Ari Paul

Palin v. NYT is just the latest salvo against free press protection

Sarah Pac: It's Time to Take a Stand

The ad from Sarah Palin’s PAC that prompted the New York Times (6/14/17) to write that in Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ 2011 shooting, “the link to political incitement was clear.”

Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor and 2008 vice presidential candidate who helped propel the right flank of the Republican Party into its current prominence, came to New York City with a defamation lawsuit against the New York Times. She lost in court, but her offensive against the paper is a symptom of a growing political campaign against a crucial legal centerpiece of US press freedom.

A Times editorial (6/14/17) used an ad from Palin’s political action committee that placed crosshairs over congressional districts as an example of partisan speech run amok, suggesting it had a connection to a 2011 shooting that maimed Rep. Gabby Giffords and left six others dead. The original text read:

In 2011, when Jared Lee Loughner opened fire in a supermarket parking lot, grievously wounding Representative Gabby Giffords and killing six people, including a 9-year-old girl, the link to political incitement was clear. Before the shooting, Sarah Palin’s political action committee circulated a map of targeted electoral districts that put Ms. Giffords and 19 other Democrats under stylized crosshairs.

The paper later issued a correction (6/16/17), saying that the editorial “incorrectly stated that a link existed between political rhetoric” and the shooting of Giffords, when “no such link was established.” A revised text replaced “the link to political incitement was clear” with “At the time, we and others were sharply critical of the heated political rhetoric on the right,” and added: “But in that case no connection to the shooting was ever established.”

Following the standard

Palin said in court that the mistake caused her lasting damage (NPR, 2/10/22): “It’s hard to lay your head on a pillow and have a restful night when you know that lies are told about you, a specific lie that was not going to be fixed.”

The jury rejected her defamation claim, bringing the Times a legal victory against the former governor (CNN, 2/15/22). The jury’s role in the case, it turned out, was merely symbolic. Judge Jed Rakoff declared as the jury deliberated that he would dismiss the case regardless of what they decided, because Palin “failed to show the Times acted with ‘actual malice.’” And that, according to the precedent set in the 1964 Supreme Court decision New York Times v. Sullivan, is “the standard in lawsuits involving public figures” (Reuters, 2/14/22). (The “actual malice” standard requires public figures suing for libel to prove that falsehoods were made either intentionally or with “reckless disregard” for the truth.)

James Bennet, the editorial page editor at the Times at the time, took full responsibility for associating Palin’s ad with the Giffords shooting (New York Post, 2/8/22). The paper admitted that it made an error and issued a correction promptly (NPR, 2/12/22). Even looking at the editorial’s original form, however, it’s hard to prove that a vague word like “link” is factually false; it never came out and said that Giffords’ shooting was caused by Palin’s ad—a point Bennet made at trial: “If I thought it caused the violence, I would have used the word ‘cause,’” he said (Reuters, 2/9/22). It’s unsurprising that the jury found for the Times, even without the “actual malice” standard that public figures have to meet when suing for libel.

Cheering for weaker legal protections

Sarah Palin, the New York Times and the Oops Defense

The Wall Street Journal s James Freeman (2/9/22) would like to make it easier for politicians to sue journalists because the New York Times “continues to mention Ms. Palin in a negative light.”

But that protection for the press, once seen as a necessary shield to protect independent speech from powerful figures who could otherwise use legal might to crush dissent, is being turned into the bad guy in this case, less a shield than a weapon that the establishment press can use against anyone in the public eye that it wants to tar publicly.

Palin, a former governor and vice presidential candidate as well as a powerful icon in conservative movement, presented herself as a David to the Times’ Goliath (New York Times, 2/10/22). Her lawyer, Shane Vogt, asserted that Palin’s team was “keenly aware of the fact that we’re fighting an uphill battle” (Politico, 2/3/22). The Wall Street Journal’s James Freeman (2/9/22) said that “Bennet is arguing that he didn’t mean to write what he clearly wrote,” and that if his “argument is credited, media outfits can publish almost anything and then run corrections while claiming they meant no harm.”

For many observers, these were crocodile tears and part of a public campaign to discredit the media and paint conservatives as victims of an unaccountable newspaper. Politico (2/10/22) said that Palin “knows the whole episode has enhanced, not damaged, her reputation with the partisans on whom her political and financial fortunes depend.” Her target is “the news organization her confederates on the right have seethed over since the Nixon era,” and others are “cheering her case” because they “hope to weaken the legal protections benefiting all journalists.”

