In our last post, we learned that researchers have found that people tend to self-censor their speech, both in person and on social media, if they believe that their opinions are unpopular or in the minority. Researchers call this phenomenon the spiral of silence. The tendency to self-censor is one that others, particularly progressives, use to political advantage, when they seek to punish or destroy those with whom they disagree. Depending upon how politically incorrect their points of view are perceived to be by others, speakers quickly learn to self-censor their speech lest they find themselves singled out, investigated, and punished by the enforcers of right think. Let’s look at some recent examples of this type of punishment that goes far beyond ridicule or ostracism.
You’d have to be living on a desert isle to not know about the events in Ferguson, MO, where an unarmed man was shot to death by a police officer shortly after the deceased had committed a strong-arm robbery (verified by video evidence); refused to follow the officer’s instructions (according to the deceased’s own friend); and allegedly (but according to numerous eye witnesses) assaulted the officer. Two St. Louis area policemen were recently forced out of their jobs based upon comments they had made.
The more interesting case is that of Officer Dan Page, who had an encounter with CNN reporter Don Lemon, who claimed that the officer shoved (assaulted) him while he was covering protests that followed the shooting. CNN subsequently dug up a You Tube video, recorded and published back in April 2014, wherein Page, speaking at a private function, made some comments with which many progressives disagree but with which many others do agree. His comments focused upon the New World Order, martial law and potential suspension of the Constitution, and his interpretation of the Bible with regard to Armageddon.
After Page’s comments were pointed out to the officer’s boss by CNN, he was at first suspended and then seemingly was forced to retire. Apparently the First Amendment (free speech, freedom of religion) doesn’t apply to police officers, especially when they cross a CNN reporter:
While he would have reacted to the video the same way absent the Ferguson protests, even [St. Louis County Police Chief Jon] Belmar admitted that he wouldn’t have faced the same pressure to maintain the county police force’s image.
Belmar told the Post-Dispatch that Page’s comments defaming President Barack Obama, the U.S. Supreme Court, Muslims and various sexual orientations would likely have triggered disciplinary review for being “beyond the scope of acceptable police conduct.”
But it was Page’s comments in the video describing himself, in Belmar’s words, as “an indiscriminate killer, that it didn’t matter what your race or background was” that most concerned the police chief.
“With the comments on killing, that was obviously something that deeply disturbed me immediately,” Belmar said.
Page, a 35-year veteran of the police department and a military veteran, retired before internal police reviews were completed, thus apparently making the investigations moot and preserving his pension and benefits.
Don’t count on the left being satisfied with Page’s removal from the force, however. The Huffington Post pointed out that Page will still receive his “full pension.” There are many stories on the Web decrying the fact that Page will receive his pension. Comments on these stories reveal that many of their readers apparently believe that Page’s comments should be punished by denying the man the pension and benefits he has earned over three decades of honorable service. The story at this link is one example. Note the last line: “The officer’s pension has not yet taken effect.” One might read that as a call to arms.
For the record, Oath Keepers states that Page is not a member of their organization. Also for the record, Captain Ron Johnson of the MO Highway Patrol, who was put in charge of security in Ferguson by MO Governor Jay Nixon, partnered with the Nation of Islam and the New Black Panthers–black supremacist organizations–to help keep the peace during protests.
Oath Keepers, by comparison, is not a white supremacist organization, but is a group of law enforcement officers and military veterans who are dedicated to upholding their oaths to the U.S. Constitution.
Johnson making nice with the New Black Panthers and the Nation of Islam is akin to Belmar partnering with the KKK to patrol the streets of Ferguson, MO. Would that fly in Obama’s USA?
Speaking of Obama, he recently said:
Let me be clear; our constitutional rights to speak freely, to assemble, and to report in the press, must be vigilantly safeguarded. … Ours is a nation of laws, for the citizens who live under them, and for the citizens who enforce them.
Officer Page enforced the law for 35 years, but apparently his constitutional right to speak freely has not been “vigilantly safeguarded.” Because Page said things that are not politically correct, he has now lost his job.
The very same day that Officer Page’s oddly coincidental retirement was reported, another seemingly similar story was reported:
The University of Illinois is facing scrutiny … over its decision to rescind a job offer to a professor after his prolific, sometimes profane use of Twitter to voice anger at Israel.
Phyllis Wise, the chancellor of the university’s Urbana-Champaign campus, says she decided not to hire Steven Salaita, a professor of American Indian studies, over concerns about what she called demeaning and abusive language. She heard by email from several dozen students, parents and financial donors expressing concerns, some of whom accused Salaita of anti-Semitism.
Salaita’s defenders say the decision violates his academic freedom, a concept that along with the tenure that shields professors from fallout over unpopular or controversial opinions goes far beyond the legal protections shared by workers in most businesses. …
On Aug. 1, Wise wrote Salaita telling him without explanation that he had no job. After complaints about the decision grew, she emailed faculty and students on Aug. 22 to say the decision was based on Salaita’s tone rather than his views on Israel. …
“As far as I am concerned, this [rescinding the job offer] would never (have) happened without external pressure,” said Robert Warrior, chairman of the university’s American Indian Studies Program. …
“It is unconstitutional for a public entity to punish someone for viewpoint,” said Baher Azmy of the Center for Constitutional Rights, adding that he believes the decision was based on “the content of his speech.”
So it appears that while the First Amendment does not apply to police officers who are employed by a “public entity”, some concerned constitutionalists apparently do believe that the First Amendment does apply to professors, even those not yet employed by a public entity (only promised a job, and therefore a person without tenure). “Academic freedom” is not a constitutional right, but free speech and freedom of religion are both constitutional rights.
