Washington Post employees should vehemently protest their owner and his flagship company for eroding norms of free expression.
Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s famous founder and CEO, owns The Washington Post, a news outlet presumably staffed by people with an interest in preserving a culture of free expression given that it makes their journalism possible. Bezos is allowing Amazon’s corporate might to deplatform Ryan T. Anderson, a perfectly mainstream conservative writer who researches transgenderism with nuance and compassion.
Amazon recently yanked Anderson’s popular 2018 book “When Harry Became Sally: Responding To The Transgender Movement” from its digital shelves. The company sought to stack the deck against Abigail Shrier’s “Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters” last summer as well.
In effect, corporate executives operating under Bezos’s leadership are categorizing reasonable, good-faith arguments on one side of a contentious and consequential political issue as bigotry. They’re also using that egregious and offensive definition of bigotry to purge dissent from their powerful and massive platforms. (As Christina Hoff Sommers points out, they’re also doing that unevenly.)
It’s not just that Amazon is blocking Anderson’s access to the world’s largest book store. As one of the world’s most powerful corporations, Amazon is using its power to erode our norms of free expression, narrowing the boundaries of acceptable speech to one side of hotly-contested political debate.
Why does it matter? The free exchange of ideas is how journalists and readers sort fact from fiction, hold powerful people like Bezos to account, and work through good and bad. Corporate executives should not make those decisions for us.
People can debate market share and monopolies, but wherever you land on those questions, this corporate conduct is morally wrong. It’s defensible only if you accept that Anderson and the perspective he represents is objectively bigoted and then also accept that corporations should make those decisions.
I’m entirely sympathetic to the argument that private business owners should have the freedom to decide what they sell, like Jack Phillips. This isn’t an argument against that. This is an argument against the mentality that drives corporate executives to categorize reasonable people as bigots, which leads to harmful deplatforming, unjust personal and professional consequences, and dangerously one-sided debates moderated by oligarchs.
It’s also an argument that free expression is essential, even when it’s difficult or painful, in order to sharpen our policies and ideas. That’s why it’s been our norm for decades.
The journalists who work for Bezos know that. They benefit from it daily. It’s not just about precedent, it’s about principle, and as a matter of principle, journalists who work for Bezos should oppose and protest Amazon’s enforcement of political deplatforming and narrowed speech boundaries. It’s wrong and dangerous.
This oligarchical manipulation of speech norms should be especially irksome to members of the fourth estate whose paychecks ultimately come from Bezos.