The New York Times, an organization devoted to gathering and publishing information, doesn’t want people to gather or publish information inconvenient to it.

A group of Trump-supporting operatives has been finding and archiving old social media postings of Times employees and other journalists for use in the ongoing brawl between the president and the press.

There’s no indication that this is dumpster diving rather than an effort to scour readily available sources for stupid, embarrassing or offensive things that journalists have said publicly under their own power.

The Times broke the news of the campaign in an alarmed-sounding report. It related that “the material publicized so far, while in some cases stripped of context or presented in misleading ways, has proved authentic, and much of it has been professionally harmful to its targets.”

It’s not clear what makes this different from what happens in our public life ... every ... single ... day. Headhunting based on past offenses, real and imagined, is the norm, indeed one of the left’s favored forms of ideological combat.

Nonetheless, the press and its progressive allies act as though the First Amendment is being endangered if journalists apologize for past things they’ve written or — depending on the decisions of their own organizations — get cashiered for them.

“The goal of this campaign is clearly to intimidate journalists from doing their job,” thundered Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger, “which includes serving as a check on power and exposing wrongdoing when it occurs. The Times will not be intimidated or silenced.”

A spokesman for CNN went further, saying that when government officials, “and those working on their behalf, threaten and retaliate against reporters as a means of suppression, it’s a clear abandonment of democracy for something very dangerous.”

The MSNBC host Joy Reid tweeted (then deleted), “Welcome to the age of digital brownshirtism.”

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This is the usual hysteria yoked to the usual foggy thinking. The First Amendment is an important protection of press freedom. Yet nothing in it protects members of the press from criticism, let alone criticism over things they have written. Such criticisms are exercises of free speech in response to other exercises of free speech — i.e., public debate.

If the Times and others don’t like the weaponization of foolhardy and untoward social media postings, they can start pushing back against it across the board.

The left-wing organization Media Matters for America exists to publicize (allegedly) controversial statements by conservative media figures toward the end of getting them fired or ushered off the air. If recirculating the past tweets of employees of liberal news organizations is undemocratic, why isn’t the work of Media Matters also dangerously authoritarian?

The Times may say that it won’t be “intimidated” by pressure over past postings, but it has readily surrendered to such pressure from the left. The paper pulled the plug on its hiring of tech writer Quinn Norton last year when it emerged that she had tweeted offensive terms about gays and blacks, albeit sardonically.

The hounding of conservatives isn’t considered beyond the pale; it’s considered sport. Much of the left would be rendered practically mute if it weren’t braying for people to be fired.

When The Atlantic had the temerity to hire my colleague Kevin Williamson, a fearless and brilliant libertarian controversialist, seemingly every liberal outlet in the country joined in the pile-on.

Williamson’s hiring was swiftly revoked, with none of his critics detecting a threat to democracy in the episode. (Williamson has written a keen book about his experience, “The Smallest Minority: Independent Thinking in the Age of the Mob Politics.”)

I think it’s a bad idea for either side to rummage through old social media postings and writings looking for firing offenses.

It’s an inherently punitive project, and often an unfair one (no one is the sum of their tweets). But the rules of this game were established by the left long ago. It should either change them — or stop whining.

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Rich Lowry can be reached via e-mail: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com.


(1) comment


What a hypocrite. Lowry decries whining, but really is the true whiner here..

"...First Amendment is being endangered if journalists apologize for past things they’ve written or — depending on the decisions of their own organizations "

LOL. If that aint the pot calling the kettle black. Typical republican playbook. Not intelligent to come up with their own argument, so they have to play the reverse victim. Couldn't be more hypocritical when the POTUS himself doesn't have to be held accountable for anything he lies, makes up, says or does. It's ok for the right to be critical of the left and not be held accountable for rhetoric, but if it happens the other way? Not so. Lowry wants to have his cake and eat it too...

"The First Amendment is an important protection of press freedom. Yet nothing in it protects members of the press from criticism, let alone criticism over things they have written."

Telling anyone, either side of the political spectrum, that they can't say what they want to say, or going so idiotically far as Don Steele does in these forums, shows a lack of your own responsibility to buck up and take the heat for what you decide to interpret and discern as viable press. Like it or not. Own up to your speech. And also your responsibility to filter what is or isn't newsworthy. And stop blaming parties and sources for what is YOUR discretion.

To conclude however, I sadly say this. If the left is not going to own up to their speech, and starts acting like the right, in trying to not be held accountable for what it writes or says. Which it is by far not even approaching yet. As is evident in these forums themselves. Things will descend more chaotically into authoritarian from both sides, rather than just one. But as it stands right now? The conservative side is multitudes more speech stomping, controlling, rhetorically abusive, and less responsible and accountable for said speech than the left. And it aint even close. Thanks to POTUS.

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