Whoopi Goldberg, suspended for two weeks by ABC for her comments about the Holocaust, had an opinion. She, like many people these days, is unable to properly contextualize history or see it outside her own contemporary leftist worldview. But Goldberg is a talk show host with no power. No one is really “hurt” by her words. She should be able to express herself without fear of losing her job. As should Joe Rogan and Ilya Shapiro.
That said, the slap on the wrist, probably intended to keep Goldberg out of the public eye to weather the storm, is also performative. No one really believes Goldberg’s career is in danger. And everyone knows that if Goldberg were a conservative, her career in mainstream entertainment would be over, and the nation would have been plunged into another insufferable “conversation” about the right-wing menace and the dangers of unfettered speech. Yet, when Goldberg gets suspended, suddenly, people like Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski are troubled about cancel culture.
Disney and ABC are owned by the same company. We should recall that Gina Carano, the actress who played Cara Dune in “The Mandalorian,” wasn’t placed on a two-week suspension. She was fired for “social media posts denigrating people based on their cultural and religious identities.” Carano hadn’t belittled anyone in the way Goldberg or even Ana Navarro did the other day when generalizing the attempted extermination of Jews as an act of “white supremacy” or white-on-white “inhumanity” on The View. Carano used Nazis to make a reductive, misplaced point about how dangerous it can be when the state singles out certain classes of people. The double standard was obvious immediately, as we learned that the actor Pedro Pascal, who plays the Mandalorian on the show, was comparing Auschwitz to the Trump-era border apprehensions. This is the same kind of thing Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and scores of liberals (and some conservatives) engage in. It would be wonderful if people had another historical event to exploit, but we’re going to need a lot of censors if ignorance is classified as a speech crime.
Or take Stephen Colbert, who had Goldberg on to explain her comments, resulting in one of the most painfully stupid conversations about the Holocaust I’ve ever witnessed. Still, the late night host let Goldberg have her say rather than merely accepting the least-generous interpretation of her words. The next day Colbert was on television insinuating that Ron DeSantis, governor of a state with the third-highest number of Jews in the nation, has Nazi sympathies because he didn’t take the time to condemn a few publicity-seeking cosplaying nuts in Orlando. For Colbert, who gives people such as Jew baiter Ilhan Omar softball interviews, antisemitism is mostly a useful cudgel with which to attack conservatives.
Though I haven’t seen any prominent conservative call for the firing of Goldberg, these double standards will almost surely harden conservative views on open speech. There will be tit for tat, pearl-clutching and pressure campaigns, but mostly, there will be calls for revenge. You can only expect people to live under two sets of rules and standards for so long. A large chunk of the left’s time these days is taken up with attempts to undercut open discourse. And not just the bunch of crybabies at Georgetown Law who are trying to get Shapiro fired for clumsily expressing the view of 76% of Americans, or “media reporters” at CNN, or musicians trying to pressure Spotify to deplatform Rogan; it’s the president and politicians who pressure companies to shut down speech they disapprove of.
Nor is it only well-known apostates who live in fear of committing speech crimes. A recent Manhattan Institute study found that 45% of employees under 30 are scared of losing their jobs because “someone misunderstands something you have said or done, takes it out of context, or posts something from your past online.” This kind of noxious anxiety should not exist in a liberal nation. And it’s liberal orthodoxy that will get you canned.
None of this is to say that we shouldn’t be critical of things people say, or that every nut has a God-given right to a television show. It does mean that those trying to cancel or chill speech are acting in illiberal ways. Either you believe in free expression as a neutral principle, or you don’t. Those who don’t are usually authoritarian. Though like most authoritarians, they don’t even know they’re the bad guys.