At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

At the Intersection of Faith and Culture


The Academic, The Journalist, and Free Speech

posted by Jack Kerwick

No one waxes more indignantly over perceived infringements of their freedom of speech than media personalities and academics.

My thesis: Media figures and academics, taken as media figures and academics, may not have a right to speak as they do much, and even most, of the time.

Journalists, and the rest of us, assume that without freedom of speech, journalists would be incapable of enacting their role as “watchdogs” of the powerful. Academics, on the other hand, claim that in the absence of freedom of speech, they wouldn’t be able to engage, and engage their students, in the disinterested pursuit of truth and knowledge.

Notice something here: the freedom of speech prized by those in the media and their academic counterparts is not some abstract value.  Rather, it derives its value from the purpose(s) that it serves.  In the case of journalists, the purpose that invests freedom of speech with its value is that of safeguarding the liberties of citizens against abuses of (government) power. In the case of academics, free speech serves the purpose of pursuing and transmitting truth and knowledge.

What this implies is that the journalist’s and the academic’s freedom of speech is good only insofar as they are using it for the sake of their professions’ respective ends.  But what happens when they are not serving those ends?

I submit that when the gatekeepers of civilization no longer exercise their speech for the purposes for which civilization granted them that freedom, then that speech is no longer free.  It is no longer protected.

To be sure, as citizens, journalists and academics should have the same free speech rights as everyone else.  Furthermore, as has already been said, insofar as they faithfully serve the purposes of their disciplines, society should indeed continue to bless them with the freedom of speech to do so.

Yet when media figures and academics betray their mission, when they stray beyond the boundaries of their vocations, then they have forfeited that right to freedom of speech.

For example, among the benefits to which the employee of a certain corporation is entitled is that of a free education: his employer will pay for him to attend college, if he so chooses. This right to a free education, though, is not unqualified.

First, if he decides to go to school, he does not have the right to pursue any old thing that he likes.  Rather, employees of this corporation only have the right to enroll in those courses that will enable them to better further the purpose of the corporation that they serve.  Second, if he betrays his corporation and is subsequently terminated, he will lose not just this right, but every other right (benefit) supplied by his former employer.

This analogy is instructive for two reasons.  Just as the employee’s right to a free education isn’t free, journalists’ and academics’ right to free speech comes at a cost.  In both instances, the right in question is contingent upon faithful service to the larger enterprise for the sake of which it has been granted.  Moreover, in both instances, when the right-holder has failed to contribute to the enterprise to which he made a commitment in the first place, he forsakes that right.

Can anyone seriously doubt that, with relatively few exceptions, the so-called “mainstream media” has long ago turned itself into the bane-stream media?  Self-styled journalists have displayed none of the skepticism toward Big Government that is essential to a free press for a free people.  Just the opposite is the case.  Of our two national parties, there is a reason why the party of the Jack Ass has earned for itself a reputation for being the most ardent champion of ever larger government.  Yet this is just the party for which the media unfailingly runs interference.  And at no time has this been truer than today, when media personalities have abused their free speech privileges to abet the agenda ofAmerica’s “first black president.”

As journalists, they do not have the right to use their speech for these ends. They are not free to speak thus.

Academia is just as politicized an environment—just as much a bastion of leftist ideology—if not more so, than that of the contemporary media.   Yet, in theory, the academic’s freedom is even more narrowly constrained than that of the journalist’s.  The academic is entrusted with the obligation to further truth and knowledge in his field of expertise. However, many academics are consumed with an animus toward the very civilization from which they derive what freedom they have.  It is this animus in turn that provokes them to radically challenge the very notions of truth and knowledge.

Isn’t this the biggest betrayal of the academy’s historical mission?

In all fairness, there are plenty of academics who, while leftists, reject this post-modernist drivel. Still, even they do not resist the impulse to interject into their courses all manner of political speech that is not, or should not, be protected under the guise of academic freedom.  This ideological language of theirs not infrequently falls outside of their discipline.  As such, as academics, they are not free to use it.

It may be impossible to do anything much in the way of legal remedies about these betrayals of the journalist’s and the academic’s respective missions. For the time being, it is more important that we begin to take notice of what these missions are—and how their right to free speech relates to them.

 



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