‘Constitutional Brezhnev doctrine’

FAIR: The Judicial Right Is Coming After Freedom of the Press (3/26/21): Right-wing judicial activism “has breathed new legal life into the prospect of making it easier for political and corporate leaders to use defamation suits to stifle the press.”

That last part is critical. Protections like those afforded under Sullivan have been considered sacrosanct by press and free speech advocates. When then-President Donald Trump vowed to make it easier for him to sue journalists, the press scoffed (CNBC, 1/10/18; LA Times, 9/8/18). But the Palin case is a reminder that this threat was not the random musing of a thin-skinned demagogue, but an idea gaining steam on the broader right.

Almost a full year ago, FAIR (3/26/21) pointed to a dissent written by circuit court judge, long-time conservative legal operative Laurence Silberman, which called the Sullivan standard a “constitutional Brezhnev doctrine” to defend the liberal press against the right. And that was just the tip of the iceberg: At least two Supreme Court justices have wanted to revisit the Sullivan standard, and legal scholar Richard Epstein has railed against it since the 1980s.

This has intensified. The Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press (1/18/22) said that at the beginning of this year, the Supreme Court “called for a response to yet another petition asking it to overturn its decision” in Sullivan. Last year, Justice Neil Gorsuch cited “‘momentous changes in the nation’s media landscape since 1964’ as his reason to revisit Sullivan.”

The committee also noted that “Justice Clarence Thomas pointed to the ease with which the ‘Pizzagate’ conspiracy theory spread online”—an odd argument for Thomas to make, given the fervent advocacy of his wife, right-wing activist Gini Thomas, on behalf of the conspiracy theory that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump (New York Times Magazine, 2/22/22).

WaPo: Is the legal standard for libel outdated? Sarah Palin could help answer.

Genevieve Lakier (Washington Post, 2/3/22) suggests making it difficult for public figures to sue “might have made sense” when it protected “large media organizations,” but it “makes no sense today, when anyone can spread misinformation so long as they have social media followers.”

University of Chicago law professor Genevieve Lakier (Washington Post, 2/3/22) cited these critiques of the “actual malice” standards. She noted that while Sullivan is “an emblem of American free-speech exceptionalism and a source of pride,” it is also “an accident of history”—one that “removes any legal incentive for those who write about public officials or public figures to vigorously fact-check their stories.”

The United States, Lakier said, should “not let Sullivan limit our imagination of how First Amendment law could better serve the public interest in a vastly different media environment” from 1964, when the decision was handed down. (Her “most obvious” suggestion as a replacement for Sullivan are “damage caps”—which would allow lawsuits by public figures to be a manageable expense for outlets with deep pockets, while making them potentially catastrophic to independent journalists.)

‘A perverse incentive’

Three years ago, the American Bar Association (2/27/19) noted:

With breaking news being delivered in a tweet, it is easier now more than ever for journalists to simply get it wrong. This raises two questions: (1) Should there be a more relaxed standard for public officials rather than actual malice, and (2) would doing so create a chilling effect? These questions may soon have answers if courts do what Justice Thomas urges, which is reconsideration of jurisprudence in this area.
In the end, Justice Thomas seems to go a step further than just arguing for a more relaxed standard; relying on common law, he deems libel against public figures, “if anything, more serious and injurious than ordinary libels.” His concurrence provides momentum for critics of [Sullivan] and room for courts to reexamine the standard, as the press continues to face increased scrutiny.

Noah Feldman said at Bloomberg (7/7/21) that, according to Gorsuch, “the Sullivan precedent creates a perverse incentive not to check facts—so that you can later say that you didn’t realize what you were saying was false,” and that therefore, “the Sullivan rule no longer serves its original objective of creating an informed public debate.” (Gorsuch is describing here what’s known legally as “reckless disregard”—precisely what is not protected by the Sullivan standard.)

Press advocates believe that false statements against a public figure come with the cost of celebrity, Feldman argued, but “it has become harder for such stories to be shunted aside.” For “non-celebrities who might still be deemed public figures,” the actual malice standard “makes it very hard for them to vindicate their concerns about their own reputation.” Feldman warned press advocates to brace themselves for this precedent to be revisited.

