Friday, October 26, 2007

Horowitz and Shouting Down

Last night I spoke at DePaul University about threats to academic freedom, but also noted the fact that left-wingers need to be less stupid and avoid helping David Horowitz by shouting him down or tossing a pie in his face. That happened Wednesday at Emory University. Horowitz promptly used it to send out a fundraising letter. Horowitz benefits from free publicity (he was on Fox News Channel a few minutes ago, denouncing it as “part of a national hate movement”), a huge fundraising push, a seeming confirmation of his false view that conservative ideas are banished from college campuses, and a distraction from the criticism of bigoted views expressed by Horowitz and allies such as Ann Coulter.

Inside Higher Ed has a thread of comments about this. Here's what I wrote:

Let Horowitz Speak
It’s not completely clear to me yet if Horowitz was actually shouted down, or if he gave up because the heckling was so pervasive. I think he should have tried one more time to speak, but clearly we need to condemn (and perhaps arrest) the hard-core leftists who think they’re entitled to stop speakers they don’t like. These leftist idiots make Horowitz look like the victim, help persuade politicians to enact the repressive Academic Bill of Rights, and enable Horowitz to make huge amounts of money fundraising. Apparently these leftists are too stupid to see the consequences or they’re willing to help sacrifice academic freedom for a feeling of smug self-satisfaction.

In response to some critiques on that thread, here's my follow-up comment:

I should clarify some things I said. First, the “arrest” part I had talked about would only happen if someone refused to stop heckling and then refused to leave (see below). Second, my critique of “hard-core leftists” who heckle is accurate. They were leftists. I certainly am not condemning all leftists (most of whom disagree with shouting down speakers), just as I am not condemning all conservatives when I use the term to criticize Horowitz and his repressive allies.

Grover Furr is right to recommend my book (and its sequel, Patriotic Correctness, due out in December). Unfortunately, he’s wrong about everything else: I cannot imagine a case where “speakers should be forcibly stopped.” Academic freedom means freedom throughout a college, not merely the freedom of professors when teaching. Calling left-wingers left-wing is not “anticommunist” thinking. Describing people as left-wing or right-wing is not name-calling. And saying that “there’s no absolute right to free speech” can be used to justify any suppression of free speech. Free speech must include the silencing of heckling that has the design and effect of stopping free speech.

Sometimes there’s a fine line between protected heckling and illegitimately shouting down a speaker. Obviously, a certain amount of heckling must be tolerated as part of free speech (even if it’s annoying). However, if the heckling is so persistent that it’s interrupting every sentence and making it essentially impossible to hear, then it can be prohibited. Note that heckling refers only to interrupting a speaker with loudly spoken words that compete with the speaker’s words; responses such as cheering, applauding, booing, or hissing are fully permissable (unless it goes on loudly for a while and is designed to stop the speech). Also, shouting out statements or questions is perfectly legitimate (albeit annoying) during times when a speaker is not trying to speak: e.g., during an introduction or ending of a speech, or when a speaker is being cheered for a statement, or when a speaker encourages heckling.

The procedure a campus should follow is this: 1) a general warning to the audience not to heckle; 2) specific warnings to individuals not to heckle, ideally an initial warning and then a final warning; 3) removal of an individual who refuses to stop heckling; 4) arrest of an individual who refuses to be removed.

Unfortunately, I don’t think any college has this level of detail in its policies, which means that

I am troubled by the fact that an Emory administrator ordered everyone to sit down, which caused the final protest that led to the event to end. I believe that standing up during a speech falls into the category of annoying, but not punishable (unless it’s a movie or something where full visual access is essential). Standing up during a speech is rude, but it’s not disruptive in the way that constant heckling is. You can hear a speaker perfectly well even if someone is standing. I was very upset a few years ago when the University of Chicago removed a student from a Horowitz lecture for the crime of “disruption” by standing. The only exception I can see is that if someone sitting behind a standing protester objects, the standee should move to somewhere else in the room.

The proper response of Emory officials now should be to invite Horowitz to return for another speech, at the university’s expense.

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