No, The Resignation Of NYT Editor James Bennet Does Not Mean American Newsrooms Have 'Turned Into College Campuses'

from the don't-host-the-trolls dept

On Friday we wrote about the uproar regarding the terrible op-ed piece by Senator Tom Cotton in the New York Times, calling for the use of the US military against protesters in the US. There was widespread anger against the decision to run the op-ed, and then a backlash from some who argued that this showed the people complaining about it were somehow "unwilling to listen" to viewpoints they disagreed with. In my piece, I argued that if the NY Times didn't publish my op-ed on why the Opinions Editor James Bennet was an incompetent dweeb, then clearly, they hated free speech and were unwilling to confront difficult ideas.

Over the weekend, the news came down that Bennet had resigned, leading to a new round of hand-wringing from people who want to appear to be among the Serious Thinkers™, fretting that American newsrooms were "becoming college campuses" full of "safe spaces" and "political correctness."

Again, this is just silly. I'm probably more extreme than most in arguing for free speech and the importance of listening to viewpoints and ideas that people disagree with. And while there have been incidents on college campuses where students have pushed back on hearing uncomfortable ideas, there's a big difference between an unwillingness to listen to "uncomfortable" ideas and an unwillingness to support disingenuous ideas that are simply designed to rile people up.

Again, as we discussed last week, while some people were freaking out about so-called "censorship," the issue was actually about editorial discretion -- which is something wholly different. When you consider every act of editorial discretion to be the same as censorship, then the real problem is on your end. You can disagree with the decision (in either direction) and speak out about it (because there are many ways to speak out these days). But a single platform choosing to publish a terrible, disingenuous op-ed whose entire point appeared to be to piss people off, and then the person in charge resigning following the controversy, has nothing at all to do with censorship or safe spaces or avoiding difficult conversations.

The issue, again, is whether or not the editorial discretion is well applied. And the evidence -- which goes way beyond that one op-ed -- says that it was not. Indeed, an honest look at Cotton's piece showed that it was incredibly dishonest and deceptive in describing a "problem" that did not really appear to exist, and a solution that would have made actual problems much, much worse. That's why people said it was dangerous to publish -- not because they were afraid to discuss and debate ideas, or because of political correctness.

It comes down to this simple point: there are certain elements in society now who are simply trolling. And Tom Cotton is a giant troll. Whether he intends to be or not, he has all of the characteristics of an internet troll. He's posting dishonest claptrap, designed to enrage. He's cherry picking his facts and ignoring any countervailing evidence. He frames his nonsense with claims about wanting to be a part of the debate, but as anyone who has ever dealt with internet trolls knows, that's all part of the game to keep people engaged.

The general rule of thumb on the internet is "don't feed the trolls." I don't always agree with that wisdom, as there is sometimes value in a one-off response to trollish behavior to highlight for others why the troll's disingenuous claims are bullshit. But, there's an issue beyond just not "feeding" the trolls: you never need to elevate them and act as if they are in the debate for honest and reasonable reasons. That's where the NY Times Opinion section has failed miserably over the past few years. In its attempt to "both sides" every damn issue, it has ignored constructive debate in favor of elevating trolls who are simply playing the Times and (until now) Bennet, using the fact that the Times wants to appear to host "multiple viewpoints" to their advantage.

You can feed the trolls in the comment section if you want, but the NY Times shouldn't be elevating them. That's not because they're college campuses, too politically correct, or afraid of difficult ideas. It's because if you want serious debate you figure out who the trolls are and leave them in the comment section. There are serious, non-trollish people with opposing viewpoints. Editorial discretion is finding them. Bennet didn't. And now he's out of a job.

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Filed Under: editorial discretion, free speech, james bennet, journalism, opinion pieces, tom cotton, trolls
Companies: ny times


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  • icon
    Thad (profile), 9 Jun 2020 @ 9:37am

    That's where the NY Times Opinion section has failed miserably over the past few years. In its attempt to "both sides" every damn issue, it has ignored constructive debate in favor of elevating trolls who are simply playing the Times and (until now) Bennet, using the fact that the Times wants to appear to host "multiple viewpoints" to their advantage.

    My concern is that firing Bennet is in keeping with the Times' usual "solution" of treating the symptom and failing to recognize the disease. I've mentioned before that last year, during the "Trump urges unity vs. racism" debacle, the Times' response amounted to "Okay, we admit that was a terrible headline, but aren't you overreacting to one bad headline?"

    The Times' management doesn't seem to recognize that people aren't mad about this article or that op-ed; they're mad about decades of pushing trash in the name of "balance". People aren't mad because Cotton's editorial was so far below the Times' usual standards; they're mad because it really wasn't that far below the Times' usual standards.

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  • icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 9 Jun 2020 @ 9:45am

    Some ideas don’t deserve the credibility or dignity that comes with a serious, reasoned debate of their merits. To wit: slavery, “conversion ‘therapy’ ”, and Shiva Ayyadurai having invented email.

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    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 9 Jun 2020 @ 10:15am

      Re:

      Welllllll...... There is feeding the trolls, and then there is kicking in sensitives spots.

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    • icon
      Koby (profile), 9 Jun 2020 @ 10:59am

      Re:

      Some ideas don’t deserve the credibility or dignity that comes with a serious, reasoned debate of their merits.

      Certainly some ideas are discredited. However, there's an old saying that "the price of freedom is eternal vigilance", and in the Cotton editorial case it means that you had better debate.

