Last Wednesday, conservative Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby cited me by name in a column about how liberals want to destroy free speech.
This represents the latest (last?) stage in what has been a textbook conservative media swarm. It starts when a movement ideologue (in this case Marc Morano, hired attack dog of Sen. James Inhofe) plucks a quote out of context from an obscure source (in this case, Gristmill) and uses it to caricature the entire left side of the political spectrum. Then the context-free, already-spun quote spreads like wildfire around the conservative echo chamber, which is always ravenous for tidbits that reinforce its worldview. After buzzing around for a while, it drifts upward, being cited on talk radio and eventually in mainstream outlets like Fox News and now the Boston Globe.
It’s a well-oiled machine. I have no illusions that I can stop it or alter its course. The right’s sense of aggrievement, its victim complex, is adamantine, and nothing I can do will dent it.
Nonetheless, I sent a letter to the editor to the Globe. They printed an edited version of it today. Below is the original:
In his column on Wednesday, Jeff Jacoby recounted a handful of anecdotes wherein people say mean things to conservatives. We’re told this amounts to a War on Free Speech — no doubt waged on the same chimerical battlefield as the War on Christmas.
Jacoby cherry-picks this quote from me: "… we should have war crimes trials for these bastards — some sort of climate Nuremberg." In context it’s clear that, contrary to Jacoby’s claim, I’m not talking about garden-variety global warming skeptics. There are many, many people skeptical about the reality of anthropogenic climate change. I hope to reduce that number, but the notion of doing so through prosecution rather than persuasion is as repugnant to me as to any devotee of the Bill of Rights.
The bastards in question are not everyday skeptics but a network of industry operatives, for-hire scientists, and think-tank shills paid to create fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) around well-established scientific facts. A core group of these people obscured the health effects of tobacco for decades — "our product is doubt," as the infamous tobacco company memo put it — and now they’re doing the same thing on global warming. Many of the very same institutions and individuals are involved.
These folks are not "skeptical" in any epistemologically authentic way. They do not have a difference of opinion. They are not engaged in reasoned debate; they are engaged in a struggle for political and economic power. They have an agenda: to protect lumbering, fossil-fuel-intensive corporate dinosaurs.
These dinosaurs quake at the sight of smaller, faster, cleaner competitors scurrying about their feet. They fear the explosion of entrepreneurial imagination that a serious global warming campaign will unleash. So they do everything they can to delay that day of reckoning. In the process, they derogate the social institutions meant to inform and educate the public. Science. The media. Academia. The denial industry has sought to co-opt or marginalize them all.
These people do worse than suppress speech. They destroy the very preconditions of informed debate.
Contra Jacoby, I never "recanted" my comment. I merely acknowledged that the Nuremberg analogy was stupid. (A helpful tip to all you polemicists at home: leave the Nazis out of it!) Lord knows I don’t want to see any state-sponsored trials. What I want is transparency — a little sunlight cast on all the musty deceptions and backroom corporate connections.
Twenty years from now, we will look back and see that the mercenaries who lied about global warming for money, who worked single-mindedly on behalf of industry to delay action, are at least indirectly responsible for untold economic and human suffering. They are committing a moral crime and deserve our collective opprobrium.
It isn’t about suppressing their speech. It’s about holding them accountable for it.