‘The Voice of Journalism’ Has Laryngitis

Michael Mann on Real Time with Bill Maher in 2015 (via YouTube)
When it comes to Michael Mann’s case against NR, one journal’s silence on the First Amendment is conspicuous.

Did you hear the roar of media approval following Judge Jennifer Anderson’s March 19 order granting National Review’s request for summary judgment in the prolonged, plodding, and (intentionally!) fiscally draining case waged against this publication by Michael Mann?

No? Neither did we.

It’s not as if the ruling went unreported or unanalyzed.

The preference of “The Voice of Journalism” in particular (more about it shortly) may be mumness about America’s most pressing First Amendment/free-speech/free-press case occupying our courts since 2012, but it has most definitely not been mum about its instigator, Penn State’s infamous climate-change activist, Professor Michael E. Mann.

The media silence about National Review v. Mann smacks more of an approval even, than of anything (to lean on the cliché) golden. Maybe the recent verdict triggered mom’s advice — if you’ve got nothing good to say . . . ?

America’s otherwise mouthy media mavens have come a long way since the era of John Peter Zenger, editor and publisher of the New York Weekly Journal. His saga, once taught to little boys and girls in American schoolhouses, seemed central to this nation — because it was. Heck, in our lifetimes, his story was gloried by the Fourth Estate (there’s even a Zenger Room at the National Press Club).

A German émigré in possession of ink, paper, and a press, Zenger also had opinions, and in his journal, he criticized New York’s thin-skinned colonial governor, who sicced the attorney general on the printer. The year was 1735, the charge was libel, and Zenger spent many months in jail, awaiting trial. Crown v. John Peter Zenger would become a most-important legal decision for an emerging America, giving birth to the idea of freedom of the press.

(Gouverneur Morris, who played a central role in drafting the Constitution, called the Zenger case “the germ of American freedom, the morning star of that liberty which subsequently revolutionized America.”)

Ah, the revolutionizing right to a free press: For a century or two and then some, it was a thing ballyhooed in book and on film, and it made a regular appearance on our postage.

Indulge an old collector. . . .

Take the quaint 1975 U.S. Postage Stamp (a hefty eleven cents) that proclaims “LIBERTY DEPENDS ON FREEDOM OF PRESS.” Was this even questionable a generation distant?

That stamp is of a series that boasted little images amplifying the centrality of associated rights, declaring “THE ABILITY TO WRITE” (just one cent) and “THE FREEDOM TO SPEAK OUT” (two cents) each as “A ROOT OF DEMOCRACY.”

Those were produced not too long after the Postal Service’s 1958 release of a stamp (four cents) heralding Freedom of the Press, issued to commemorate the 50th anniversary of America’s first school of journalism at the University of Missouri.

That institution was founded thanks to the strong lobbying efforts of Joseph Pulitzer, and yes, he too had enjoyed the privilege of postal commemoration: a 1947 stamp (three cents, if you’re counting) to mark the centenary of his birth. It boasts the storied journalist’s claim that “OUR REPUBLIC AND ITS PRESS WILL RISE OR FALL TOGETHER.”

Prescient, Mr. Pulitzer.

And yes, he is the Prize Guy. Those famous awards (really, there’s nothing the press likes to do more than give themselves awards and then report on it, no?) and its administration find their home in New York City at Columbia University.

Which in turn is also home of the (do bow) Columbia Journalism School, which publishes the (now genuflect) Columbia Journalism Review. That period seems to be part of the brand name, signifying a declarative and authoritative stance — the kind of thing one would associate with a publication that defines itself as “the voice of journalism.”

Ah, there it is. And note please that it is not a voice. It is the voice.

The one that, when it comes to this vital case of press freedom, is content in remaining silent.

About the National Review v. Mann case, search the CJR website, and you will find no thundering about its assault on a press freedom. But you will find a lonely, Mann-favorable 2012 story about the initiation of the suit (‘I don’t bluff’) which ended with this pox-wishing opinion:

More often than not, though, it is conservative/libertarian writers harassing climate scientists, and the low to which Simberg and Steyn stooped is certainly deplorable, if not unlawful.

Not exactly the stuff of Voltaire (actually, of his biographer, Evelyn Beatrice Hall) about “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Death? Today’s Fourth Estate pompousorri wouldn’t risk a paper cut.

