Joe Biden has named Richard Stengel to head up his transition team for the U.S. Agency for Global Media, a government conglomeration that includes Voice of America, the Middle East Broadcasting Networks, and Radio Free Europe. You’d think that Biden would want someone, at the very least, that believes in the basic fundamentals of the First Amendment in such a position, but apparently that’s not the case. Because only last year, Stengel wrote an op-ed called “Why America Needs a Hate Speech Law.” That’s about as far from “freedom of speech” as you can get.
“All speech is not equal,” Stengel wrote. “And where truth cannot drive out lies, we must add new guardrails. I’m all for protecting ‘thought that we hate,’ but not speech that incites hate. It undermines the very values of a fair marketplace of ideas that the First Amendment is designed to protect.”
Stengel said that his work as a diplomat ultimately changed his feelings about the importance of free speech.
“As a government official traveling around the world championing the virtues of free speech, I came to see how our First Amendment standard is an outlier,” he wrote. “Even the most sophisticated Arab diplomats that I dealt with did not understand why the First Amendment allows someone to burn a Koran. Why, they asked me, would you ever want to protect that? It’s a fair question. Yes, the First Amendment protects the ‘thought that we hate,’ but it should not protect hateful speech that can cause violence by one group against another. In an age when everyone has a megaphone, that seems like a design flaw.”
Wow, how about that. A guy who is apparently in charge of staffing America’s worldwide media voice thinks there is a major “design flaw” in the Constitution.
“The amendment rests on the notion that the truth will win out in what Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas called ‘the marketplace of ideas.’ This ‘marketplace’ model has a long history going back to 17th-century English intellectual John Milton, but in all that time, no one ever quite explained how good ideas drive out bad ones, how truth triumphs over falsehood,” he wrote.
Yes, that’s a problem. For instance, millions of people still think that Trump colluded with Russia, that Obama was a president free of corruption, and that Michael Brown died with his hands above his head. So yeah, no doubt, misinformation and bad ideas are a huge problem. How else does a rancid idea like “defund the police” or “boys can be girls and vice versa” gain any traction?
But it’s still preferable to the alternative, which is to have some “authority” in charge of determining which ones are the good ideas (leave them to spread) and which ones are the bad (censor and criminalize them).
Then again, this guy is taking his talking points from “Arab diplomats,” so you can’t exactly expect much more.