Babylon Bee mocks a NYT “free speech” op-ed

October 6, 2019 • 12:30 pm

I don’t usually look at the Babylon Bee, a satire site that many have mistaken for “real news”, but maybe I should check it out more often. Today’s column, “Free speech is killing us,” is especially good, because it’s not only a satire of Andrew Marantz’s New York Times column that I discussed yesterday, but says what I think that Marantz, deep in his heart, would have wanted to say.

Just a small excerpt from the column, which you can see in its entirety by clicking on the screenshot:

Using “free speech” as a cop-out is intellectually dishonest and morally bankrupt. Yes, free speech is a glorious pastime of our wonderful, prosperous empire, but it’s not the only one. It must be held in tension with other values, such as equality, safety, good citizenship, worshiping me, and stamping out anyone who would be foolish enough to speak up against our utopia.

Look, I am not calling for repealing free speech entirely. What I’m arguing for is silencing those whose speech your majestic rulers—namely, me—find to be potentially seditious. Only when speech is carefully policed, with your betters determining what can be said and what cannot be said, can speech truly be “free.”

Anyone disagreeing with this op-ed is welcome to submit complaints directly to the office of Kim Jong Un and also report to the nearest labor camp.

h/t: Hos

35 thoughts on “Babylon Bee mocks a NYT “free speech” op-ed

        1. Those attributes are not exclusive to Christian humour.

          Seriously, is this some sort of Christian site? The “about us” section referenced Christianity, but it read to me as if they are satirising Christianity.

          1. It is a Christian site, and satirizes aspects of Christianity as well as wider issues. Generally I find they have funny headlines and labored articles. In this case for example I think the adoption of the NYT headline but using Kim Jong-un is hilarious, and pointed.

          1. The Babylon Bee simply copies portions of Marantz’s article into a parody dictator’s op-ed. There’s no parallels or resonance established between Marantz’s point of view and the dictator’s, other than said copying of passages. I think it’s naive and clumsy. Artless.

            But it’s all a matter of personal taste.

              1. Which “it”?
                Or, in the tone of the piece, is the answer “Anything I disagree with.”

            1. I agree with Mike. It’s too heavy-handed and not subtle or witty enough.

              The basic idea is fine, but it won’t really sustain more than a couple of paragraphs before what should have been cutting turns into crushing. The knife of satire turns into the blunt instrument of sarcasm. (Hey, I like that simile. Can I patent it? 😉

              cr

  1. Slightly off topic, but on free speech in general – it seems to me that our intuitions about free speech in the US are at least partially tied to our intuitions about property rights. That someone has the right to speak as they choose when occupying their own land, for example, is about as sacred a principle as the right to own land itself. On the other hand, I think limits on free speech are much more likely to come from this area as well. For example, people have the right to spread all kinds of empirically false misinformation – until they are selling a physical product, in which case it’s illegal to make a false claim. If you are selling a more ethereal products such as a blog, book, or media personality, this is still, so far as I know, totally legal. You can say that chelation cures autism and Pizzagate was real and fluoride is a mind control agent of the government. As soon as you are selling a physical product that someone can physically own and keep in their home, however, we see it as common sense that of course you are not allowed to make empirically false claims about it. To my mind this line is a bit arbitrary unless, again, it is somewhat driven by property rights, in which case the introduction of a physical product that one pays for and claims ownership of is categorically different.

    It remains to be seen if the far Left and the current emphasis on deplatforming will evolve into a significant new way of limiting free speech – as of now I would say no, as it gets a ton of attention and makes people quite angry. My guess is that free speech will be curtailed in some areas in the future (and opened up in others – look at how much more open our society is regarding free speech about sexuality compared to 100 years ago, for example,) not by the far Left but by lawsuits that use more property based language. The definition of libel being extended to ‘damaging a person’s brand’ with derogatory statements, for example, or social media platforms being sued for allowing an ‘unsafe environment’ (more akin to our intuitions about an actual physical environment, like a shop owner with rusty nails sticking out of a hand rail,) if a user becomes radicalized and violent on their site. That is my attempt at crystal ball gazing, at least. We are, unfortunately, a country that tends to settle matters via lawsuit.

    1. “. If you are selling a more ethereal products such as a blog, book, or media personality, this is still, so far as I know, totally legal.”

      Or if you’re Gwyneth Paltrow!

      1. She’s already had to pay a settlement after being sued for false advertising. (My guess is that at this point Goop product descriptions are worded very carefully – I think there are all kinds of legal distinctions about what constitutes a health claim and what doesn’t.) But, that’s only because she sells physical products. If she was a “wellness guru” or something like that, getting paid for things like podcasts, I don’t think that would apply (I won’t swear to that, though, I’d have to ask a lawyer)

        1. I hadn’t heard about that, but check out this hilarious video for just some of her products and the claims they make:

      2. As soon as you are selling a physical product that someone can physically own and keep in their home, however, we see it as common sense that of course you are not allowed to make empirically false claims about it.

        Such physical products can, like sticks and stones, break your bones (or worse).

        But words alone can never (physically) hurt you.

        That’s our First Amendment theory of free speech, broken down into a child’s apothegm.

        1. I don’t know if it’s that simple of a distinction. Goop products are, in and of themselves, likely harmless placebos. Incorrect medical advice, on the other hand, could very much kill a person. I don’t think our intuitions there are based on real world harms so much as the concept of ownership. If a physical product changes hands, we have one set of intuitions about empirical claims; if no physical product changes hands, we have another.

