The Overblown Backlash Against Peter Thiel for Destroying Gawker

The news that pro wrestler Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker has been financed by Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel has sparked many opinions, some of them erroneous, some duplicitous, and some deeply shameful.

Before providing examples of each, a little background.  In 2007, Valleywag, a now-defunct blog site then owned by Gawker Media, outed Thiel, against his express wishes, as a homosexual.  Though he is in fact gay, Thiel was angry about this, and angry too about what he saw, and sees, as Gawker’s bullying journalism in its coverage of Silicon Valley’s tech industry.

For some apparent combination of these reasons, Thiel subsequently offered to covertly pay for Hogan’s legal fees in connection with the wrestler’s invasion of privacy suit against Gawker.  The gravamen of Hogan’s suit is that Gawker published online a secretly taped video of Hogan having sex with the wife of a friend of his.  At trial the jury awarded Hogan $140 million.

So right off the bat a couple of things are clear: Neither Hogan’s lawsuit nor Thiel’s payment of his legal fees are First Amendment issues, despite allegations to that effect in stories published by such as the New York Times>> Read More

Maines is president of The Media Institute.  The opinions expressed are his alone and not those of The Media Institute, its board, advisory councils, or contributors.  The full version of this article appeared in The Daily Caller on June 9, 2016.

The Civil War Within Conservative Media

Though it’s not been well analyzed by mainstream reporters, the so-called conservative media have been split down the middle by the Donald Trump phenomenon.  Outlets like the Drudge Report, Breitbart, and the Washington Times have been in loud and consistent support, while National Review, The Weekly Standard, and Commentary (the last two the leading journals of neoconservatism) have been in full-throated opposition.

Conservative commentators with other media are also divided, with such as George Will, Charles Krauthammer, and Ross Douthat on the anti-Trump side, while Pat Buchanan, Rush Limbaugh, and Michael Goodwin are pro-Trump.

Other right-leaning journals, like The American Spectator and The Daily Caller, also appear to be in Trump’s corner.

Falling somewhere in the middle of all this have been opinion writers like the erudite Victor Davis Hanson and the always-astute Peggy Noonan, both of whom seem likely to part company with those conservatives and neoconservatives who are looking for ways to undermine Trump even if it means the election of likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

It will be interesting to see how some of the conservative “NeverTrump” commentators handle the blowback in the days and months ahead.  >> Read More

 The opinions expressed above are those of the writer and not of The Media Institute, its Board, contributors, or advisory councils.  The full version of this article appeared in The Hill on May 23, 2016.

The Interesting – and Refreshing – Voice of David Stockman

Perhaps the most interesting opinions these days about things economic and political come from David Stockman, the former Republican congressman from Michigan and head of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) under President Reagan.

In part, Stockman is the most interesting because he is also the most vitriolic, no mean accomplishment since he competes, in that category, with such as Paul Krugman.  Consider, for instance, the following, all but the last example from just this February:

Regarding a member of the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors: “Have you ever heard of Lael Brainard? …  In the name of a crude Keynesian economic model that is an insult to even the slow-witted, Brainard and her ilk are conducting a rogue regime of financial repression, manipulation, and unspeakable injustice that will destroy both political democracy and capitalist prosperity as we have known it.”

On central bankers: “There has been an economic coup d’etat in America and most of the world.  We are now ruled by about 200 central bankers, monetary apparatchiks and their minions on Wall Street and other financial centers.”

On Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen: “This stupendously naïve old schoolmarm still believes the received Keynesian scriptures as penned by the 1960s-era apostles James (Tobin), John (Galbraith), Paul (Samuelson) and Walter (Heller).”  >> Read More

The opinions expressed above are those of the writer and not of The Media Institute, its Board, contributors, or advisory councils.  The full version of this article appeared in The Hill on March 7, 2016.

The Shrinking Impact of Mainstream Media

Can there be any further doubt that we have now come to a time when the rightward half of the country perceives much of the mainstream media (the broadcast networks, big city newspapers, etc.) to be carriers of Democratic and/or left-leaning news and opinion?

The media deny this, but their denials – indeed, the very idea that the way to address this matter is to deny or contest it – change nothing. The bottom line is that perhaps one half of the potential audience for these media outlets holds negative opinions about them.

This practice confounds most people’s understanding of the marketing of mass products. Were millions of people, for example, to complain to car makers that the standard radios provided don’t work well enough, the manufacturers would endeavor to fix it to the critics’ satisfaction – not, as the media have done, simply deny that anything’s wrong.

