The Corner

Nicholas Jackson, Ghastly Little Fascist

Today’s Ghastly Little Fascist award goes to one Nicholas Jackson, the “digital director of Pacific Standard.” This afternoon, Jackson, who “has also worked for The AtlanticEncyclopaedia BritannicaTexas MonthlySlate, and other publications, both online and in print” — and thus should presumably know better — took without irony to his new online home to argue against the free-speech rights of people he doesn’t like.

“ESPN’s Chris Broussard’s attack on homosexuality, sparked by the first coming out of a major American athlete, should not be condoned as free speech,” Jackson argues in a post titled “Fighting Words.” Why so? Because:

The conversation between Broussard, who has written about his “beliefs” before, and openly gay correspondent LZ Granderson quickly devolved. “I don’t believe you can live an openly homosexual lifestyle,” Broussard said. “If you’re openly living that type of lifestyle, then the Bible says … that’s a sin. And if you’re openly living in unrepentant sin . . .I believe that’s walking in open rebellion to God and to Jesus Christ.”

People, Jackson notes in his article, reacted variously to this suggestion. But, much to Jackson’s chagrin, all seemed to agree that Broussard had the right to say whatever he wanted. Such tolerance, better nip that in the bud!

I take issue with that. It’s the blanket free speech argument. (And I know that argument well. As a wildly conservative—this is back in the jingo days before I came out, when I was using the near-lethal combination of pen and temper to shield my own personal insecurities—high school student, I wrote a number of columns for the student newspaper and regional publications in the Chicago area on this subject.) But the blanket free speech argument is a weak one. Any journalist knows that. After a basic media ethics class (the easy way) or a handful of frightening emails from a subject (the hard way), you’ll know a thing or two about libel and slander. There’s also, of course, obscenity, child pornography, incitement, false or misleading advertising (all commercial speech is subject to limited protection), and speech owned by others (this is where trademarks and copyright issues come into play). Over the years, the U.S. Supreme Court has tightened the definition of free speech over and over again.

Actually Jackson doesn’t ”know that argument well” at all. The Supreme Court hasn’t tightened anything of the sort; in fact, it’s been going in the other direction. Jackson selectively cites the case of Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire before, through a heady combination of intellectual gymnastics and downright stupidity, concluding that Broussard’s opinion should be considered as ”fighting words.”

After a couple of years in which we’ve seen dozens of studies—LGBT youth who are bullied are far more likely to consider and commit suicideacceptance from family and friends minimizes risk—and a similar number of deaths, Broussard’s words, and the arguments by otherwise reasonable people that they should be protected by free speech, are no longer acceptable. They’re fighting words.

This is arrant nonsense in every sense. Legally, too. Brandenburg v. Ohio, decided 25 years after Chaplinsky, set the current standard and holds that, in order to be unprotected by the First Amendment, speech must incite “imminent” lawless action. Brandenburg, remember, upheld the right of the KKK to hold a rally and to advocate in the abstract for actual violence or lawbreaking. Under no interpretation can Broussard’s words be construed to have come anywhere close to this standard. And, even if they had, they’d still have been protected. “There are certain well-defined and narrowly limited classes of speech,” Jackson argues, “the prevention and punishment of which have never been thought to raise any constitutional problem.” Perhaps so. But this case isn’t one of those, as anybody who has spent more than seven minutes in the United States should be aware.

Still, Jackson seems convinced that the Supreme Court has been tightening free speech, and,

As a 15-year-old, that made me livid. Now, as a 25-year-old, I appreciate those restrictions, because, frankly, I don’t want to listen to your bullshit. In fact, I don’t think the existing restrictions go far enough

Funnily enough, Nicholas, “I don’t want to listen to your bulls***” is not a solid reason to undermine the basic rights of man. I don’t really want to listen to Jackson’s bulls*** either, but there’s an easy way around that: I can just not listen to it. Alternatively, I could try and get the government to issue a Bill of Attainder against him or to prosecute him ex post facto, perhaps followed by some cruel and unusual punishment for good measure. But something tells me that there’d be a problem with that. Oh, yes! It would be flagrantly unconstitutional and utterly illiberal. 

At the outset of the piece, Jackson concedes, ”I know next to nothing about sports, in America or elsewhere.” Evidently that goes for speech, too.

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