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Monday, November 17, 2014

Time Magazine Still Working Out Kinks of New Censorship Initiative

One of the things Time Magazine recently chose to use its First-Amendment-protected freedom to accomplish was to find out from its readers "Which Word Should be Banned in 2015".   Promoting a speech ban seems like an incongruous agenda for an institution that is protected by the First Amendment, yet the article does not appear to have been conceived in a spirit of irony  -- although the exercise wound up as a kind of self-inflicted parody.

Time gave its readers a list of 14 candidates that included "kale", "disrupt", "influencer", "said no one ever" and ... "feminist".  I try to imagine the meeting at which the list was being drawn up and someone was proposing "feminist" and all I can think of is Ricky Gervais.  But it went on the list and a writer (named Katy Steinmetz -- imagine how this story goes if a man writes the article) generated the article summarizing the arguments to ban each offending word.   (To throw another log on the irony fire, Steinmetz wrote this article earlier in the year, snarking at other persons' efforts to ban words.)  Her campaign speech to ban "feminist" was:

"You have nothing against feminism itself, but when did it become a thing that every celebrity had to state their position [link in original]on whether this word applies to them, like some politician declaring a party? Let’s stick to the issues and quit throwing this label around like ticker tape at a Susan B. Anthony parade."

So the poll was launched and, of all things, which word jumps way ahead of all the others but "feminist." OOPS!  Who saw that coming (said no one ever, at least within Time Inc.).

And then Glenn Reynolds called attention to it in his USA Today column
and apparently a backlash grew about Ricky Gervais's brilliant parody
Time's lack of respect for the word "feminist", and Time's managing editor, Nancy Gibbs, wound up inserting the following apology at the top of the webpage with the poll (which seems to have been aborted -- I cannot check any of the boxes opposite the words):

TIME apologizes for the execution of this poll; the word ‘feminist’ should not have been included in a list of words to ban. While we meant to invite debate about some ways the word was used this year, that nuance was lost, and we regret that its inclusion has become a distraction from the important debate over equality and justice.


In other words, Time needs to do a better job of censoring its censorship proposals.  Among great moments of First Amendment expression, where does the phrase "the word 'feminist' should not have been included in a list of words to ban" rank?  Kind of way down there, real low?


I am not a big user of aphorisms, but one I came across years ago from management guru Peter Drucker always stuck with me for some reason, and it seems very applicable to the editor's apology.  It goes to the effect of: "There is no greater waste of time for a manager than working to improve that which should not be done at all."  American media organizations protected by the First Amendment should not be refining lists of words to ban, nor apologizing for inclusion of one particular word in such a list.  They should not be suggesting the banning of speech at all, even in jest. Like political candidates, they should stay on message, all the time, and that message is, freedom of speech. 


(h/t: Hot Air)