Since 1896 “All The News That’s Fit To Print” has been the motto of the New York Times. Its recent publication of an OpEd, “What ‘Snowflakes’ Get Right About Free Speech,” by Ulrich Baer, vice provost for faculty, arts, humanities, and diversity and professor of comparative literature at New York University, suggests that the Times’ view of what is not fit to print has become considerably more capacious than in the past.
“The great value and importance of freedom of expression, for higher education and for democracy,” Baer writes, “is hard to underestimate.” Does he actually mean “overestimate”? No matter, for whatever his intention his OpEd conclusively proves by unwitting example that it is indeed possible to underestimate the importance of free expression, and he does so coming and going.
An inevitable corollary is that Baer also underestimates — in fact, he hardly seems to recognize at all — the danger of letting authorities or unruly mobs determine what things “are unmentionable and undebatable,” what topics “are not open to debate because such people cannot debate them on the same terms,” in what cases “there is no inherent value to be gained from debating them in public.”
If Trump and the Republicans are as bad as the Times believes, how can its owners and editors — not to mention those readers who join Prof. Baer in cheering on the Snowflakes — be so sanguine about allowing them and the unruliest of their conservative base to have the final word about what is fit to print?