It's been a full week since The Scrapbook inveighed against the assault on free speech, so we have a new parade of horribles to shake our head at. The precipitating event this time was the killing of two armed assailants at an event in Garland, Texas, that was displaying Muhammad cartoons. It should go without saying that free speech means supporting the right of people you don’t like to say things you don’t like. But since the event was organized by Pamela Geller, a controversial figure whose notoriety hinges on her willingness to insult Muslims, the media for the most part rushed to condemn Geller, rather than the men who tried to kill her.
There was an aggressively stupid bit of news “analysis” from McClatchy’s Lindsay Wise and Jonathan Landay headlined: “After Texas shooting: If free speech is provocative, should there be limits?” The piece proceeds to list ways in which the display of cartoons might not be protected by the First Amendment. On the substance, the article is as erroneous as you might imagine, but it does reinforce a truism useful for understanding such debates. Exceptions to the First Amendment are so narrow that the easiest way to tell someone doesn’t support the First Amendment is how quickly he rushes to talk about the exceptions.
As if to prove this point, CNN’s Chris Cuomo tweeted this nugget of legal wisdom: “Hate speech is excluded from protection. Don’t just say you love the constitution . . . read it.” The Scrapbook would very much like to see Cuomo’s copy of the Constitution; ours is missing the footnote about hate speech. Under a barrage of ridicule, Cuomo tried to backtrack, claiming he was referring to “case law,” not the Constitution, specifically the “fighting words” doctrine. Not only is this not applicable, we’d note that Cuomo recently told a judge on air that “our laws do not come from God, your honor, and you know that.” The judge promptly humiliated him by quoting the Declaration of Independence, so we’re not inclined to give Cuomo the benefit of the doubt—especially since he has a degree from Fordham Law School.
The competition for the most inane thing said about the Texas attack is fierce. The Washington Post’s “social change reporter”—let’s pause to note the mere existence of such a job—wrote an article headlined “Event organizer offers no apology after thwarted attack in Texas.” We can’t believe we keep having to restate the facts, but two men tried to kill Geller, and the implication is that she owes an apology? That’s bad enough, but here’s how the article began: “If the contest was intended as bait, it worked.” Just imagine the Washington Post covering an attempted rape with “If dressing provocatively was intended as bait, it worked.”
In the end, the media’s unwillingness to overlook the substance of Geller’s opinions in favor of protecting her right to have them in the face of armed gunmen is more than troubling. Such attitudes legitimize violence as an effective response to speech. And so long as they insist on arguing there are limits to the First Amendment, the establishment media are far more dangerous to a free society than the impolitic portrayals of Muhammad they would like to outlaw.