“A free and independent press is vital to preserve, but doing so requires the people running media companies to take that idea out of mothballs”

Jay Caspian Kang

Of all the signs of the death of free speech—whether the raft of anti-protest legislation that passed in state houses across the country after the summer of 2020, or the much-cited polls that show that free expression is not a primary concern to young people—none should be as concerning as the relative silence around the legitimate free-speech crisis that has unfolded over the past month.

Nearly every corner of American life has felt the chill. On Tuesday night, the House of Representatives voted to censure Rashida Tlaib, the only Palestinian American member of Congress, for her statements on the war in Gaza, including amplifying the phrase “from the river to the sea.” In the corporate world, there has been a bizarre multi-industry campaign to either reprimand current employees or refuse to hire people for participating in a protest or signing their names in support of Palestine.

The media business has seen numerous firings, resignations, and hastily implemented new policies on employees making political statements. These include the firing of Mike Eisen, the editor-in-chief of the biomedical-science journal eLife, after he retweeted a satirical article from the Onion; the firing of David Velasco, the editor-in-chief of Artforum, after he signed and published a letter that expressed solidarity with the cause of Palestinian liberation and called for an immediate ceasefire; and the resignation of the Times staff writer Jazmine Hughes after she signed, in violation of a newsroom policy, a different Palestine solidarity statement, which several New Yorker writers also signed. (The board of eLife said in a statement that it had had broader concerns about Eisen’s social-media use, among other things.) Hearst Magazinesalso made a truly draconian move to crack down on any political speech expressed by its employees on social media, including “liking” other people’s posts.