The New York Times on the First Amendment
A Case From Canada Presents Some Sticky Wickets
By blackhedd Posted in Culture | First Amendment | free speech | Macleans | Mark Steyn — Comments (9) / Email this page » / Leave a comment »
If you haven’t read anything by Canadian journalist and author Mark Steyn, your life is the poorer for it. He’s marvelously witty and fun to read. He’s also one of the loudest proponents of the view that Western cultures, particularly in Europe, are allowing themselves to be slowly extinguished through a refusal to confront Islamization.
Steyn is a disciplined and careful reporter. Everything he writes is backed up by research and reasoned argument. He doesn’t commit libel.
But that’s not good enough in Canada anymore. Two years ago, he published an article in Maclean’s which recapitulated themes from his book America Alone. But it’s against the law in British Columbia to say things that Muslims don’t want to hear, regardless of how objectively truthful, well-supported and reasonable they are.
So Steyn is now personally facing criminal jeopardy.
But of course, this is of no interest to America’s arbiters of taste in the mainstream press. However, they’re extremely interested in another aspect of the story.
See, it’s not just Steyn himself who is on trial for violating the criminal law of British Columbia. His co-defendant is Maclean’s, the prominent weekly magazine that published him.
That’s a big deal to the journalistic poobahs who believe their job is to tell you what to think and how to think it. Why? Because it gets to one of their favorite subjects, the First Amendment.
Here’s what the New York Times has to say about the case. Read it and see if you can figure out what they’re trying to say. It’s pretty interesting, and not the reflexive pro-Muslim and anti-free-speech point of view you might expect them to take.
Instead, the article is a disquisition on how America’s approach to free-speech rights differs from that of the rest of the world. It turns out that, to borrow a phrase from Mark Steyn, America really is alone when it comes to free expression. No other nation tolerates it as much as we do.
And this is really why the Times saw fit to engage the Steyn/Macleans story. Their question isn’t "Why is British Columbia prosecuting Mark Steyn for saying things that are objectively true?" Rather, they ask whether America’s position on free speech is too broad and should be tightened to match the rest of the world.
I’ve been reading the New York Times all my life. And I think that mainstream journalists (the Times foremost among them) have always been hypocritical on the subject of the First Amendment.
All professional journalism by definition is objective and balanced. The way the Times gets around this requirement is to present the view that they’re biased in favor of in the first two thirds of each news story they write, with the disfavored view presented at the end.
Try it with a selection of New York Times stories chosen at random, and see for yourself. The "correct" view is presented first, in cool, neutral-sounding terms, and supported by quotes from well-respected authorities. The "wrong" view is then introduced with phrases like "To be sure…" and "Of course, some observers believe that…" And they always find the least sympathetic people to quote from in the last third of each article (Catholic priests, middle-aged white men, serial killers, Republicans, etc.)
Given that, I read the Times piece about Mark Steyn to be saying that the American approach to free-expression jurisprudence really is better and shouldn't be changed, because we allow journalists to write whatever they please, regardless of how hateful it might be.
Of course, they do have to square this up with another of their core principles, moral relativism. In the final third of the story, the Times reporter allows that countries like Germany and South Africa have perfectly understandable speech-suppression laws because of their history. So of course the fact that Times reporters are able to write whatever they want without fear is merely a happy coincidence of our history and not anything more fundamental.
(I’ll forgive you in case you’re outraged that the Times cavalierly puts Mark Steyn in the same category as the Nazis and the Apartheid-ists. To them, it’s all just hate speech, and the only question is whether it should be allowed.)
All of this tells you what you need to know about the First Amendment According to Left-Wing Orthodoxy: it’s there to make it possible for journalists to ply their trade as they please.
-Francis Cianfrocca (“blackhedd”)