One of the long-standing complaints of media critics has been the double standard applied to liberal and conservative figures voicing controversial viewpoints. For example, columnists celebrated the firing of former Sen. Rick Santorum at CNN for making insensitive or false comments about the influence of Native American culture on the United States. When racist statements, however, are made by those on the left, there is no such hue and cry. The latest example is MSNBC regular Elie Mystal, who launched into a racist diatribe against Republican Georgia Senate candidate Herschel Walker who is African American.
Mystal is the “justice correspondent” for the Nation Magazine and has also written for the website, Above the Law.
During a segment on “The Cross Connection,” Mystal suggested Walker was supported because he does what Republicans “want from their Negroes.”
“You ask why are Republicans backing this man who’s so clearly unintelligent, who so clearly doesn’t have independent thoughts, but that’s actually the reason. Walker is going to do what he’s told, and that is what Republicans like. That’s what Republicans want from their Negroes: to do what they were told. And Walker presents exactly as a person who lacks independent thoughts, lacks an independent agenda, lacks an independent ability to grasp policies, and he’s just going to go in there and vote like Mitch McConnell tells them to vote.”
Mystal has previously caused uproars for controversial claims from accusing a senator of wanting to murder Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson to his continued attacks on a high school student even after he was cleared of a false race-based story. He has called the Constitution “trash” and previously stated that white, non-college-educated voters supported Republicans because they care about “using their guns on Black people and getting away with it.” He has also lashed out at “white society” and explained how he strived to maintain a “whiteness free” life in the pandemic.
Many clearly relish Mystal’s race-baiting takes on issues on MSNBC. The issue, in my view, is not why Mystal is allowed to continue to make such comments on a network but the clear double standard applied to such commentators.
We have seen the same double standard at universities. For example, Women’s Studies Professor Donna Hughes was publicly condemned by the University of Rhode Island for writing an op-ed that criticized what she called the LGBTQ ideology. Yet, the university has largely remain silent on the writings of Director of Graduate Studies of History Erik Loomis, who has defended the murder of a conservative protester and said that he saw “nothing wrong” with such acts of violence. Loomis also declared that “Science, statistics, and technology are all inherently racist because they are developed by racists who live in a racist society, whether they identify as racists or not.”
I have defended faculty who have made an array of disturbing comments about “detonating white people,” denouncing police, calling for Republicans to suffer, strangling police officers, celebrating the death of conservatives, calling for the killing of Trump supporters, supporting the murder of conservative protesters and other outrageous statements.
Yet, liberal professors continue to enjoy the full protection of academic freedom and free speech. Indeed, at the University of California campus, professors actually rallied around a professor who physically assaulted pro-life advocates and tore down their display.
The fact is that most faculty hold liberal views and do not feel threatened by such biased, content-based approaches to free speech and academic freedom. Others remain silent to avoid being the next tagged in the next campaign.
The support enjoyed by faculty on the far left is in sharp contrast to the treatment given faculty with moderate, conservative or libertarian views. Anyone who raises such dissenting views is immediately set upon by a mob demanding their investigation or termination. This includes blocking academics from speaking on campuses like a recent Classics professor due to their political views. Conservatives and libertarians understand that they have no cushion or protection in any controversy, even if it involves a single, later deleted tweet. At the University of North Carolina (Wilmington) one such campaign led to a professor killing himself a few days before his final day as a professor.
Mystal knows that he has a license to speak that is denied to those on the right on platforms like MSNBC. He wrote an April column calling Walker’s campaign a “political minstrel show.” He later attacked New York mayor Eric Adams bizarrely as a “conservative” and then added “these tokens who are out here right now shucking and jiving for their White handlers.”
Obviously, such attacks on liberal black figures would not be tolerated by the media and a commentator would be barred by many platforms as persona non grata. Again, I believe that we all benefit from having an array of different views, including controversial views like those of Mystal and Santorum. The worst approach is to maintain a double standard where racist or controversial commentary is celebrated from the left while condemned on the right.