Defending free speech?
An ill-informed, mean-spirited, dated editorial from the Wheeling News-Register that adds nothing to our understanding of free speech issues (with 2/28 and 3/2 updates)
This afternoon's Wheeling News-Register editorial, "Defend Free Speech, Don't Discourage It," is one of its worst (on many levels) in at least a couple of months. The editorial is about the University of Washington's decision to require a campus Republican group to provide $17,000 upfront for security in order to bring a controversial speaker to campus. The editorial provides us with very little information other than to tell us that this is an attempt to silence conservatives:
On some campuses, officials have made it clear conservative groups and personalities are not welcome. But administrators knew simply refusing to allow them to gather and listen to speeches would be rejected by the courts.
So the sunshine patriots and outright leftists came up with another idea: Charge prohibitively high "security" fees. The University of Washington told College Republicans that if they wanted to host a conservative speaker, it would cost them $17,000.
I spent most of my adult life working in higher education and while my perspective is certainly a limited one, I think my experience is not unusual -- in all my years, I never once worked under or knew an administrator who could be called a "sunshine patriot" or "outright leftist." A few might be somewhat liberal (or conservative) on occasional issues but that was the extent of it. Most were politically non-descript -- my overall experience has been that you don't get to be an administrator by being "outright" anything.
As Ogden editorials like to do, they don't provide us with much background. Here's the Chronicle of Higher Education's report:
In a statement on Monday, the university’s police chief, John Vinson, said that security estimates “are solely based on objective criteria, including an analysis of violence and threats to public safety by the invited speaker, attendees at previous events or the sponsoring group — both in and out of the state of Washington — as well as the date, time, and location of the proposed event.” They are not based, he said, on a speaker or group’s ideology or political positions.
“The UW has gone to great lengths to support this student group’s right to invite speakers, including an event in January 2017 where UWPD’s own security costs exceeded $20,000 and the student group paid less than half of that amount,” Vinson wrote.
The university, he said, “is committed to providing a safe environment that allows speakers, their hosts, and others to be heard, but the university cannot continue to bear the significant costs associated with such events.”
The event he was referring to last January was an appearance by the right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos. A protester was shot outside the venue where Yiannopoulos, who had been invited by the Campus Republicans, was speaking.
Afterward, the university approved a policy that allows it to pass along some of the costs of security to a campus event’s sponsoring group if an analysis indicates a strong likelihood of violence, property damage, or significant disruption.
Nor does the editorial tell us anything about the group invited to speak, Patriot Prayer, and why they might be a security concern. From the Chronicle:
The lawsuit describes Patriot Prayer as “an informal group of evangelical Christians formed and led by Gibson to convey a message of peace.” Even if skinheads or Nazi sympathizers occasionally show up at its rallies, its supporters contend, it is not a white-supremacist group.
The Southern Poverty Law Center counters that the group, far from being peaceful, tries to provoke left-wing violence with its rallies in largely liberal cities.
The University of Washington event raised a number of important free speech issues that could have been kicked around in a thoughtful editorial. However, this editorial adds nothing to that debate -- it's terribly biased in its language and information. It's an attack editorial that clearly has little to do with furthering the discussion of the role of free speech in a democracy.
One last observation: I've been closely reading the locals' editorials for a number of years and this one doesn't look locally produced. (It's also three weeks after the event, itself.) My guess is that it's from some other Ogden paper. Even so, it certainly warrants consideration for the 2018 Worst Editorial of the Year Award. (Note: no link to the editorial -- not surprisingly, it's not online.)
February 28 update
My hunch about the editorial's origins may be correct. Yesterday, I googled part of the editorial and received no listings. This morning's search yielded four Ogden newspapers (other than the News-Register) with the exact same editorial.
March 2 update
The number of Ogden newspapers carrying this editorial is now 10.