David K. Shipler’s new book Freedom of Speech: Mightier Than the Sword isn’t about freedom of speech. It’s about varieties of speech that Shipler likes and doesn’t like. The book is less of the searching look at freedom of speech that it claims to be and more of a grab bag of dishonest political attacks on people and things that its author, a former New York Timesian notorious for his sympathy for terrorists, hates.
Shipler suggests that Muslim terrorists don’t have the same freedom to advocate violence as Republicans. “What a right-wing politician can approvingly say about armed revolution cannot be spoken with impunity by a Muslim preacher,” he complains.
And Shipler has far more sympathy for the Muslim terrorist than for the conservative. Though he insists that he advocates freedom of speech, his text is full of totalitarian itches begging to be scratched.
He whines that the FBI "did not even bother to investigate three Republican candidates" who made the Jeffersonian argument that the American people retain the right of revolution against tyranny. He suggests that “The kind of vilification hurled at President Barack Obama would have landed people in prison if directed against John Adams and Woodrow Wilson.”
Initially Shipler claims to be “a free-speech absolutist.” He acts offended when Robert Spencer assumes that he wants to smear and censor him. Shipler is certainly there to smear him and anyone else who dissents from his extreme pro-terrorist views, but he claims not to want to censor Spencer.
The answer to speech, he insists, is more speech.
But Shipler’s speech mainly involves lying about the people he dislikes, such as when he falsely claims that David Horowitz sought to oust and censor liberal professors when in fact Horowitz’s Academic Bill of Rights insisted that professors could not and should not be fired or demoted for their political views.
The Academic Bill of Rights states that, “All faculty shall be hired, fired, promoted and granted tenure on the basis of their competence and appropriate knowledge in the field of their expertise.”
David Horowitz had argued that professors have the right to speak out politically; defending even Ward Churchill’s right to speak. It’s a form of free speech absolutism far more absolute than that of Shipler.
Shipler’s free speech absolutism distinguishes between what he calls “the legal landscape and the cultural landscape.” In the legal landscape, freedom of speech is technically absolute. But in the cultural landscape, those with incorrect views can be punished through cultural censorship by other means.
As he put it in his attack on Pamela Geller and Bosch Fawstin in The New Yorker, “People who violate the limits can suffer opprobrium, damage to their reputations, and even the loss of their jobs.”
The current leftist formula is to do to conservatives what Shipler accuses David Horowitz of. Smear them and then let cultural censorship fed by the guiding hand of the media do its dirty work. David K. Shipler, like the rest of his profession, claims to be a free speech absolutist while feeding more lies and smears into the machinery of cultural censorship justifying the suppression of speech on and off campus.
Shipler, unlike Jon Ronson’s recent So You've Been Publicly Shamed, has little relevant or meaningful to say about what freedom of speech looks like in the eye of the left’s latest cultural revolution.
Freedom of Speech instead sets out an imaginary struggle in which the conservatives are censors while those on the left are defenders of free speech. There are bad parents who think their children shouldn’t be assigned novels filled with graphic sexual acts and good leftist teachers who teach children that free enterprise is evil. It’s a comfortable lefty talking point from a few generations ago.
Today books with sexual content are censored by social justice warriors who demand trigger warnings or object to heteronormative content. The final frontier for censoring novels isn’t the PTA; it’s angry students at colleges demanding trigger warnings for The Great Gatsby and Lolita.
Often the book seems to be about settling Shipler’s personal and political scores. And not just with David Horowitz. He crawls back to his feud with Bill O’Reilly and even revisits old grudges by taking a shot at the New York Times in support of Tom Friedman’s attacks on Israel during the Lebanon War.
He denounces Rush Limbaugh as a racist and accuses him of inspiring “antigovernment violence.”
Shipler is sloppy though when it comes to the facts. He attempts to indict Limbaugh for a police shootout with Byron Williams; a former bank robber with a penchant for Alex Jones who believed that the BP oil spill had been a false flag operation by Goldman Sachs.
