After digging a First Amendment hole for itself in the Plame affair, the New York Times seems to still be hell-bent on narrowing the very First Amendment protections that probably kept its employees out of jail in the early 70's. Specifically, the Times frets that the US is out of step with Europe in having a much broader view of freedom of speech:
Six years later, a state court judge in New York dismissed
a libel case brought by several Puerto Rican groups against a business
executive who had called food stamps "basically a Puerto Rican
program." The First Amendment, Justice Eve M. Preminger wrote, does not
allow even false statements about racial or ethnic groups to be
suppressed or punished just because they may increase "the general
level of prejudice."
Some prominent legal scholars say the United States should reconsider its position on hate speech.
is not clear to me that the Europeans are mistaken," Jeremy Waldron, a
legal philosopher, wrote in The New York Review of Books last month,
"when they say that a liberal democracy must take affirmative
responsibility for protecting the atmosphere of mutual respect against
certain forms of vicious attack."
In the 1970's, members of my family worked in the oil industry, and we received numerous death threats of varying believability, and several of our friends received letter bombs or had family members kidnapped. Many of these attacks and threats were directly traceable to certain media shows that featured editorial attacks on the oil industry. So is the Times suggesting that the media should hold off on its criticism of the oil industry because this criticism created an atmosphere of hate in which these attacks were conducted?
No freaking way, because these calls to limit criticism and "hate speech" always have an ideological filter. There is never a suggestion that the speech bans be even-handed. Criticism of African Americans is outlawed, but exactly parallel language about white folks is A-OK. Criticising Islam is out, but Christianity is a fine target. Death threats against Haitian activists must be avoided at all costs, but death threats against corporate executives are no reflection on free speech or the media. The article is quite explicit that by their definition, hate speech only applies to "minorities," which you can translate to mean "groups the political class has decided to protect." You may be assured that members of the political class will find a way to get themselves included in this definition, so they can be free of criticism,
Kudos to Harvey Silvergate, who even makes the exact same point I have made about Hitler a number of times:
"Free speech matters because it works," Mr. Silverglate continued.
Scrutiny and debate are more effective ways of combating hate speech
than censorship, he said, and all the more so in the post-Sept. 11 era.
"The world didn't suffer because too many people read "˜Mein Kampf,' " Mr. Silverglate said. "Sending Hitler on a speaking tour of the United States would have been quite a good idea."
I will add that I am also happy to be out of step with Europe in terms of any number of other policies, including American libel law, or laws that make it ever so much easier to start a business, and European tolerance for a cozy business-political elite that, whatever their party, focuses on keeping their elite wealthy and powerful.