Smart Ideas: Left and Right Unite Against Free Speech

Also: USA Today drops the ball with Trump op-ed.

A man addresses the crowd at Speaker's Corner in Hyde Park, London.
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Oct. 11, 2018, 8 p.m.

Anti-free speech movement trickles into politics

Matt Welch, writing for Reason

The public and the Supreme Court are moving in opposite directions on the value of free speech. Whereas the Court recently upheld “protections to cover public employees who don't want the state extracting union dues,” and protected “voters who seek to wear political clothing or paraphernalia at the polls,” both “rightists and leftists” have abandoned the principle. Those attitudes will eventually “filter into law and the enforcement thereof.” In fact, they already are. “The most ominous recent example is the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act,” which “holds web publishers retroactively liable for illegal transactions conducted between their users.” Politicians on both sides are also pushing for the suppression of speech: Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are pushing “the [Federal Communications Commission] to consider revoking” the license of conservative television network Sinclair Broadcasting; Ted Cruz recently floated the idea of "breaking up big tech companies in the name of free speech.” In the public eye, the value of free speech has been “deteriorating” for a while. “Politics, sadly and predictably, is catching up.”

Did the U.S. fail to warn kidnapped Saudi journalist?

Ryan Goodman, writing for Just Security

Under an intelligence-community directive issued in July 2015, intelligence agencies have a “duty to warn” people under a credible threat of “intentional killing, serious bodily injury, or kidnapping.” On Wednesday, The Washington Post reported that U.S. intelligence agencies may have learned in advance about a Saudi plot to lure the journalist Jamal Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia. This should have triggered the “duty to warn.” Although the intelligence communities can waive the requirement in two instances—if it would jeopardize sources and methods, or if the intended victim “is already aware of the specific threat”—neither applies in this case. The agencies could have informed Khashoggi anonymously. There’s also no indication that Khashoggi knew about the specific threat; had he known, he “would not have entered the consulate.” The message this sends to other dissidents is concerning: “Khashoggi is a rare individual who became a U.S. resident and connected in his professional network to powerful institutions such as The Washington Post. If this could happen to someone like him, what does it mean for others?”

Protesters at the Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Washington on Wednesday AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Trump's "propaganda" didn't belong on USA Today's op-ed page

Pete Vernon, writing for the Columbia Journalism Review

President Trump's Wednesday op-ed in USA Today placed two contemporary journalistic standards in sharp contrast. First, that the president's words are automatically newsworthy. Second, that news outlets shouldn't be publishing "fact-free propaganda," whether on the opinion pages or otherwise. From speeches to interviews, "responsible organizations have concluded that there are reasonable steps that can be taken to contextualize" President Trump's seemingly endless reservoir of false claims. "But in providing a print platform for similarly mendacious puffery of the president’s own actions, USA Today chose to ignore the lessons that should have been learned by now, and it deserves the scrutiny and criticism it has received."

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