Progressives will defend the free speech rights of an allegedly anti-Semitic professor but not the free speech rights of a police officer, even though the speech that “disturbed” Page’s boss was specifically political (protected by the First Amendment) as well as religious (also protected by the First Amendment).
Was Page’s real “crime” criticizing Barack Obama? Some citizens are supporting Page, but the “usual suspects” (like the ACLU) are not, and many actually applaud his punishment for speaking freely. It’s curious. Why the double standard?
Professors do not have to be “civil” but police officers must? There certainly is no groundswell of support for Page that equals this:
Once scholars heard of this [the “un-hiring” of Salaita], protests erupted. Within hours, nearly 2,000 signatures were gathered criticizing the decision; now the count is 17,000, and 3,000 professors are now boycotting UIUC. The American Association of University Professors issued a statement declaring that social media expression is private and protected speech, and that the use of “civility” as a litmus test—which the university now admits it has done in rescinding the hire of Salaita—is also not acceptable. The former is protected by the First Amendment, and the latter is not only an entirely vague and unmeasurable concept, but denying employment based on an alleged lack of “civility” narrows the wide range of expression and opinion upon which universities and colleges rely.
Apparently “social media expression is private and protected speech” only if the speech conforms to progressive orthodoxy and is politically correct.
I’m not arguing for or against either speaker. If I had to choose, I’d err on the side of the Constitution. For every Dan Page, there’s a Malik Zulu Shabazz. For every Steven Salaita, there’s a Matthew Pappert.
No one should be denied the ability to make a living, to pursue his chosen career, simply because he expressed his beliefs on social media or in public. That’s the point of the First Amendment, which should apply to all.
The answer to free speech you don’t like is more free speech.
A debate. A “conversation”. Not name calling. Not shunning. Not shaming. Not boycotts. Not intimidating employers into firing people for expressing their views.
This used to be the United States of America. What is it now?
Those who profess to support the First Amendment must ask themselves why they do not speak out on behalf of officers Page and Pappert, as some of them have spoken out on behalf of Salaita.
Political correctness? Group think? Fear of nonconformity?
What Page and Pappert said is not politically correct. On the other hand, use any search engine and you will find that anti-Semitism and anti-Israel rhetoric are becoming more and more politically correct, in the USA as well as in Europe. Here’s a link to just one story that comes up on such a search. There are many others.
Salaita, by the way, writes for Salon, a “progressive news website“. He recently argued that the USA should return “vast portions of five U.S. states — North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming and Montana–” to “the Indians.” Maybe Hawaii, too. Now there’s a popular opinion. Salaita also “questioned the idea that people should be asked in various ways to support the troops.”
So, you see, sometimes, an opinion that is not popular or is not held by the majority can nevertheless become politically correct and feed into the spiral of silence. Those who express opposing views may find themselves on the wrong side of the enforcers of right think, because the enforcers, although a minority, will engage in tactics that the majority eschews. In other words, the majority believe firmly that a person is entitled to his opinion and shouldn’t be punished for expressing it; but the minority believe in winning “by any means necessary.”
This link goes to a history of the issue of the free speech rights of public employees on the Web (particularly the police) and related legal cases. The article concludes:
When the Court inevitably confronts the impact of social media on the First Amendment rights of public employees, it will have to grapple with the fact that, in our new world of social media and the Internet, very little speech is truly private. That reality poses a genuine dilemma for government agencies, which have a legitimate interest in not having their ability to serve the public damaged by controversial speech that can be instantly communicated to large audiences.
Yet this is the very type of speech the First Amendment is designed to protect. It would be a grave and ironic loss if the emergence of social media took us back to 1892 and Justice Holmes’ view that people forfeit the First Amendment rights they enjoy in their private lives when they go to work for the government.
Who decides what is “controversial?” Who decides what speech is “civil?” Whenever or however the Court decides, one must believe that they will declare that all people, regardless of the content of their speech (politically correct or not) should be treated equally before the law.
Social media is now used by various political activists as a tool with which to punish those with whom they disagree.
Some have raised “doxing” to an art form. Reporters sometimes insert themselves into a story, looking for and then exposing what their “target” has said on social media, with the hope that the person will be punished for his or her politically incorrect (or “controversial”) words.
In another example related to events in Ferguson, Officer Darren Wilson, who shot Michael Brown, was doxed by reporters. Public records were searched, some of them in online databases, and information about his home address, his friends, his family, his long-deceased mother’s encounters with the law (even her grave site) was published in mainstream news articles, putting innocent people at risk.
Officer Wilson himself is innocent: Innocent until proven guilty. There’s another fundamental right that must not apply to police officers anymore, going by some comments on social media, in the news, and even by some so-called objective reporters.
Some reporters expressed seeming outrage that Officer Wilson had time before his name was revealed to delete from the Internet any social media postings and webpages that he may have created. Some of them are now intent upon what looks like a “mission from God” as they search for his current location. To what end?
No similar stories were written by the mainstream media about the family of Michael Brown. Nobody who follows mainstream media news knows, for example, about his family’s encounters with the law. Why is that?
As the boycott of Chick-fil-A showed, progressives will try as best they can to ruin the businesses of those who speak in what they deem to be a politically incorrect manner. Paula Deen’s business (and livelihood) was similarly attacked when she honestly answered a question about using a racial epithet, years ago.
Again, some people are allowed to apologize and be forgiven, while others are not–based upon the content of their speech.
The tendency that some have to search and destroy those with whom they disagree is exactly why there’s a spiral of silence both on the Web as well as in face-to-face discussions. Depending upon how politically incorrect their points of view are, many people come to believe that they must self-censor their speech lest they, too, are investigated by the enforcers of right think and then have their businesses boycotted or find themselves fired from their jobs or expelled from school solely because they exercised their constitutional right of free speech.
This should never happen in the United States of America.