The sloppiness only escalates when he clumsily attacks counterterrorism researchers as bigots.
Shipler insists that the Explanatory Memorandum seized in the FBI raid on Hamas terror financiers is the equivalent of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. This is a bizarre attempt to rewrite reality by comparing a real document in an actual criminal case involving an actual organization to a conspiracy theory.
It’s a shoddy argument even by Shipler’s sloppy standards.
Shipler is defending Muslim Brotherhood groups by accusing their critics of echoing the Protocols. But the Muslim Brotherhood views them as fact. Brotherhood front groups such as the Muslim Students Association have distributed copies of the Protocols. Hamas references the Protocols in its charter.
Shipler is referencing anti-Semitic propaganda to demonize critics of groups that actually believe it.
And Shipler has defended both Hamas and the MSA. In Freedom of Speech, he even defends Caryl Churchill’s update of the Protocols, Seven Jewish Children, in which evil conspiratorial Jews urge and justify the murder of Muslim children. He accuses Brotherhood critics of bigotry while reveling in it.
Shipler claims that the "Islamic documents cited by the alarmists are not forgeries as far as we know." He cites no actual basis for such a suspicion, but introduces it anyway, only to halfway disavow it.
As counterterrorism researcher Patrick Poole has shown, Shipler attempts to introduce doubts about the Memorandum through suppositions and a dismissive tone rather than fact-based evidence. He gets the facts wrong and suggests that the warnings about the threat of Islamic terrorism can be dismissed because, "To receive the alarms as convincing, you have to ignore all the accommodating statements by Muslims who do not call for jihad against America."
Not only is that convincing proof that Islamic terrorism is no threat; it’s equally sound proof that Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan would never attack anyone.
By now David K. Shipler has dropped his traditional defense of Anwar Al-Awlaki, who has too much blood on his hands even for Shipler, but he continues to stand by one of his terrorist recruiters.
Shipler claims that Ali Al-Timimi was merely a “Muslim cancer researcher" who had done nothing more than tell Muslims at a dinner talk that they should become "holy fighters." He conveniently fails to mention that Al-Timimi had been solicited by Anwar Al-Awlaki to recruit terrorists, that he had recruited them for specific groups and provided them with instructions and told them to kill Americans.
David K. Shipler insists that John Guandolo, a former FBI agent and counterterrorism expert, had made him feel "trapped in an intellectual ghetto whose barriers were impervious to contradictory facts."
That is a much more accurate description of Shipler’s book and his entire body of work. Shipler has insisted that “direct American contact with Hamas would not be bad for Israel”. His assault on counterterrorism does not stop at the Brotherhood Memorandum, but he has attacked virtually every counterterrorism effort. Rather than dealing with the uncomfortable facts, he shoots the messenger.
There are very few terrorist plots and acts of hatred that David K. Shipler won’t defend. And in reverse, there are few expressions of speech from conservatives that Shipler won’t demonize and denounce.
Anyone complaining about Obama’s incompetence or deceptiveness is just “using subtle racial stereotyping.” But he insists that Jews unjustly object to Caryl Churchill’s unhinged screed in which a Jewish character screams that they are a member of the “chosen people” and enjoys seeing dead Muslim children. Meanwhile he claims that criticisms of Obama “stir inchoate racial aversion.”
Freedom of Speech isn’t really about freedom of speech. It’s Shipler’s assertion that his views are legitimate and those of anyone he disagrees with are not. Shipler lies, twists the truth and demonizes at will to take us through his own convoluted rationalizations in which Muslim terrorist recruiters are victims and parents who don’t want their children reading about graphic sexual acts are perpetrators.
It’s a screed disguised as an exploration of a complex issue, a work of fiction pretending to be journalism and an enemies list of speech to be suppressed that bears the deceptive title of Freedom of Speech.
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