At a blog called “Jessica’s Thoughts,” a non-lawyer feminist explains why revealing the Planned Parenthood videos aren’t free speech under the First Amendment. No one cared. After all, some random person named Jessica doesn’t really matter much. The internet is full of random people writing their deepest thoughts who don’t matter. That she wasn’t a lawyer reduced her thoughts even further. Seriously, someone with no clue what she’s talking about talks about it nonetheless. Alert the media!
But when her thoughts appear in the media, everything changes.
Jessica Valenti stood atop the Guardian’s big hill and explained her view of free speech law.
The Guardian attributes credibility to Jessica Valenti because she writes.
Jessica Valenti is a columnist and staff writer for Guardian US. She is the author of four books on feminism, politics and culture, and founder of Feministing.com. Her newest book, Sex Object, will be out in 2016.
What she writes about is feminism, which is fine if one is attempting to figure out what the feministing flavor du jour tastes like, but not if one wants to know anything about the law. She’s not a lawyer. She does, however, have a masters in gender studies from Rutgers.
So Jessica Valenti, having an ax to grind, promotes her feminist agenda by explaining how things that she wants to see accomplished are perfectly lawful. That she’s clueless is no surprise. Why would she be expected to know anything about the law? Why would she have any concern about getting the law right when she’s neither educated nor knowledgeable? Why should she even worry her head over such trivial concerns when she bears no responsibility for making people stupider, because she’s openly stupid about it?
The reason is that she wrote an op-ed about the law for the Guardian. And if it’s on a big soapbox, lots of people will read it. And lots of people will assume, wrongly, that the Guardian would never let some blithering legal idiot write mind-numbingly wrong stuff about the law. That would be totally irresponsible of the Guardian. And yet, it not only happens, but happens constantly.
Nearly everything you hear from atop the mountain is nonsense. That it’s nonsense really isn’t hard to see, as the writers have no qualifications in the subject matter. Hell, even when they are lawyers, they have been out of law school almost a half hour, never practiced law and couldn’t find their way to the courthouse without mapquest. Yet, they are the voices talking perfectly loud to teach the groundlings about law.
And the groundlings, by the millions, listen.
At Popehat, Ken White took Jessica Valenti to task for espousing her position that banal speech should be criminalized because it hurt her feminist eyes and ears.
Like many people who favor censorship but have a cookie-sheet-shallow grasp of its history, Valenti is misquoting Oliver Wendell Holmes dropping a rhetorical aside in Schenck v. United States. Holmes invoked that image to justify the prosecution and imprisonment of a man who criticized and questioned the draft during World War I. Of course, in the century since, American courts have abandoned Holmes’ sloppy and unprincipled stand, narrowing the “incitement” exception to intended to and likely to cause imminent lawless action. But Valenti speaks approvingly of the original ruling because, in her mind, it justifies censoring speech she doesn’t like.
For Ken to take seriously the feminist propaganda spouted by someone as ignorantly unworthy as Valenti is jarring. In a discussion of law, Valenti wouldn’t be allowed to hold Ken’s briefcase. But then, it’s not that the two are relative equals as to their respective understanding of the law. It’s that Valenti gets to spew her personal brand of law from the Guardian’s hill.
That’s what makes someone as unqualified as Valenti get the very valuable time of someone as qualified as Ken. That’s what makes pontification very wrong, as it’s not that anyone would look to someone like Jessica Valenti as their source of legal knowledge based upon her own qualifications and credibility. She has none.
What Valenti is, standing up so high, is a nobody with the Guardian’s megaphone. What we are, unfortunately, is too used to accepting the premise that anyone who gets to stand on the big hill must be someone whose opinions should be taken seriously. They must know something or they wouldn’t let them have their soapbox.
And indeed, they do know something. They know how to write on command. They know how to raise controversial issues so that people who don’t know as much will click on them. They know the importance of being reliable enough to fill the blank pages that a newspaper has to fill if it’s going to get its sheet out on time and keep those advertising dollars rolling.
In return, they get ascribed credibility. The medium is credible, and therefore they must be credible or the medium would never let them have a spot on their page. And we uncritically accept that they must be worthy of our eyeballs, making them similarly worthy of being taken seriously and being subject to scrutiny.
But strip Valenti of her megaphone and she’s, well, got nothing to say when it comes to law. So too for a great many people writing about law out there. But ironically, no matter how unqualified, ignorant, clueless, if they’re standing on top of the hill, we still take them seriously. At least, seriously enough to try to knock them off the hill, because we can’t bear to have them make people stupider.
Then again, they will reach millions of people. SJ has a fairly robust readership, and Popehat certainly has great reach for a blog, but neither of us will approach the eyeballs that mainstream media will reach. Yet, Jessica Valenti gets to write about law, secondary to her feminist agenda, for the Guardian and I still haven’t gotten the call from the New York Times offering me a column. At least Ken got a LA Times op-ed the other day, based on his post for Fault Lines. It’s something, even if Jessica Valenti still towers over us standing on top of the hill.