A partisan distrust

Public trust in media has fallen, although that trend is highly partisan. Gallup (10/7/21) noted that “68% of Democrats, 11% of Republicans and 31% of independents…trust the media a great deal or fair amount,” while “confidence in the media among Republicans over the past five years is at unprecedented lows.” Palin’s unsuccessful legal challenge against the Times will only solidify that skepticism among her political base, boosting the narrative that conservatives can be vilified in the court of opinion with no recourse in a court of law.

The consequences of that skepticism go beyond drops in subscriptions and the rise of more partisan, start-up media outlets. It is about building a political and legal case that media outlets enjoy too much free speech, and that a conservative Supreme Court should undo a precedent by the Warren court, the most liberal era of the high court’s history. Such a change could have an enormous stifling effect on the press—establishment and otherwise.

Defenses of Joe Rogan aren’t about free speech -- they’re right-wing solidarity

Fox News: Free speech advocates, journalists defend Joe Rogan from calls for censorship

These “free speech advocates” (Fox News, 2/2/22) were conspicuously silent when people actually lost their jobs for criticizing cops.

For right-wing and libertarian media, Joe Rogan, host of the Joe Rogan Experience podcast, has become a symbol of resistance to censorship (New York Post, 2/2/22; Fox News, 2/2/22; Reason, 2/2/22; The Hill, 2/1/22).

Musician Neil Young had given the streaming service Spotify, which paid a reported $100 million for exclusive rights to Rogan’s show, an ultimatum: either cut Rogan and his constant misinformation about Covid-19, or lose Young’s music. Spotify—a corporate media service that has been accused of exploiting musicians financially (Guardian, 7/29/13)―chose Rogan.

Contrary to his media defenders, Rogan has not been threatened with censorship. His free speech rights were never in any kind of jeopardy. Young has not crossed into some kind of pro-deep state censorship mode; rather, he left Spotify because he disagreed with its policies, taking his business elsewhere because he has the right to do that.

Young’s departure has cost Spotify $2 billion in market value (Variety, 1/29/22), as other notable musicians, like Joni Mitchell, followed suit (Fortune, 2/3/22). Grammy Award–winning singer/songwriter India Arie made matters worse for Rogan “by sharing resurfaced footage to social media showing Rogan using the N-word” (Hollywood Reporter, 2/4/22).

Both Rogan and Spotify have responded to the outrage, as “Rogan apologized…for his use of a racial slur in past episodes,” and the streaming service removed dozens of his show’s episodes (New York Times, 2/5/22). Such pressure against right-wing, corporate media shock jocks has yielded results in the past: CBS fired Don Imus due to a public backlash against racist and sexist comments he made about the Rutgers women’s basketball team (CBS, 4/12/07; Extra!, 5–6/07). Sometimes it doesn’t, as two dozen advertisers left Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show after he made anti-immigrant comments (Hollywood Reporter, 12/17/18), and he still enjoys top ratings (AdWeek, 1/3/22).

Artists and media consumers free to engage in media activism like leaving a streaming service (a form of voting with one’s dollars and property, supposedly a democratic feature of the free market) or protesting a media company over its content. But these articles imply that the mere discussion of Rogan’s ability to spread misinformation about Covid is an affront to his constitutional right to yell “fire” in a crowded theater. Fox News (2/3/22) paraphrased former Mumford & Sons banjo player Winston Marshall saying that “the state of music censorship in the Soviet Union in 1984” was comparable “to the conditions that Spotify is facing today as calls for it to pull Rogan’s work mount.”

Speech limits for everyday workers

NY Post: LI woman with same name as Jacqueline Guzman, actress fired for NYPD funeral rant, makes tearful plea

The New York Post (2/1/22) expressed no sympathy for a woman fired for criticizing police–she was “widely condemned for her shameful online rant”–but does feel bad for someone with the same name who was mistakenly subjected to abuse.

Meanwhile, regular, everyday workers live with limits to their “work mount” and their free speech rights because they are at-will employees. And unlike Rogan, who still has the support of Spotify’s boss (New York Post, 2/7/22), these workers are treated as disposable.

A few recent examples: A Catholic high school teacher was fired for a private tweet that apparently questioned her school’s efforts to commemorate two murdered NYPD officers (Daily News, 2/4/22).

Related to the public funeral of one of these slain NYPD cops, a New York City “actress was fired this weekend after backlash over her viral TikTok complaint that the city didn’t need to be shut down for ‘one f—— cop’” (Fox News, 1/30/22). And someone who shares her name with that actor says she has “been harassed and threatened by people confusing her with the woman who made the vile rant” (New York Post, 2/1/22).

