Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

First, CNN came for InfoWars

Jerry Stratton, August 8, 2018

Jefferson on CNN

What Thomas Jefferson might say about CNN.

There is a special irony in defending fake news with a fake quote from Thomas Jefferson. Lately I’ve been seeing a supposedly Jeffersonian response to a Trump tweet:

The Fake News hates me for saying that they are the Enemy of the People only because they know it’s TRUE. I am providing a great service by explaining this to the American People. they purposely cause great division & distrust. They can also cause War! They are very dangerous & sick!

“When the speech condemns a free press, you are hearing the words of a tyrant.”—Thomas Jefferson

Jefferson, of course, never wrote that1, as anyone familiar with Jefferson’s writings would recognize. I cannot even imagine the howls we’d hear from the press if President Trump had tweeted:

Don’t believe CNN. Americans who never watch CNN are better informed than those who do. Their minds aren’t filled with lies and fake news. CNN is junk, obscene. You can’t trust anything on that piece of shit station.

While I don’t recall Trump writing that blatantly, Jefferson did:

Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle. — Thomas Jefferson (Letter to John Norvell, June 14, 1807)

… the man who never looks into a newspaper is better informed than he who reads them, inasmuch as he who knows nothing is nearer to truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods and errors. — Thomas Jefferson (Letter to John Norvell, June 14, 1807)

I deplore with you the putrid state into which our newspapers have passed, and the malignity, the vulgarity, & mendacious spirit of those who write for them… these ordures are rapidly depraving the public taste, and lessening it’s relish for sound food. As vehicles of information, and a curb on our functionaries they have rendered themselves useless by forfieting all title to belief. — Thomas Jefferson (Thomas Jefferson to Walter Jones, 2 January 1814)

Rather than being a bulwark against tyranny, Jefferson thought that the press was squandering its responsibility by giving in to fake news. Rather than newspapers providing a check on “the words of a tyrant”, he wrote, “they have rendered themselves useless by forfieting all title to belief.”

Jefferson certainly believed in a free press. If forced to choose, he once wrote, he’d rather have newspapers without government than government without newspapers. But then, he was a very small government guy. The ultimate judgement on newspapers, he believed, should be left to the readers, although he did seem to support stronger laws against outright lies than we currently have.

But no one familiar with Jefferson’s writings would post such a quote without verifying where it came from, because it conflicts with both with what we know Jefferson believed and with the actual historical record. Anyone familiar with his writing knows his opinion of the press was highly unfavorable.

In the same letter where Jefferson wrote that people are smarter if they don’t read newspapers, he, I suspect humorously, suggested that newspapers should have multiple sections, one section for the truth, which would be “very short” and another section for “Lies” which, combined with a section for probable falsehoods, would contain the bulk of the material.

So not much has changed over two hundred years. What also hasn’t changed is the call to sideline outlets you disagree with. Neither Jefferson nor Trump has done that—censoring opposing views is currently the purview of the left. That includes the very media outlets that complain about Trump dissing them in a Jeffersonian style. Trump isn’t telling Facebook to get rid of CNN; but CNN is telling Facebook to get rid of InfoWars.

Jefferson would tell us that InfoWars has the same right as CNN to waste their potential. He was vocally in favor of erring on the side of leniency so as to ensure that counter views are available when they’re needed. “This is a country”, after all, “which is afraid to read nothing, and which may be trusted with anything.”

There is no free press without press you disagree with. Tell them they’re liars, insult them, call them pieces of shit. That’s all in line with Jeffersonian thinking. But given the choice between a press he agrees with and a press that includes InfoWars, Jefferson clearly would choose InfoWars. Jefferson believed in leniency toward actual armed rebellion.2 He would see it as his duty to read InfoWars, “in vindication of his right to buy and to read what he pleases.”

Because the only speech I see condemning a free press right now is coming from propaganda outlets like CNN; from leftwing mobs that resemble fascists more than freedom fighters. And faked quotes from Thomas Jefferson in defense of fake news, and, ultimately, censorship.

Social Justice… will take us, soon or late, into the stormy waters of Fascism. To be sure, that Fascism is not likely to be identical with the kinds on tap in Germany, Italy and Russia; indeed, it is very apt to come in under the name of anti-Fascism. And its first Duce… will not call himself a dictator, but a scotcher of dictators. — H. L. Mencken (The Baltimore Sun, November 6, 1938)

In response to 2018 in Photos: For photos, memes, and perhaps other quick notes sent from my mobile device or written on the fly during 2018.

August 9, 2018: The Tyranny of the New York Times

As a case in point about just who is the tyrant here, take a look at this headline and subhead from Kara Swisher at the New York Times:

Rules Won’t Save Twitter. Values Will.

The platform won’t ban the dangerous liar Alex Jones because he “hasn’t violated our rules.” Then what’s the point of these rules?

If we can’t ban someone we disagree with based on the rules, then what’s the point of having rules? is a very familiar logic. It’s the logic of tyranny. In a free society, rules should exist to outline what is against the rules. You start with generalities: what actions are so wrong that they cannot be tolerated? You make rules—or laws—to codify this and serve as a general warning to everyone, politician and non-politician, journalist and non-journalist. Then you enforce the rules against everyone.

The New York Times, like all tyrants, has a completely different viewpoint. First, you decide who disagrees with you. Then, you make rules to sideline them: put them in jail, silence them, punish them. The rules aren’t going to be used against anyone but who you’ve already decided they should be used against. They certainly won’t be used against the people who made the rules.

If those rules don’t let you sideline people you disagree with, what’s the point of the rules? To the Times, there is none.

Those are “the words of a tyrant”. Not vehemently disagreeing with someone, as Jefferson did and Trump does. Jefferson’s and Trump’s are the words of freedom. It’s CNN, and the New York Times, who explicitly and knowingly use the words of tyranny.

Explicitly. Take a look at this section from the article:

Let me say that I have nothing but admiration for the long-suffering trust and safety team at Twitter, which has been tasked with the Sisyphean job of controlling humanity and scaling civility, armed only with some easily gamed and capriciously enforced rules. How are these people supposed to do that when the company has provided them with no firm set of values?

Values would require that Twitter make tough calls on high-profile and obviously malevolent figures, including tossing them off as a signal of its intent to keep it civil.

  1. Probably never wrote that. Obviously, you can’t prove a negative. But given the quote’s current provenance and scholars’ inability to find it in his writings even with modern searches, we can be pretty sure.

  2. Well, he would, wouldn’t he?

  1. <- Franklin D. Trump