Here are two pieces of news, that attempt to tackle the issue of free speech on campuses across the country. I think it is necessary to read the article and watch the video to understand my story. Sorry for the homework.
It is particularly noteworthy that I sat in the classroom gawking at the author of the New Republic piece, Aaron Hanlon, with fellow TakePlug writer Colin Finn (who introduced me to this Tucker Carlson video) for the entirety of my Fall semester. Forgive my bias, but it is my opinion that anyone who has sat in a classroom at Colby with Professor Hanlon understands his level-headed nature and staggering intelligence. However, Carlson, a conservative journalist and television personality, treated him like he would have treated me had I decided to take him on during his show. Hanlon, a professor less proficient in the world of television than Carlson, performed admirably against an opposition obsessed with nitpicking points, deflecting facts, dodging true issues. He also continuously attempted to swerve his story towards memorable quotations, baiting responses, and storylines that promote the agenda of his network and viewing public, rather than foster true debate. The intent of this article is not to attack conservative media outlets, but rather to use Carlson and Hanlon’s debate as a device to showcase the problems of media coverage in general.
Hanlon’s New Republic article seems to make the following argument: because colleges are supposed to be spaces of high intellectual stimulation, and because there is a plethora of biased, dumbed-down clickbait all over the internet, institutions of higher education should be able to decide who they invite to speak on their campuses based on their merits and standards that they are able to set. Moreover, because student groups often choose to invite controversial figures to their campuses, both liberal and conservative young people become obsessed with protests, violence, and movements, rather than the intellectual debates speakers are supposed to foster. Whether you agree with the argument or not, I believe that it is at least a debatable and well-researched thought.
I doubt Colby would choose to disinvite conservative speakers of merit, such as Tucker Carlson, a graduate of NESCAC safety-school staple Trinity College, to our campus. I think, actually, our school would celebrate his speeches on campus. But Tucker Carlson, a relatively level-headed person, would never be high on the list of people to invite at Colby by our conservatives, I think, because he would not be enough of a headline and controversy. This highlights the first issue Hanlon brings up: the fact that controversy is now more than important than intellectual debate. This is a trap our media falls into as well, because they are trying to create a controversy, or at least get clicks, consistently.
Take the video for example, which falls under the title “‘Why not burn their books?...” on the FoxNews Insider website. It is no coincidence that that is the title, seeing as it was the most ridiculous statement of the entire video, along with Carlson’s claim that Hanlon supports fascism. Any reasonable person who watched that video should be able to understand that burning a person’s books is not the same as disinviting them to campuses. In fact, Hanlon said “they can read their books.”
Hanlon also adamantly defends free speech throughout his video, and provides rational arguments for his points. His article in the New Republic is long and time-consuming to read, and it obviously comes from a place of research and thought. And yet, at the end, to get the final word, Carlson smugly says “Boy, I remember a time when liberal professors advocated for free speech,” in hopes of it landing as a “kill shot” to a “snowflake.” Carlson knows Colby College, and probably understands Hanlon’s level of education, and yet he dismisses him with lines dedicated to producing clickbait, and treats my professor like a fascist without really ever bringing up relevant points.
Take Hanlon’s point about denied speakers, who are factually not all from the right. Hanlon mentions this, and cites a specific website as an example. Carlson asks for an example, which Hanlon provides, and then the host goes into deeper specifics, citing the violence of students his opponent had already condemned, both times trying to trap Hanlon even though his point had already been made and backed up by facts. This happens all the time in media. To me, it seems that when experts come in agreeing with the hosts of television programs, they are treated with supreme respect, but when educators come in disagreement, they are more often “crazy.” Why is that?
Carlson laughs at Hanlon the entire time, trying to provoke him into emotional stuttering (obviously a person new to television will stutter, especially when set off course and angered) and apparent stupidity. However, when Hanlon laughs at him, Carlson perks up and challenges him, because he is obviously taking offense to the apparent mockery of his opponent. Can it not go both ways? It should be able to, and yet it will still never go both ways on Carlson’s debate show, since Carlson’s smiling and laughter comes from a place of mocking, attempting to provoke (Carlson is a skilled debater, and that’s a great tactic) and making sure his audience thinks he is in control. When Hanlon laughs, it comes from a place of genuine disbelief that media outlets continue to beat around the bush on real conversation topics.
Yet, comments on Youtube, Twitter, and Facebook are attempting to destroy Hanlon, and call into question his legitimacy as a professor and my college’s legitimacy as that institution that employs him. This is because Tucker Carlson agrees with those commenters and appeals to them no matter what because he uses his skilled debating to dismiss facts presented to him. His smiles, controversial points catering to short attention spans, dodging of true debatable and intellectually stimulating points, and ability to both start and end the segment of debate make sure that he emerges the apparent winner of any conversation no matter what, especially to an uneducated population dying to see a “snowflake” taken down.
This goes both ways, as Trevor Noah’s “destruction” (in my opinion, an unfunny segment not promoting any sort of stimulation) of Tomi Lahren that went viral proves. The fad of inviting people who disagree with an ideological perspective different from yours and “destroying” them or “ending their careers” is what is actually destroying debates surrounding critical issues. Instead of media outlets consistently being biased, why do they not just report news as they see it? Why can’t it be educated people, rather than appealing and clickable personalities run debate shows? Why can Carlson not treat my English professor with a little respect and actually look at issues he attempts to tackle in articles in the New Republic and otherwise? Debate shows and news outlets seem to be just theatric, dumbed-down clickbait attempting to brainwash voters.
I actually do not agree with all of Hanlon’s points regarding free speech on campuses and invitees, and I think there could be a real debate surrounding the two sides of the argument. It’s just a shame that that debate will never come to fruition, and that my English professor will likely not be the head of it.
- Will Walkey