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Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Ejection of Breitbart Reporter from Beto Speech Is Inconsistent with Democracy

I just saw the news that a Breitbart reporter, Joel B. Pollak, who actually is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News, was ejected, apparently for no valid reason (he wasn't being disruptive, his mere presence was deemed as such) from a Beto O'Rourke speech at Benedict College.

Before I tell you why I think that was such a bad move, let me make two things clear:

1. I intensely disagree with Breitbart's political views.  The last and only time I voted Republican was for John Linsday for NYC Mayor in 1969 (because he was an early opponent of the Vietnam War).  He won, and two years later became a Democrat.

2.  I don't think what Beto's people did is literally a violation of the First Amendment.  A political candidate not currently in office is not a member of Congress ("Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press") or of any government (prohibited from abridging speech by the extension of the First Amendment in the Fourteenth Amendment).

But, the removal of any reporter on account of his or her political views is grievously in violation of the spirit of the First Amendment, and flies in the face of what the First Amendment is designed to protect, which is the public's right to information and opinions about people in office and people running for office.  How else can a democracy work, if we're not as thoroughly informed as possible, meaning exposed to the entire gamut of political views and actions?

Trump's daily denunciation of the press he finds unwelcome as fake news echos Hitler's attack on the press in 1930s Germany as the Lügenpresse or the lying press.  Trump's characterization of the press critical of him as "enemies of the people" picks up a favorite phrase of Stalin.  Further, Trump not only speaks these epithets, but acts upon them, recently revoking CNN political correspondent Brian Karem's press pass after an exchange between Karem and Trump supporter Sebastian Gorka.  Karem has taken this to court. (The White House backed down last year after taking away CNN correspondent Jim Acosta's pass, and Acosta filed suit.  Acosta and CNN were lambasted as "fake news" by Trump even back when he was President-elect, in January 2017.) 

In tossing out Pollak, Beto's campaign is joining Trump in his contempt for the press, and by extension the American people, which I assume is the last thing that Beto wants to do.  People on Twitter, typically seeking to justify any attack on the right, have sought to explain what happened to Pollak by saying he isn't really a reporter and Breitbart not a legitimate source of news.  That, alas, is a traditional fascist tactic, used to justify suppression and even killing of human beings by arguing that the victims are not fully or really human.

Beto O'Rourke and his campaign can do better than emulating Trump and his fascist tactics.  I hope they see the light and apologize to Pollak.  It would amount to an apology to our democracy.

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