“And you know, this freedom of speech is just nonsense because you can’t go in a movie theater and yell ‘fire.’ It’s against the law.”
—Former CIA case officer and current CNN intelligence analyst Robert Baer, arguing that Elon Musk’s allowing banned users—like Donald Trump—back on Twitter and not censoring “misinformation” constituted a security risk.
You know that feeling when you think you have made a persuasive argument, or at least fooled people into thinking you have, and then something comes out of your mouth that proves you don’t don’t know what you’re talking about? No, me neither, but if Robert Baer didn’t have that feeling when he uttered the ethics and legal nonsense above, he should have.
If nothing else, Elon Musk, Elon Musk rescuing Twitter from left-biased viewpoint discrimination and censorship has already accomplished the useful task of provoking censorious, anti-democratic proto-totalitarians to out themselves in public. CNN dug up this guy to argue that once Twitter stopped letting anonymous progressive ideologues and partisans decide what “misinformation” was “dangerous’—no non-conservative individuals, organizations or publications were banned from Twitter—-we would not be “safe.” Responding to Musk’s amnesty for previously banned accounts following a vote on the platform, announced with “The people have spoken,” the ex-CIA “expert” declared,
“Putin will be all over Twitter if there’s no regulations on this. Fake accounts, spoofed accounts, the rest of it, this is a great opportunity for him. And so when he’s talking about the popular voice, Musk, he’s really talking about Russian intelligence. The Russians are waiting for something like this,” the former CIA agent claimed. They need a propaganda campaign against the United States and against our support for Ukraine. And they’re going to be all over Twitter. I guarantee this. Supporting the far right, plans, demands to stop arming Ukraine. You just wait.”
No facts or evidence were offered, of course. An assertion like this coming from the opposite perspective risked being pulled by the previous Twitter regime. From Baer’s perspective, any tweets questioning the wisdom of the U.S. spending billions on Ukraine are per se “misinformation, because his policy beliefs are just the right ones, that’s all. And he might have gotten away with it too, as every Scooby Doo villain would say, except that he then rammed his foot into his gaping pie-hole.
First, he declared that Freedom of Speech thingy “nonsense.” That’s the CIA for you! Freedom of speech is only at the very foundation of American values, liberty, and democracy, but CNN’s analyst regards it as “nonsense.” Our founding document disagrees; the Supreme Court disagrees; the law disagrees.
Bare went on from his unethical quote to add,
What Putin is going to do and the Russians is they’re going to use this as a vehicle to save himself in Ukraine…I’d say this Libertarian nonsense is destructive to American national security. And he has got to reinstitute the same restrictions that were on Twitter before he bought it. There’s no other choice.
No other choice but censorship, because freedom of speech is destructive to national security. Big Brother couldn’t have said it better. Naturally, there was no dissent or even probing questioning from “CNN Newsroom” host Boris Sanchez. CNN supports censoring “misinformation,” as long as its own misinformation is permitted.
But back to the “you can’t go in a movie theater and yell ‘fire'” part of Baer’s quote. It’s signature significance for a legal and ethical dunce who doesn’t understand the Supreme Court opinion he’s citing, Schenck v. United States, which upheld a World War I law allowing the government to punish dissenter. The 1919 case has been superceded since, distinguished out of existence.
Lawyer and blogger Ken White, before he tragically became Trump Deranged and bias cost him crucial IQ points, wrote a superb deconstruction of Justice Holmes’ famous opinion that came in a case that held that the government could punishdissent during wartime. Read it all, but this is the crux of it:
Holmes’ famous quote is the go-to argument by appeal to authority for anyone who wants to suggest that some particular utterance is not protected by the First Amendment. Its relentless overuse is annoying and unpersuasive to most people concerned with the actual history and progress of free speech jurisprudence. People tend to cite the “fire in a crowded theater” quote for two reasons, both bolstered by Holmes’ fame. First, they trot out the Holmes quote for the proposition that not all speech is protected by the First Amendment. But this is not in dispute. Saying it is not an apt or persuasive argument for the proposition that some particular speech is unprotected, any more than saying “well, some speech is protected by the First Amendment” is a persuasive argument to the contrary. Second, people tend to cite Holmes to imply that there is some undisclosed legal authority showing that the speech they are criticizing is not protected by the First Amendment. This is dishonest at worst and unconvincing at best. If you have a pertinent case showing that particular speech falls outside the First Amendment, you don’t have to rely on a 90-year-old rhetorical flourish to support your argument…Bear all of that in mind the next time someone name-drops Holmes and cites Schenck as part of a broad endorsement of censorship. The problem isn’t that they’re incorrectly citing Holmes. The problem is that they are citing him exactly right, for the vague, censorious, and fortunately long-departed “standard” he articulated…
CNN’s expert exposed himself as legally illiterate, hostile to the Constitution, and unqualified to opine on the topic he was blathering about.