Turley: Biden's choice for global-media honcho an "ominous sign" for free speech

Just how ominous is Joe Biden’s choice of former State Department official Richard Stengel as “team lead” for the US Agency for Global Media? John wrote last year about Stengel’s stunning op-ed in the Washington Post, in which Stengel exhorted Americans to seriously consider objections by Arab diplomats to the First Amendment.

No, really:

As a government official traveling around the world championing the virtues of free speech, I came to see how our First Amendment standard is an outlier. Even the most sophisticated Arab diplomats that I dealt with did not understand why the First Amendment allows someone to burn a Koran. Why, they asked me, would you ever want to protect that?

It’s a fair question. Yes, the First Amendment protects the “thought that we hate,” but it should not protect hateful speech that can cause violence by one group against another. In an age when everyone has a megaphone, that seems like a design flaw.

Ahem. Did this objection from countries represented by these “sophisticated Arab diplomats” that won’t allow Christian churches in their territory? Which of these nations represented by these “sophisticated” diplomats allow for dissent, let alone free and fair multi-party elections? On last report, the total number of Arab nations employing such a political system was one — Iraq, courtesy of an American invasion and occupation, whatever the other merits and/or demerits of that action there may be.

Stengel’s hostility to the free speech he supposedly champions goes well beyond criticizing the burning Korans, Jonathan Turley wrote yesterday. Stengel is part of a Democratic vanguard against free speech that has gained more power over the party’s agenda, and which threatens real harm to dissent in this country, let alone the “championing” of free-speech rights elsewhere:

Last year, Stengel wrote a chilling Washington Post op-ed that denounced free speech as a threat to social and political harmony.  Like a number of liberal and Democratic figures, Stengel struggled to convince readers that what they need is less freedom:  “All speech is not equal. And where truth cannot drive out lies, we must add new guardrails. I’m all for protecting ‘thought that we hate,’ but not speech that incites hate.”

It is the European view that has destroyed free speech on that continent. We have previously discussed the alarming rollback on free speech rights in the West, (here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here). It is a trend that seems now to be find support in the media, which celebrated the speech of French President Emmanuel Macron before Congress where he called on the United States to follow the model of Europe on hate speech.

Stengel however is one of the most unnerving and outspoken voices against free speech. He wrote how hard it was to explain our views of free speech to Arab countries which of course routinely jail or even execute people for exercising free speech. However, Stengel was raising the point to suggest that they had a valid confusion over our values …

That design flaw is free speech itself. So in a nation filled with gifted people to lead the effort on government media policy and positions, Biden selected a person who rejects the very essence of free speech. Stengel promises the “unity” of a nation silenced by government speech codes and censorship. If no one has a megaphone, free speech is no longer a problem.

We’ve just spent four years getting lectured that the Dark Night of Fascism is ever descending because Orange Man Bad. Here we have Joe Biden appointing someone who explicitly argues that the First Amendment must be limited to only approved viewpoints and topics. Where’s the outrage over that fascistic tendency in the opening moves of the incoming Biden administration? I predict that the media will produce crickets over Stengel’s appointment.

Fortunately. there isn’t much Stengel can do as chair of the USAGM to curtail civil liberties in the US. He will run state-operated media outlets that target foreign audiences with news and views, which is largely ignored within the US except for their manifest failures. It has a budget request for FY2021 of $637.3 million, a negligible amount that roughly sums up its domestic influence. The late Sen. Tom Coburn called it “the most worthless organization in the federal government” in 2010, when it was known as the Broadcasting Board of Governors, declared, “It’s full of people who know nothing about media or foreign policy.” It’s not a policy outpost or terribly influential in legislative or legal advocacy. It’s a backwater, and it’s arguably a better place to park Stengel than back in diplomatic circles at State.

Still, the immediate embrace of such an advocate for state-controlled speech should send up red flags about what we can expect for the next four years. It seems clear that weaponized political correctness will become the norm, and just that will have a chilling effect on free speech and the health of the body politic. Turley’s correct in sending up this early warning.