      Which then gets into some concepts from the article - that some ideas are too dangerous to debate. Or the speaker is not "serious" enough, or dismissed as a "troll". Be careful, or sometimes you get a Brexit, or a 2016 Trump, where the dismissed viewpoint wins an election. As a warning to all viewpoints, if you simply censor an idea with no debate, it might actually gain in popularity. Instead, if it's truly such an indefensible idea, then you ought to be able to win the debate.

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      • icon
        Stephen T. Stone (profile), 9 Jun 2020 @ 11:12am

        if it's truly such an indefensible idea, then you ought to be able to win the debate

        Do you truly believe we need to debate the merits of slavery?

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        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 9 Jun 2020 @ 11:29am

          Re:

          If you can point to where anyone in the USA in 2020 has advocated the merits of slavery, that'd be great.

          (No strawmen, though … so don't bother with mentioning, oh, I don't know, flags or statues...)

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          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 10 Jun 2020 @ 4:17am

            Re: Re:

            Just check out numerous clips of Christians calling in to the Atheist Expericence arguing it's not that bad.

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          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 10 Jun 2020 @ 9:15am

            Re: Re:

            There have been attempts to re write history wrt slavery in the us, recently in Tex they tried to change the AP US History curriculum to include american exceptionalism stuff and that the slaves came here voluntarily looking for jobs.

            In addition, I recall several politicians saying things like the slaves had it pretty well off, better than they have it today. I wont go into all the crap coming out of the kkk and other bigots.

            I am not going to look up a bunch of references for you.

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        • icon
          Koby (profile), 9 Jun 2020 @ 11:39am

          Re:

          Do you truly believe we need to debate the merits of slavery?

          If someone actually DID want to support a return of slavery, then yes I would feel compelled to debate against it.

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          • icon
            Stephen T. Stone (profile), 9 Jun 2020 @ 12:00pm

            Do you really believe that anyone who thinks slavery — the practice of treating another human being as if they were property, which includes buying and selling them and even being violent towards them — is a good thing and wants to bring it back in the United States deserves the credibility of having their ideas debated? Do you honestly want to debate the idea that an enslaved woman can be forced by her enslaver to have sex against her will, as Thomas Jefferson did to Sally Hemmings? Do you truly want to take seriously the idea that the violent, sometimes lethal mistreatment of Black people at the behest of White people — whippings, mutilations, lynchings, and God knows what other kinds of violence that I can’t describe here because it’s too goddamn heinous — might be an era of American history worth recreating in The Year of Our Lord Two Thousand Motherfucking Twenty?

            If your answer is “yes”, by all means, stay on the side of slavery and debate its positive merits with someone. Because if you’re willing to give the idea any consideration at all, it means you’re willing to consider that someone can convince you to say “slavery is good” and believe it wholeheartedly.

            When I talk about ideas that don’t deserve a spot at the table in the marketplace of ideas, that is what I am talking about. Anyone who thinks slavery is bad but whether it is bad should be up for debate could be made to believe that slavery is good. If you want to cling onto that unenviable position, feel free. But I won’t be joining you on that cliff.

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            • icon
              Koby (profile), 9 Jun 2020 @ 1:01pm

              Re:

              When I talk about ideas that don’t deserve a spot at the table in the marketplace of ideas, that is what I am talking about.

              You have identified a topic, slavery, that has been so thoroughly defeated that there is negligible discussion on it, and has been so resounding defeated in the past that you feel that you feel that any debate is unworthy.

              But the same can't be said about a lot of ideas. And neither you nor I aren't arbiters of which ideas have supposedly been "debunked". I suggest to you that with some polls welcoming the national guard to restore order against ongoing riots, that perhaps it is a mistake to ignore this topic. That immediately dismissing the idea as unworthy of editorial consideration might make it more popular, and decrease trust of publications when a lot of people ask "why arent we bringing in the army to restore order?"

              As an aside, if Trump has some kind of mutant superpower, it is the ability to understand what a lot of the his supporters are thinking privately, and then he writes it down on Twitter. It's what drives people to connect with him.

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              • identicon
                Anonymous Coward, 9 Jun 2020 @ 1:03pm

                Re: Re:

                Unfortunately alot of the people connecting with him appear to be uneducated, anti science, anti vaxx, flat earthers, literal nazi's and other white supremacists. The fact that there are so many of these in the US indicates there is a real problem.

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                • icon
                  Stephen T. Stone (profile), 9 Jun 2020 @ 1:13pm

                  alot of the people connecting with him appear to be uneducated, anti science, anti vaxx, flat earthers, literal nazi's and other white supremacists

                  Otherwise known as “Republican voters”.

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              • icon
                Stephen T. Stone (profile), 9 Jun 2020 @ 1:07pm

                That immediately dismissing the idea as unworthy of editorial consideration might make it more popular, and decrease trust of publications when a lot of people ask "why arent we bringing in the army to restore order?"

                If you want to seriously debate the idea of sending the U.S. military into U.S. cities to (at least in part) quell peaceful protests, you’re free to do so. But that doesn’t mean I have to give you the space for that debate, or treat you with respect, or act like your idea has any merit if I think even suggesting the idea is tantamount to advocacy for fascism. And no one else has to do those things, either. You can have your profa speech and your attempt to debate the benefits of being profa — so long as you remember that no one else is required to host it or give it any credibility.

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              • icon
                Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 11 Jun 2020 @ 6:19am

                Re: Re:

                "I suggest to you that with some polls welcoming the national guard to restore order against ongoing riots, that perhaps it is a mistake to ignore this topic."

                Except that the argument for the necessity of ordinary civil disobedience is one of those arguments where opposition has similarly been so thoroughly defeated.

