Note: In lieu of my usual column, here is the text of a speech I gave at my alma mater, Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, this past Monday. I was there at the invitation of the F&M College Republicans. I was so proud of the students — which I was once myself. They are but the latest in a long line of F&M students over the decades. They listened. They challenged. They argued. They were persistent. For my part I urged them on, particularly my critics, of which there were many. The subject was free speech — and there was a lot of it in that F&M auditorium. My thanks to the College Republicans and to the F&M administration for providing a great forum for unrestricted debate. Free speech lives at Franklin and Marshall. May it be ever so.
First, I would like to thank the Franklin and Marshall College Republicans for the invitation to speak. And specifically to address the subject of free speech and the draft college speech code. I am myself a former President of the F&M College Republicans, and in retrospect I can say without doubt that it is here on this campus that I began to understand the importance of free speech.
Let me start with these words of wisdom on the subject, words from a particular someone whose words should have particular respect from all of us. The quote reads:
Freedom of speech is a principal pillar of a free government; when this support is taken away, the constitution of a free society is dissolved, and tyranny is erected on its ruins.
Those words were written by Benjamin Franklin writing in the Pennsylvania Gazette in November of 1737 — 280 years ago.
Unsurprisingly, the wisdom of Ben Franklin, whose name this college bears, still resonates today, and perhaps now more than ever.
I have mentioned that in 1972 I was President of the F&M College Republicans — a hardy band of something like five people. What I have not mentioned are the specifics that put me on the road to being such a passionate believer in free speech — and correspondingly, a critic of the beast called a “speech code.”
In the spring of my freshman year — that would be 1970 — I was a bit more liberal than I would be two years later. While I was not old enough to vote in the previous presidential election of 1968 I was certainly sure of my favorite candidate: that would be New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy, the brother of my other childhood idol, President John F. Kennedy. Going into 1968 I had two heroes. Bobby Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In April, Dr. King was assassinated. In June, Bobby Kennedy was assassinated. It was, in addition to the turmoil over the Vietnam War, a terrible year. I wound up supporting Richard Nixon and, thanks to my very Republican Dad, secured an appointment as a Page to the 1968 Republican Convention.
By the fall of 1969 I was here on this campus as a freshman, doing battle with the early morning Philosophy class, struggling in French and, as I was sure would happen, enthusiastic about the road to becoming a gov major. And yes, my hair was growing out into, yes, a considerable afro — it was too curly to go down so it went out and up — and my wardrobe of choice was a T-shirt, sometimes tie-dyed, with bell bottom jeans.
On the night of April 30, 1970, President Richard Nixon appeared on national television to address the nation. I watched in my Dubbs Hall room on my small, black and white TV that my parents had given me, listening as Nixon announced he was sending American troops into Cambodia. When he was finished I don’t think fifteen minutes had gone by before I heard a commotion in the quad. In the black of an April night, there were F&M students yelling their lungs out in protest of Nixon’s decision. It was only the beginning.
By the very next day the protests had increased. Then, as the temperature on college campuses all across the nation began to rise, disaster.
On May 4th, during a protest at Kent State University, the Governor of Ohio had sent in the National Guard. In a confrontation with protesting students they suddenly fired some 61 shots. Tragically, four of the protesters were shot and killed, nine more were wounded. To understate, all hell broke loose on college campuses across the country.