Remove “National Review,” restrict it to “Mann,” and CJR provides a glacier-melt of gushing about the Nobel Peace Prize non-winner. For example, there is a get-a-room article from October 2020 that commences:

ON SUNDAY NIGHT, America met Michael Mann on 60 Minutes, one of the country’s most watched and influential television news programs for nearly 50 years now. A professor at Penn State University, Mann is one of the world’s most eminent climate scientists, and also one of the most outspoken. The 60 Minutes segment, titled “Cause And Effect,” focused on climate change and California’s ongoing record wildfires, which have burned more than 4 million acres to date. After showing the viral clip of Donald Trump telling state officials that the Earth will “start getting cooler,” correspondent Scott Pelley asked Mann about the president’s additional assertion that “science doesn’t know.”

“The president doesn’t know,” Mann retorted. “And he should know better.”

Yes, a lecture follows (although not for credit).

Andrew Hamilton defending John Peter Zenger in court, 1734-5 (Library of Congress)

Speaking of lectures, back in that New York courtroom in 1735, Zenger attorney Andrew Hamilton offered the jury a doozie. Its highlight:

The question before the Court and you, Gentlemen of the jury, is not of small or private concern. It is not the cause of one poor printer, nor of New York alone, which you are now trying. No! It may in its consequence affect every free man that lives under a British government on the main of America. It is the best cause. It is the cause of liberty.

Ordered by the judge to convict Zenger if it was a fact that he had printed the paper the governor found libelous, the jury (who were these peers who committed such a consequential act?) took but ten minutes to decide: Not guilty.

A core liberty, a very American liberty, had been established. What of this liberty now, to those of Zenger’s profession?

It seems the cause of global warming may have trumped it, if “The Voice of Journalism” is an indication. And it is. Justice’s scales seem to have been swapped out for a hockey stick.

A few miles north of Zenger’s courthouse, in 2019, CJR chose to conduct and publish an interview with Mann. Although he was into his seventh year of litigation in a major free-speech/press-freedom case, Mann found that CJR senior editor Brendan Fitzgerald (“The Questioning Voice of Journalism”?) could not/would not/did not ask him about his efforts against a leading American opinion magazine. Even when asking Mann about his legal actions, the CJR stuck to above the 49th parallel:

Though multiple investigations upheld the integrity of Mann’s research, such vindication took years. Mann has vigorously contested misinformation concerning his work and climate science on social media as well as in the courts. In 2011, Mann filed a defamation claim in a British Columbia court against the Frontier Center for Public Policy (FCPP), a Canadian think-tank, and Tim Ball, a former geography professor, after Ball suggested in an interview that Mann should be imprisoned. In June, the FCPP settled with Mann and apologized for its characterization of his work. Last month, after Ball’s lawyers cited their client’s poor health and his website’s low ranking, a judge dismissed the case, for delays he attributed to Mann. (The judge also noted the two parties’ “dramatically different opinions on climate change,” which the court did not address.) Mann then took to Twitter to counter climate-denial sites that spun the dismissal.

What cannot be spun is that this case — still ongoing, and with National Review still very much having a part in its forthcoming chapters — does very much involve freedom of the press.

An admittedly grim day in the previous chapters came in late 2019, when the Supreme Court denied National Review’s cert petition to remove this case from the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. In a rare move, Justice Samuel Alito expressed serious concern over the denial because of the threat the case posed to . . . journalism. The “J” in CJR:

The petition in this case presents questions that go to the very heart of the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech and freedom of the press: the protection afforded to journalists and others who use harsh language in criticizing opposing advocacy on one of the most important public issues of the day. If the Court is serious about protecting freedom of expression, we should grant review.

Towards the end of his dissent, the Justice stated:

But as I noted in Brunetti, 588 U. S., at ___ (slip op., at 1) (concurring opinion), the protection of even speech as trivial as a naughty trademark for jeans can serve an important purpose: It can demonstrate that this Court is deadly serious about protecting freedom of speech. Our decisions protecting the speech at issue in that case and the others just noted can serve as a promise that we will be vigilant when the freedom of speech and the press are most seriously implicated, that is, in cases involving disfavored speech on important political or social issues. This is just such a case. Climate change has staked a place at the very center of this Nation’s public discourse. Politicians, journalists, academics, and ordinary Americans discuss and debate various aspects of climate change daily—its causes, extent, urgency, consequences, and the appropriate policies for addressing it. The core purpose of the constitutional protection of freedom of expression is to ensure that all opinions on such issues have a chance to be heard and considered.

This was obvious to a jury in New York in 1735, pondering a journalist’s fate back in the Little Ice Age, a half century before there was any “Constitution” or a “Bill of Rights.”

It is quite another thing to the climate warriors in the air-conditioned offices of “The Voice of Journalism.”


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