                To whit there have been multiple volumes written on how a government imposing unfair conditions on parts of its citizenry would by necessity compel those citizens to violent uprisings, harmful though that might be to innocent merchants and landowners alike. I speak, of course, of the time when that terrorist organization The sons Of Liberty stormed Boston Harbor and rudely vandalized a cargo of tea. A "both sides" debate at that time brings the inevitable conclusion that the US should still be a british colony.

                The idea that it's somehow OK to apply military force to the citizenry has similarly been condemned - in fact, the US is both the ironic representation of a nation which has argued the most against such use of the military and the nation in the G20 which most often applies its military to such ends.

                It's the job of a journalist to inform people of the previous debates and in this case a headline such as "Are we as a nation truly so shattered that we can not any longer, even on the highest level, observe even the most fundamental trappings of a civilized society?" might not be amiss.

                "...if Trump has some kind of mutant superpower, it is the ability to understand what a lot of the his supporters are thinking privately, and then he writes it down on Twitter."

                The problem being that when what he writes is outright falsehood and/or white supremacy conspiracy theory - like a 75 year old black man being pushed around by police and injured somehow being a militant "antifa terrorist" that is not a superpower. It's just the highest office of the land spewing out infactual bullshit which originated in some white supremacy echo chamber somewhere.

                There are no "both sides" to fact. The facts are that Cotton called for a nonexistent "organization" - in reality citizens who self-define as being opposed to fascists - to be hunted like terrorists in the middle east - which means with assassination, bombs, drone strikes and gunships.

                A journalist needs to bring those facts to the table. Once THAT is done you can start the debate as to why Cotton feels compelled to advocate wear crimes on US soil.

                You don't get to bothside fact. There's only ever one factual reality. It's the one we live in. "Alternative facts" is a logical impossibility unless you're implying that something different happened in the universe next door than what happened here.

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            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 9 Jun 2020 @ 1:01pm

              Re:

              I will be fair in that there is an economic debate that can be had regarding the positive and negative effects enslaved people have in terms of productivity and prosperity.

              That said, morally, there is no way to argue slavery has the slightest hope, and if you are even a slightly moral person slavery is out the door.

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              • icon
                Stephen T. Stone (profile), 9 Jun 2020 @ 1:12pm

                there is an economic debate that can be had regarding the positive and negative effects enslaved people have in terms of productivity and prosperity

                You can’t debate the “positive effects” of slavery, in any context, without arguing in favor of a system that practically all of humanity considers immortal, unethical, and downright evil. And if you’re going to argue that shit in an “economic debate”, I’d like to remind you that capitalism exists because of capitalists exploiting the lower classes in ways that could colloquially be called “wage slavery”, so feel free to argue that Jeff Bezos should be allowed to enslave Amazon workers so they can work harder to make him more money than God.

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                • identicon
                  Anonymous Coward, 9 Jun 2020 @ 1:20pm

                  Re:

                  I apologize, that is why I said PURELY economic and my next sentence mentioned the morality of it because the moment you bring any semblance of morality into the discussion it's over. I agree with you on this issue completely. My statement was more a 'philosophical take' on how a debate could be done by forcefully separating the issues, and it has been done and the end result is even without the moral issues, slavery is actually harmful economically anyways.

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              • identicon
                Anonymous Coward, 9 Jun 2020 @ 4:52pm

                Re: Re:

                I will be fair in that there is an economic debate that can be had regarding the positive and negative effects enslaved people have in terms of productivity and prosperity.

                There really isn't though, because by its very nature slavery excludes slaves from prosperity and turns them into property (becoming part of the measure of someone else's prosperity) so even attempting to identify any metric of "prosperity" that can be applied to slavery involves reprehensible moral choices. You can't have an amoral discussion about productivity and prosperity when the question of what those things mean is itself a moral one.

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          • icon
            PaulT (profile), 10 Jun 2020 @ 12:07am

            Re: Re:

            "If someone actually DID want to support a return of slavery, then yes I would feel compelled to debate against it."

            Would you? I would be compelled to ignore them, and as best tell them what a horrible person they are.

            Given the limited resource and space for debate in something like the NYT, I'd much rather that space be given to, say, someone actually fighting modern human trafficking than someone who wants to own other human beings.

            Why do you think that opinion is worthy of attention?

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      • identicon
        Bruce C., 10 Jun 2020 @ 6:50am

        Re: Re:

        "Which then gets into some concepts from the article - that some ideas are too dangerous to debate."

        there are multiple reasons to discard debate on some subjects, not just because they are "dangerous". Some examples:
        1) Outright falsity. Flat earth, for example, shouldn't need to be discussed anymore except "in the comments".
        2) Debate already settled. For things like slavery, there's no reason to re-hash the debate in contemporary media. There is value in revisiting the issue in history classes, to ensure that everyone has a common understanding of how the debate was settled.

        "Dangerous" in the Cotton case refers to the consequences of his proposals, not to the proposals themselves as abstract ideas.

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      • icon
        Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 11 Jun 2020 @ 5:54am

        Re: Re:

        *"Which then gets into some concepts from the article - that some ideas are too dangerous to debate. Or the speaker is not "serious" enough, or dismissed as a "troll".

        Well, there's a right and a wrong way of doing it. The NYT could have run cotton's op-ed under a more objective headline. They could have run it as news, under "US congressman declares calls for war crimes to be committred on US citizens"...

        But aside from all those options the no doubt worst way was to present, as a viable op-ed where a A US congressman calls for drone strikes, assassination and bombings to be carried out on anyone self-identifying as an Anti-fascist.

        Because that's what what Cotton said means objectively.

        I agree that we should all know that Cotton has those views. It is, demonstrably, the job of a responsible journalist to clarify what his statements mean in practice.

        "Instead, if it's truly such an indefensible idea, then you ought to be able to win the debate."

