Freedom Of Screech

Ed Zitron 9 min read
Freedom Of Screech

Did you hear? Students are not given a chance to speak freely about their beliefs, as evidenced by a senior in college from the University of Virginia being given a widely-publicized New York Times op-ed. Emma Camp, a student of UVA, is afraid of the consequences of speaking her mind publicly (in an opinion piece in a newspaper with a circulation of over 7 million people) and believes her views (which were retweeted to more than 800,000 followers of the New York Times Opinion section’s Twitter account) and those of others are being censored. In 1303 words in a national newspaper, she has made the bold statement that counter-cultural views are being suppressed, a statement that has now been syndicated to, a website with 281 million views in the last month as of writing.

The “strict ideological conformity” that Ms. Camp complains of is so harsh that she had her own dedicated column in the University of Virginia’s newspaper, and she is suffering from censorship so much that she managed to plug a survey from FIRE, a think tank with whom she interned, and the Times didn’t even call out the specific conflict of interest other than mentioning in her byline that she interned for them.

Ms. Camp’s story is the new normal of conservative victimization, where those with privilege and/or resources get given a massive platform to declare they’re oppressed and ignored, lavishing them in attention. It’s always the same refrain - a conservative (or someone adjacent to conservativism) complains about being silenced - fired from their job for being annoying or saying something offensive to someone, quitting their job because they couldn’t stop posting about opening schools during a pandemic, or even, in Ms. Camp’s case, literally nothing. Their complaint about their inability to speak for themselves is then pushed to an audience of millions through the Times, Fox News, or another high-traffic outlet. They then continue to claim that they have been canceled or are afraid to speak up to a much larger audience.

This is the new conservative media machine - an endless merry-go-round of victimhood and contrarianism that ends with nothing changing other than the person in question having a brief moment of media fame and someone being harassed. There is no core ideology other than vague repression and the sense that someone’s liberties are being taken away and that someone is being silenced. The only ideology is a bare-faced lie about censorship - that an authority is suppressing the views espoused by the person, and these views are counter-cultural rather than racist, or bigoted, or offensive. Ms. Camp’s specific views seem to be almost entirely missing from this piece, other than the view that she and others are being oppressed.

The consistent thought process behind almost every one of these people is that we need freedom of speech - despite their complaints largely being around someone using their free speech and freedom to call them an asshole or fire them. Jennifer Sey, former “Global Brand President” of Levi Strauss, quit her job and turned down a $1 million severance (which required signing an NDA) to “keep her voice.” What actually happened was an exercise in, if anything, corporate restraint - Sey spent months having increasingly more deranged conversations on Twitter, indulging in anti-vax-adjacent “just asking the questions!” rhetoric along with the classic “I was a liberal, but now I’m lost because liberals won’t support rushing kids back to school during a pandemic.” Sey wants to portray herself as a victim - as someone forced out by a CEO to “keep her quiet” - when the problem was, as the equivalent of a C-level executive, she spent hours posting and posting culture war nonsense all day long, which is extremely annoying when you are running a publicly-traded company and don’t want attention, nor to be associated with her husband, a stay-at-home dad who is also an anti-lockdown anti-vaxer.

More importantly, Sey has not been silenced in any meaningful way. She has been on CNBC, Fox News (of course), and been written about in MSNBC, Forbes and many other outlets. Sey is wealthy, having sold over two million dollars worth of Levi stock in the last year alone. Levi failed - if they even tried - to silence her, offering her a million dollars to shut up about them and leave the company. In the process of being canceled, or silenced, or oppressed (I’m not sure which one), Sey has met with Governor Ron DeSantis, gone on CNN, gone on Megyn Kelly, and even on NPR.

