Charlie Hebdo die on my feet I’ve met some really nice people over the years who love NPR. Most of them are fairly intelligent as well. However, the peculiar thing about these individuals is that, despite their intelligence, they have a propensity to say frighteningly stupid things. On Feb. 6,  NPR’s outgoing Ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos was able to provide the perfect example.

Mr. Schumacher-Matos wrote in his final column:

I am not Charlie.

The French news media may have their ethical standards, but they are not American or sacred universal ones, and they shouldn’t be French ones either. The United States has never had absolute freedom of the press. And the framers of the Constitution—I once held the James Madison Visiting Professor Chair on First Amendment Issues at Columbia University—never intended it to. You wouldn’t know this, however, from listening to the First Amendment fundamentalists piping up from Washington to Silicon Valley.

In this case, the competing social and constitutional demand is the control of hate speech in the interests of social cohesion, without which the very idea of a nation is impossible. …

I do not know if American courts would find much of what Charlie Hebdo does to be hate speech unprotected by the Constitution, but I know—hope?—that most Americans would. It is one thing to lampoon popes, imams, rabbis and other temporal religious leaders of this world; it is quite another to make fun, in often nasty ways, of their prophets and gods. The NPR editors were right not to reprint any of the images.

There you have it: a smart man who is completely unaware of all the frighteningly stupid ideas he’s putting out into the world.

It would be rather bizarre if journalists started publishing nuclear launch codes and the identities of CIA agents in foreign countries, all while operating under the assumption that they could do so with impunity. If one were going to use terms like “First Amendment fundamentalists” to describe “free speech radicals,” then perhaps defenders of such journalists would qualify for membership. However, to use “First Amendment fundamentalist” as a pejorative to describe Charlie Hebdo’s American advocates is absurd.

Charlie Hebdo has said all sorts of “nasty” things about Christians. As a Catholic man, I find the publication’s illustrations of Jesus to be downright revolting — but I will defend their right to publish such pictures until my last breath. The fact that an NPR Ombudsman could ever publish a column in which he advocates giving religious radicals veto power over the content journalists provide their readers only shows how warped our culture has become.

There is no “constitutional demand” to control “hate speech.” There is only the desire among society’s self-proclaimed cultured class to control the actions of the rest of us.

“Hate speech” laws do not act as a salve for the red hot fissures that often occur between disparate groups in a country like The United States of America — they are in fact accelerants. Such laws infuse words with unwarranted power and give every group’s grievance mongers a reason to seek their own list of off-limits speech.

Speaking of off-limits, NPR closed down the comments section on Mr. Schumacher-Matos’ op-ed. Telling, isn’t it?

In the fight for Western Civilization’s soul, the mindset cultivated by men like Mr. Schumacher-Matos is a loser.

NPR closed commentsRelated: Papers go into censorship mode over Paris terror attack; free speech heroes hang up their capes


  1. Good post.

    “…they have a propensity to say frighteningly stupid things.” I know, right? People who appear nice, intelligent, keep opening their mouths and scaring the heck out of me.

    This is something I hear frequently, “in the interests of social cohesion.” They’ve got it completely backwards. In the interest of social cohesion, one does not go around blowing up innocent civilians. Social cohesion requires some basic rules and standards of behavior. You do not accommodate those who refuse to honor the cohesion, you oust them. Like it or not, we cannot “all just get along,” because there are always going to be a few yahoos that are not the least bit interested in getting along with us. They must adapt to us, not the other way around.

    1. You do raise an interesting point. I look at immigrants moving into, say, the United Kingdom, who are openly hostile towards the bedrock principles of Western Civilization. I can’t help but think, “Why did you move there?” The answer, which is rather apparent, is uncomfortable for a lot of people to address; hence, the desire to stifle free expression.

  2. The view of some I find truly scary. Using terms that can be manipulated such as “hate speech” closes the doors for dialog and stifles freedom.

  3. I agree with everything you said Doug, and intact used a quote of yours in my assignment. But part of that is how we amplify this whole, east vs west us vs them thing.

    You finished off making the connection between if you’re not pro west civilization you’re a loser (heavily paraphrasing)
    But isn’t civilization in general fucked if we don’t have untrammeled access to free thought/speech. Arient there western cultures that have less free speech, and eastern cultures that have more or less the same as us?

    My point is, breaking us down into east in west, is the same dividing as labeling someone a ‘free speech fundamentalists’.

    1. Paul, have you read Niall Ferguson’s “Civilization: The West and the Rest”? I think you would enjoy it.

      When I talk about Western civilization, I’m talking about Western civilization at its best, which is something the East has actually been trying to figure out how to duplicate for a long time. In that sense it’s a “win” for the West that China, Japan, and others want to be more like us.

      As to who I am calling a “loser,” I explicitly said “the mindset cultivated by men like Mr. Schumacher-Matos is a loser.” I’m not sure how you jumped from my very specific criticism of NPR’s former ombudsman to some sort of blanket condemnation of, say, our Japanese allies.

      Regardless, there is dividing line between East and West — even if these days it’s been blurred. The West, at its best, brings forth a superior civilization. That may be uncomfortable for some people to hear, but oh well. If they don’t like it, then they’re free to come here and hash it out with me at any time.

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