        Yeah but it's uphill work when the first entity whose job is to report and do analysis ends up just...publishing it as is. Being a journalist is supposed to mean a little more than "Be a bullhorn for the government".

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  • icon
    Bloof (profile), 9 Jun 2020 @ 10:19am

    He was an editor who didn't edit, he put out an unhinged column by Tom Cotton because it was written by a republican without reading it. Time and time again he did that, giving a platform for the opinions of discredited neocons, climate change deniers and bedbugs to feud with anyone who criticises them just because they're conservatives. He finally went too far and had to suffer the consequences of his actions, that's not anti conservative bias that's just reality. If anything, the NYT opinion columns are proof that the media bends over backwards to cater to conservative absurdity rather than proof they're trying to censor them.

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  • icon
    Igualmente69 (profile), 9 Jun 2020 @ 10:35am

    The NY Times publishes partisan-spectrum-defying trollish nonsense all the time, including notions about IP that Techdirt regularly comments on. Maybe they should fire the people responsible for that.

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  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Jun 2020 @ 10:38am

    I can still remember when this was about tech. NOT POLITICS

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 9 Jun 2020 @ 10:50am

      Re:

      I can't remember when tech wasn't about politics, because that was never, so whatever.

      I also can't remember a time when trolls didn't think they should have editorial control over someone else's content.

      I do remember techdirt covering many things which intersect with tech and business, because the world does that. Not everything is in a little box.

      But i don't remember techdirt being about politics, because it isn't. Bad ideas are bad, and if you want to adhere to them politically, that's your own problem. Techdirt happens to cover a lot of ideas, good and bad, related to tech and some of the major intersections with tech - like free speech, law enforcement, and the way some tech affects society and vice versa. Maybe if politicians would stop being blatantly moronic in these and similar domains, you wouldn't hear about them so much at techdirt.

      Thanks for playing.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 9 Jun 2020 @ 10:52am

      Re:

      I'd really like to know how long ago that was. I've been checking this site occasionally over the last 2-3 years, and I don't remember a time when Techdirt wasn't essentially just covering whatever news enabled Masnick and his type to exercise their inner drama queens.

      Granted, it's really ramped up in the last few weeks, what with Techdirt now openly and regularly calling for arson, destruction, and (especially) violence for made-up reasons.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 9 Jun 2020 @ 10:55am

        Re: Re:

        Which "made-up reasons" are you referring to? Be specific.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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          identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 9 Jun 2020 @ 11:20am

          Re: Re: Re:

          "Police disproportionately brutalize/kill/say unkind things to Black people", "structural racism is rampant", "America hates people of color", almost anything Tim Cushing believes, any BLM talking point ... fill in the blanks.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 9 Jun 2020 @ 11:53am

        Re: Re:

        Ya, Techdirt is getting pretty disgusting these days. Really a leftist radical rag that it has become.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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    icon
    Koby (profile), 9 Jun 2020 @ 10:40am

    Not Really

    I'm probably more extreme than most in arguing for free speech and the importance of listening to viewpoints and ideas that people disagree with.

    I dont think that you're nearly as extreme as you think you are. I gotta give you a lot of credit with being able to listen and consider other viewpoints. But you have some downsides 1.) you're okay with some censorship, and 2.) you are permissive of corporations that build a free speech platform and then engage in censorship based upon political bias. An interesting dichotomy, in that you seem generally disapproving of greater corporation power. I've heard from a number of libertarians that are far more extreme than you. You appear to be middle of the road to me.

    The issue, again, is whether or not the editorial discretion is well applied. And the evidence -- which goes way beyond that one op-ed -- says that it was not.

    The editors SOUGHT OUT the opinion piece from Senator Cotton! It's an opinion from a sitting United States senator, and a position very much supported by millions upon millions of constituents. Just because you disagree with the opinion, or that you can articulate against the opinion does not make it an editorial failure. It just means that someone has a different opinion than you. There is no evidence that the article was so unreasonable as to be predetermined as unpublishable.

    The editorial decision was fine until the biased employees in a different division of the newspaper demanded punishment for publishing something with which they disagreed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 9 Jun 2020 @ 10:48am

      Re: Not Really

      Koby, I urge you to go read that Vox.com article Masnick links to. This is the ideology Masnick supports and spreads.

      You'll see just how extreme he really is.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Stephen T. Stone (profile), 9 Jun 2020 @ 11:27am

        Yes, let’s take a look at that ideology through specific quotes in the article:

        [The media] cannot remain neutral when [American] values are under threat from racialized authoritarianism.

        Cotton’s op-ed doesn’t meet the Times’s standards, not only because it contains inaccuracies but because it reflects a worldview incompatible with the baseline small-l liberal values that make the Times’s work, and journalism generally, possible. That doesn’t just pose problems for the opinion side of the news business; it’s an even bigger challenge for the news side, which has been habituated to a notion of “objectivity” that makes telling the real story impossible.

        “We don’t publish just any argument,” he said, “they need to be accurate, good faith explorations of the issues of the day.” Cotton’s op-ed did not meet either standard, accuracy or good faith.

        To act with good faith in [a small-l liberal] model is to accept [a set of] shared values, rules, and norms and agree to compete within the boundaries of the playing field — to play by the rules. The marketplace of ideas only works if it is open to any idea that conforms to those rules and closed to ideas that reject them.

        Minority rule is incompatible with full democratic participation. A revanchist movement meant to restore power to a privileged herrenvolk cannot abide shared standards of accuracy or conduct. Will to power takes precedent over any principle. By Sulzberger’s standard, the GOP is not acting, and cannot act, in good faith.

