The NY Times' Campus Free Speech Coverage Focuses 7-to-1 on Right-Wing Demagogues


Over the past 18 months, the New York Times has dedicated 21 columns and articles to the subject of conservatives’ free speech on campus, while only three covered the silencing of college liberals or leftists. A review of Times articles, columns, op-eds and reports shows a clear emphasis on documenting and condemning perceived suppression of conservative voices at American universities, while rarely mentioning harassment campaigns against leftist professors and/or the criminalization of leftist causes such as the pro-Palestinian BDS (Boycott Divestment Sanctions) movement.

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College Republicans complained to the New York Times (9/23/16) that the nomination of Donald Trump “prompted widespread mockery from their liberal classmates.”

The Times’ articles since May 1, 2016, on the alleged suppression of right-wing speech include:

  1. A Confession of Liberal Intolerance (5/8/16)
  2. The Liberal Blind Spot (5/28/16)
  3. There Are Conservative Professors. Just Not in These States (7/3/16)
  4. College Republicans, Once ‘the Best Party on Campus,’ Endure Taunts Over Trump (9/24/17)
  5. My Liberal University Cemented My Vote for Trump (11/10/16)
  6. Divisions in My Dorm Room (11/28/16)
  7. On Campus, Trump Fans Say They Need ‘Safe Spaces’ (12/8/16)
  8. The Dangers of Echo Chambers on Campus (12/10/16)
  9. The End of Identity Liberalism (11/20/16)
  10. How Violence Undermined the Berkeley Protest (2/2/17)
  11. The Dangerous Safety of College (3/11/17)
  12. Advice for My Conservative Students (2/16/17)
  13. The Isolation of College Libertarians (2/28/17)
  14. Life and Combat for Republicans at Berkeley (5/8/17)
  15. Leave Your Safe Spaces: The 2017 Commencement Address at Hampden-Sydney College (5/15/17)
  16. When the Left Turns on Its Own (6/1/17)
  17. These Campus Inquisitions Must Stop (6/3/17)
  18. A Political Conservative Goes to Berkeley (9/12/17)
  19. Don’t Shun Conservative Professors (9/15/17)
  20. The Worst Time for the Left to Give Up on Free Speech (10/6/17)
  21. The Misguided Student Crusade Against ‘Fascism’ (10/23/17)

The Times articles on the suppression of left speech:

  1. Who’s Really Placing Limits on Free Speech? (1/6/17)
  2. The ‘Free Speech’ Hypocrisy of Right-Wing Media (8/24/17)
  3. When Conservatives Suppress Campus Speech (10/17/17)

The hand-wringing over liberal intolerance was kicked off in earnest with a double shot from columnist Nick Kristof, whose “Confession of Liberal Intolerance” (5/8/16) and “The Liberal Blind Spot” (5/28/16) both lamented the rising “intolerance” of liberals in academia. This piece was followed up with a thematic carbon copy in December 2016 in the wake of Trump’s surprise victory. As FAIR  (12/13/16) noted at the time, Kristof used his considerable influence to argue for what was, in effect, affirmative action for the far right.

Some articles, like “Berkeley Is Under Attack From Both Sides” (4/26/17), lamented the free speech oppression of “both sides,” but took no strong position against either perceived threat.

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Don’t worry about “neo-Nazis and white supremacists” coming to campus, advises University of Oregon president Michael Schill (New York Times10/23/17)–their presence is an opportunity to “grapple with difficult issues.”

The New York Times did sporadically cover the dozens of laws throughout the country seeking to criminalize BDS, but never put it in the broader context of college free speech. (For example, musician Roger Waters’ “Congress Shouldn’t Silence Human Rights Advocates”—9/7/17—criticized laws that target “individuals and businesses who actively participate in boycott campaigns in support of Palestinian rights,” not specifically student activists.) A  piece defending BDS speech rights by anti-BDS CUNY professor Eric Alterman did run in March 2016, outside the timeframe of the study.

Professors silenced or fired over anti-Israel activities, like Berkeley’s Paul Hadweh or SUNY Plattsburgh’s Simona Sharoni, were not covered, much less defended, in the Times during the study period. The broader trend of anti-BDS activity threatening college free speech was almost never touched upon, and when it was, it was given only a fraction of the pearl-clutching reserved for the lack of far-right professors or the mean things said about Trump supporters by undergrads.

A similar phenomenon emerged during the primaries, when reporters would parachute in to document the oppression of Hillary Clinton backers by Bernie Sanders supporters on college campuses; both conceits were based on the false notion that college campus should be 1-to-1 hospitable to all ideologies and candidates at all times. The idea that certain viewpoints—like supply-side economics, racial eugenics or a Eurocentric view of history—are underrepresented on campus because they aren’t intellectually credible is never entertained.

On the dubious altar of “ideological diversity,” the paper of record sacrifices any sense of proportionality. With alt-right and neo-Nazi elements on the march—and a White House that’s at the very least sympathetic to them—the Timesfocuses its tremendous influence, time and again, on creating a space in academia for reactionary, racist and sexist views that are wildly overrepresented in almost every other sector of society.

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