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Friday Special: The Left’s New Fear of Speech


As we said there in rejecting Virginia's claim that the only way it could enable its citizens to find their self-interest was to deny them information that is neither false nor misleading: "There is… an alternative to this highly paternalistic approach. That alternative is to assume that this information is not in itself harmful, that people will perceive their own best interests if only they are well enough informed, and that the best means to that end is to open the channels of communication rather than to close them.

- Thurgood Marshall, Linmark Associates, Inc. v. Township Of Willingboro, 431 U.S. 85 (1977)


With 2020 being such a caustic year, many novel innovations will be forgotten. Does anyone remember that the global shutdown was supposed to last three weeks to “flatten the curve?” The phrase probably rings a bell now that you hear it, but I bet you haven’t thought of it lately. We took for granted that something had to be done. We blithely accepted that lockdowns were the only answer. And then we promptly forgot that they were supposed to last less than a month. One innovation that must not be taken for granted, blithely accepted, and finally forgotten, is the way the media elites have taken it upon themselves to shield the public from information the elites don’t think we should have. 


To be clear, no state or federal laws have been broken. The first amendment doesn’t apply to private companies. So Facebook and Twitter can delete posts and shut down accounts linking to medical professionals who stepped outside the prescribed orthodoxy on Covid-19 policy. CNN can refuse to air a political ad. The broadcast networks can all decide independently to refuse coverage of a reliably-sourced story that makes one candidate look bad, even when four years before they couldn’t hide their glee in covering a similar story with much less reliable sourcing. None of that is against the law. But it used to be that their audience would evaporate over coverage so thoroughly Anti-American. To be absolutely clear, I do not mean to imply that one political party is “American,” and the other is Anti. I mean to state flat out that interfering with the free dissemination of viable information - no matter who benefits - is unAmerican. 


We used to take for granted that the cure to bad speech was good speech. If you don’t like what someone is saying, go out, speak your mind, and convince people that you’re right. We used to compete in the marketplace of ideas. In fact, it was liberals who used to be the best at making that argument. Justice Louis Brandeis, who was appointed by Woodrow Wilson, is often credited with popularizing the counter-speech doctrine. Decades later, no less an authority than civil rights champion Thurgood Marshall authored an opinion citing the same reasoning. Certainly there is a difference between government prohibitions on speech and private censorship. But these actions raise several questions. What happened to counter-speech? And when did the so-called news outlets decide it was okay to be openly partisan? And why is anyone still watching? 


If liberals are really the bearers of truth, justice, and all that is good, why are they so afraid of conservative speech? 


Mike Davis is a Research Fellow at 1889 Institute. He can be reached at mdavis@1889institute.org. 


The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the official position of 1889 Institute.


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