        If a journalist makes the baseline assumption that a political act or expression was undertaken in good faith — as part of a contest held within the boundaries of democratic liberalism and its assumptions — then she will attempt to remain neutral, presenting it and its critics as equivalent positions in an open political dispute. Over years of relentless “working the refs,” bullying reporters and editors for more favorable coverage, conservatives have convinced journalists that the initial assumption of good faith is what it means to practice journalistic objectivity. One must accept every new claim as though recently dispatched from the turnip truck.

        What would it mean to behave differently? Think of foreign correspondents, dispatched to other countries to cover politics. They are skeptical of everyone and, ideally, objective in a way only an outsider can be. But that objectivity does not result in an equal measure of good faith extended to everyone, or an equal measure of positive and negative coverage for all parties. Why would it? That’s not objectivity, that’s a very rigidly proscribed subjectivity, an imposition of symmetry on social dynamics that are rarely symmetrical. Indeed, it is precisely the objectivity of the foreign correspondent that allows her to learn from experience, identify those who are and aren’t abusing power, and call out guilty parties without fear or favor.

        The rise of right-wing authoritarianism is the headline story of US politics, but the domestic mainstream media is prevented by its own anachronistic habits and norms from telling it. That’s because US journalists, under the funhouse-mirror version of objectivity that dominates mainstream media, are not allowed to learn anything about Republicans. Failing to extend the presumption of good faith to people who have betrayed it repeatedly for decades is “bias.” Covering too many of one side’s lies without ginning up some sort of equivalent negative coverage for the other side is “bias.”

        Times editors might say the very fact that authoritarianism is a reasonably popular position (estimates put the hardcore Trump-loving GOP base at around 20 percent of the country) puts it in bounds. But that is tantamount to saying that there are no boundaries at all, that America is whatever the loudest and most powerful voices say it is, that any political movement is, from the perspective of the objective journalist, as good or bad as any other.

        The media must begin to assert some agency over the stories it covers and how it covers them, based on its own values. In discussing journalistic objectivity, Rosen agrees that the media’s work should not be politicized, i.e., produced expressly to help one party/candidate or another. On the other hand, he says, media cannot help but be political. Modern journalism was meant to play a political role, to expose the truth and hold politicians accountable to the small-l liberal values that make liberal democracy possible. It cannot remain neutral when those values are under threat. Like other institutions — science, the academy, and the US government itself — its very purpose is to both exemplify and defend those values. Its work is impossible without them. The press should always be fair in the application of its values and standards, but doing so will mean making clear when there is an asymmetry.

        The American public, by and large, does not understand this asymmetry and its implications. They do not understand that right-wing authoritarianism is perilously close to toppling US democracy because they are not able to pick that signal out of the noise of daily “balanced” news coverage, wherein everything is just another competing claim, just another good-faith argument to hash out through competing op-eds. The signal is too faint. … Even in the face of the inevitable pressure campaign from the right, even amid an information environment choked with conspiracies and nonsense, the press must boost that signal — it must tell the real story of what’s going on — before it is too late.

        None of that sounds altogether “evil” or “extreme” to me. Mind explaining what’s extreme about reporting the truth instead of being a stenographer for the Trump administration?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 11 Jun 2020 @ 7:14am

          Re:

          "Mind explaining what’s extreme about reporting the truth instead of being a stenographer for the Trump administration?"

          Given that you're arguing with Baghdad Bob? Probably "reporting the truth instead of being a stenographer for the Trump administration" is the "extreme" view in itself.

          Bear in mind that this is the guy who argues that racism does not exist and Obama is the godhead of the global Black Conspiracy. And who speaks of Trump, when he does so at all, as if he was describing the love of his life.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Koby (profile), 9 Jun 2020 @ 11:32am

        Re: Re: Not Really

        From the vox article:

        The movement he [Cotton] represents — he is often identified as the “future of Trumpism” — is ethnocentric and authoritarian... Such a movement is incommensurate with the shared premises that small-l liberals take for granted... By Sulzberger’s standard, the GOP is not acting, and cannot act, in good faith.

        And then the lack of "good faith" is then used as an excuse to pre-determine that Cotton's editorial is unpublishable. Not on the merits of the article, but the perceived viewpoint of the speaker.

        Aside from disagreement that Trump is ethnocentric or authoritarian, it can be pointed out that many Democrat positions are also ethnocentric and authoritarian. On that basis, left wing speakers do not meet the editorial "good faith" criteria for publication either!

        Of course, I don't actually believe any of that "good faith" mumbo jumbo. It's simply an attempt to justify the censorship based upon political disagreement.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 9 Jun 2020 @ 10:56am

      you're okay with some censorship

      Moderation and editorial discretion are not censorship.

      you are permissive of corporations that build a free speech platform and then engage in censorship based upon political bias

      Those platforms are privately owned and can legally moderate third party content based on political bias, since neither the First Amendment nor 47 U.S.C. § 230 have a “politically neutral” requirement for the protection of the rights of speech and association.

      The editors SOUGHT OUT the opinion piece from Senator Cotton!

      Even if we accept this as true, that doesn’t explain the multiple failures from the editorial staff in re: basic fact-checking and the apparent failure of James Bennet to read the piece before it went live.

      There is no evidence that the article was so unreasonable as to be predetermined as unpublishable.

      Other than the multiple lies that went unchecked and the overall position that the so-called leader of the free world should send his country’s military into cities within his country’s borders as a means to deter violent/destructive acts (with a side effect of suppressing peaceful protests and the legally protected speech therein).

      The editorial decision was fine until the biased employees in a different division of the newspaper demanded punishment for publishing something with which they disagreed.

