Jeffrey Lord, CNN & Misunderstanding the First Amendment

jeffrey lord

CNN fired Jeffrey Lord this week after he responded to online critical feedback with the Nazi slogan “Sieg Heil!” Lord – an avid Trump supporter and self-proclaimed “First Amendment fundamentalist” – spent much of his time on CNN defending the Trump administration’s excuses and outright lies.

Background

The termination happened after Lord wrote an article attacking Media Matters president Angelo Carusone. Carusone (and Media Matters) repeatedly criticized CNN for hiring Lord since he was first brought on in August 2015.

Responding to Lord’s tweet announcing a newly published article attacking Media Matters (and Carusone specifically), Carusone pointed out an obvious error and asked why anyone should take Lord seriously if he couldn’t bother with copy-editing his work before publication. Here’s the exchange:


Here’s how Lord responded:


The opinion piece in question where Lord misspelled Carusone’s name was an article in The American Spectator that characterized the left-leaning outfit as being “Media Matters Fascists.” Specifically, Lord took issue with Media Matters’ targeting of Sean Hannity’s advertisers after Sean Hannity continued propagating the debunked Seth Rich conspiracy theory.

They expanded that effort in pointing out Hannity’s transformation into being a full-blown media arm of the Trump administration essentially parroting any talking point the administration issues even if facts blatantly contradict the story.

“Media Matters is launching an effort to encourage Hannity’s sponsors to stop financially supporting his propaganda,” Media Matters said in a message to their email list last week. “At this point, if a company is sponsoring Sean Hannity’s show, it’s essentially supporting a Trump propaganda operation.”

Lord took issue with this and responded with his op-ed that led to an inappropriate Nazi-esque proclamation that crossed a line for CNN.

Lord & The First Amendment

In his criticism of Media Matters, Lord offered an argument based not in law but in his personal and inaccurate interpretation of the law.

In the article he said in part:

It is not a lie, Angelo, that you and MMF [Media Matters] are trying to end Sean Hannity’s free speech. You have been playing this fascist game for years with others — Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, etc, etc. If there is a conservative with an audience of any size your fascist instinct is not to debate honestly but to simply silence the opposition. Period. Threaten their sponsors and bully.

This is America, Angelo. Not Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany or Communist Russia.

To wit, a non-governmental private outfit – Media Matters – literally cannot “end Sean Hannity’s free speech.” Only the government has the power to censor or otherwise stifle free speech. The First Amendment has nothing to say about non-governmental entities like Media Matters.

What Media Matters is doing would be more appropriately characterized as engaging in use of the capitalistic free market in targeting Hannity’s funding sources. From a constitutional standpoint, that’s not a violation of anyone’s free speech rights.

He didn’t stop there though.

He went on to characterize Carusone and Media Matters as Nazis (after using the Nazi salute himself) telling Entertainment Weekly, “Caving to bullies, caving to people who use fascist and Nazi-style tactics to try and remove people from the air is unacceptable.” He added, “I mocked this guy. Mocking Nazis is okay. That’s a good thing, not a bad thing. A writer has only a handful of tools in his writer’s box, and mockery is one of them. To suggest that this is anything other than that, to my way of thinking, is caving in. And I’m not going to cave.”

(The Anne Frank Center did not take kindly to Lord’s repeated use of Naziism to demean and mock others.)

In an interview with the Associated Press following his termination from CNN, Lord argued, “I want to make something very clear. I have nothing but respect, affection and love for CNN. I think the world of CNN. I think they’re terrific people and serious people.”

He added, “From my perspective CNN caved on the First Amendment of all things. I disagree. I respectfully disagree.”

CNN cannot “cave” on the First Amendment as they are not beholden to it to begin with. That is literally not how the First Amendment works.

Free Speech Versus Free Market

In his arguments, Lord often confuses the free market (capitalism) with free speech (as protected by the First Amendment).

Nowhere is this more prevalent than his comments about CNN “caving” on the First Amendment. The First Amendment does not guarantee anyone a job or a platform for speech. It does not protect anyone from the consequences of free speech including being fired from a non-governmental employer.

CNN was under no obligation – First Amendment or otherwise – to keep paying Lord for his opinions. After they commented that “Nazi salutes are indefensible,” CNN made clear their corporate principles did not align with Lord’s speech and they made a decision (couched in their rights as a non-governmental for-profit entity in the free market) to fire him.

That termination did not violate Lord’s free speech First Amendment rights.

This strategy has become commonplace on the right – particularly among white men who are finding their white male privilege no longer extends them protection when offering abhorrent views.

James Damore – the now fired Google engineer who published a misogynistic memo to an internal virtual bulletin board essentially saying women weren’t biologically suited to excel in certain industries – serves as a perfect example of this as he immediately ran to the extreme right community to lick his wounds. He’s attempting to make a free speech case out of the firing despite Google having every right to fire him for creating a hostile work environment while using their corporate resources to propagate anti-woman propaganda.

Which is to say, the so-called First Amendment free speech activists on the right really should read up on the amendment they’re claiming to champion. It doesn’t protect you from the consequences of that speech. Moreover, it protects the rights of journalists and the free press just as much as it protects the speech of individual citizens – something Lord and other Trump sycophants seem to overlook each time they attack mainstream media outlets as “fake news.”

Tim Peacock is the Managing Editor and founder of Peacock Panache and has worked as a civil rights advocate for over twenty years. During that time he’s worn several hats including leading on campus LGBT advocacy in the University of Missouri campus system, interning with the Colorado Civil Rights Division, and volunteering at advocacy organizations. You can learn more about him at his personal website.

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