It is a sad day in America when we cannot agree to disagree. It is sadder when failure in that regard is overtaken by an effort to smear those with whom we disagree.
This week saw such a sadder day, with the release, and widespread media magnification, of a report by a far-left group attacking by name hundreds of Republican officeholders nationwide charging them literally with guilt by association.
The headline in one Connecticut media outlet sounded the alarm: “Report finds 16 Connecticut legislators have joined ‘far-right’ Facebook groups.” Similar headlines appeared across the country. The subject of the “news” articles is a report by the progressive Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights (IREHR) that found that 900 Republican state legislators in all 50 states have joined at least one of “789 far-right Facebook groups.”
My first reaction was “horrors! Shiver my timbers!” I was so glad to have an exact scientifically-determined number – 789 – enumerating the groups threatening my freedom, all based upon real research. After all, the IREHR name includes “Research,” right?
My immediate response was to begin penning a satirical response: “Connecticut’s Congressional Democrats are Communist Sympathizers,” presenting actual facts — Senator Blumenthal addressing a Communist Party of the U.S. gala, etc. My satirical account was to name an equally unimpeachable but fictional source, “a new unavailable report compiled by the National Institute of People with Nothing Better to Do (NIP-NBD).”
However, maybe a serious critique and response to the IREHR report is a better approach.
First, people join Facebook groups for a myriad of reasons, only one of which is to support or endorse the organizing idea of the group. People are curious. People want to find out what is supposedly so demonic or retrograde about a group. Journalists join to conduct investigative work.
Attacking and smearing people for their associations is despicable… and unconstitutional. The Constitution protects the right to assemble. Joining an online group is today’s version of assembly.
Actually, given today’s left-wing beliefs, any criticism should really be focused upon Facebook: if the 789 groups constitute any threat whatsoever, Facebook is supposed to monitor or censor or dismantle them, isn’t it? Most conservatives, on the other hand, consider exercise of such control over social media as smacking of cancel culture or unconstitutional violation of free speech.
It used to be that Americans agreed with the statement that “I disagree completely with what he/she says, but I will defend absolutely his/her right to say it.”
What happened to that bedrock American belief?
After all, how can democracy work without disagreement?
Now, I’m sure some wiseacre is thinking, if Jahncke believes so strongly in free speech, why is he complaining about media speech about a report with which he disagrees?
Why? Because the report and much of the media coverage is not about ideas or beliefs, but rather it is all about smearing individuals who supposedly hold certain ideas.
The legal term for “smearing” is libel. Libel is illegal. No one has the right to libel someone. Fortunately, in this country, proving libel is very difficult. That’s how much Americans believe in free speech. Or once did.
Yet the IREHR and its media enablers are engaging essentially in libel — libel as part of a strategy of assigning guilt by association, as to which it should be said that no American judge would allow charges of guilt by association to be uttered in a courtroom.
Let’s just dip a toe into the IREHR waters to gauge just how hysterical and unserious its report is. Groups advocating keeping schools open or re-opening schools are evidently considered COVID denier groups and included among the “789 far-right groups.” PUHlease!
I would be proud to be a member of the open-schools groups. I just haven’t taken the time to join. I have advocated for open schools from the beginning of the pandemic. I consider myself extremely fortunate that my youngster has attended in-person public-school kindergarten and first grade almost every day over the last two school years.
I will remain willfully ignorant of the substance and the details of the IREHR report. It is a document not worthy of even a glance. The 16 Republicans fingered by IREHR should wear its attack as a red badge of courage.
Red Jahncke is a nationally recognized columnist, who writes about politics and policy. His columns appear in numerous national publications, such as The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, USA Today, The Hill, Issues & Insights and National Review as well as many Connecticut newspapers.