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Monthly Workshops

Thompson Video

10/13/2020: Mark Thompson (Former New York Times CEO), "Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Securing the Future of Independent News"

SERIOUS INDEPENDENT JOURNALISM FACES two existential threats: economic destruction because of the failure of so many news organizations to find an adequate response to the digital challenge; and political and cultural rejection, not just by a new generation of populist leaders but by activists and pressure groups across the ideological spectrum. MARK THOMPSON, the outgoing CEO of The New York Times and a former Director-General of the BBC, explores these two – profoundly interconnected threats – and proposes how the news business can fight back and secure its own future. This event is the annual Annenberg Lecture and part of the Mitchell Center's Free Speech Battles series. It is co-sponsored by the Annenberg School for Communication, the Annenberg Public Policy Center, and the Center for Media @ Risk.

10/29/2020: Derek Black (Former White Nationalist), "The Opening of a White Nationalist Mind"

GROWING UP AS THE SON OF POPULAR radio host Don Black, who is credited with coining the term "white nationalism," DEREK BLACK became well-versed in the strategic use of speech: how, for instance, the subtle semantic shift from "white supremacy" to "white nationalism" helped racist ideas gain wider currency and acceptance. When he entered college, he encountered a different array of speech strategies aimed at countering his beliefs, ranging from outright shunning by outraged protesters to patient challenges to his beliefs by fellow students who accepted him as a person. These experiences have given him a unique vantage point not only on the roots of white nationalism and the ways it might be countered, but on both the deep value and potential dangers of free expression.


Campus Speech Battles Conference

9/24/20: Cerri Banks and Howard Gillman on "Student Speech and Administrative Responses"

9/25/2020: Geoffrey Stone on "The Chicago Statement Today"

9/25/2020: john powell and Nadine Strossen on "Current Free Speech Challenges on Campus and Beyond"

9/29/2020: Hank Reichman and Joan Scott on "Academic Freedom and Student Activism"

11/19/2020: Brian Berkey, Genevieve Lakier, and Amanda Shanor in a panel discussion on "Boycotts and Free Speech: BDS and Beyond"

BOYCOTTS OF CONSUMER GOODS as a means of applying political pressure have been part of American life since the first rumblings of the American Revolution. The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the movement to divest from South Africa demonstrated the continuing salience of this strategy. Recently, however, the call by the BDS movement to boycott, divest from, and sanction businesses and organizations associated with the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza has been met by state laws outlawing such actions. Ethicist BRIAN BERKEY (Wharton School) and legal scholars GENEVIEVE LAKIER (University of Chicago Law School) and AMANDA SHANOR (Wharton School) examine the First Amendment issues at play in this and similar conflicts. Go here to read Prof. Lakier's essay.

Campus Speech Battles

12/10/2020: Jaime Settle discusses "Internet Speech and Democratic Politics"

WHEN WE CONSIDER THE POTENTIAL THREATS POSED by social media to our democracy, we tend to focus on bad actors and their malicious intent. From this standpoint, the task of protecting democracy while preserving legitimate speech is a matter of targeting the trolls and bots that distort online discourse. JAIME SETTLE, author of Frenemies: How Social Media Polarizes America, suggests that the problem goes deeper. It may be that the forms of expression found on social media undermine, in and of themselves, the mutual tolerance required by a functioning democracy – that we become our own worst enemies. In the face of this challenge, Settle offers a framework to reduce polarization while upholding free speech rights.


1/21/2021: Neeti Nair discusses "'Hurt Sentiments' and Forbidden Speech in India"

RECENT COMMENTARY ON INDIA has referred to the country becoming a “republic of hurt sentiments.” In this live recording of the Mitchell Center Podcast, historian NEETI NAIR will gauge the state of free speech and secularism in India by analyzing the reasons behind the censorship (and rampant/limited circulation) of two texts. One is the assassin Nathuram Godse’s defense statement in the Gandhi murder case of 1948; and the other is four lines on the Ramayana epic, dating back over two millennia, that caught the unwanted attentions of a Hindu vigilante political party in 1993, then on the fringes of Indian politics. Her conversation with host MATTHEW BERKMAN will touch on other issues of free expression as well and will be followed by Q&A from the webinar audience. Read Prof. Nair's essay and other materials here.


2/18/2021: Fara Dabhoiwala on "The Secret History of the First Amendment"

INNOVATIVE HISTORY CAN NOT ONLY HELP EXPLAIN how we arrived at our current free speech predicaments, but also suggest ways of navigating and re-thinking them. FARA DABHOIWALA goes back to the invention of political free speech, in 18th century London, to uncover its secret, corrupt origins. Around 1700, “freedom of speech” remained an obscure concept. It was mainly used to describe MPs’ right to debate freely in Parliament, and by advocates of greater liberty of religious publication. Then, in the early 1720s, there suddenly appeared a text that rapidly established free speech in general as a central ideal, the very foundation of all political liberty: a series of newspaper essays by the Whig journalists John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon, using the pseudonym “Cato.” These writings proved to be immensely influential: not least as a prime source of American revolutionary ideas, and a direct influence on the First Amendment.


What these first theorists of free speech presumed, and what they chose to ignore, strongly determined the peculiar shape of the First Amendment. Revealing how partial the ideology of free speech has always been, Dabhoiwala suggests, allows us to address afresh the dilemmas of our own age of media revolutions, partisanship, fake news, hate speech, and demagoguery. Read Prof. Dabhoiwala's essay here.


4/15/2021: Catherine J. Ross on "A Right to Lie? Presidents, Other Liars, and the 1st Amendment"

IN HER UPCOMING BOOK, A Right to Lie? Presidents, Other Liars, and the First Amendment, CATHERINE J. ROSS examines the tension between the First Amendment’s protections for free speech and the need to combat the spread of lies that endanger democracy. Verifiable factual falsehoods are rife throughout the public square today, but former President Donald J. Trump’s unparalleled mendacity and its consequences for the nation – measured in threats to electoral legitimacy, COVID-19 deaths, and economic devastation – highlighted the urgent need to confront deception.


The First Amendment, she argues, is not the problem when it comes to presidential lies: lack of political will, abdication of congressional responsibility, and broader societal fault lines undermine potential solutions. Ross analyzes a question that first came up when Congress threatened President Richard Nixon with impeachment for, among other things, lying to the American public. On what grounds can a president be impeached for lies that do not violate any law? The question arose again with Presidents Clinton and Trump but has never been scrutinized or answered until now.

Ross proposes an approach consistent with First Amendment doctrine and the separation of powers: presidents work for us, they are subject to the lesser speech rights applicable to government employees, and Congress should use its oversight authority to hold the president to a standard of truth.

4/30/2021: Matt Shafer: "Silence in Violence, and So Is Speech: Language & Power Since Reagan"

OVER THE LAST SEVERAL DECADES, academics and activists alike have developed a range of perspectives on how speech and discourse function as a sphere of social and political power — and how language itself can become a form of violence. Andrea Mitchell Center Postdoctoral Fellow and political theorist MATT SHAFER examines where these ideas came from, what problems they have helped us understand, and why debates about them today can still feel so fraught. It might seem a contradiction for activists to talk both about how speech can be violent and about how silence can be too; and today, indeed, many commentators, academic and non-academic alike, have suggested that the term "violence" is now used for so much that it has become meaningless. Shafer pushes back against these skeptical conclusions, while taking seriously the concerns that motivate them, to suggest how we might think about language and power in ways that move beyond the impasse of contemporary debates on campus and beyond. Read Prof. Shafer's essay here.

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