Two weeks ago, George Will wrote a column about how progressives have exaggerated the prevalence of rape on college campuses. The column was not well received by some or even, as a great many of the histrionic responses would indicate, well understood. Last week a press release landed in The Scrapbook’s inbox, headlined: “87,000 Call on The Washington Post to Address Sexism, Fire George Will.” A group called UltraViolet was touting the success of an online petition they’d whipped up over the controversy. From the release:
The Washington Post should take a stand against rape—starting by firing George Will, said Nita Chaudhary, co-founder of UltraViolet. “From mocking survivors to misleading the public on demands for college sexual assault reform and blaming women for violence against them—the Post has left the realm of honest debate and entered the realm of hate-speech and dog whistles.”
Perhaps needless to say, nothing in Will’s column was remotely outside the lines of civil discourse. Here’s a more interesting line of inquiry: Who is UltraViolet cofounder Nita Chaudhary, and why does she hate free speech? In 2004, she was a Democratic National Committee staffer. She is also a former campaign director at MoveOn.Org. While with MoveOn, Chaudhary aggressively defended the organization’s infamous “General Petraeus is likely to become General Betray Us” ad. What’s more, Chaudhary is the wife of Jesse Lee, the White House’s “Director of Progressive Media and Online Response.” In fact, Valerie Jarrett helped Lee propose to Chaudhary at a state dinner. In past administrations, positions such as the one held by Lee, charged with partisan media strategies and rapid response, were outsourced to the party organizations, so as not to politicize the presidency. Alas, this White House lacks that kind of respect for the office. Now Lee is paid to write blog posts on the White House website attacking “lies” from Fox News.
The crusade against Will did not stop with Chaudhary. The National Organization for Women is also calling for the Post to drop his column. And four Democratic senators—Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Dianne Feinstein of California, Robert Casey of Pennsylvania, and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut—signed a letter to Will accusing him of “treating [rape] as a socially acceptable phenomenon,” a borderline libelous characterization.
Does the broader progressive movement, which encompasses some of America’s most powerful leaders, no longer believe in free speech? We’re referring to actual free speech, not the increasingly common progressive view where you point out that the First Amendment pertains to government restraint of expressions so as to deflect criticism of your own Stalinist impulses. Real free speech implies a culture where we tolerate opinions that bother us, in the understanding that this will make us a freer, more thoughtful, and, yes, tolerant people.
Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt, thankfully, stood firm. “George Will’s column was well within the bounds of legitimate debate,” Hiatt told the left-wing activist group Media Matters for America. “Rather than urge me to silence a viewpoint they disagree with, I would urge others also to join the debate, and to do so without mischaracterizing the original column.”