In Tennessee, Starbucks fired unionizing employees who had “allowed members of the media into the store as part of the public launch of their unionization effort” (CNN, 2/8/22). For unionists, these terminations aren’t just an immoral violation of labor rights, but an affront to the First Amendment freedom of assembly and, in this case, these workers’ right to publicize their organizing against an enormous and well-known company in the free press.

These are examples of the real predations on free speech in this country, and yet instances like these don’t seem to elicit the same hand-wringing about censorship from right-wing media.

Controversy as sellable brand

Atlantic: Why Is Joe Rogan So Popular?

Devin Gordon (Atlantic, 8/19/19): “If you look past the jokes themselves and focus on the targets he’s choosing, the same patterns emerge. Hillary, the #MeToo movement, why it sucks that he can’t call things ‘gay,’ vegan bullies, sexism.”

Rogan has been immune to this kind of pressure, largely because his controversial statements are exactly what makes his media brand sellable; the Atlantic (8/19/19) said in 2019 that his show has “been the No. 2 most-downloaded podcast on iTunes for two years running,” and “his YouTube channel…has 6 million subscribers.” LGBTQ groups like GLAAD (Twitter, 7/22/20) have criticized the host for promoting anti-trans viewpoints, but Rogan is protected from his critics because by all metrics, he’s a benefit for the corporate services like YouTube: The Hill (2/1/22) argues that with 11 million listeners, “Rogan’s popularity is precisely due to the fact that he is uncensored in what he says.”

That is a very different story for the 99 Percent, who can become victims of a very real cancel culture, because things like being critical of the police at the wrong time can be seen as beyond the bounds of free discourse. Corporate media haven’t focused on them as victims; in fact, the tabloids and Murdoch-owned media have painted them as extremists who got what was coming to them.

And libertarians haven’t made them a cause, either. That’s because these pieces that treat Rogan as a free speech warrior aren’t honest. Their defense of Rogan, who said he would vote for Donald Trump in the last election (Guardian, 4/20/20), is not about the sacredness of free speech; while he is facing a lot of public criticism, he is not being regulated or stifled as a result. In fact, these articles celebrate the degree to which protests by musicians haven’t actually silenced him, an admission that his speech was never really under threat.

These pieces, instead, are a political defense of Covid-19 misinformation and bro jock racism. Robust public health measures to control the pandemic are seen by the right as left-wing government overreach, and therefore someone who criticizes them, however inaccurately, is on their team.

The Rogan affair is a spectacle by right-wing media to paint an advocate for a right-wing political cause as a victim. Meanwhile, right-wing tabloid vitriol has celebrated the punishment of speech by regular working people.

Press response to ‘Tax the Rich’ dress proves AOC’s point

It's like Lenin said: There are decades when nothing happens, and there are dresses where decades happen.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's "Tax the Rich" dress at the Met Gala (Vogue, 9/16/21) might have passed through the media as a mere photo opportunity or act of class-conscious performance art, but given that it happened near the 10th anniversary of the first day of the Occupy Wall Street protests, the event may be an indicator of how much Occupy has moved the public toward policies of aggressively taxing the wealthy to pay for needed social programs, education, public employment and infrastructure.

And corporate media's response indicates that they are worried that history might be on Ocasio-Cortez and her dress's side.

'Wrong message'

NY Post: Sorry, AOC: The rich already pay their fair share

David Harsanyi (New York Post, 9/17/21) argues that the rich shouldn't pay more because our tax system is already progressive–which is neither logically nor empirically true.

The Murdoch-owned New York Post (9/17/21) led the charge against her protest, with David Harsanyi complaining, "Despite perceptions, the highest-income strata of taxpayers are the only ones who pay a larger share of taxes than their share of income." This message was echoed by television shock jock Bill Maher (Daily Mail, 9/18/21), even though a ProPublica investigation (6/8/21) found that the super-rich—like Michael Bloomberg, Warren Buffett and Jeff Bezos—pay next to nothing in taxes, demolishing "the cornerstone myth…that everyone pays their fair share and the richest Americans pay the most."

