by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
We’re in the dawn of a high-tech, bloodless Cultural Revolution; one that relies on intimidation, public shaming, and economic ruin to dictate what words and ideas are permissible in the public square.
“Words are violence” has always been an illiberal notion meant to stifle speech and open discourse. Popularized by a generation of coddled and brittle college students, it now guides policy on editorial pages at newspapers such as the Philadelphia Inquirer, the New York Times, and most major news outlets.
The Times can claim that a harsh tone and a small factual error in Senator Tom Cotton’s recent op-ed was the reason the entire paper had a meltdown, but the staffers who revolted initially claimed that Cotton’s argument for bringing the National Guard into cities put black lives in “danger.”
Cotton’s critics are correct that not every dumb or radical idea deserves a debate or a place in the country’s biggest newspapers — although some of us believe editors should make room for contrarian and unpopular arguments. But this insistence masks their real objection: That Cotton’s column, which tonally and philosophically was well within the parameters of traditional editorial writing, might have found an audience. At root, our cultural revolutionaries are frightened of ideas. Do we honestly believe that had another paper published it, the same people wouldn’t have deemed that inappropriate, too?
None of the Times’ editors, all of whom are apparently comfortable with running fabulist histories or odes to Communist tyrannies, pushed back against the caustic notion that engaging in debate was act of violence. They bowed to the internal mob and pleaded for forgiveness.
What editor at a major newspaper is going to stand up for ideals of open and free debate if doing so means putting “black lives in danger” and ends his career? Few, if any.