So that’s an important difference between car companies and the legacy media, but what explains it, and what does the future hold for such media?

Understand what’s meant by the first of these questions. It’s not what explains why the reporters and editors don’t care that they are perceived as biased.  >> Read More

Free Speech Week: Time To Celebrate, Time To Reflect

As Free Speech Week gets underway today, it’s a good time to celebrate this fundamental freedom (as the week is intended to do) – but it’s also a good time to reflect on the state of free speech in America today.  Even the most cursory reflection, however, is sure to give one pause.

Freedom of speech remains under assault on many fronts.  And most people, when they think of free speech, think of the First Amendment. But it’s important to draw a distinction here.  The First Amendment only protects speech that is threatened by government control, and thus laws and regulations seeking to limit speech can be subjected to First Amendment challenges in the courts.

Paradoxically, however, the gravest threats to free speech today aren’t coming from government lawmakers and regulators, but from non-government groups and individuals who want to stifle the speech of others.  That type of speech suppression is, in its own way, even more insidious because there is no fail-safe defense against it like the First Amendment.

Media Institute President Patrick Maines has written numerous columns in this space decrying all manner of attempts to suppress free expression.  One of the most onerous threats is the political correctness (or “PC”) movement, whereby the “politically correct” try to stifle the speech of those with whom they disagree.  Nowhere is this more evident than on college campuses, which should be the ultimate marketplaces of ideas.

Examples abound of campus activist groups pushing to “disinvite” guest lecturers or even commencement speakers whose views they dislike – often with the tacit or overt support of university officials.  High-profile incidents at Fordham, Brown, and Brandeis universities have captured media attention, but they were hardly isolated occurrences.  In fact, an organization called the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) exists solely to fight these and other types of PC attacks on campus.

Speech suppression beyond the reach of the First Amendment takes other forms as well.  Activist groups and their “speech police” routinely try to intimidate speakers, especially through social media.  And even some journalists and editors in the mainstream media are prone to political correctness, though here the approach might be more subtle – a story presenting a PC point of view uncritically, or a story about a contrarian viewpoint never written at all.

Free Speech Week, then, offers the chance to celebrate the First Amendment as the protector of our speech (or the vast majority of it) from government interference.  The week also invites us to celebrate free expression in the broader sense.  Yet as we applaud freedom of speech generally, we need to be aware of the threats that continue to render this a fragile freedom.  There is a vocal opposition to these threats out there, including The Media Institute, FIRE, and others – but the voices challenging these threats and supporting truly free speech need to be more widespread.  We can indeed celebrate during Free Speech Week – but we can’t afford to be complacent.

Free Speech Week (FSW) is taking place Oct. 19 to Oct. 25.  You can learn more about how to get involved here: www.freespeechweek.org.

News Corp. CEO Robert Thomson: Telling It Like It Is

It’s not every day that a speech given by a publishing executive is truly noteworthy, but remarks given earlier this month by Robert Thomson, CEO of News Corp., are the exception to the rule.

Speaking on August 13 at Australia’s Lowy Institute for International Policy, Thomson delivered a powerful speech in which he decried, among other things, the business practices of “distribution” companies like Google, the commentariat’s disdain for markets, the theft of intellectual property, and the politically correct mindset of Silicon Valley.

Though now chief executive officer of one of the largest newspaper and publishing companies in the world, Thomson has spent most of his life as a journalist, having earlier in his career been an editor of the Financial Times, The Times newspaper in London, and the Wall Street Journal.  And it’s these experiences that inform his views about the media and more.

Speaking about markets, Thomson had this to say:

When some commentators speak of markets it is in the abstract, slightly pejorative sense – markets are actually an aggregation of collective effort and hope and action….  >> Read More

Trump and the Media

Far too many people, GOP presidential candidates included, earnestly describe Donald Trump as vulgar, narcissistic, uninformed, or juvenile.  What they don’t realize is that Trump and the media see attributes like these as his good qualities.

The better characterization of Trump and his run for office is that it’s vaudeville; a kind of political Three Stooges, with Trump playing Larry, Curly, and Moe all by himself.

If only, during the recent debate in Cleveland, Trump had waggled two fingers at Megyn Kelly’s eyeballs, or smacked Rand Paul upside the head (“You’re having a hard time tonight,” thwack!) the picture would have been complete.

