NYT's Fuller's Bizarre Take on First Amendment at Berkeley: 'Can Cause Physical Pain'

The New York Times’ Thomas Fuller filed from Berkeley, former home of the Free Speech Movement, which has devolved into headquarters for violent leftist speech-squelchers. Fuller, a journalist, offered some disturbing ambivalence about the whole First Amendment thing, a tone evident in the headline: “Let Right-Wing Speakers Come to Berkeley? Faculty Is Divided.” It’s a pattern at the Times, with recent pieces suggesting free speech was merely a “canard” used by right-wing racists.

The California-based Fuller talked to a professor at Berkley, originally from Germany who was among many professors canceling classes “ahead of a series of scheduled appearances by right-wing speakers next week in the latest round of Berkeley’s free speech wars”:

“It’s just not safe to hold class,” Professor Wehrheim said. “This is not about free speech. These people are coming here to pick a fight.”

Berkeley, which has become during the Trump presidency an ideological battleground in the national debate over free speech on college campuses, is bracing for several days of disruption when a group of conservative speakers is set to appear on campus as part of an event billed “Free Speech Week.”

The actual status of the event, hosted by “right-wing provocateur” Milo Yiannopoulos, is up in the air at the moment:

Other speakers initially invited included Stephen K. Bannon, Ann Coulter and Mike Cernovich, a far-right blogger. However, a number of them have now said they will not appear, leaving the final lineup unclear.

Fuller’s ambivalence, if not hostility, toward free speech is striking. "Physical pain"? Really?

....At Berkeley, there are both unequivocal voices championing the importance of free speech, no matter how inflammatory, and professors who say lines need to be drawn on campuses. These professors argue that the First Amendment needs to be reassessed for reasons that include the rise of internet trolling and cyberbullying and that some scientific research now shows that hateful speech can cause physical pain.

He quoted the university’s chancellor Carol Christ, somewhat negatively, “as perhaps the loudest advocate of unfettered free speech.” Fuller noted her commitment to academic freedom, then again rolled his eyes at the First Amendment:

In some ways Ms. Christ has little choice. While private universities have more leeway in deciding whom to allow on campus, Berkeley as a public institution must adhere to the First Amendment’s broad acceptance of speech and accommodate speakers.


Mr. Cohen says he would prefer for the university to bar inflammatory right-wing speakers from coming to campus and spend the money now going to security on legal fees defending the ban.

One view shared by people on both sides of the free speech debate is that the university’s role as a sanctuary of learning is being undermined by bands of outsiders who are using Berkeley’s reputation as a liberal bastion to prove a point. This month, Ben Shapiro, a right-wing writer, spoke at Berkeley amid a heavy police presence that cost the university $600,000. He said he wanted to prove that “there are students who do want to hear different views.”

He briefly noted why conservatives may be concerned with the state of free expression on your average “progressive” campus.

According to a survey conducted in August and made public on the Brookings Institution website, a plurality of college students polled, 44 percent, believed that hate speech was not protected by the First Amendment.

Then it was on to more hysterical arguments against free speech -- certain kinds, anyway – from lefty profs:

One proponent of that idea is Nancy Scheper-Hughes, an anthropology professor at Berkeley who this semester is teaching a course on the relationship between free speech and hate speech.

“Words can be like rape -- they can destroy you,” Professor Scheper-Hughes said in an interview.

Professor Scheper-Hughes said that sexual harassment was an example of how certain categories of speech are illegal and that there should be further changes to the country’s free speech laws.

“The Supreme Court is behind the times,” she said. “The First Amendment deserves to be re-looked at.”

Leigh Raiford, a professor of African-American Studies at Berkeley, said those who advocate free speech “absolutism” ignored the fact that minorities on campus feel especially vulnerable when adherents of the far right come to the university.

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Fuller, a California-based reporter for the paper, has embraced European-style paid parental leave and European-style expensive (and relatively useless) high-speed rail for California, so it’s no surprise he thinks Germany’s doing the right thing by banning free speech. (Fuller’s piece doesn’t mention Germany’s rather special history in regard to hate speech, especially Holocaust Denial):

In Germany today, Professor Wehrheim said, “you will get jailed for certain speech -- and I think that is absolutely the right thing.”

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