I’ve seen the video of the professor in Missouri, demanding that the aggressive reporter be thrown out of a circle of students. And I have mixed feelings about it. So many people are reflexively aghast, and shouting about “freedom of the press!”, but I’m wondering if we’re going to have any limitations on freedom of the press.
For example, if a journalist storms into my bedroom tonight waving a camera, demanding to document all that’s going on, don’t I have a right to privacy, and can’t I demand that they be thrown out (even though it is true, baby, that I make earthshaking news in the bedroom every night)? There is a good argument to be made for a right to know what government and industry is planning to do that might have an impact on our lives, so I’m generally for an open press, but there are reasonable limits. In the case of a group of students gathering to discuss their feelings about racism on campus, I think they should have a right to draw a line and say that it’s private and personal.
I’m wondering now whether those reporters are just as assertive and demanding about recording what’s going on in meetings of the board of regents, or pursuing university president’s decisions. I’m also wondering whether anyone can make a good argument for why that particular gathering of students required immediate photographic documentation, other than dogmatic recitations of that stock phrase, “freedom of the press”.
I have to agree with Amanda Marcotte. This is a more complicated issue that it superficially appears to be, and the chant of “political correctness” is the new repressive slogan, used to justify silencing criticism of the status quo.
That’s the power of the term “political correctness”. It allows people like Chait to argue that students who are organizing protests, standing up to authority figures they disagree with, and demanding a voice in the governance of their own universities are somehow anti-democracy and anti-free speech. It’s a great weapon for those who want to tell kids to sit down, shut up and do as they’re told that it’s all in the name of “freedom”. Nice trick, there.
It’s also ironic. Somehow “PC” has become a way to pretend that disagreement with people in power is the dominant mode of discourse, that it has vast power, and that it’s really the wealthy, dominant hierarchy of convention, the Establishment, that is weak and suffering under the terrible burden of college students, deeply in debt and lacking a moneyed institution to prop them up, who dare to complain about injustice.
Speaking of ironic, you can read how to write a “political correctness run amok” article. If you’re a bit anemic, I guarantee your bloodstream will be throbbing with a rich supply of irony afterwards.
And this is where the arguments about the freedom of speech become most tone deaf. The freedom to offend the powerful is not equivalent to the freedom to bully the relatively disempowered. The enlightenment principles that undergird free speech also prescribed that the natural limits of one’s liberty lie at the precise point at which it begins to impose upon the liberty of another.
Yes. We always seem to forget that when the limits on the powerful are brought up.