The New York Post (9/21/21), on its front page, highlighted a response to AOC from Democratic mayoral nominee Eric Adams, whom the paper (5/10/21) had enthusiastically endorsed. Adams said that Ocasio-Cortez sent the "wrong message for New York City," offering austerity logic as an alternative: "Instead of impulsively advocating for raising taxes on rich Big Apple residents…the city should first find ways to trim fat in the city budget." In addition to endorsing Adams, the Post (7/27/21) eagerly broke the news that Adams told supporters that he has declared "war on AOC's socialists."

Matthew Yglesias (Bloomberg, 9/19/21), himself the product of Manhattan patrician society, chastised the second-term congressmember representing the Bronx and Queens for casting a broad net over the upper class, rather than focusing her message specifically on tax loopholes. The Washington Post's Megan McArdle (9/14/21) echoed Yglesias' criticism, adding that wearing such a dress to the Met Gala is "a bit like wearing a 'tax the rich' T-shirt to your job as a bespoke tax attorney," because taxing the rich just creates more tax attorneys, "so the walking billboard is less a case of 'speaking truth to power' than an endorsement of the whole enterprise."

The Washington Post's Kathleen Parker (9/14/21) denounced the gala's fall from its elegant past—"today's Met Gala is not the playground of Diana Vreeland, Pat Buckley and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis"—and said she was at a loss for words to describe the party's "parade of political demonstrators whose eccentric garb sometimes garbled the message," as the theme of the event was to explore the "lexicon" of fashion itself.

Numerous outlets (Forbes, 9/13/21; Daily News, 9/14/21; Fox News, 9/14/21; USA Today, 9/14/21) played up the criticism that Ocasio-Cortez was acting hypocritically by attending the gala, because it is a pricey event attended by the rich, a point that runs aground on the fact that bringing the message of taxing the rich to rich people was, in fact, the idea. As one Washington Post writer (9/14/21) correctly perceived, the gala's audience were now discussing "the embarrassment of undertaxed riches in a social season marred by disease and destitution."

Tax-allergic media

NYT: Taxing the Wealthy Sounds Easy. It's Not.

The idea of a wealth tax was unsurprisingly derided by "Wealth Matters" (2/1/19), a New York Times column offering "insights from Paul Sullivan on the mindset and strategies of the affluent."

While Ocasio-Cortez is hardly the first left-of-center politician calling for more taxes to fund social programs, as leader of the "Squad"—a group of House Democrats largely aligned with Sen. Bernie Sanders—she has become the punching bag for the establishment media in a campaign to dampen pro-taxation rhetoric.

Since her ascendance in Congress, the New York Times (1/28/19, 2/1/19, 2/7/19) has responded to Ocasio-Cortez's tax rhetoric with a sort of "yes, but it's more complicated than that," embracing a watered-down version of progressive taxation, while Barron's (1/23/19) and the Wall Street Journal (1/21/19, 1/23/19) have gone further to suggest that her proposed 70% marginal tax rate would destroy the American economy. Factcheck: The US economy flourished with a 91% top marginal tax rate under Republican President Dwight Eisenhower (AP, 1/31/19).

McArdle, part of the recent AOC bashing, has scorned the idea of taxing the rich more generally in a piece (Washington Post, 6/9/21) that carried a photo of the paper's owner and world's richest human, Jeff Bezos.

This skittishness about new taxes in the media reflects a general anxiety about progressive taxation in the political class. Anti-tax ideology is perhaps the glue that unites the Republican Party's various factions, which passed sweeping tax cuts under the Trump administration (NBC, 12/22/17). Unlike Republicans, who can unite around keeping taxes low, though, Democrats have difficulty coming together when it comes to tax hikes for the rich (Bloomberg, 9/14/21).

Some Democrats besides Ocasio-Cortez are also onboard with new federal taxation (CBS, 9/13/21), and polling shows "taxing the wealthy" is a popular idea (Gallup, 6/4/21; Reuters, 1/10/20). But there has been resistance within her party to Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren's proposal for a new wealth tax (The Hill, 8/9/19). The Wall Street Journal (4/7/21) blasted then-New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo for giving into state lawmakers who pushed for more state taxes, a move he had successfully resisted until his various scandals eroded his political capital.

FAIR has noted that the Washington Post (, 5/11/16, 12/11/17, 7/29/19) and the New York Times (, 2/25/20, 4/15/21)—newspapers owned wholly or in part by billionaires—have consistently taken the side of those politicians who resist aggressive taxation of the wealthy.

