SEN. GRASSLEY: The New York Times Flunks First Amendment

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In three weeks, America will celebrate Independence Day.

Our republic is a living, breathing experiment, uniquely founded on an exceptional ideal – that all people are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.

For 244 years, Americans have fought, marched, voted, petitioned, legislated, published, protested and died to defend and build on our blessings of freedom.

The American experiment has plenty of battle scars and growing pains handed down from one generation to the next. The first half of 2020 shows us there’s plenty of historical wounds to heal and challenges to overcome.

As we start this third decade of the 21st century, a course of human and natural events are testing the social fabric of our nation. Some might argue, these historic and unprecedented challenges are testing the four corners of our founding charters. Our liberty, freedom, equality and justice for all are on the line.

For several months, Americans hunkered down to stop the spread of the virus. Schools and businesses closed, disrupting life as we know it. In the interest of public health, stay-at-home orders limited individual freedoms that many Americans take for granted, including the right to earn a living and to worship with fellow believers. Just as the economy began to reopen, the shadow of racial injustice darkened America’s doorstep.

All people are created equal, but not all people are treated equal. The unconscionable suffocation of George Floyd, at the knee of a police officer in Minneapolis, struck a chord of unity to end racism in America.

Hundreds of thousands of people have gathered to exercise their First Amendment rights. They march to protest racial injustice and police brutality. Unfortunately, some exploited the peaceful protests to riot, loot, vandalize and burn. These criminal acts were not protected by the Constitution. They were antithetical to the laws of the land protecting life, property and domestic tranquility.

One of my colleagues, the junior senator from Arkansas, submitted an essay to the New York Times. Exercising his First Amendment right to free speech, Senator Cotton wrote about the government’s responsibility to protect law-abiding citizens, small business owners and homeowners from having their livelihoods looted, property destroyed and personal safety put at risk. In his opinion piece, he advocated why he thought the president ought to use his authority to deploy active-duty military forces to uphold the law and public order as had been done in past instances of civil unrest. The Times Op-Ed pages accepted his column and published it online under the headline: “Bring in the Troops.”

Within hours, the newsroom was in a frenzy; the left-wing rallied their troops to “Stop the press!”

The New York Times prides itself as the “paper of record.” Since 1851, it has served as an influential platform to gather and report the news and to hold government accountable. Legitimate journalists are the police of our political system. Its opinion pages ostensibly provide a space for the free exchange of ideas and thought-filled conversation on issues of the day. I have long counted journalists as constables of the Fourth Estate. They serve a vital role in bolstering our system of checks and balances. They have a responsibility to set the tone for open dialogue.

Last week, The New York Times flunked this standard. The Gray Lady ghosted Senator Cotton’s opinion piece after a meltdown in its Ivory Tower. It’s certainly reasonable to disagree on the merits. And to debate if recent events rise to the level of past riots that justified invoking the Insurrection Act. I certainly think we should be hesitant to deploy our military forces domestically, even in difficult situations. But, the overheated reaction by alleged journalists to even have this debate raises the question. Do they consider themselves neutral reporters or activists for a certain worldview?

Even a casual reader is able to read between the lines and know the New York Times ascribes to a left-leaning ideology. But, the mutiny in their newsroom seems to cross the line from journalism with a left-wing bias to political activism and ideological conformity. Sadly, last week the New York Times lowered the bar of journalistic integrity. It snubbed a voice of dissent and rebuked the free exchange of ideas.    

The First Amendment protects five fundamental freedoms that sets America apart as the leader of the free world: freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly and the right to petition the government. It does so because the expression of diverse opinions is necessary to preserve liberty.

Within four days of publishing Senator Cotton’s commentary, the New York Times caved to an ideological revolt in the newsroom. Under mob rule, the casualty among its ranks was none other than the editorial page editor. He was forced out of his job for having the audacity to publish the opinion of a U.S. Senator. At first, the publisher made a feeble effort to stand on principle, defending “openness and a range of opinions.” Within four days, he threw James Bennet under the bus.

It’s a sad day for journalism and the free press. These actions damaged the wall dividing the news room and the opinion desk. They solidified their silo of left-wing thought. Canceling dissenting views is a slippery slope. Sooner or later, it mutes the exchange of ideas in a free society.

As a student of history, I know that freedom has often been threatened by those who were convinced their views were on the right side of history. I offer a bit of wisdom without malice to the New York Times: Don’t Back Down from the First Amendment.

Swapping a free press for party-line propaganda and punishing dissent is not a good look. Ask the people of North Korea, China and Iran.

On Independence Day 2020, I encourage members of the media and all Americans to step out of your comfort zones and seek to understand other viewpoints. Before we can expand America’s promise, end racism, and beat the virus, we must come together as Americans. No matter one’s race, politics, creed, wealth or celebrity, remember we are bound together by self-evident truths: “That all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”