The Washington Post sometimes publishes hateful diatribes. That includes a column by a feminist professor who said “I hate all men and wish they were dead” and an op-ed by two left-wing academics falsely claiming that whites are responsible for “nearly all” mass shootings.
Yet the Washington Post demands that others be punished for “hateful” speech, even when their speech was not hateful at all. (There is no exception to the First Amendment for hate speech or “hateful” speech, as the Supreme Court made clear in its rulings in R.A.V. v. St. Paul (1992), Snyder v. Phelps (2011), and Matal v. Tam (2017)).
This week, it featured a column by sports writer Thomas Boswell demanding that someone be punished for speech criticizing a politician, speech that he depicted as “hateful,” presumably because the politician was a member of the Democratic Party that Boswell favors.
His column was titled “If the Fresno Grizzlies don’t fire someone for the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez video, the Nationals must.” In it, he wrote:
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The way to oppose hateful speech, and the implicit incitement to violence that always lies within it, is to find out who did it and punish them. Nothing else will do. When that incitement to hate occurs on the watch of a business, then those responsible must be identified, named and fired. The Washington Nationals are on the clock.
The video that Boswell denounced and which appears below criticized Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez, along with two oppressive dictators. But it contained no “incitement to violence.”
It was a tribute video honoring military veterans as patriotic words by President Ronald Reagan were played. As he denounced “the enemies of freedom,” pictures flashed of members of Antifa; North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un; and the late Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. And Ocasio-Cortez.
The video was played by a minor league baseball team, the Fresno Grizzlies. But as Boswell concedes, the video was produced by an “outside production company,” not the Grizzlies. They say their officials didn’t fully review the video before it was played or notice before then that she was pictured in it, and they apologized to Ocasio-Cortez for her picture being included in the video.
In any event, calling a politician an “enemy of freedom” is fully protected by the First Amendment. The First Amendment exists in large part to protect criticism of politicians, and the Supreme Court said that even heated expression must be protected under the First Amendment, to ensure that there is “robust and uninhibited debate” about politics. (See New York Times v. Sullivan (1964)). Politicians are often enemies of freedom, because they advocate (as Ocasio-Cortez herself has) restrictions on the freedoms of speech, press, and religion guaranteed to their constituents by the Constitution.
The video’s criticism of Ocasio-Cortez was mild compared to the harsh criticism aimed at many American politicians in the past, such as the vitriol aimed at Thomas Jefferson and John Adams in the presidential campaign of 1800 (as you can see from examples given in Reason Magazine).
The video did not incite violence. But censorship of such criticism could. Suppressing dissent against government officials fuels rage, social unrest, and ultimately violence. As Supreme Court Justice Brandeis once noted,”repression breeds hate,” “hate menaces stable government,” and thus, “the path of safety lies in the opportunity to discuss freely supposed grievances,” not suppression of speech denouncing government officials.
Criticism of controversial politicians, even when it reinforces public hostility to them, is not legally “incitement to violence,” as Boswell falsely claims. The Supreme Court has made that clear in rulings like Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969). You don’t lose your freedom to criticize a politician merely because someone agrees with your criticism and sends an angry or threatening email to a politician.
Leftists have engaged in speech far closer to incitement to violence than anything in the Grizzlies video, with no objection from hypocritical left-leaning newspaper columnists like Boswell. For example, the Supreme Court ruled that a liberal government employee was protected by the First Amendment when she expressed her hope that Reagan would be assassinated. It issued that ruling in Rankin v. McPherson (1987), a ruling applauded by the Washington Post.
If this Washington Post column were right to advocate that hateful speakers be punished and fired, then the Post itself should be shut down because of its own recurrent hate speech.
For example, the Washington Post published a hate-filled, bigoted rant from a left-wing retired professor. “I hate all men and wish they were dead,” she wrote in the Washington Post, boasting of what she said to her loving and long-suffering husband to show that “there is nothing small about women’s rage these days.” The author was Victoria Bissell Brown, a retired history professor at Grinnell College. The Post gave her a soapbox today to spew hate and vitriol, even as it was shrinking its coverage of local news and ignoring readers’ complaints about factual errors.
Her husband, a progressive like her, sounds like a respectful, long-suffering doormat who did nothing to provoke her rage. As Professor Brown herself admits:
[I]t occurred to me to be grateful that I’m married to a man who will listen. … As my rage rushed through the streets of my mind, toppling every memory of every good thing my husband has ever done (and there are scores of memories), I said … to him: Don’t you dare sit there and sympathetically promise to change. … No, I said, you can’t change. You are unable to change. You don’t have the skills and you won’t do it. … You respect women, you believe in women, you like women, you don’t hit women or rape women or in any way abuse women. You have applauded and funded feminism for a half-century. You are one of the good men. And you cannot change. You can listen all you want, but that will not create one iota of change.
She plainly doesn’t regret the fact that she “announced that I hate all men and wish all men were dead.” Neither does the Washington Post, which has contempt for many of its readers.
The Washington Post has also repeatedly published false claims about mass shootings. On March 29, 2013, it published a racist, hate-filled op-ed by Charlotte and Harriet Childress. They falsely claimed that “nearly all of the mass shootings in this country in recent years … have been committed by white men and boys.” The Post published this op-ed even though most of the mass killings in the Washington Post’s own region have been committed by minorities — such as Beltway Sniper John Muhammad.
As another LU writer noted in the Philly News at the time:
Mass killings have also been committed by nonwhites, such as Virginia Tech shooter Seung-Hui Cho, Beltway sniper John Muhammad, Long Island Rail Road shooter Colin Ferguson, and Wisconsin’s Chai Soua Vang.
That LU writer also sent a letter to the Washington Post taking issue with this false claim, which The Post refused to publish.
In reality, mass killers are not disproportionately white. Even unfailingly liberal Slate, which used to be owned by the Washington Post, has pointed out that “mass shooters aren’t disproportionately white.” As Slate’s Daniel Engber noted in 2017, “white people weren’t over-represented among mass shooters.” Given that 77% of all Americans are white, it is not surprising that mass shooters are also often white.