sullivan’s part. An exposé in The Harvard Crimson refers to allegations that he and his wife were highhanded in their dealings with the staff at Winthrop House. No one is perfect; perhaps there is something to these claims.

But these dissatisfactions, if relevant at all, were not what provoked the student protests that led to Mr. Sullivan’s ouster. The central force animating the drama has been student anger at anyone daring to breach the wall of ostracism surrounding Mr. Weinstein, even for the limited purpose of extending him legal representation. They want to make him, a person still clothed with the presumption of innocence, more of an untouchable before trial than those who have been convicted of a crime. There was no publicized protest at Winthrop House when Mr. Sullivan successfully represented a convicted murderer, Aaron Hernandez, the former New England Patriots star, who was acquitted of a separate double murder before killing himself in prison.

Harvard officials are certainly capable of withstanding student pressure. This time, though, they don’t want to. …

Some perspective: the most significant threat to the rule of law in America comes from the would-be authoritarian in the White House. But the Sullivan witch-hunt is just the latest example of how the rule of law is being assaulted from the other side.

Flashback: law students at the City University of New York screaming “Fuck the Law!” at a visiting professor they didn’t agree with.