      Gee, it’s almost as if the op-ed tarnished the reputation of the entire paper and the other division(s) wanted to know why the Times felt it needed to make that sacrifice for the sake of printing an argument in favor of fascist ideology.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Koby (profile), 9 Jun 2020 @ 11:50am

        Re:

        Those platforms are privately owned and can legally moderate third party content based on political bias, since neither the First Amendment nor 47 U.S.C. § 230 have a “politically neutral” requirement for the protection of the rights of speech and association.

        Just because something is (currently) legal does not make it moral. Building a free speech platform and permitting all speech in order to gain market dominance, but then engaging in censorship based upon political bias is a morally reprehensible stance to take.

        "When a commercial platform de facto replaces the public forum, then either free speech must be enforced on that forum or free speech dies."

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          That One Guy (profile), 9 Jun 2020 @ 12:01pm

          Just gonna call this the Koby Rule it's come up so much

          Building a free speech platform and permitting all speech in order to gain market dominance, but then engaging in censorship based upon political bias is a morally reprehensible stance to take.

          First you would have to prove that there is 'political bias', but even if you somehow managed that no, curating what you want on your platform(by say kicking out bigots for one example) is not in any way a 'morally reprehensible stance to take', and no amount of repeating the same garbage argument will make it true or better.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Stephen T. Stone (profile), 9 Jun 2020 @ 12:06pm

          "When a commercial platform de facto replaces the public forum, then either free speech must be enforced on that forum or free speech dies."

          Do you believe Twitter should be forced by law to host propaganda for White supremacy, anti-Semitic causes, or anti-queer beliefs, even (and especially) if Twitter admins don’t want to host such speech? And how far down that rabbit hole should we go — should an open-to-the-public Mastodon instance be forced to do the same because it is open to the public? For that matter, should Gab or Stormfront be forced to host speech which its owners don’t want to host (e.g., essays painting the Movement for Black Lives in a positive light)?

          Should the law force a service you own and operate to host racial slurs and anti-queer speech even if you don’t want your service to host that speech under any circumstances?

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Stephen T. Stone (profile), 9 Jun 2020 @ 3:18pm

            Y’know, it’s a funny thing. Whenever I ask a question like this…

            Should the law force a service you own and operate to host racial slurs and anti-queer speech even if you don’t want your service to host that speech under any circumstances?

            …I never seem to get an answer out of the persom to whom I pose said question.

            Imagine that~. 🤔

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 11 Jun 2020 @ 7:19am

              Re:

              Well, Koby isn't Baghdad Bob. When Koby notices he's painted himself into a corner and the only way out is to agree that his position does mean he'd have to let supremacists and bigots comment on his blog, he leaves without even a single "But Obama!".

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 9 Jun 2020 @ 12:13pm

          Re: Re:

          "When a commercial platform de facto replaces the public forum, then either free speech must be enforced on that forum or free speech dies."

          Nope, so long as you can set up your own sites, you have free speech on the Internet. If you platform becomes popular enough you can take over from the current platforms as the place to talk to people. If you site fails to attract an audience, then you have an indication of the popularity and value of your speech.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Rocky, 9 Jun 2020 @ 12:46pm

          Re: Re:

          Just because something is (currently) legal does not make it moral.

          So for example, if the Clownparty suddenly wins the election with a majority in both houses they can make it illegal to be a conservative because they think the conservatives are morally corrupt? Perhaps look back at history to see what happens when you start creating laws that are based on the subjective morality of rulers - it can only be described as pure horror.

          Building a free speech platform and permitting all speech in order to gain market dominance, but then engaging in censorship based upon political bias is a morally reprehensible stance to take.

          What free speech platform are you referring to? Twitter, Facebook et al have never been free speech. They have allowed speech that conforms to the TOS. That you can't distinguish between those two doesn't mean you are right. And people always have the choice to move to another platform of their choice.

          If for some reason no platform want to host some peoples speech, may I suggest that the fault aren't with the platforms - it's with those peoples speech. Nothing else. If you think I'm wrong, please provide a good sample of what have been removed due to "bias".

          I also note that you have once again essentially suggested that private platforms should be forced to host speech they don't want to - but if that's what you want, may I suggest that the government pay said platform for the privilege. But don't blame me when the tax-payers wonder why the government supports that kind of cesspool which it will turn into.

          Or perhaps you are thinking that some speech should be allowed regardless of the platforms wishes, which would mean that some peoples speech are more important than other peoples rights.

          Perhaps explain why you think that one persons speech trumps another persons rights?

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 9 Jun 2020 @ 11:01am

      Re: Not Really

      • censorship based upon political bias.*

      Still complete, unadulterated, unevidenced bullshit. You're free to say it, but you are full of shit.

      Companies also have free speech. Even though i personally despise the nature of corporations, the extent of corporate personhood, and the badly written laws about fiduciary duties, an entity has it's own rights, including speech.

      I'm sorry that conservatives are so ungodly poor and disenfranchised they can't have their own big platforms where they delete non-conservative (per the definition of whomever) posts. You know, like they do at all the other smaller sites of some conservative description or other.

      You motherfuckers have absolutely no fucking idea what it is like to be silenced. You just love playing victims from your position of privilege. So when the more conservative-leaning corporations start allowing speech about how they fucking destroy the environment and economy and people on their property, i'll go ahead and make sure the "liberal" internet sites over-represent conservative thought in the way the whiny privileged douchbongs are used to. Okay?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 12 Jun 2020 @ 2:46pm

        Re: Re: Not Really

        "Even though i personally despise the nature of corporations..."

