President Barack Obama has taken aim at the Second Amendment plenty of times. Now, he’s taking aim at the First Amendment, too.
In a speech in Pittsburgh on Thursday, Obama derided the “wild, wild west” style of journalism, in which people are able to exercise their freedom of speech to say unpopular things, and intimated that there had to be a role in determining what “is reliable” — a role he seemed to intimate he would like to have a part in.
According to the AFP (via Breitbart), Obama made the remarks at the White House for Frontiers conference. KDKA-TV described the conference as a “showcase for future innovation.” However, when it came to journalism, President Obama seemed to prefer the pre-digital days when three or four mostly liberal sources gave you your information and you liked it, goshdarnit.
“We are going to have to rebuild within this wild-wild-west-of-information flow some sort of curating function that people agree to,” Obama told the audience.
I’d like to here point out that said curating function already exists — people see news, research it independently, decide on its veracity and whether the viewpoints expressed work for them, and then vote with their clicks on whether or not they like something.
The curating function Obama seems to be talking about, however, is more of a gatekeeping by cultural elites.
“There has to be, I think, some sort of way in which we can sort through information that passes some basic truthiness tests and those that we have to discard, because they just don’t have any basis in anything that’s actually happening in the world,” Obama said.
Here, I’m not entirely certain Obama is talking about The Onion. When it comes to news sources that “don’t have any basis in anything that’s actually happening in the world,” what he’s talking about is the ones he can’t influence.
You know, news sources unlike CNBC, where one of the anchors was recently discovered to have supported an Obama nominee after an email from someone connected to the administration saying that “any American should be glad that the President picked someone so competent to head such a critically important agency.”
Obama tried to put a fig leaf over the controversial nature of his remarks by insisting that he wasn’t discussing censorship.
“That is hard to do, but I think it’s going to be necessary, it’s going to be possible,” he said. “The answer is obviously not censorship, but it’s creating places where people can say ‘this is reliable’ and I’m still able to argue safely about facts and what we should do about it.”
Isaac Babel — a brilliant Soviet writer who was imprisoned and killed by the government when his brutal, hyperkinetic, modernist style was deemed counterrevolutionary by Stalin’s regime — long tried to balance his artistic freedom with his freedom to stay the heck out of the gulag. As such, when he wrote or appeared in public, he often made veiled statements that didn’t criticize the socialist regime on face — but which, upon closer examination, offered a brutal critique of its censorship.
During a 1934 speech at the International Writers Conference in Moscow, Babel insisted — with a certain wryness — that there was no censorship for writers in the Soviet Union.
“The only freedom taken away,” Babel dourly remarked, “is the freedom to write badly.”
I am not suggesting that the president is an heir to the mantle of Stalin, or even anything more than the most distant of ideological relatives. However, what he proposed in Pittsburgh had the same lurking sinisterness behind it, albeit with more sunshine and, perhaps, good intentions.
He doesn’t want to censor anyone, he says. He just wants someone who will tell you what’s good and what’s bad — preferably confirming his worldview, of course.
What the president wants to take away, in other words, is “the freedom to write badly.” That ought to scare every American.
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