Some people are wondering how long it will be before one of the networks gives Trump another reality show.  Are they kidding?  He has the biggest reality show of all time right now.  It’s called “The Donald Runs for President.”

Those people who are genuinely supportive of Trump politically (as distinguished from those who are just enjoying the show) may imagine his (and their own) chagrin if, the morning after next year’s election, the headline in the New York Times reads “Running as Independent, Trump Splits Republican Vote: Hillary Clinton Elected.”  >> Read More

The First Amendment and Free Speech Under Assault

If you’re not alarmed by the assault on the First Amendment and free speech generally, you’re not paying attention.

Consider the list of offenses committed by the government.  They range, in recent times, from the Department of Justice’s spying on the phone records of reporters at the Associated Press, to the National Security Administration’s domestic call tracking, and from the IRS’s targeting of conservative nonprofit organizations, to the suggestion by the ranking Democrat on the Federal Elections Commission that political speech on the Internet should be regulated.

Other examples include the Obama Administration’s resistance to Freedom of Information Act requests, as documented in a study by the AP, and the issuance, by the CIA, of a subpoena to James Risen of the New York Times, demanding the identity of one of his confidential sources.

The party-line passage, by the Federal Communications Commission, of its so-called “Net Neutrality” regulations is another example.  In addition to inaugurating the regulation of the formerly unregulated Internet, the Title II approach adopted is certain, as FCC Commissioner Pai has warned, to open the door to attempts to use this regulation for purposes that, both intended and unintended, undermine free speech.

The most recent example of governmental speech suppression is the subpoena served on the online version of Reason magazine by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.  The subpoena, which for a time came with a gag order, demanded to know the identity of a handful of commenters that, angry about the life sentence handed down to the founder of the drug trading site, Silk Road, wrote denunciations of the judge who presided over the trial.

An example of one of the comments that occasioned the U.S. Attorney’s subpoena for the identification of that commenter: “I hope there is a special place in hell reserved for that horrible woman.”

So there it is.  Your taxpayer dollars at work!  And not just by a few bureaucrats, but by a veritable army of them: DOJ, NSA, CIA, IRS, FEC, FCC.  As Everett Dirksen might have put it, an agency here and an agency there, and pretty soon you’re talking about some real government.

Making matters worse and infinitely more depressing is the assault on free speech being committed by people wielding the bludgeon of political correctness, a concept that from the beginning symbolized the very opposite of free speech.

The venues of choice for the PC speech police are mainly the media (social media especially) and college campuses, and 2014 was a banner year for such stuff.

Take, for instance, the petition generated by two “climate change” groups in February of last year.  Having collected 110,000 names, the groups demanded that the Washington Post stop publishing “editorial content denying climate change.”  The Post refused, but the Los Angeles Times happily adopted a policy that was similar to what the groups were demanding.

And then, of course, there are the campuses.  Last year’s examples of campus “disinvitation” campaigns against speakers such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Condoleeza Rice, and Christine Lagarde have been widely chronicled, but the beat goes on.

In its 2015 Spotlight on Speech Codes, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) found that 54 percent of some 400 public colleges and universities it sampled maintain speech codes that violate the First Amendment.

FIRE’s response to this state of affairs has been to create a free speech litigation program that threatens offending colleges and universities with legal action, and the organization has had some notable successes.  But it’s doubtful that legal action alone will put the brakes on a concept that’s never depended on the law for its foundational principles or propagation.

Incubated on campus by activists and ideologues, and disseminated through the media, half-baked theories like “white privilege” and “microaggressions” and practices like “trigger warnings” and “speech codes” need to be challenged in those same venues by arguments based on logic, history, and science.

Absent this, and without congressional action to rein in the out-of-control federal agencies, free speech in the United States is at risk of becoming a dead letter; extant in the Constitution but without force or meaning.

The opinions expressed above are those of the writer and not of The Media Institute, its Board, contributors, or advisory councils. 

Decline of Legacy Media, Rise of the Conservatives?

For the legacy news media, the bad news just keeps on coming.  In recent days, for instance, the Pew Research Center released a piece titled “The Declining Value of U.S. Newspapers,” chronicling the extraordinary decline in the purchase and sale price of major U.S. dailies.

Some of the examples given are so extreme they look like misprints.  The New York Times Co., for instance, purchased The Boston Globe and Worcester Telegram & Gazette for a little over $2.2 billion, and sold them both in 2013 for $71 million – a valuation change of minus 96 percent!

