No-Platforming and the Fourth Estate

Earlier today, The Raw Story and several other media outlets reported that American news broadcasters CNN were in the process of considering banning President Donald Trump’s counsellor, Kellyanne Conway, from its Sunday talk show “State of the Union” – possibly on a permanent basis – citing credibility issues, a reference to her ongoing creative interpretation of reality. (Her references to “alternative facts” to defend Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s outright lies regarding Trump’s inauguration crowd size, and to the “Bowling Green Massacre” – which never actually happened – to defend President Trump’s odious Muslim travel ban, have by now achieved a measure of both on- and off-line infamy.)

The tug o’ war of factuality between Conway and CNN spilled over onto Twitter shortly after, with Conway apparently dissembling in response to a tweet by political blog Mediaite, and CNN having none of it:

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Conway’s expert mendacity, though, is not the topic of this short entry. Instead, what came up in conversation among the chattering netizen classes was CNN’s decision to (potentially? probably?) ban her from its programme on account of her doggedly distortive discourse.

I’ve yet to post more extensively on what I think of the current unfortunate vogue for no-platforming,* beyond quoting Noah Chomsky to the effect that “If we don’t believe in freedom of speech for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all”, but my views on freedom of speech run more to the liberal and the dispassionate than to the offended and the knee-jerk.

As a public servant (and not some random compulsive liar lured off the street), any ban of Conway by CNN would, I think, be fundamentally the wrong approach, and not much better than Trump refusing to engage with a broadcaster, as he has done/is doing, for not pushing a narrative that is flattering to him.

Agreement with de-inviting her seems to be predicated on the perception that, since she is apparently incapable (contractually, if not pathologically) of opening her mouth without spewing falsehoods like so much Silly String®, there is no value to having her on the air waves. Here, I would beg to differ: as one of Trump’s mouthpieces, what she says will always be relevant, if only so that a constant light may be shone on this administration’s bare-faced deceitfulness.

While I sympathise with the sentiment of the pro-ban faction, I would sooner see any democratic country’s media keep communication channels open, but do a better and much more rigorous job of holding doublespeaking officials to account, than to effectively no-platform such officials on account of their doublespeak, thereby depriving viewers – voters – of a useful and critical appraisal of those they elect into office.

1In the case of the US, freedom of the press is enshrined in the constitution, and one of the responsibilities that protection affords should be to act as a watchdog of the government, for the good of the people.

It may sound alarmist, but my feeling is that to renege on that responsibility is potentially to abandon the people to any sort of tyranny that misfortune suffers to muscle its way into a country’s highest office. Absent higher and more widespread faculties of critical reasoning among the general populace, political events on both sides of the Atlantic in recent months suggest we need all the help we can get.


*  or, perhaps more accurately in this case, to the imposition of a cordon sanitaire, since CNN had not invited her: they merely rejected the offer of her participating.
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2 comments on “No-Platforming and the Fourth Estate

  1. Fourth estate? Utterly outrageous. Inequality is obviously on the rise because I only have two!

    Liked by 1 person

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