Breitbart’s Populism Could Lead to Censorship If We’re Not Careful

Republicans are no longer the party of limited government and hands-off capitalism. Of course, they never were, so it’s not really a great loss. But in recent years, especially since Donald Trump, Republicans have moved toward nationalism and populism. I’m all for populism when it means getting the government off the backs of the people — all people, whether they comprise big business, small business, people seeking to exercise their First or Second Amendment rights, or anything else in the name of individual rights.

But populism can also mean other things. It can mean doing whatever the majority wants merely because the majority wants it. A disconcerting and potentially chilling example occurred in an interview of Breitbart’s Alex Marlow by Bill Maher.

Breitbart News Editor-in-Chief Alex Marlow was recently interviewed by Democratic leftist Bill Maher. Maher raised the issue of corporations pulling ads from people who engage in speech they do not like. Sometimes it happens to right-wing media like Breitbart, and sometimes it happens with left-leaning media, as in the recent Kathy Griffin spectacle. Marlow said, “This really started–in my view–in the modern era, with Breitbart–where a lot of people are boycotting Breitbart. And what they’re doing is, there’s a lot of anonymous people online, cowardly people. We don’t know who’s funding them. We don’t know who they are, who are putting out all of this misinformation about who we are and what we stand for, and they’re trying to round up corporations to boycott us. And so, what’s happened is that corporations are now deciding what’s free and fair speech, who can make a living, what opinions you can make a living saying now, and, of course, now, you’re seeing the right fight fire with fire and want boycotts of when the left takes it too far in their Trump hatred. So it’s a very dangerous path we’re on, and I really do think, Bill, and I appreciate you giving me this opportunity, people on the left and the right who are free speech advocates need to come together right now and say that corporations are not going to define the First Amendment and free speech in this country.”

Marlow is right to condemn people who make up lies. For example, lies are being spread that Breitbart is anti-Semitic. It’s absurd, because Breitbart focuses its stories very heavily against Islam and Islamic-inspired terrorism in favor of Jews and the Jewish state of Israel. Whatever you think of Breitbart’s positions or tactics, it’s ridiculous to call it anti-Semitic. Breitbart is also associated with white supremacists. There’s no trace of white supremacy on Breitbart’s website, whatever you otherwise think of it.

To condemn people who lie about you is one thing. But exactly how is it “dangerous” for companies to pull their money from advertising when they disagree with someone’s positions, or perhaps worry about public relations? Whether the company’s reasoning is rational or not, and based on truth or not, it’s a company’s moral and therefore political right to pull advertising at any time for any reason it chooses, so long as it does not violate a written and legal contract, of course.

Does Alex Marlow mean to imply otherwise? It’s not clear to me from his comments on Bill Maher’s show. What is clear, if you watch the video of Marlow’s interview, is that he generated a big applause line from a presumably leftist, Democratic audience on Maher’s show. It’s easy to bash corporations and to call their actions “dangerous” when you don’t like their positions. But the objective fact remains: Corporations have no power to restrain free speech — nor should they. When a corporation chooses to pull its advertising dollars for any reason, from Breitbart or anywhere else, including left wing websites, they’re not violating anyone’s rights. Let’s get this clear, Alex Marlow! Ditto for other populist conservatives. The Constitution exists to uphold individual rights, not the rights of the majority.

If corporations have too much power or influence with the government — and they do — it’s only because government becomes involved in business in the first place, with all the regulation, subsidizing and taxing it does. In a totally free market, which populist Breitbart does not advocate, you wouldn’t have to worry about undue influence from big business, because politicians would have nothing to do with business, big or small. When a left wing, socialist Bill Maher audience applauds a Breitbart editor for implying that individual rights end the moment you start to make some money, we’ve moved beyond the Constitution’s promise to uphold individual rights for everyone in a way the left has already long since established. Not a good omen.

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