It was perhaps inevitable that in the wake of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, people would seek to exploit the tragedy in pursuit of a political agenda far beyond it. Joe Scarborough, for example.
Lawyers from @Apple @amazon @Google and @RokuPlayer should watch these disturbing videos and remove this channel. They incite violence and could make anyone streaming them liable. https://t.co/sSDmwPKBIo
— Joe Scarborough (@JoeNBC) February 24, 2018
Scarborough has a law degree, so he should know that the Supreme Court’s decision in Brandenburg v. Ohio holds that “the constitutional guarantees of free speech and free press do not permit a State to forbid or proscribe advocacy of the use of force or of law violation except where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.” Brandenburg also applies in civil lawsuits like the one brought against then-candidate Donald Trump regarding violence at one of his campaign rallies.
Oddly—or perhaps not—the CNN story to which Scarborough referred does not contain or link to any NRATV videos. The gun control groups agitating against NRATV appear to be referring to things like a recent ad that Vox helpfully voxplained to its readers “comes this close to calling for a civil war against liberals” but “isn’t an outright exhortation to violence.”
Granted, NRATV has been displaying a tendency toward rhetoric that conflates speech with violence, which is normally what might be expected from campus progressives. But the idea that streaming services might be liable for this sort of political hyperbole is risible.
Scarborough knows or should know all of this. The attorneys at the tech companies competing with Scarborough’s current bosses certainly do, and will likely laugh off his misleading tweet as a ham-fisted attempt to politically pressure his clients into altering their programming decisions. They are also likely aware of the degree to which Scarborough’s own past colors the public’s view of his current antics.
Do As I Say, Not As I Do
The gap between Scarborough’s post-Parkland hysterics and his record as a congressman was recently highlighted by The Weekly Standard’s Jay Cost. During his tenure in office, Scarborough voted against gun-show background checks, and for the repeal of the federal assault weapons ban.
Scarborough says he changed his opinion on those issues after the school shooting at Sandy Hook. However, as Cost observed, Scarborough’s tenure overlapped the mass shooting at Columbine High School, at the time the deadliest such event in decades (15 dead, 21 injured). The survivors might wonder why their tragic losses failed to seize Joe’s conscience.
That’s just Columbine. While Scarborough was in Congress, there were also shootings at: Frontier Middle School shooting (3 dead, 1 injured); San Diego State University (3 dead); Heath High School (3 dead, 5 injured); Westside Middle School (5 dead, 10 injured); and Thurston High School (4 dead, 25 injured).
After retiring, but before Scarborough changed his tune, there were also shootings at: Red Lake High School (9 dead, 5 injured); West Nickel Mines School (5 dead, five injured); Virginia Tech (32 dead, 23 injured); Northern Illinois University (5 dead, 21 injured); University of Alabama, Huntsville (3 dead, 3 injured); Chardon High School (3 dead, 3 injured); and Oikos University (7 dead, 3 injured).
Scarborough began hosting “Morning Joe” around the time of the Virginia Tech massacre, and did a segment on videos the killer made and sent to NBC. He was obviously aware of this shooting, which had higher fatalities and many more injuries than Sandy Hook (27 dead, 2 injured). In his defense, Scarborough pompously included the quote, “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” which is often dubiously attributed to John Maynard Keynes (though not by Scarborough).
What Facts Changed Scarborough’s Mind?
What facts changed here? School shootings, including Columbine and Virginia Tech, were already a tragic blight on the American landscape. The right of innocent citizens to defend themselves remained in the Constitution. The disregard mass shooters have for laws and morality remains a constant.
After Sandy Hook, Scarborough cited personal factors that caused him to change his mind, including his proximity to the school and the age of his own children. It is not clear that this level of self-centeredness is a better rationalization than rank hypocrisy.
Let’s also note that Scarborough claimed in his monologue that “we” said after Columbine and other shootings that “nothing can ever be the same,” though this is obviously not how he voted at the time. Scarborough also partially blamed violent movies and video games for mass shootings, marking the beginning of his walk away from freedom of expression.
Perhaps Scarborough convinced himself of his personal conversion on these issues. Others noticed Scarborough mentioned his political record but failed to highlight that he went from being accountable to voters to being accountable to Comcast and MSNBC viewers.
From Giving Away One Natural Right to the Whole Store
In either event, once Scarborough flipped on background checks and so-called assault weapons, it was just one more quick flop for him to support a Democratic proposal to keep people on the no-fly list from buying guns, which would manage to impinge on not only the right to bear arms, but also the right to due process.
This is often the way things tend to go. Once someone starts going soft on something as basic as the right to self-defense, values like due process and freedom of speech also start to diminish in the mind. The protections of the Bill of Rights exist not for the popular cases, but for the unpopular ones.
Again, Scarborough knows this, as surely as he knows his viewers do not want to hear it when it comes to the National Rifle Association or gun owners. Moreover, his increasing political flexibility is hardly limited to issues of civil liberties.
For example, Scarborough’s cozy relationship with candidate Trump during the 2016 primaries was so blatant that it troubled the network’s top brass, even before the infamous hot mic episode during an MSNBC town hall made it undeniable. Of course, that was before Trump became the nominee, when Scarborough and the rest of the media were entertaining their audiences with excessive and preferential coverage of his appearances and rallies for ratings.
Once Trump was a potential president, he became a threat to the republic in Scarborough Country, a position undoubtedly more amenable to Scarborough’s viewers and those at corporate. Indeed, Scarborough then complained that CNN was milking Trump for ratings. He really deserves an award for chutzpah for that one.
Scarborough has held almost as many positions on the merits of Mitt Romney as Romney has had on the merits of Trump. The list of his convenient shifts in opinion goes on and on. He has every right to do this; would that he had the same respect for the rights of others who disagree with him at any particular moment on his personal journey.
As someone once wrote: “Self-righteousness is a dangerous vice. It breeds arrogance and moral blind spots for those who come to believe they are superior to those who share different worldviews.” You probably already guessed that someone is Joe Scarborough. It appears that self-righteousness, arrogance, and moral blind spots are just three more things on which he has changed his opinion.