Hearst Is Right to Set Policies Limiting Political Speech

Just because you can speak doesn't mean you should.

Samira Nasr, the editor-in-chief of Harper’s Bazaar, was forced to apologize on social media for alleging that Israel had cut off power in Gaza and calling it the “most inhuman thing” she has “ever seen.” Arturo Holmes/Getty Images

Since the atrocities of October 7th, many companies have started to impose social media blackouts of political opinion on their employees. For those in business, the C-Suites do not wish for the toxicity affecting the streets and campuses to infect their workplaces or business reputation. Particularly for those in publishing, unless the publication has a certain political leaning, it is important for the brand integrity to be protected and to appear as unbiased as possible. 

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This should be elementary common sense to the average employee, but even senior characters have lost their senses as of late. Samira Nasr, the editor-in-chief of Harper’s Bazaar, was forced to apologize on social media for alleging that Israel had cut off power in Gaza and calling it the “most inhuman thing” she has “ever seen.” Putting aside the profound inhumanities witnessed by the world shortly before,  Nasr used a social media platform where she is prominently tied to Hearst to peddle her seemingly broken moral compass. Maybe this is a side-effect of the creation of the urban hermit during Covid, where some are not used to interacting with other humans. More likely, this was just self-centeredness, as Nasr’s errant pronouncement was more important than Hearst’s reputation.  

Nasr not only had to apologize but her words were so misconstrued that she needed to explain that she is not sympathetic to terrorists. That one does not support brutalizers and medieval sadists should be a given (one might have thought) for one editing the preeminent style resource for women since 1867. However, the person whose job chiefly is to edit failed to analyze her own work critically—or maybe did not care to. Not only do comments like this fuel antisemitism, but they tarnish Hearst and can cause division in the workplace.  

Hearst is undoubtedly right to set policies limiting political speech purely to protect its reputation, to protect itself and the staff from each other. Then again, if political speech were to be banned, the employer would not be giving the bigot enough rope to hang himself with. You see, people just can’t help themselves. 

When I was young, it was considered deeply impolite to ask how somebody had voted in a given election because one’s political opinion was considered personal. I don’t know when all of that changed, but certainly, by the last presidential election, those who voted against Trump screamed it from the rooftops, and those not voting for Biden confessed in dark corners, only when they were sure that they were amongst potentially like minds. Now, people can’t seem to shut up, and we are in an arms race as to who can scream louder online. We have gone from virtue signaling to virtual hollering. 

People are desperate to be heard, and therein lies the problem. Nobody seems to have heeded the free advice of Burr in Hamilton —“Talk less”—because people are listening.  

True story: About a week ago, I received a cold LinkedIn message inviting me to connect for a financial service. I wondered who this person was and why they had contacted me. Of course, I looked at the person’s profile and recent posts, which revealed instantly that they took a radical stance against Israel. I then did three things: 

  1. I took screenshots of the offending posts.
  2. I replied to the message that, as the President of the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, I could not do business with an avowed antisemite.
  3.  I messaged the company’s CEO, attached the screenshots, and said that until they got their house in order, I could never consider doing business with them. 

The CEO’s response was swift. Apology, immediate action, including termination of contracts. Some may think that my actions were unfair or too harsh. That might be because some lack a spine. I have zero tolerance for antisemitism, and if someone is so bold as to post offensive material online when they are publicly linked to a company, it means they have no regard for the company’s reputation and, most importantly, they lack judgment. In my view, the freedom to speak gives rise to a countervailing right to be taken at your word. 

Speaking last week at Georgetown Law Center on the limits of free speech in this new era of openly espoused hatred of Jews on American campuses, while listening to the students, a number of revelations struck me. The modern student is completely devoid of any ability to debate, academic discourse can now only tolerate a single victim viewpoint, shades of gray do not exist, and many are so confident of their ignorance that they are content to link it to their online profiles for evermore, without fear of consequences. This is the stultification of social media, where actually arguing is an obsolete art, and listening to the adversary is an irrelevance.  

I saw eyes grow wider with the opening salvo that while Americans undoubtedly have a First Amendment right to free speech, the employer has an equal right to either not hire or retaliate. Upon tossing in the grenade that some people in the workplace might buck at sharing an office with a terrorist sympathizer or one who cheered sexual violence as a tool of war, lips pursed. When I dropped the bombshell, speaking at a law school, that to practice law, one has to be passed by a character and fitness committee, and that using fighting words in public or threatening immediate violence might render them unfit to be admitted, a satisfying silence reigned. There were no emoji put-downs or snippy slurs, which are the mainstay of the social media gladiator. 

How did we arrive at this point, where common sense is completely and utterly lacking? It may be the fault of social media, but it is more likely that inhibitions against displaying antisemitism have been eroded. If only we could have college courses on it—but academics are worse. 

Hearst Is Right to Set Policies Limiting Political Speech