Chants of “One, Two, Three Four… We don’t Want Your F…ing War” were heard repeatedly. To give you some idea of the scope of what was happening, let me read you some of the statistics:
— the largest strike in American history occurred after the Kent tragedy;
— over 100 American campuses closed on strike each day for the remainder of the school week after the Kent massacre;
— ultimately, nearly 5,000,000 American students joined the national student strike;
— almost 500 American colleges and universities were closed by mid-May;
— over 900 colleges & universities closed before the end of May, 1970;
— approximately 80% of U.S. colleges and universities experienced protests;
— approximately 175,000 faculty members joined the protests;
— over 35,000 national guardsmen were called into action in 16 states;
— highways, expressways, city streets and railroad tracks were barricaded across America;
— on May 9, 1970, over 150,000 protesters, mostly students, converged on Washington, D.C. President Nixon, Henry Kissinger and others were kept in the White House protected by armed military guards with machine guns. The White House was surrounded and protected by a cordon of bumper-to-bumper buses;
— on May 15, 1970, protests erupted at Jackson State University in Jackson, Mississippi. A false rumor circulated that Charles Evers, the brother of slain civil rights hero Medgar Evers, had been murdered. Police arrived and two students were killed, with twelve others wounded — all of them black.
Here at F&M, the Nixon speech came on the evening of a day that had already been filled with turmoil. The administration had decided not to rehire two popular instructors, Henry Mayer and Anthony Lazroe. I confess I don’t recall Lazroe but I certainly recall Henry Mayer, who was a decided, as they say, man of the Left. The response of students that day was to invade and take over East Hall, the administration offices. If one goes on YouTube there is a grainy video of both the Mayer protests that day, combined with Vietnam protests that later erupted after Kent State. F&M students posted a sign for a memorial service for the Kent students. The video shows a huge banner flying from a campus building listing the killed and wounded casualties in Vietnam (147,708) and Cambodia (105) and then reads: “Kent State: 4” with an asterisk. At the bottom the asterisk is defined as meaning: “Figures Subject to Change.” And in huge letters the banner ended with: “What’s Next?”
There was a march through downtown Lancaster, in which I participated. There was that bus trip of protest to Washington, which I took, meeting with my Congressman from the 19th District of Pennsylvania. He listened. He took me to lunch in the House dining room where I met a young Texas Congressman George H.W. Bush. Then there was the return to campus. Eventually, as with colleges all across the country, the school year was ended early with, as I recall, no final exams. My roommate joked that Richard Nixon had saved me from failing French.
In all of this turmoil — there was no college speech code invoked. None.
Before I had arrived at F&M there was a long history on this campus of supporting free speech. There were protests early on in the 1960s in favor of Civil Rights — indeed Dr. King himself had spoken here in December of 1963. And there were more civil rights protests on campus in the spring of 1969. That one was particularly trying, with some black students, already channeling what is now known as “identity politics” protesting the final examination of the history course “The Black Experience in America.” Things admittedly got out of hand with some students blocking the entrance to the room where the exam was being taken. And OK, it was not a good idea to follow the professors and students next door while they tried to strategize and block the building and hold them hostage demanding no grades be given. But most assuredly nobody was shot.
There was one other incident here at F&M that I was not aware of. In 1965 and F&M English instructor named Robert Mezey spoke against the Vietnam War on campus and went to Washington to march in an anti-war protest. He was accused of urging students to burn their draft cards. The Lancaster media caught on to this, there was controversy. Some Lancaster residents became vocal, urging the instructor to “get the hell out of Lancaster” and “go to Russia.” The college suspended him with pay, for a month, and reinstated him although he later left.
In the wake of all this turmoil on college campuses in 1970 President Nixon appointed a presidential commission on “Campus Unrest.” It was headed by former Pennsylvania Governor William Scranton and included as members the President of Howard University, the Dean of the Stanford University School of Law, and Benjamin O. Davis, the first black general in the United States Air Force. I still have my tattered and marked up old copy.
There is one particular conclusion the Commission reached when it came to free speech on campus, and I will read it to you:
Any academic institution worthy of the name must protect the right of its students and faculty to express themselves freely — outrageously as well as responsibly.
Then and now I think the Commission got it exactly right.
But make no mistake, the controversy over speech codes on college campuses is merely reflective of an increasing intolerance for free speech in our larger society, including the media.