Occupy's powerful arguments

CNBC: AOC to introduce bill to extend pandemic unemployment insurance to 2022

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (CNBC, 9/15/21): "We've just simply allowed pandemic unemployment assistance to completely lapse, when we are clearly not fully recovered from the consequences of the pandemic."

It isn't solely "taxing the rich" that has become more popular with voters. Other social democratic ideas like single-payer healthcare (Pew Research, 9/29/20) and a $15/hour minimum wage (Reuters, 2/25/21) enjoy broad support, and "Americans view unions more favorably now than they have since 2003" (Reuters, 7/12/21).

Yet it's still hard for the political class and media to take notice that this is becoming the mainstream. That's why someone like Ocasio-Cortez, in addition doing things like introducing legislation to extend unemployment insurance (CNBC, 9/15/21), feels the need to call attention to the issue of taxing the rich in a very public way, to get corporate media talking about it. (Proposed tax increases for the rich have become a key stumbling block to passing the Biden administration's proposed $3.5 trillion social spending bill—New York Times, 9/7/21.)

When then–NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg (Guardian, 11/15/11) defended using brutal police force to evict OWS protesters from Zuccotti Park in the city's Financial District, he challenged the movement by saying "Now they will have to occupy the space with the power of their arguments." That AOC's publicity stunt around the slogan "tax the rich" near the tenth anniversary of OWS caused such an uproar is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the life and success of the power of Occupy's ideas. The ascendance of democratic socialist candidates around the country, and Bernie Sanders' impressive presidential primary performance in 2016 and 2020, are examples of how those arguments may be more powerful than Bloomberg—the media mogul who appeared in the aforementioned ProPublica report on billionaires who skirt paying taxes—might have realized.

The editorial reaction to the Ben & Jerry’s news insinuates that boycotting Israel is extreme -- and illegitimate

Daily News: Freezer burn: After attacking Israel, Ben & Jerry's is going to get its just desserts

Daily News (7/26/21) on Ben & Jerry's withdrawal from the Occupied Territories: "Very pleased are the BDS crowd, Israel-haters and assorted antisemites, but it's an ice-cream headache for Unilever."

Ben & Jerry's decision to halt its operations in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and in Jerusalem has pro-Israel editors working overtime.

The New York Daily News (7/26/21) celebrated counter-boycotts of the ice cream brand, including the state's pension system considering cutting ties with the brand's parent company, Unilever, because of a 2016 executive order against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. The tabloid's editorial board, sounding like a sidekick standing behind a gang enforcer, said, "No firm should want to be on that very naughty list."

The New York Post found a brand worker who quit over the West Bank pull out (7/22/21), and a grocery store that is taking the ice cream off its shelves (7/19/21). New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo made waves as the first US governor to take executive action against the BDS movement, but the Post (7/24/21) complained that he's not attacking Ben & Jerry's swiftly enough.

In the Wall Street Journal (7/21/21), Scalia Law School professor Eugene Kontorovich gloated that several state pension funds could retaliate against Unilever, because Israel considers parts of the areas Ben & Jerry's is boycotting to be its sovereign territory.

The Boston Herald (7/21/21) went a step further, denouncing Ben & Jerry's decision to boycott the occupation as a part of a longer list of unacceptably progressive causes adopted by the brand, like opposing the Trump administration and celebrating racial justice advocate Colin Kaepernick. "If Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez ran an ice cream company, this is what it would look like," the Herald fumed.

Who's got a double standard?

An op-ed in Newsweek (7/22/21), written by associates of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, invoked a double standard in regards to human rights concerns, saying, "Unilever is reportedly a major purchaser of tomato paste from state-owned factories in China's Xinjiang region, where the US State Department says China is engaged in 'horrific abuses.'"

Newsweek's supposed "gotcha" provides insight into the imbalance we're seeing in the press. China, like Israel, retaliates against brands that participate in boycotts against it—H&M, Nike and other brands were targeted for declining to buy cotton from Xinjiang (BBC, 3/26/21)—but the response from the US press is very different. Fortune (7/26/21) runs advice on "How US CEOs Can Stand Up to China," not calls for states to join China in punishing those CEOs.

While Israel's retaliation against Ben & Jerry's is framed as defending its sovereignty, the China situation is framed in Cold War language: The "latest China-versus-the-West dispute is getting ugly," because the Chinese state was offering "threat[s] to the likes of Adidas and Nike" (Deutsche Welle, 4/9/21).

