Over the past several months I’ve been reading the news and thinking about the First Amendment, especially because of the sometimes violent protests and disputes over people’s (objectionable) views and their absolute right to express them, and ours to express our disagreement.
So in today’s NYT, Bret Stephen, a new columnist, over whose employment a lot of people objected vociferously because he’s distinctly not a liberal, gives me a nudge toward expressing myself about all of this.
Express away, I hear you all saying! But you may not like what I say. Indeed, you may not have read Stephens column because you’re pissed that the Times brought him on board.
Because I read a lot of readers’ comments, I know that many people won’t even bother reading Stephens; his stated political proclivities offend them. But their stance–that the Times should only be publishing a liberal point of view, especially in light of the Horror we’re facing–misapprehends the role of the Times, an excellent newspaper: it is to publish the news, the facts of what happened, and to publish opinions about those facts labeled to distinguish those opinions from the news articles.
Times journalists write the news using their writerly skills and gifts to inform and impress us with the story. As I’ve written here, journalists will use words and phrases that are, sure, pejorative. It’s called style and it enhances a story. Some of those journalists use a tone that irritates me a lot. But they don’t change the facts or insinuate other facts.
No matter how colorful the writing, you are still able to get the facts of the story and work out how you think and feel about that story.
And it makes no sense for the Times, with its mandate to present the facts in the news, to pre-select a single political viewpoint when it publishes columnists and opinion pieces. Indeed, such a conscientious bent toward one point of view would partially invalidate the Times’s deserved prestige.
It’s certainly understandable that liberals object to right-wing columns and opinion pieces in the Times, but let me ask them this: Why?
I have a thought:
Suddenly another voice spoke, low and melodious, its very sound an enchantment. Those who listened unwarily to that voice could seldom report the words that they heard; and if they did, they wondered, for little power remained in them. Mostly they remembered only that it was a delight to hear the voice speaking, all that it said seemed wise and reasonable, and desire awoke in them by swift agreement to seem wise themselves. When others spoke they seemed harsh and uncouth by contrast; and if they gainsaid the voice, anger was kindled in the hearts of those under the spell.
Bret Stephens, Ann Coulter, Milo Yiannopoulos, Alex Jones, Rush Limbaugh, et far too many als: Why should any of us be afraid of hearing their voices? Unlike Saruman, they can’t enchant us. They can’t sound wise and reasonable. They can’t make us believe they are right.
We don’t have to pay attention to them, but we don’t have to be afraid of their speech, either. So I’m not getting why there are so many loud and occasionally violent protests against these people. The way to protest is ignore them. Don’t read them, don’t bother to listen.
But if you do, they are not going to induct you into their zombie cult. They don’t have that kind of power.
Meanwhile, I will give any columnist a first paragraph read to decide whether I want to go on. Theoretically, I do want to understand why someone thinks so differently from the way I think, but at the worst, I do like to growl while reading and say, “You are so stupid,” even when “stupid” is a facile, knee-jerk word, and even when I know I’m being knee-jerk.
Which brings me to Bret Stephens column today. His beginning is sneaky-cute: I presume he wrote it this way to get all of us liberals growling immediately and maybe even choosing to continue reading, thinking he’ll further infuriate us. Yes!
But he doesn’t.
I’m not suggesting you read it because I think he’s right. I’m not a supporter. But I am telling you he is not going to poison your mind. He doesn’t have the power.
Neither, in the end, did Saruman.