Yes, the Times’s star correspondent made the same dumb point this morning. Now it’s Newsweek taking the baton. It’s not even the stupidity of the argument that bothers me, although it’s plenty stupid. It’s the fact that Trump’s doing the right thing for once in a big spot when it comes to popular protest, with potentially momentous consequences for Iran and the Middle East, and yet he’s being rapped with a gotcha anyway. We all want the protesters to succeed and the regime to fall. (Most of us do, at least.) So does Trump and he’s using his soapbox to cheerlead for it. His ethics are situational, as always, as he’s had no problem in the past with encouraging people to rough up protesters who get on his nerves. But the right thing is the right thing.
And yet the hot takes must be written and the cheap “tu quoque” clicks notched.
Most NeverTrumpers agree with me on this too, I think. Bret Stephens wrote a column a few days ago explaining why he’s still anti-Trump but he was moved to tweet this amid the Iran uprising:
If Trump had failed to weigh in, he’d be slammed (rightly) for ignoring human rights. Instead, he’s attacked (wrongly) for “meddling.” So far, he’s getting Iran right. Behooves his usual critics (like me) to say so. https://t.co/m7ArN4D1mt
— Bret Stephens (@BretStephensNYT) January 2, 2018
Indeed. And yet Newsweek can’t resist:
In a press conference on Tuesday, Under Secretary of State Steve Goldstein said the United States wants Iran to “open” Instagram, Telegram and other popular media sites as they are “legitimate avenues for communication,” according to a report by the Associated Press…
Goldstein went so far as to suggest that protesters in Iran seeking to communicate with others via blocked social media sites should use virtual private networks, or VPNs, to circumvent the blockade.
But some of President Donald Trump’s critics were quick to point out that he has blocked dozens of people from his personal Twitter account.
In November, Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection joined an ongoing federal lawsuit charging that Trump’s practice of blocking critics from his personal Twitter account is a violation of the First Amendment.
For those of you who don’t use Twitter, any single user can block any other single user from seeing his tweets. For instance, I have the honor of being blocked by Rosie O’Donnell after trolling her by claiming that Trump should prosecute her for bribery. I can’t “follow” her account, i.e. I won’t be notified when she posts new tweets, and I can’t read her Twitter page — while I’m logged into the service. All I need to do is log out, though, and voila. Her page, which is otherwise publicly accessible, is visible again. (I could also read her page if I were logged in via a different Twitter account, one that isn’t blocked.) Blocking someone imposes a tiny burden and is typically done in a moment of pique at someone who’s annoying you. If you’re blocked by the president, all it means is that you can’t read or reply to his tweets from your preferred Twitter account. Yet some anti-Trumpers argue that because even the DOJ treats his tweets as official presidential statements and because the White House’s social media director, Dan Scavino, sometimes posts from the account as Trump, the account is a de facto public forum and he shouldn’t be able to bar people from viewing it as a matter of constitutional law. Again, no one is barred from viewing it; being blocked only means you can’t view his account while you’re logged into your blocked account. But that’s the argument.
Compare and contrast that to Iran yanking an entire farking platform offline, preventing anyone from using it in any way. You can’t see messages from anyone, you can’t send messages to anyone. And the platform isn’t being taken down out of momentary “pique,” needless to say. The regime’s doing it very deliberately to prevent protesters from organizing and rallying each other with videos and morale boosters. It’s censorship every bit as heavy handed as government goons smashing a printing press. To compare it to Trump blocking people is to mock the disabilities being imposed on Iranians right now. “Since blocking is the new ‘shooting protesters,'” tweeted Bill McMorris, “if you’ve been blocked by Newsweek or any of its writers, hit reply with screengrabs.” It’s not a First Amendment violation when Newsweek blocks people, but if blocking trolls is really such an affront to free speech, you’d expect a newsweekly troubled by Trump’s policy to have a stern no-block policy itself, right?
Relatedly, here’s Ben Sasse’s New Year’s admonition to his own Twitter followers not to treat the press as the enemy of the people lest media become so splintered along ideological lines that even basic facts are no longer shared across political tribes. Who wants to tell him that we’ve already entered that stage of American decline?
— Senator Ben Sasse (@SenSasse) December 31, 2017