        No, actually, you don't. That's the funniest part about Techdirt commenters and Techdirt itself (with it's patently false "Free Speech" sub-banner): you all pretend to be rebels speaking truth to power, when in fact your corporate sycophants.

        Corporations now control what is acceptable discourse, and all of you are fine with it. You approve of it. Therefore, you love the nature of corporations. QED.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 9 Jun 2020 @ 11:10am

      Re: Not Really

      Just because you think that the hecklers veto is free speech, it does not mean that people have to allow you to exercise it. Shouting down others speech, or being so offensive as to drive away their audience is the opposite of free speech.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
        identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 9 Jun 2020 @ 11:27am

        Re: Re: Not Really

        Good point about the heckler's veto.

        But you meant to respond to the befuddled cretin at 11:01, not Koby.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 9 Jun 2020 @ 12:15pm

          Re: Re: Re: Not Really

          Wrong, keep tabs on what Kolby keeps arguing for, for while he remains polite, he wants to force his speech on platforms that do not want to have it on their platform.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Mike Masnick (profile), 9 Jun 2020 @ 12:00pm

      Re: Not Really

      I dont think that you're nearly as extreme as you think you are. I gotta give you a lot of credit with being able to listen and consider other viewpoints. But you have some downsides 1.) you're okay with some censorship, and 2.) you are permissive of corporations that build a free speech platform and then engage in censorship based upon political bias.

      Where have I ever been okay with "some censorship"?

      And corporations have their own free speech rights not to associate with abuse, harassment and spam. But that's not censorship.

      The editorial decision was fine until the biased employees in a different division of the newspaper demanded punishment for publishing something with which they disagreed.

      This is wrong on so many levels and demonstrates your own problems with free speech.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 9 Jun 2020 @ 3:10pm

        Re: Re: Not Really

        Koby seems to think not publishing an opinion is cernsorship. Koby seems to be an idjit.

        Nuff said.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      JMT (profile), 9 Jun 2020 @ 10:07pm

      Re: Not Really

      "you are permissive of corporations that build a free speech platform..."

      There is literally no such thing. Platforms like Google, Facebook and Twitter grew out of basements and garages and eventually became corporations. By the time they did they had long grown out of any naive notion of unfettered, unmoderated speech.

      "...and then engage in censorship based upon political bias."

      You keep saying it, but you cannot prove it. It's getting a little sad.

      "The editors SOUGHT OUT the opinion piece from Senator Cotton!"

      That doesn't mean they should've published it once they read it, it just means they didn't realise what a clown Cotton is. I bet they do now.

      "It's an opinion from a sitting United States senator..."

      Which is very disturbing.

      "...and a position very much supported by millions upon millions of constituents."

      There are not "millions upon millions" of people who seriously think attacking protesters with the military isn't batshit crazy. Feel free to prove me wrong. Even is there really was, say, a million of them, that's still a tiny fraction of the population.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Jun 2020 @ 10:46am

    Masnick linking to a Vox.com article explains a lot .

    Where he gets his wacky anti-White, un-American talking points, for one.

    For instance, that normal Americans are "working the refs" by insisting on actual free speech (not the "free speech" Techdirt claims but doesn't honor), by making "rural and suburban Whites" their mortal enemies (p.s. for dummies, "mortal" means you want them "cancelled" aka dead), and by claiming it's the "core purpose of journalism to defend liberal democracy".

    No, the core purpose of journalism is to report the fucking news.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Bloof (profile), 9 Jun 2020 @ 10:57am

      Re:

      I'm not American, but even I know people who toss around words like unamerican have no interest whatsoever in truth and in actual free speech. It's a right wing buzzword tossed around since days of Joe McCarthy to try and make left wing voices terrified to speak.

      Go stick your peaches in another freezer, people have seen this nonsense too many times now to buy it. The right have screeched about Freezepeach too many times, that the words have lost all impact as we all know you're more than happy to hop on board anything that silence people you disagree with.

      'I want to be able to speak without criticism and smear the left without any sort of response and any attempt to call me out on my bullsh*t is unamerican leftist censorship!'

      'That politician/academic/actor/musician criticised a republican or a republican backed war! They're unamerican!'

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
        identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 9 Jun 2020 @ 11:11am

        Re: Re:

        I almost forgot the prime example of a leftist buzzword that, as soon as someone unironically utters it, you can just ignore anything else she says, since it proves she's a frivolous person:

        • "Freeze peach"

        Best not engage someone who treats one of the founding principles of Western Civilization so flippantly.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Bloof (profile), 9 Jun 2020 @ 11:29am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Yes, best to bend over backwards to cater to people who screech oppression because they blatantly will not follow the rules of a platform they agreed to when they signed up. The right surely are taking it seriously and have shown they can be 100% trusted to be the the guardians of what qualified as free speech.

          You're as much the champions of free speech as a child that's learned to drop the F-Bomb is. You don't know what free speech is, you certainly don't value it for people who aren't like you, you just like saying it over and over and over because you liked the reaction it gets... Only it doesn't get the reaction it used to because it loses all meaning coming from your mouths.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          JMT (profile), 9 Jun 2020 @ 10:16pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          "Best not engage someone who treats one of the founding principles of Western Civilization so flippantly."

          That you conflate this founding principle with a private company asking you to behave and follow their rules shows how little respect you have for it.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 9 Jun 2020 @ 11:08am

      [T]he core purpose of journalism is to

      …seek the truth. This includes reporting truths that can (and likely will) embarass one “side” or the other — or even both “sides”. That the truth is ugly and inconvenient for that “side” matters not; the truth, above all, must win the day.