Not far behind are newspapers like the The Philadelphia Inquirer/Daily News, the Chicago Sun-Times and the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune, all of which themselves sold in 2011 and 2012 for around 90 percent less than their earlier purchase prices.

Nor is the challenge to newspapers just an American phenomenon.  Recognizing the importance of the American media, and its similarity to their own challenges, the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) is holding its annual World News Congress in Washington June 1 to June 3, only the fifth time in the past 60 years that they have held this event in the United States.

A WAN backgrounder puts the matter succinctly: “The 2015 [Congress] comes at a time when independent news media are under enormous pressure, one that threatens their societal role as the provider of credible news and information to citizens so they can make informed decisions in democratic societies.”  >> Read More

We Are Not Charlie. We Are Weak.

The worst aspect of the Charlie Hebdo affair is that human beings were murdered for practicing free speech.  A distant second is the way this affair, and the earlier hacking of the Sony Pictures studio, has exposed the pieties and inadequacies of so much of the media.

Speaking the other day at the Consumer Electronics Show, Kazuo Hirai, CEO of Sony Corp., is reported to have said that he was proud “of all of the employees of Sony Pictures for standing up against the extortionist efforts of those criminals that attacked” the company.

Really?  No acknowledgment that the studio belatedly moved to release the film only after being criticized by virtually everyone in the country up to and including the president?

And despite the happy profusion of “Je Suis Charlie” displays, what has been the response of American media companies to that monstrous act?  As reported in Politico on Jan. 7, CNN senior editorial director, Richard Griffiths, sent a message to CNN staff saying, among other things, that “Video or stills of street protests showing Parisians holding up copies of the offensive cartoons, if shot wide, are OK.  Avoid close-ups of the cartoons that make them clearly legible.”

And here, according to a piece in Rolling Stone, is the way the Associated Press described its decision regarding the Hebdo cartoons: “We’ve taken the view that we don’t want to publish hate speech or spectacles that offend, provoke or intimidate, or anything that desecrates religious symbols or angers people along religious or ethnic lines. …  We don’t feel that’s useful.”

Even the Hollywood bible, Variety magazine, adds to the general alarm:

A brutal attack on French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo over cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed has jolted Hollywood, escalating concerns by artists and producers that major studios and networks may avoid greenlighting movies and TV shows with potentially inflammatory content….

Freedom of speech is under attack, but, given Sony’s initial decision to pull the release of The Interview and its subsequent about-face, it’s not clear how rousing a defense the entertainment business is willing to mount in the midst of financial pressures, political dangers, and the threat of violence.

Making matters incalculably worse is the fact that the most immediate threats to free speech in this country don’t come from abroad, but from here at home.  As described three years ago by Jonathan Turley in the Washington Post, we are witnessing the censoring of speech under one of four rationales: Speech is blasphemous; Speech is hateful; Speech is discriminatory; Speech is deceitful.

Shortly after the Sony affair broke open, Ross Douthat, the loneliest and bravest journalist at the New York Times, wrote one of the most powerful paragraphs about that, and related, matters:

Of course it had to escalate this way.  We live in a time of consistent gutlessness on the part of institutions notionally committed to free speech and intellectual diversity, a time of canceled commencement invitations and CEOs defenestrated for their political donations, a time of Twitter mobs, trigger warnings and cringing public apologies.  A time when journalists and publishers tiptoe around Islamic fundamentalism, when free speech is under increasing pressure on both sides of the Atlantic, when a hypersensitive political correctness has the whip hand on many college campuses.

So why should anyone be remotely surprised when Kim Jong-un decided to get in on the “don’t offend me” act?

So what to do?  Enforcement of the First Amendment won’t suffice because it only proscribes governmental abridgement of free speech, and only, of course, in the United States.

Here are a couple suggestions.  The next time you read or hear something that you think is truly awful, moronic, hateful, or false, send a comment by email, text, or social media stating your objections but also saying that you respect the right of the offending party to speak his or her piece.

And when you hear of some group or individual threatening advertisers with boycotts for advertising on programs they don’t like, contact those same advertisers yourself and let them know that you have a different view.

In the end, free speech can be guaranteed, if at all, not by the press or government, but only by the people.

The opinions expressed above are those of the writer and not of The Media Institute, its Board, contributors, or advisory councils.  This article was originally published here in the online edition of USA Today on Jan. 15, 2015.