Time-honored nonviolent tactic

What's striking about the editorial reaction to the Ben & Jerry's news isn't that it supports Israel, but that it insinuates that the tactic of boycotting Israel is extreme and illegitimate when, in fact, boycotts have long been considered one of the most effective nonviolent ways people and groups can have political agency beyond the ballot box.

LGBTQ activists famously led a boycott of Russian products because of the Russian government's treatment of sexual minorities (Guardian, 7/26/13). Civil rights activists in the state of Georgia threatened boycotts of the state's biggest companies unless they opposed that state's voter suppression moves (CBS, 3/29/21). Cuomo even barred state workers from nonessential travel to states that passed anti-LGBTQ laws (Vanity Fair, 3/29/16). When Hugo Chávez was still alive and leading the socialist government of Venezuela, anti-socialists called for a boycott of the Venezuela-owned oil giant Citgo (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 10/21/06).

The idea that Israel is being "singled out," as opponents of BDS often say, just doesn't stand up to scrutiny. The Delano grape boycott and the Montgomery bus boycott are celebrated in American history as examples of how nonviolent action has been used to address injustice. And the press has repeatedly called for a "Palestinian Gandhi" to emerge who can bring the movement for Palestinian rights away from suicide bombs and rocket attacks (, 4/7/10, 4/1/11, 7/18/12; Bloomberg, 12/27/21).

The move by Ben & Jerry's is part of that movement to use nonviolent measures to pressure the Israeli government to recognize democratic rights. To dub boycotts of the occupation as antisemitic (as some Jewish organizations have) or, in the case of Ben & Jerry's, terroristic (according to the Israeli government—New York Post, 7/21/21) shows that calls for Palestinians to protest nonviolently (, 3/29/19) were never made in good faith.

Absent Palestinian voices

AP: Ben & Jerry's to Stops Sales in West Bank, East Jerusalem

AP (7/19/21) was unusual in quoting a Palestinian perspective on Ben & Jerry's decision—that it was "an important step to help pressure the Israeli government to end the occupation."

Michael Brown, associate editor of Electronic Intifada, told FAIR:

Palestinian voices in mainstream US media reporting on Ben & Jerry's have been largely absent. Background on efforts from Vermont activists have received scant attention. There's been coverage of aggressive quotes from Israeli officials, particularly [Prime Minister Naftali] Bennett and [Foreign Minister Yair] Lapid, but very little on what BDS actually is…. Additionally, I would like to see more legal analysis with journalists reaching out to Palestine Legal to find out about the efforts to suppress First Amendment-protected speech on Palestinian rights.

As Brown pointed out, the initial coverage of the issue in the New York Times (7/19/21) didn't feature Palestinian voices or the greater perspective of BDS activists. Coverage at NPR (7/19/21), while featuring the company's reasoning for pulling out of the West Bank, similarly doesn't augment the news with voices from Palestinians or the BDS movement. AP (7/19/21), by contrast, offered a statement from an Arab Joint List lawmaker in Israel and from Palestine activists.

End of a taboo?

Israeli government supporters in the press fear that if Ben & Jerry's and its parent company don't suffer economically for their decision on the Occupied Territories, then support for this kind of political pressure will become less taboo, and other groups could follow suit. And those editorialists have reason to worry. Democratic voters are becoming more sympathetic to supporting Palestinians, an AP poll (6/23/21) suggests, while another poll indicates that a quarter of US Jews are willing to call Israel an "apartheid" state (Jewish Telegraphic Agency, 7/13/21).

Given that Ben & Jerry's choice could be a sign of a shifting narrative, perhaps it's not so surprising that editors are having a meltdown over ice cream.

Featured Image: Ben & Jerry's outlet in Hollywood Beach, Florida (cc photo: Rob Olivera)

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Facebook took down posts regarded as too sympathetic to Soleimani. Free speech advocates must fight back

Instagram, and its parent company Facebook, took down posts regarded as too sympathetic to Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who was assassinated January 3 in a controversial US airstrike. The news website Coda (1/10/20) was credited with breaking the news, and Newsweek (1/10/20) also reported that:

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How the media is legitimizing a century-old Nazi trope

When Norwegian right-winger Anders Breivik invoked “cultural Marxism” as the reason for his 77-person killing spree in 2011, many observers placed the notion in the same category as the killer—the fringe. But since the election of Donald Trump, Brexit and the rise and re-election of other far-right governments around the globe, “cultural Marxism” has become a well-known nationalist buzzword, alongside “globalism”: Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro denounces it, and the media empire of former White House advisor Steve Bannon revolved around fighting it.

