Charles Murray’s Crocodile Tears

Charles Murray published a lengthy “reflection” (sob story) on what he calls the “revolution” (small protest) at Middlebury College that shut down a recent talk he was scheduled to give.

While Murray’s lengthy complaint meanders for well over 1,000 words, he delivers the tl;dr version in only the 2nd paragraph:

About a week before the event, plans for protests began to emerge, encouraged by several faculty members. Their logic was that since I am a racist, a white supremacist, a white nationalist, a pseudoscientist whose work has been discredited, a sexist, a eugenicist, and (this is a new one) anti-gay, I did not deserve a platform for my hate speech, and hence it was appropriate to keep me from speaking.

This is a common rhetorical move made by (typically) right wing speakers who are blocked from speaking at campus events, that they are being denied a platform because of their views.

But how seriously should we take this claim?

Let’s try to understand it a different way — what would have to be true for Charles Murray to not have a platform for his ideas?

He would not be able to publish a regular column on the American Enterprise Institute’s well-trafficked website (the piece I am drawing from has well over 100 comments as of writing).

Along the same vein, he would not be paid handsomely by the AEI and other conservative groups to conduct “research” and publish his ideas under the brand.

Someone without a platform would also not be published in nearly every major print media publications, including — as his Wikipedia page helpfully reminds us (I wonder who added this factoid?) — the New York Times, the Washington Post, the National Review, Commentary, the Wall Street Journal, The New Republic, and the Public Interest.

A man with no platform would not be the published author of 15 books (though curiously few academic, peer reviewed articles), never mind a couple bestsellers.

So we can see that in reality Charles Murray has an enormous platform and the ability to spread his ideas much wider and further than the vast majority of other people — certainly more than the students protesting his event.

Right wing campus speakers like Murray often claim that protesters who deny them a platform violate their free speech rights. But if we take seriously their claim that one’s access to a platform is what counts when it comes to evaluating freedom of speech, then we shouldn’t concern ourselves with the speech rights of celebrity conservatives. We should worry instead about the free speech rights of the protesters, who have relatively insignificant platforms and can only get attention by disrupting events.

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