          1. Incorrect medical advice, on the other hand, could very much kill a person.

            I was watching (probably not re-watching – it’s a pretty dull film) “The Master”, allegedly a not-quite-actionable biography of L.Ron Hubbard and his setting up of Scientology. That made a claim – which I’m not inclined to research further, because the topic isn’t interesting – that fairly early in his career as a guru, Hubbard was sued for “practising medicine without a license”. The very careful phrasing of some of the Scientologist bullshit I’ve seen suggests that their legal department still have a lot of sensitivity in this regard.

              1. It was the standard thing from the Scientologists of “We can cure all your ills, both mental” (for which they could at least make a psychobabblologist’s case) “and physical”.
                Probably some local doctor complained about losing business. If I remember correctly – I’ve deleted the film and had no intention of wasting time on re-watching it – it was in early 1950s Phoenix, so it wouldn’t have taken much playing of the “outraged upstanding citizen” card to trigger a law suit.

          2. False advertising can be restricted under the First Amendment’s “Commercial Speech doctrine.”

            But no one can be punished under the First Amendment merely for expressing an opinion on any product or item, be it the supposed benefits of a Goop egg or the supposed pitfalls of vaccinations.

            1. I’d have to ask a lawyer what constitutes expressing an opinion vs. making a claim. For example, if Paltrow said “In my opinion, my jade eggs cure cancer”, maybe that would not fall under making a health claim, I’m not sure.

              That said, I think this does not work in reverse. So far as I know, you can make an entirely false claim (no opinion involved, pure declaration of ‘fact’,) so long as you are not selling a product, and it’s protected speech. You are free to say that raw water, sun staring, chelation, etc., are great ideas with scientifically proven benefits and no potential pitfalls on a lifestyle blog, for example. Again, so far as I understand it.

              1. One is as free under the First Amendment to speak or write about products or physical objects of any other type as one is to do so regarding ideas. What one CANNOT do is make knowingly false statements in advertising designed to sell a product for personal profit. That is the essence of the “commercial speech doctrine” that I provided you a link to above.

                I realize this may seem to be a bit of an “inside baseball” distinction for a layperson. But if you’re interested in more detailed discussions of this topic, you can find them here and here.

              2. @Ken Kukec – I’m in no way disagreeing with you that this the law. My point in bringing it up was that I love “Trolley Problem” type analysis, where, if you look hard, you can almost see the exact moment our intuitions on a topic shift, and then reflect on what this tells us about said topic. Hence my musing that our intuitions about free speech may be tied in part to our intuitions about property rights.

                I will say that while I enjoy theorizing, I don’t have a lot of examples to support this outside of the ‘false advertising’ exceptions to free speech, which could well just be a fluke of history.

    2. “We are, unfortunately, a country that tends to settle matters via lawsuit.”

      That is a noticeable characteristic, and I assume a symptom of the USAnian distrust of all things governmental. Many things which would be regulated by government fiat in other countries seem to rely on threat of lawsuits to achieve the same ends in the US. For example, automobile safety. This leads to some curious arguments. I recall reading (many years ago) of some gun-control campaigners contemplating suing gun manufacturers over wrongful deaths (which seems to me quite bizarre, I would have thought the only logically sustainable cause of action against a manufacturer would be if it malfunctioned and failed to kill the target, but still…)

      It seems to me to be a very haphazard and inefficient way to achieve any desired objective.

      cr

      1. One of the more famous examples is the bankrupting of the Klan via lawsuit. I’ve also read that, despite freedom of the press laws, influential newspapers have to have very deep pockets to operate due to the inevitable lawsuits, which actually seems like it would be a fairly big hindrance to press freedom. I suppose it is a more libertarian system in the end, although I feel the threat of enormous lawsuits disproportionately threatens ‘little guys’, which seems like an unfair and inegalitarian dynamic (although I suppose those with deep pockets experience more opportunistic lawsuits.)

        1. Two bad consequences. One is that the ‘big guys’ can indeed threaten the ‘little guys’ – the RIAA/MPAA used a ‘shotgun’ approach against alleged copyright offenders with claims for massive damages which on occasion included children or parents whose kids had downloaded a ‘pirated’ movie.

          The other is the opposite – the default rule in lawsuits that costs ‘lie where they fall’ (as opposed to the general rule in other countries of ‘loser pays’) means that no-win no-pay ambulance-chasing lawyers can flourish in the expectation that juries will award a nice chunk of damages for meritless claims out of sympathy for the plaintiff, since [big corporation] or its insurance company can afford it. This is one of the principal reasons why healthcare is so expensive in the US.

          cr

  2. The Babylon Bee may be run by Christians, but the satire is very good. I’ve been an atheist for 45 years, but I’ll give the devils their due when they deserve it. They have satirized the Left, the Right, and even Christians at times.

  3. This whole article is an offensive microaggression against the illiterate, and anyone who says it isn’t is an accomplice.

    Protect the illiterate!

    1. I’ll write what I like about the (wilfully) illiterate. They can’t sue me without destroying their case as either not being about them, or relying on hearsay.

  4. It must be held in tension with other values, such as equality, safety, good citizenship, worshiping me, and stamping out anyone who would be foolish enough to speak up against our utopia.

    Yes to the first two values, since that is UHDR straight up. The rest is just added to demean human rights.

  5. I don’t mean to sound dumb, but I have a vague idea about what a satire actually is. I kind of get lost as soon as I see this word. Do you care to explain? Great post.

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