      If that means reporting on the incompetence of establishment Democrats or the spinelessness of establishment Republicans, or exposing voter registration fraud for both sides, or exposing a sitting president as a crook and a liar, or pointing out the lies told by police departments and police unions about unlawful/illegal behavior by police officers? So be it. Journalists aren’t (and shouldn’t be) mere stenographers for those in power. They must be truth-tellers, no matter the cost.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
        identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 9 Jun 2020 @ 11:24am

        Re:

        "The core purpose of journalism is to seek the truth... That the truth is ugly and inconvenient for that “side” matters not; the truth, above all, must win the day... Journalists aren’t shouldn’t be mere stenographers for those in power. They must be truth-tellers, no matter the cost."

        Thanks for basically restating what I just said with different and more words.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Stephen T. Stone (profile), 9 Jun 2020 @ 11:37am

          You didn’t say that at all. Any idiot with a Wordpress blog can play stenographer and reprint press releases — i.e., “report the fucking news”. A journalist should seek the truth, even if that means contradicting, discrediting, and embarassing those who wield power. Reprinting a police union press release is “reporting the fucking news”; pointing out any lies in that press release is journalism.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
            identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 9 Jun 2020 @ 12:09pm

            Re:

            To real Americans, "reporting the news" and "reporting the facts" and "reporting the truth" are all synonymous.

            Stone, your definition of "the truth" is "what remains of the facts after being run through an anti-White, anti-American filter".

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              Stephen T. Stone (profile), 9 Jun 2020 @ 12:24pm

              “Reporting the truth” means reporting facts that aren’t in official press releases and whatnot provided by people in power. It means sussing out lies and mistruths from the actual truth and reporting the truth, as dirty and unseemly as it might be.

              Repeating the lie that Buffalo police didn’t shove that old man onto the pavement — that he tripped and fell on his own while police happened to be in the area, despite the video proving otherwise — isn’t “reporting the facts”. It’s playing stenographer for the police department. Pointing out the truth of the matter — that the old man was shoved by police, fell over, and hit his head on the pavement while other officers marched by without stopping to help him — is reporting both the facts and the truth.

              If you want journalists to report the truth, you should want them to report a truth even when it is an uncomfortable, inconvenient truth. You should want them to report the truth about Donald Trump even when, as a Trump supporter, admitting that truth makes you uncomfortable. I should want them to report the truth about Joe Biden or Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, even when admitting those truths make me uncomfortable. As some damp dishrag of a person once said: Facts don’t care about your feelings.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 9 Jun 2020 @ 11:35am

    'Open season guys and girls, go nuts!'

    Well, if choosing what you will and will not allow to be posted on your closed platform, one where you have veto power over any submitted content such that it only gets posted by your okay is a problem then it looks like a good number of people just made it clear that if any flat-earthers, anti-vaxxers, or any other person similarly stupid wants a platform then they've got it covered.

    Those are views that people hold too after all, and it would be grossly hypocritical for those ragging on the NYT for backpeddling after posting a horrible op-ed to then turn around and refuse to host articles and/or op-eds on their platforms/pages just because they might not agree with them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 9 Jun 2020 @ 2:53pm

    My over used whistling boyfriend meme of him being the NYT whistling at a swastika draped girl while america is the upset girlfriend hes turned away from.

    This both sides bullshit & refusing to call a lie a lie has just hastened the point where an Op-Ed can be run without any review simply because to not do it might upset someone with power they can use to make your day harder.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Jun 2020 @ 3:23pm

    The biggest problem with free speech...

    ... is how many people don't really understand what it is.

    Many who complain about "censorship" are actually complaining about others refusing to help them promote their ideas. They seems to come from all corners of the ideological landscape and they are deeply offended that their own ideas are not being heard (though, strangely enough, they don't seem to care that others are not being heard or want to listen to the opinions of others, themselves).

    Freedom of speech is just that, the right to attempt to spread your ideas and opinions by any legal means. It does not entitle you to an audience. It is not a right to demand that others help you spread your ideas and opinions.

    The US constitution bans the US government (and more specifically the legislative branch) from attempting to prevent you speaking. It does NOT require the government (or anyone else) to print your ideas on their building walls in ten foot high letters.

    So claims that newspapers, or facebook, or twitter, are constitutionally required to publish your speech are rubbish. Noone is constitutionally required to do so, and the constitution only constrains the government.

    Free speech is the right to speak, not the right to be heard.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    icon
    restless94110 (profile), 9 Jun 2020 @ 4:47pm

    Campuses

    I am so glad you have written this article. Of course, cancel culture and censorship most certainly does not mean newsrooms now are like college campuses. I was Senior Writer for Cal State University paper The Collegian in 2012 (25 front page bylines) and I can tell you that this is nothing like a college newsroom.

    More like the Stasi times or the Red Guard days. Quite like the Pol Pot days sure. But thank the Lord. Not most assuredly not like a college newsroom.

    Whew! I'm so glad that the things that have been happening these past times only resemble the days of Catholic dogma in the 1400s! I'm sure when the Inquisition starts we will all be grateful that at least it's not like a college newsroom!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 9 Jun 2020 @ 5:20pm

      Re: Campuses

      This may or may not be important to you, but you needn't have bothered with the creative username. You gave us sufficient information in your post (bragging) so that anyone with enough interest and time could figure out who you are. You may or may not want to be more careful in the future.

      I only mention this because the dichotomy between the username and data given struck me as someone either uncaring, uniformed, or reckless. What does that tell us about those 25 articles you wrote?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 9 Jun 2020 @ 8:57pm

        Re: Re: Campuses

        Honestly anyone could have clicked on his comment history and fingered restless for the useless, spineless hack he is. Funny how he'll suck the cock of the government unless it's to be vaccinated.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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