You remember way back before social media and Thomas Chatterton Williams, when Phil Donahue lost his MSNBC show because he opposed the War in Iraq? And the Dixie Chicks got the pre-Twitter equivalent of Twitter-mobbed for criticizing George W. Bush? (“Toby Keith famously joined the fray by performing in front of a backdrop that featured a gigantic image of Natalie Maines beside Saddam Hussein.”) Ah, those carefree, pre-cancel-culture days!
Might’s well also flash forward to 2001, NFL.com:
Mendenhall loses endorsement deal over bin Laden tweets
[Steelers running back] Rashard Mendenhall's candid tweets about Osama bin Laden's death and the 9/11 terror attacks cost him an endorsement deal.
NFL.com senior analyst Vic Carucci says Rashard Mendenhall has become an example of the risks that social media can present to outspoken pro athletes.
Athletic apparel manufacturer Champion announced Thursday that it had dropped the Pittsburgh Steelers running back after he questioned the celebrations of bid Laden's death and expressed his uncertainty over official accounts of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in New York, suburban Washington and Pennsylvania.
Things haven’t gotten any better. I’ve already written about Springfield, Mass. police detective Florissa Fuentes, who got fired this year for reposting her niece’s pro-Black Lives Matter Instagram photo. Fuentes is less like Donohue, the Chicks, and Mendenhall, though, and more like most of the people who get fired for speech in this country, in that she is not rich, and getting fired was for her a massive blow.
Speaking of Black Lives Matter, here’s one from 2019:
The controversy began after [Lisa] Durden’s appearance [on Tucker Carlson], during which she defended the Black Lives Matter movement’s decision to host a Memorial Day celebration in New York City to which only black people were invited. On the show, Durden’s comments included, “You white people are angry because you couldn't use your white privilege card to get invited to the Black Lives Matter’s all-black Memorial Day Celebration,” and “We want to celebrate today. We don't want anybody going against us today.”
Durden was then an adjunct professor at Essex County College, but not for long because sure enough, they fired her for what she said on the show. (Bet Carlson, a racist piece of shit, was delighted!) The college president defended her decision, saying she’d received “feedback from students, faculty and prospective students and their families expressing frustration, concern and even fear that the views expressed by a college employee (with influence over students) would negatively impact their experience on the campus...”
Sounds pretty snowflakey to me. I went looking in the works of the signatories of the famous Harper’s letter against cancel culture for some sign that any of them had acknowledged Durden’s case. Shockingly, such free speech warriors as Rod Dreher and Bret Stephens never dropped a word on it.
Dreher does come up in other free-speech-vs-employment cases, though — for example, from 2017, Chronicle of Higher Education:
Tommy Curry, an associate professor of philosophy at Texas A&M University at College Station, about five years ago participated in a YouTube interview in which he discussed race and violence. Those remarks resurfaced in May in a column titled “When Is It OK to Kill Whites?” by Rod Dreher in The American Conservative.
Mr. Curry said of that piece that he wasn’t advocating for violence and that his remarks had been taken out of context. He told The Chronicle that online threats had arrived in force shortly after that. Some were racial in nature.
At the same time the president of the university, Michael K. Young, issued a statement in which he appeared to rebuke the remarks made by Mr. Curry...
In his column on Curry, Dreher said, “I wonder what it is like to be a white student studying under Dr. Curry in his classroom?” Imagine worrying for the safety of white people at Texas Fucking A&M!
Curry got to keep his job, but only after he “issued a new statement apologizing for how his remarks had been received,” the Chronicle reported:
“For those of you who considered my comments disparaging to certain types of scholarly work or in any way impinging upon the centrality of academic freedom at this university,” [Curry] wrote, “I regret any contributions that I may have made to misunderstandings in this case, including to those whose work is contextualized by understanding the historical perspectives of events that have often been ignored.”
Sound like show-trial stuff, doesn’t it — the kind of show-trial stuff Dreher is always claiming liberals are bringing to the United States. (Though he doesn’t seem to mind when Vladimir Putin does it.) Yet I never heard him or any conservative lament this shameful episode.
Bottom line: Most of us who work for a living are at-will employees — basically, the boss can fire us if they don’t like the way we look at them or if they don’t like what they discover we feel about the events of the day. There are some protections — for example, if you and your work buddies are talking about work stuff and the boss gets mad, then that may be considered “concerted activity” and protected — but as Lisa Guerin wrote at the nolo.com legal advice site, “political views aren’t covered by [Civil Rights] laws and the laws of most states. This means employers are free to consider political views and affiliations in making job decisions.”
Basically we employees have no free speech rights at all. But people like Stephens and Dreher and Megan McArdle who cry over how “the mob” is coming after them don’t care about us. For window dressing, they’ll glom onto rare cases where a non-rich, non-credentialed guy gets in trouble for allegedly racist behavior that he didn't really do — Emmanuel Cafferty, it’s your time to shine! — but their real concern isn’t Cafferty’s “free speech” or that of any other peon, it’s their own miserable careers.
Because they know people are starting to talk back to them. It’s not like back in the day when Peggy Noonan and George F. Will mounted their high horses and vomited their wisdom onto the rabble and maybe some balled-up Letters to the Editor might feebly come back at them but that was it. Now commoners can go viral! People making fun of Bari Weiss might reach as many people as Bari Weiss herself! The cancel culture criers may have wingnut welfare sinecures, cushy pundit gigs, and the respect of all the Right People, but they can’t help but notice that when they glide out onto their balconies and emit their received opinions a lot of people — mostly younger, and thoroughly hip that these worthies are apologists for the austerity debt servitude to which they’ve been condemned for life — are not just coughing “bullshit” into their fists, but shouting it out loud.
This, the cancel culture criers cry, is the mob! It threatens civilization!
Yet they cannot force us to pay attention or buy their shitty opinions. The sound and smell of mockery disturbs their al fresco luncheons and weddings at the Arboretum. So they rush to their writing desks and prepare sternly-worded letters. Their colleagues will read and approve! Also, their editors and relatives! And maybe also some poor dumb kids who know so little of the world that they’ll actually mistake these overpaid prats for victims and feel sorry for them.
Well, you’ve already heard what I think about it elsewhere: Protect workers’ free speech rights for real, I say — let them be as woke, as racist, or as obstreperous they wish off the clock and the boss can’t squawk. The cancel culture criers won’t go for that deal; in fact such a thing has never entered their minds — free-speech is to protect their delicate sensibilities, not the livelihoods of people who work with their hands!
And in the new tradition of the working class asking for more rather than less of what they want, I’ll go further: I give not one flaming fuck if these assholes suffocate under a barrage of rotten tomatoes, and I think Brad in Fast Times at Ridgemont High got a raw deal from All-American Burger and should be reinstated with full back pay: That customer deserved to have 100% of his ass kicked!