Of course, Sey is not the victim of anything other than her stubborn rhetoric. She may claim she “had” to post and that Levi Strauss is “held hostage by intolerant ideologues,” but what actually happened is she pissed off everyone around her by espousing her weirdo right-wing culture war nonsense. These stories always involve some sort of statement about how “everyone’s turning their back” on the “victim,” but they never ask - probably because they know the answer - why everyone is turning on them. Is it that the liberals have struck fear into every company, making them reject the truth for fear of upsetting a crazed, fact-adjacent populace? Or is it that you’re engaging in right-wing propaganda backed by quacks?

It is, of course, always the more crazed option because all of this whining is a grift - it’s always a grift. That’s why some combination of the same people always get involved - Bari Weiss (who published Sey’s piece and retweeted Emma Camp’s op-ed), Ben Shapiro, Matt Walsh, and so on - and it’s always the same cry of “the liberals are suppressing our views” as the person in question receives a massive amount of attention, support, and yes, ridicule too, because despite what people say, there is actually free speech.

It always works, too, because the center and left-adjacent media continually falls for it in their quest for “objective” journalism. MSNBC must cover Jennifer Sey’s Bizarre Corporate Adventure, because otherwise they’re not “giving you the entirety of the story.” Except Sey’s story isn’t really a story - and printing her narrative from her perspective is at best doing PR for her and at worst misinformation. And it happens every time, because people are desperate to seem objective - which is quite literally impossible.

And none of this is really about the person in question’s free speech - it’s about being able to say whatever they want without your free speech getting involved. At no point did Emily Camp or Jennifer Sey have their free speech impinged - what they wanted was insulation from the consequences of free speech. If I walk into a crowded store and start yelling that I am The Goose King and I get irate because nobody is bowing, a client may fire me because they don’t want to be associated with The Goose King, let alone any of his actions. Similarly, Sey chose to continually share her totally uncensored opinion on Twitter, and even if they had fired her without warning much earlier than they did, they too were using their free speech and freedom - they were simply deciding not to associate with the free speech of a particular person. If Emily

In the case of Ms. Camp, perhaps the reason she has to whisper her opinions in secret office hours with her professor isn’t because there is a vast conspiracy to silence diverse voices, but because said opinions might be reprehensible to a lot of people.

A consistent hypocrisy in the conservative ideology is that we are responsible for the consequences of our actions, but not when it comes to speaking about stuff. While we must never rely on the government for anything (lest we become a “nanny state”), and respect free speech and free enterprise, but we must also seek to limit the powers of private companies because they have “a monopoly” on free speech. We must be able to say what we want whenever we want, as these are the rights of a free society, but we must also be insulated from the consequences and be able to speak about it without anyone being upset by the things we say.

Importantly, we must avoid cancel culture - by which we mean a non-specific series of consequences including ostracizing and humiliating the person in question - unless, of course, they are Taylor Lorenz, a female reporter covering internet culture that we don’t like because she antagonized some billionaires we like. In this case, the conservative media was happy to attempt to cancel Taylor by attacking her on national television, with “Whatever His Politics Are” political reporter Glenn Greenwald enjoying a prime time segment with Tucker Carlson. In this case, Greenwald was remarkably open to free speech:

Carlson was supported by journalist Glenn Greenwald, an occasional guest on his show. Greenwald wrote that someone involved in polarizing debates should expect pushback. “It’s still just online insults,” he tweeted. “That’s not persecution.”

What is enough for Greenwald to consider this actual persecution? Being fired from a think tank for saying someone should lynch Mike Pence.

I’d argue that Taylor faces greater persecution thanks to the legions of right-wing monsters that attacked her thanks to a unified effort to demonize her. Firing would be one thing - Taylor would find another job - but the scale of harassment against her is multitudes higher than a simple job loss. If anything, this should be the exact thing that Greenwald and anyone else whining about cancel culture should be aware of - what more powerful a cancelation is there than hordes of people attacking you all the time? One might imagine Greenwald was more sympathetic to Lorenz considering the death threats and invasions of privacy that he and his family have faced from his enterprising investigations into the Brazilian government.