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NYC's Labor Movement Fragments Over Race for Mayor

Most of the Democratic candidates for New York City mayor can brag without deceit about having the backing of labor. Comptroller John Liu has District Council 37, the large public-sector confederation, on his side, along with several building trades groups, even though he noted that public unions shouldn’t expect full retroactive pay on new contracts settled under his administration. The United Federation of Teachers and Teamsters Local 237 soon undermined Liu’s public-sector support by backing his predecessor Bill Thompson, who vows not to seek higher taxes on the wealthy. He also has the backing of several cop unions, which is no surprise, considering he has the most of NYPD-friendly platform of the bunch.

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Massive East Coast Dock Strike Averted; Washington Sighs in Relief

President Barack Obama now has one less headache. Just days before a deadline that could have crippled some 14 East Coast ports, the International Longshoreman’s Association reached a tentative agreement with representatives of the dock employers, averting a work stoppage that was looming on December 31 -- the same day that across-the-board spending cuts are set to go into effect at every federal agency, unless the White House can reach a deal with Republicans in Congress.

A mere three weeks after West Coast ports reopened after an eight-day strike by the clerical workers of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, a different union -- the International Longshoreman’s Association -- was threatening a work stoppage that would have threatened the movement of consumer goods at 14 East Coast ports at a critical time in a battle between the White House and Congress.

Both the East Coast ILA and the West Coast ILWU have flexed considerable muscle in contentious contract talks over the past few weeks, causing alarm among shipping companies and retailers.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey estimated that a work stoppage at the East Coast ports would have cost $136 million a week in personal income and $110 million in economic output, according to Steven Greenhouse of the New York Times.

Federal mediators were brought into negotiations between the ILA and the U.S. Maritime Alliance, which represents the employers -- and the federal muscle seems to have worked in bringing about a tentative agreement on the main sticking point between the two parties: the employers’ attempt to roll back the share of container royalties earned by workers in addition to their hourly wages.

An extension of an additional 30 days of negotiation to resolve other outstanding issues was also granted. Those include "including delayed contributions to the union’s health care fund and annual raises that are below inflation," according to Greenhouse.

Gary Chaison, a professor of industrial relations at Clark University, noted that both sides were likely leery about the possibility of a work stoppage. “There’s pressure, I think, on the union -- probably from the AFL-CIO and the White House -- not to have a strike right now,” Chaison said.

Labor leaders outside the ILA may well have been wary of a strike, especially in the wake of constant attacks on the labor movement from the right, most recently with the passage of right-to-work legislation in Michigan.

“The unions are taking the position that they are part of the solution and not the problem with job creation,” Chaison explained. “With a strike, that [could have] all [gone] out the window.” That’s one reason why Chaison predicted days ago that the two sides would reach an agreement without a work-stoppage.

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Chicago Teachers Uprising Takes on a 1 Percent Mayor, and the Labor Establishment to Boot

Chicago teachers could hardly be more united in their disgust at Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s assault on public education. More than 98 percent voted to authorize a strike, which union activists say is as much about defending students and parents as it is about the economics of their contract. And while school has already started in the Windy City, the nation’s third largest school system could be shut down by next week, setting off a confrontation between a militant rank-and-file teacher movement and the mainstream of the labor movement and its allies, the Democratic Party.

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Neoliberal Occupation: How the IMF and the European Central Bank Are Strangling the Greek Economy

ATHENS--With Greek workers bracing themselves for more announcements of privatization of public services and industries, the fight among political factions continues. But the drama that is unfolding proves that Greek Parliament is but a puppet regime for an occupying force known as the troika: the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission and the European Central Bank.

The pro-austerity government (led by the conservatives, New Democracy) installed this summer is already on shaky ground. With three ministers already having resigned, the country is just a few rowdy demonstrations away from new elections in the fall.  The troika is using its leverage to arrange the debt-ridden country’s economy and governance as it sees fit, which, as shadow justice minister and Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) parliamentarian Zoe Konstantopoulou said, constitute “violations of our international obligations,” and amounts to the nation being “a guinea pig for Europe, and the experiment has failed again and again.”

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