Friday, May 8, 2015

Why I'm canceling my subscription to The New York Times

(UPDATE, December 10, 2015: I have resumed by subscription after the Times published this in its front page.)

In different circumstances, I'd have kept this private, but I think that I'll make an exception: I'm canceling my subscription to The New York Times tomorrow.

I was really close to doing it after my favorite newspaper, the one I have learned to love so much, didn't take a clear position in favor of freedom of speech after Islamic radicals murdered several employees at Charlie Hebdo. Instead, the Times leaned toward the  “yes, but...” stance, which I find repulsive. It didn't even publish the cartoons, even if those cartoons did have news value. Their explanations were insufficient.

Let's be clear: The Charlie Hebdo folks were murdered over cartoons. There was no moral “but” possible in that situation. Moreover, Charlie Hebdo wasn't ridiculing an ethnic group, but a religion, which is a set of ideas like any other. People deserve respect as human beings, but no one's beliefs have that right.

Also, there is a right to offend (that's another name for free speech, actually) but a right not to be offended can't exist because different groups are deeply insulted by different things. If we avoid offending the followers of a specific ideology, why shouldn't we grant everyone the same deference and dispose of free speech altogether? Charlie Hebdo viciously and regularly ridiculed Catholicism, Judaism, and the French extreme right, to name just a few of its targets. Should any those systems of ideas be respected? Of course not. No idea deserves respect. Not mine. Not yours.

As a reader and a fan, I decided to give the Times a pass back then. But I changed my mind after reading this editorial two days ago, which made me really angry. Notice the “but” again. The fallacious moral equivalences. The dubious understanding of what “hate speech” is (no, mocking ideas or mythical Dark Ages heroes, no matter how harshly, isn't hate speech.) Is Pamela Geller an odious person? I don't know, but it seems that she is. So what? Do folks I might consider despicable have a lesser right to speak their minds? The exhibit Geller put together was a provocation, says the Times editorialist. Granted, although, again, it seems to have mocked ideas, not people. In what way does that justify this dreadful editorial and the pattern of thought at the Times management level that it embodies? Artists provoke all the time. Freedom of speech doesn't stop being freedom of speech just because it's been used by someone whose worldview you happen to loathe.

I think that buying a newspaper subscription nowadays is a form of support for an institution that you want to survive in the long term because it's a societal good. I don't pay for the Times to read it. I could do that for free online. I pay because I admire the work it produces, which I'll keep praising in classes and workshops. But if a newspaper (a newspaper!) can't take the right position on one of the most fundamental tenets of an open society, I'm sorry but I feel that I should move my small contribution elsewhere. Take it as a tiny sign of protest. In the big scheme of things, it means very little. But enough is enough.

To understand this decision better, please read this, this, this, and this.