I suppose he argues that “people being mean to you online is not the same thing,” which is the kind of logic that makes sense as long as you do not think about it for even a second. Perhaps Greenwald should read the research about the specific harm he and Carlson caused, and consider - if he cares - whether perhaps hundreds or thousands of people harassing a reporter might be considered “canceling” her by suppressing her ability to live a normal life.

In fact, if people are so concerned about cancel culture, maybe they should look into how New York Magazine reporter Shawn McCreesh arbitrarily ran a bizarre and offensive screed about Taylor Lorenz joining the Washington Post after leaving the New York Times, focusing heavily on an argument between the Times’ Maggie Haberman and Lorenz.

Gawker’s Tarpley Hitt summarized it perfectly in an article for Gawker:

There is a lot of bad faith here. We have a star reporter, who left the biggest newspaper in the country for the other biggest newspaper in the country, claiming she isn’t taken seriously; prompting staff writers at the second paper to pile on their new coworker days before she starts, and to do so by mocking one humiliating word (brand) with an equally stupid one (cringey); only for the biggest star reporter of them all, a woman who tweets as much as the man she used to cover, to pop in and accuse the first of milking professional frustration for clout. That’s good stuff. Adam McKay may be optioning it as we speak. But McCreesh managed to squander this inside-baseball comedy hour by grandstanding on behalf of the pseudo-scandal's true victim. Who is the true victim here? For McCreesh, it’s the Times.

This is an enterprising journalist that has faced harassment from the liberal media elite - how is this not the perfect time for Fox and Greenwald to work together? How is this not exactly an example of a reporter being scapegoated for speaking out against the elite? Surely this

Eh, we all know the answer. Taylor was made into the Monster of the Week by Carlson and Greenwald and has consistently been held up as an example of journalism done wrong, as proven by journalists aiding and abetting in massive harassment.

I am truly disgusted by how people have treated Taylor. I’ve made repeatedly made it clear that right-wing media has aggressively targeted her with harassment and how disgraceful that is, but I cannot express the amount of anger and disgust that I hold for people like Haberman,  McCreesh, and any number of other reporters that chose to mock Taylor for talking about “having a brand,” a thing they all absolutely care about.

I have said before that the Times categorically failed Lorenz when she was harrassed over her reporting on Clubhouse, which was ethically despicable but made sense for an organization that continually finds itself wishing it was still the mid-90s so they don’t have to modernize. It is another thing entirely for a reporter of Haberman’s stature to antagonize Taylor and minimize the forces she faces. This is the time when reporters should have solidarity - when they should realize that the enemy is not each other, and that there is joy in mentorship and kinship.

Instead, we get ghoulish, cretinous cannibalism:

If journalism is about speaking truth to power, Politico has failed, by protecting the (questionable) interests of powerful reporters and further participating in the harassment of Lorenz by giving a platform to a conservative newspaper attacking Lorenz. Other than the obvious hypocrisy of Jacqueline Alemany claiming that discussing your brand as a journalist is “cringey,” Politico fails to analyze what is actually happening here - old school hypocrites like Haberman who have profited heavily off of their own personal brands - and vilifies the person who is being attacked by the powerful.

Politico ends their diatribe with the idea that Taylor should “get used to pushback in her own industry” in the sixth paragraph of a story in which they protect the interests of those who are completely unable to accept pushback. And Taylor is on the right side of history - journalism schools regularly teach about building a brand, and frankly it’s one of the most obvious god damn things in journalism I can think of, especially in an age when many people report on the same things from different angles, shared to massive digital audiences.

And what’s to be gained by doing this? What does demonizing Lorenz do? Who does it protect? The legacy media that doesn’t want to grow? The right-wing lunatics that hate her for criticizing a billionaire’s shitty investment? Who is benefitting from this, other than those who want to believe that social media isn’t important, despite history proving otherwise?

To those attacking Taylor, I have a few questions: what is your actual job? Who benefits from this crusade? Who are you empowering by doing this, and more importantly, who are you disempowering? What are you actually afraid of?

And do you know you’re a coward? Or are you lying to yourself about that too?

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