The New York Times Editorial Board is under fire for what its own readers are calling an "appalling" editorial that claims "America Has a Free Speech Problem." It is a massive treatise, well over 2500 words, that essentially blames liberals for "cancel culture" and conservatives for banning books – and manages to equate the two as equal, something the Times is criticized for doing on multiple topics frequently.
Rather than quote the Times piece – it can be read here – we're going to quote some of what the Times' own readers voted as the best comments responding to the editorial.
"This editorial is appalling," writes a reader from Baltimore. "Clearly, the Editorial Board is feeling touchy about the widespread ridicule of its recent decision to characterize as a political crisis an undergrad's discomfort at expressing her opinions in class. I guess you need to be reminded that the 1st Amendment does not guarantee the right not to be 'shamed or shunned.' You are creating a false equivalency between private citizens' opposition to willful disinformation and points of view they find objectionable, and the recent Republican craze for using the levers of government to stifle discussion of particular topics."
The Baltimore reader is referring to a widely-criticized op-ed the Times published earlier this month written by a college senior complaining about "cancel culture" and claiming she feels she has to "self-censor." That student identified herself as a liberal yet writes for a right-wing outlet, cited right-wing media, and interned at a Koch-funded foundation. She even praised a right-wing professor at her school who is an anti-LGBTQ activist. As several said, she cited no actual examples of harm that came from her speaking her opinion.
A reader from New York City commenting on the Editorial Board's piece says they "have never liked the phrase 'Cancel Culture' as it creates an easy scapegoat by attacking the terminology and not the underlying sentiment. When I replace the phrase 'Cancel Culture' with 'Accountability Culture' I am much more inclined to to accept it. I do not think people should be 'Cancelled' for their view points or what they say but I do feel people should be held 'Accountable' for their words just as they are for their actions."
Theresa from Vermont says she is "stunned to read this. Free speech is protected in the First Amendment, which prohibits the government from restricting speech, protects the right not to speak, and protects against government censorship. It does not protect a speaker from accountability and responsibility for their speech. I'm a senior citizen, and never remember a time when everyone was expected to listen to every bad idea, all the bad science, every hateful expression, or every lie or misrepresentation of fact, in the name of free speech. Facts and truth, and validity of argument, matter if you want someone to listen. This opinion is totally off the mark, both in analysis of free speech and historical tradition."
Another reader from New York says, "it seems to me this editorial went really far out of its way to attempt [to] blame the left and the right evenly for cancel culture. But it is not the left that is burning books, it's not the left that are attacking people in school board meetings, in our Capital, on social media day in and day out. It is not left wing "news" shows that are spreading misinformation daily and it is not the left that have members of Congress shouting out in chambers as if they are calling to a rival at a NASCAR event. Once again the false equivalency between the left and the right helps normalize the behavior from the right that we abhor."
Dan from Naples says: "I have never felt restrained or curtailed from stating my opinion or voicing my feelings with one exception. The violence that the Right in this country embrace and the gun culture that has become a religion with the Right makes me consider where I am and in what kind of surrounding I'm in before stating what I believe."
And from Washington, D.C., a reader adds: "If people are more uncomfortable talking about politics because they think they will be judged, it is because of the political moment that we are in. One of our two political parties is getting dangerously close to overthrowing our system of government. It should make you uncomfortable to support that. It should make you uncomfortable to go along with it because you refuse to acknowledge what is happening or because you want a tax cut or whatever."
Lastly, a reader from SOMA says definitively, "NO. I think it is appropriate to shame and remove from public discourse those that repeat lies that hurt people--such as the lies about scientific information about Covid that kills. Because as we have seen--misinformation does kill. No I do not want to hear alternative truths in the name of free speech. It is destroying society. Especially when the undereducated are lauded by so many, and propaganda abounds that people cannot discern the difference between fact and fiction. We must set some boundaries for when public figures lie to the detriment of the public. They must be held accountable. I'm not sure how we do it, but I know we must."
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