Perhaps you may have heard? I used to work for CNN. Until, that is, I wrote a column for The American Spectator, where I am a contributing editor. A column in which I specifically called out a far-left group calling itself Media Matters. Media Matters, in the style of fascists everywhere who seek to control and dominate the media, has made it their goal in life to take every last conservative off television and radio air. Over time they have run campaigns to Stop Beck, Drop Dobbs, Stop Rush, Stop O’Reilly, among others, and are now once again targeting Sean Hannity with a campaign to get him off the air. Just yesterday I saw one Angelo Carusone, now the President of Media Matters, on CNN with my former colleague Brian Stelter on Brian’s show Reliable Sources. Brian and I had sat together at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in April, a dinner where a banner behind the podium proclaimed in huge letters “Celebrating the First Amendment.”
Media Matters loves to pretend that what they are about are simple boycotts. And Brian treated Mr. Carusone as if he were merely innocently urging boycotts. Five years ago, when Mr. Carusone and Media Matters were leading their “Stop Rush” campaign, I spoke to one of the advertisers on Rush Limbaugh’s show who had been targeted. His name is Mark Stevens, he runs a decidedly non-political marketing firm in the suburban New York area and, quite logically, advertised his firm’s services on New York area media only. By happenstance this included WABC radio, which, at the time, carried the Rush Limbaugh Show.
After the “Stop Rush” campaign was announced and Mr. Carusone was quoted quite proudly in the media boasting about trying to get Rush removed from the airwaves, this is what happened — out of the blue — to the advertiser Mr. Stevens. His personal safety was threatened. He was told he was under surveillance He was told both his business and his home were being watched and that busloads of hostile protestors were coming to stake out his home. Calls came in to his female employees — calling them sluts and snarling that they hated women. Thousands of hostile emails flooded his office saying they were from “Police man of the Internet” or “Citizen of the Internet.” Mr. Stevens, who by the way is Jewish, was furious and told me this was not a boycott but rather, and I’m quoting him directly, “an organized terror campaign.”
I had the audacity to call Media Matters out as fascists in my column, speculating how they would rewrite the First Amendment in fascist style if they had the chance. I ended by mocking them with “Sieg Heil” and repeated it on Twitter when the head of the group responded in unhappy fashion. CNN, whom I later learned wanted to dispatch this troublesome Trump supporter anyway, took the occasion to fire me. Asked by a reporter if I regretted this I said absolutely not. I well knew that no less than Alan Dershowitz, the liberal Harvard Law professor and a Hillary Clinton supporter, had specifically and pointedly accused Media Matters of being anti-Semitic bigots. And in my case, in my view, there is never, let me emphasize never, anything wrong with mocking, ridiculing, condemning and holding in contempt those who use Nazi or fascist-style tactics to silence free speech or who are in fact themselves Nazis, Neo-Nazis, Klansmen, anti-Semites, white supremacists or white nationalists. It is never wrong — period.
Let me be clear. There is no “right” to be a CNN commentator and CNN as with any company has a complete right to fire whomever they want. That was not and is not the point. The problem is that CNN — supporting that White House Correspondents’ Dinner that had as its theme “Celebrating the First Amendment” — was silent on Media Matters routinely trying to silence conservative television and radio commentators. And when Media Matters came after me — CNN quickly bowed to the pressure rather than face the kind of deluge that was directed at Rush Limbaugh sponsor Mark Stevens. Much less did they stand up for the threat to the First Amendment that Media Matters has come to embody.
Which brings us back to that quote from Ben Franklin. There is today a supposition that if somehow this or that person or group would just shut up life in America would somehow be just dandy. If only Sean Hannity were off the air. If only the President would stop tweeting. If only Black Lives Matters would be quiet. If only Hillary Clinton would just stop complaining. And on and on the list goes, depending on one’s politics.
Let me be plain. I don’t want Media Matters to be silenced. Let them talk themselves blue. The problem is that Media Matters — and they are not alone — don’t just want to talk about what they believe, they want to silence others. Literally it was once Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh and Lou Dobbs and others and now it’s Hannity or me and God only knows who’s next. I call them fascists with reason.
