On the left, Chinese-dictatorship-blacklisted individuals with low "social credit scores."
On the right, US-media-blacklisted individual with a low "social credit score."
The punishment for both the Chinese individuals and the American individual is to be "denied access" to various things. In the Chinese case, punishment is meted out openly by the government. In Joe Rogan's case, punishment was supposed to have been meted out following a show trial by media middlemen.
For the moment, Rogan appears to have beaten the American dictators back. For the moment.
Meanwhile, Americans who are not, like Rogan, the most popular and highly paid podcaster in the world -- and, ace in the hole, do not have a CEO behind them with just enough backbone ( Spotify's Daniel Ek) -- are having their rights and access to myriad outlets and activities curtailed through social-credit-score-style blacklisting. Best-selling author, commentator and longtime syndicated columnist Michelle Malkin and her husband are the latest victims of this pernicious form of societal control. In Malkin's case, her "punishment" and also her husband's -- denial of access to accommodations by AirBnB -- is for a speech she had the temerity to give last fall at an American Renaissance conference because AirBnB considers it a "hate group."
We might say that Malkin and Rogan both have been targeted not only for what they say but also for whom they choose to associate with. Rogan's proximate offense was inviting a Twitter-deplatformed doctor onto his chat show; Malkin's was to give a speech to an SPLC "hate group." Note that Malone and American Renaissance both represent challenges to government diktats -- covid measures and critical race theory, to name two.
In Malkin's case, this, her latest punishment, is more of a nuisance; in Rogan's case, the punishment was supposed to censor his show.
Neither case speaks to the vitality of freedom of speech in our country. Rogan's case was headline news not only because of his $100 million Spotify contract and 11 million viewers, but because the headlines constituted the prosecution itself. Indeed, the paucity of media voices in support of Rogan's freedom of speech, freedom to associate, was a major part of the story. As we see again, today's journalists care nothing for freedom of speech. They have abandoned the whole Fourth Estate business, and have themselves become the cancelers of the public's right to know anything.
This isn't new, but I was especially struck by the mass desertion by news media from the parapets of freedom of expression in this Rogan go-round. Yes, there was a piece by Con law prof Jonathan Turlety, a few pieces by some conservative columnists, but there were no real swashuckling defenses of freedom of speech, no spirited reminders of the the importance of dissenting voices, no quotations of Justice Brandeis's famous line: "If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.”
More speech, not enforced silence. That's the foundation of political liberty, but it's gone as an ethos in the profession that is supposed to live by it.
Again, this isn't new -- but it seems worse, maybe because its absence is now so unremarkable to jounrnalists themselves. Maybe also because I was back and forth on the topic with Joanne Lipman, a friend from college who has spent her career near and at the helm of some of the most major outlets of the MSM, from Dow Jones to Conde Nast to Gannett, where she was editor in chief of USA Today.
Reading through Lipman's Time magazine op-ed on the Rogan controversy, I quickly saw that she accepts without question the muscled-in premise that there exists something definitive called "Covid 19 misinformation," and that there are and should be rules against it. Adhering to this orthodoxy (any orthodoxy) to the exclusion of contending facts and theories poses an existential threat to free speech -- thought itself -- but no matter. The "rules" against spreading "misinformation" are what's important to today's Obedient Media, who, of course, prefer to style themselves as "responsible." Thus, Rogan "spread" "Covid-19 misinformation," Lipman wrote, blithely enforcing government-handout-science. She went on to direct her column's disapproval at Spotify CEO Daniel Ek for not taking responsibility for Rogan's act of crimethink.
What really caught my eye, though. was Lipman's simultaneous declaration that she was "as fierce a defender as you will find of freedom of speech."
Really? Last time I looked, defending freedom of speech meant defending freedom of speech, not supporting its supression as "misinformation" defined by some poohbah, and that includes 1960s rock stars, MSM anchors, a letter co-signed by doctors, and "public health" bureacrats. No more. "This is not a First Amendment issue," Lipman explained, excusing herself from the free speech battlefield in media, social media, education, journalism, publishing, and elsewhere. Apparently, the issue is preventing the spread of something branded "misinformation" that is against "the rules." Stopping that "misinformation" according to those "rules" is a priority for today's news media -- or, rather, today rules media. Voltaire 2.0 would put it this way: I may not agree with your misinformation, but I defend to the death the rules against it.
Whatever happened to "more speech, not enforced silence"?
I asked Joanne about that, and she finally said we should agree to disagree -- which, of course, was exactly my point all along. The media should agree to disagree with Joe Rogan, too, and his guests. Free speech = more speech, not enforced silenced.
Then came the Department of Homeland Security's National Terrorism Advisory System's "Summary of Terrorism Threat to the U.S. Homeland" of February 7, 2022. Besides being the most chilling assault on free speech I can remember seeing in a US government document, it is also, saving grace, the stupidest.
It starts like this:
The United States remains in a heightened threat environment fueled by several factors, including an online environment filled with false or misleading narratives and conspiracy theories, and other forms of mis- dis- and mal-information (MDM) introduced and/or amplified by foreign and domestic threat actors.
Click on that link later if you really want to see nuts. First, though, remember, this is a government warning about a "terrorism threat," and its top reason for a supposedly "heightened threat environment" is "false or misleading narratives and conspiracies" online.
It's called dissent, and democracy doesn't exist without it -- as these little dictators know full well.
The document continues:
These threat actors seek to exacerbate societal friction to sow discord and undermine public trust in government institutions to encourage unrest, which could potentially inspire acts of violence.
Dissenting voices are now "threat actors." Note also that these dissenting voices ("threat actors") "seek to ... undermine public trust in government institutions."
Everyone reading this is old enough to remember that undermining public trust in government institutions is, among other things, the goal of every great muckraking journalist, every anti-corruption movement, every challenger who ever ran a campaign for public office, from dog catcher to president, or vice versa.
So, yes, while this document is terribly, sickeningly sinister, re-styling all of the citizens of this country who say anything that doesn't echo the government line as terroristic "threat actors," it is also ridiculous.
What are they so afraid of?
Key factors contributing to the current heightened threat environment include:
The proliferation of false or misleading narratives, which sow discord or undermine public trust in U.S. government institutions:
For example, there is widespread online proliferation of false or misleading narratives regarding unsubstantiated widespread election fraud and COVID-19.
Why are they so afraid of this?
The same reason all despots are afraid.
The truth shall set them behind bars.