For those of us who have criticized the growing anti-free speech movement in the Democratic Party, the Biden transition team has just taken a threatening turn. The New York Post reports that Biden has brought Richard Stengel on board as a team leader for the US agency for global media, including Voice of America, the Middle East Broadcasting Networks and Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty. As I mentioned in a column, Stengel was one of the most controversial figures calling for censorship and language control. For an elected president who only demanded that everyone “hear” each other, he chose a top aide who would like to silence many. Since it would be difficult to vote an anti-free speech to address the government’s media policy, one has to assume that Biden, as president, will continue the attack on this core freedom. This is not the first Biden adviser to point out crackdown on freedom of expression in the new government, and Biden himself has called for increased censorship on the internet.
Last year, Stengel wrote a chilling Washington Post statement denouncing free speech as a threat to social and political harmony. Like a number of liberal and democratic personalities, Stengel tried to convince readers that they needed less freedom: “All speeches are not created equal. And where the truth cannot dispel lies, we must add new guard rails. I’m all for the protection of ‘thoughts we hate’, but not for language that incites hatred. “
It is the European perspective that has destroyed freedom of expression on this continent. We previously discussed the alarming rollback of free speech in the West (here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here). It’s a trend that now seems to be gaining support in the media celebrating French President Emmanuel Macron’s speech to Congress calling on the United States to follow Europe’s model of hate speech.
In January, Biden called for increased voice control on the Internet and condemned Twitter for allowing others to speak freely. I insisted that tolerating such views in the name of free speech is the same as “spreading lies that they know are wrong.” Biden urged companies to ban Trump’s views on things like mail-in-voting as a solicitation of fraud. He is not alone. Congressional leaders such as House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff have called for material to be flagged and removed, with some members threatening direct crackdown on legislation. This week, spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi condemned Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg for opposing voice surveillance and censorship for freedom of speech. Pelosi pointed out that those who want to maintain a free speech zone are “just making money” and ignore free speech advocates who have no financial interest in these companies. Pelosi said opting out of such surveillance means that social media companies are simply “trying to make money at the expense of the truth and the facts” and trying to “hide under freedom of expression.”
These efforts build on the work of scholars pushing for greater censorship and language control. The Atlantic published an article by Jack Goldsmith, professor at Harvard Law School and Andrew Keane Woods, professor of law at the University of Arizona calling for Chinese censorship of the Internet. They stated that “in the great debate of the past two decades about freedom versus control of the network, China was largely right and the United States largely wrong” and “significant surveillance and voice control are inevitable parts of a mature and thriving Internet that governments must agree to These practices play a major role in ensuring that the Internet is compatible with the norms and values of society. “
However, Stengel is one of the most annoying and outspoken voices against free speech. He wrote how difficult it was to explain our views on freedom of speech to Arab countries, which of course routinely detain or even execute people for freedom of speech. However, Stengel made the point that they had legitimate confusion about our values:
“Even the most discerning Arab diplomats I have dealt with have not understood why the first amendment allows someone to burn a Quran. Why, they asked me, would you ever want to protect that it was a fair question? Yes, the first amendment protects the “thought we hate”, but it should not protect any hateful speech that can cause violence by one group against another. At a time when everyone has a megaphone, that seems like a design flaw. “
That design flaw is freedom of speech. In a nation full of talented people to lead the government’s media policy and positions efforts, Biden selected a person who opposes the very essence of free speech. Stengel promises the “unity” of a nation that has been silenced by government language codes and censorship. When no one has a megaphone, freedom of speech is no longer a problem.