What they are attempting in their own blunt, bullying fashion is their own version of a speech code.
I have been given a copy of both the College’s Statement on Freedom of Expression and what I am told is a draft for an F&M speech code. The first opens by saying this:
Because Franklin & Marshall College is committed to the ideal of free and open inquiry in all matters, it extends to all members of the College community the broadest possible latitude to express themselves freely and to challenge the views of others.
The draft speech code, however, is decidedly troublesome. Let me read it:
While the college seeks to protect its students’ freedom of expression, it will not condone actions predicated on bias, which is defined as behavior or speech whose demonstrable intent is to demean, harass, intimidate, or limit the sense of security and belonging. Bias may be based on actual or perceived characteristics such as, but not limited to, age, race, mental or physical health, gender identity or expression, marital or familial status, national or ethnic origin, religion, sexual orientation, political views, or socio-economic status. Incidents centered on bias create a divisive atmosphere and negatively affect the campus climate. Please be aware, however, that just because the expression of an idea or point of view may be offensive or inflammatory to some, it is not necessarily a bias-related incident.
I have to ask — and I think I am safe in saying this reflects a concern of the F&M College Republicans — who decides all of this? This sounds incredibly selective.
And based on my own experience at F&M in the spring of 1970? And these other moments from F&M history that I have cited?
I would have to say that yelling “One, Two, Three, Four, We Don’t Want Your F….ing War” was most assuredly offensive to some. So too would some have found black students trying to shut down a class based on identity politics offensive. Dr. Martin Luther King offended many — particularly the believers in the identity politics of the day — segregation. Should he have been banned from his actual appearance at F&M?
I would respectfully suggest to my favorite college — students, faculty, and administrators all — that were this speech code a reality in the spring of 1970 when my classmates were protesting against the Vietnam War on this very campus, we would have all been in violation. What would the penalty have been? Expelling some incredible percentage of the entire student body?
Let me go further.
If this suggested college speech code had applied over the decades instead of the First Amendment, there would have been no Civil Rights Movement. No sit-ins, no Freedom Riders, no marches. In fact, what history recalls of the civil rights marches in Birmingham and Selma, Alabama is that unleashing police dogs and fire hoses in Birmingham and beating peaceful marchers bloody in Selma were the ultimate expression of a speech code.
In closing, let me say this.
The other week I had the chance once again to appear as a guest on HBO’s Bill Maher Show. Both Bill and my fellow guest, the movie director and actor Rob Reiner, voluntarily spoke up for me and what they saw as a mistake by CNN dismissing me. I assure you they didn’t do this because we agree on most of the issues of the day. We do not. But what we do agree on is the vital nature of free speech in America. Like Ben Franklin they believe that there is always controversy to be had about this or that issue of the day — whether the year is 1737 or 2017. Later I would write a column on my appearance and suggest that Bill Maher’s show should be called a “freedom zone” — a place where all invited guests of varying political persuasion go to have an unfettered and free discussion. And I need to point out that my friend Sean Hannity — who as you may imagine is no Bill Maher fan — has been relentless in standing up for Bill Maher’s free speech — and most emphatically free speech period.
I would suggest that instead of enacting a speech code here at F&M the College return to what in fact was its unspoken principle in that anti-war spring of 1970 — where there was no speech code whatsoever. Instead, I think F&M should declare this college to be a “freedom zone” — a place where free speech, no matter how offensive or biased is welcomed or condemned or challenged… but never restricted, much less restricted by a highly subjective selective enforcement that is designed, no matter how presented, to silence someone’s voice.
As some of you know, I worked for President Reagan. And I would like to end with some of his wisdom:
Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.
I would suggest that this particular Reagan thought well applies to Franklin and Marshall. I would hope that as this speech code is discussed there is thought given not just to Franklin and Marshall in 2017 but, thought given to the fact that our own Ben Franklin was supporting free speech 280 years ago — and that 280 years from now, Franklin and Marshall will still be a bastion of free speech.
Let the debate begin!
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