Dissent Equals Treason
The New York Sun lacks the courage of its fascist convictions.
On Feb. 6, the New York Sun published an editorial equating dissent with treason. The subject was an anti-war march planned in New York City on Feb. 15. Although the Sun grudgingly conceded that the protesters "probably do have a claim under the right to free speech," it went on to argue that anyone who marches against war with Iraq is providing "aid and comfort" to Saddam, and therefore committing treason as defined by Article III of the Constitution:
There can be no question at this point that Saddam Hussein is an enemy of America. ... And there is no reason to doubt that the "anti-war" protesters—we prefer to call them protesters against freeing Iraq—are giving, at the very least, comfort to Saddam Hussein. ... The more successful the protesters are in making their case in New York, the less chance they'll have the precious constitutional freedom to protest here the next time around.
In sum, the Sun was saying that the only way to defend free speech is to suppress it. The vileness of this argument was noted by Joe Conason in Salon; its illogic by Brendan Nyhan in Spinsanity; and its faulty grasp of the law by Eugene Volokh in National Review Online. (Incidentally, National Review Online is thus far the only conservative publication to raise a peep about the Sun editorial.) Chatterbox really has nothing to add, except to wonder how an admired journalist like Seth Lipsky, who edits the Sun, could allow such fascist rantings into his newspaper.
Lipsky refused to discuss the editorial when Chatterbox phoned him. He did, however, point out that a follow-up editorial appeared in the Sun on Feb. 11. It's an interesting document. Here's how it begins: "Quite a hullabaloo greeted our editorial supporting the decision by Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Kelly to deny anti-war protesters a permit to march past the United Nations this weekend." This primes the reader for either an apology for, or a defense of, the earlier editorial. Apparently, though, Lipsky has the stomach for neither. So instead, the editorial tries to con readers into thinking that the only issue the Sun ever cared about was public safety. It praises a hard-to-argue-with decision by a federal judge that forbade the protesters to march past the United Nations, which has been off-limits since Sept. 11, and instead granted them permission to hold a rally at "Dag Hammarskjord Plaza," by which the Sun presumably means Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, which is adjacent to the United Nations. The editorial ends with a jovial (if tardy) defense of the right to dissent.
Someday a righteous mob is going to march up First Avenue and express the opinion of many of us that the world body ought to be moved to Havana or Tripoli or even Paris. Meantime we take the point the judge was making. Nothing in her opinion was directed at the bona fides of the anti-war protesters themselves, many, even most of whom are no doubt well-meaning New Yorkers.
Chatterbox's own commitment to free speech grants the Sun the right to misrepresent completely its earlier position as it (wisely) retreats from it. But the Sun's readers also have the right know how weaselly the Sun is being.
[Update, Feb. 13: In today's "Best of the Web" column on OpinionJournal.com, James Taranto bravely steps in to defend the Sun's dissent-equals-treason editorial (which not even the Sun seems willing to do). Arguing in the alternative, Taranto writes 1) that it was a joke; and 2) that it's perfectly legitimate to equate dissent with treason if you don't work for the government. Would Taranto say it's also OK to equate property with theft if you don't work for the government? Of course not.]
Timothy Noah is a former Slate staffer. His book about income inequality is The Great Divergence.