The failure of mainstream U.S. journalists even to mention the abominable trial of Canadian journalist Mark Steyn speaks volumes about the state of the industry, and about the speech-killing nature of political correctness.
As my colleague Rick Kaplar posted here last week, Steyn is being tried in Canada by one of that country’s “human rights” tribunals. His crime? He wrote a book, subsequently excerpted in the Canadian journal Maclean’s, to which members of the Canadian Islamic Congress took offense.
Never mind for a minute the impact of this on Mr. Steyn, or on those Canadians who, even without the benefit of a First Amendment, understand and believe in freedom of speech. The stomach-turning aspect of this affair is the ovine response of virtually the entire U.S. press corps.
With the exception only of a handful of conservative journalists, plus a New York Times reporter writing for the International Herald Tribune, the saga of Mark Steyn and his persecution by a kangaroo court, formed under the auspices of Canada’s Human Rights Commission, has been completely ignored.
In private conversation, a number of explanations have been offered for this phenomenon: It is a foreign affair; the U.S. media, newspapers particularly, are preoccupied with more pressing matters; worse things are happening to journalists, and to freedom of speech, all over the world.
I don’t buy any of it. In the first place, we’re talking about Canada, not Eritrea. Secondly, how much effort or money does it take to write an editorial, news, or feature story? And as for worse things happening, well, that may be, but this one is quite bad enough.
A better explanation would be that, second perhaps only to the academy, U.S. media are the most politically correct institution in American life. And few people are more politically incorrect than Mark Steyn.
In February of this year Christopher Hitchens wrote a piece for Slate called “To Hell With the Archbishop of Canterbury.” Written in the saucy style for which he’s well known, Hitchens’s ire was prompted by a speech given by the Archbishop in which he suggested that aspects of sharia, or Islamic law, should be adopted in Britain as it would ‘help maintain social cohesion.’
There is little doubt that, had Hitchens’s piece been published in a Canadian newspaper or magazine, it would have given offense to the same people who have initiated the proceeding against Mr. Steyn. The difference, of course, is that Hitchens’s piece wasn’t published in Canada, and so therefore neither he nor his publisher can be fined or sanctioned.
As shown in the link above, the excerpt from Steyn’s book is disturbing and provocative. But it is also unmistakably political speech — the kind, in other words, generally accorded the highest value by those who believe the press is indispensable to a democratic society.
Fortunately, there are some Canadians who understand that point. In a press release issued last month, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association announced it had applied for leave to intervene in Steyn’s trial. In the language of the president of the association: “Freedom of expression is a fundamental democratic value. Citizens of a democracy should be trusted to form their own judgments about the views expressed by others, including controversial and offensive comments. The BCCLA will seek to protect basic Charter rights so that opinions on all matters, including religion, can continue to be debated freely and without fear through all media of communication.”
Despite the mounting evidence of the harm it causes, political correctness in the U.S. has so far escaped the opprobrium it deserves. Far from being the language of the enlightened, political correctness is the lingua franca of those who believe in control rather than debate, the very essence of totalitarianism.