Why Mark Steyn Is No Longer with National Review
January 28, 2016
Mark Steyn remarked this week en passant,
In 2013 I bust up with National Review, for various reasons, some of which I’m not at liberty to disclose but all of which fall broadly under the banner of free speech. I’m very big on that. It’s my core issue.
It’s as perhaps as explicit an acknowledgement as we’re likely to get (from any of the parties involved) that the split was partly over litigation strategy, and partly over the fruit cordial.
There are times when I wish I had the same kind of co-defendants I had in my free-speech wars in Canada: Maclean’s, unlike National Review, is a dentist’s waiting-room mag not an ideological mission, but they and I were as one in our fight not just against the Canadian Islamic Congress but against the now repealed Section 13. By contrast, National Review, for whom I wrote for a decade and a half, are offering the curious and fainthearted defense that they were never my publisher but merely an “interactive computer service provider” to which I had the access code (see page 49 of their most recent brief). They’re a court filing or two from claiming they’re Lufthansa and I’m Andreas Lubitz — just some crazy guy who locked himself in the NR cockpit.
Or he put it this way in December 2013:
Up north, Ezra and I decided that, if they were going to “de-normalize” us, we’d “de-normalize” them. So we pushed back, and got the entire racket discredited and, eventually, the law repealed. It’s rough stuff, and exhausting, but the alternative . . . .
Steyn seems to be pursuing that strategy again, successfully so far, by publishing a book of eminent scientists criticizing the anti-free-speech plaintiff Michael Mann (A Disgrace to the Profession: the world’s scientists — in their own words — on Michael E Mann, his hockey stick, and their damage to science), which debuted at a higher rank in Amazon sales than books by Michael Mann and others.
Steyn said a little more about strategy in January 2014:
But by far the biggest consequence of this ridiculous case is in these pages. If you are only a print subscriber (as opposed to an Internet reader), you will have no idea that NATIONAL REVIEW is in the midst of a big free-speech battle on one of the critical public-policy issues of our time. There have been no cover stories, no investigative journalism, no eviscerating editorials. NR runs specialized blogs on both legal matters and climate change, yet they too have been all but entirely silent. I assume, from this lonely outpost on NR’s wilder shores, that back at head office they take the view that it’s best not to say anything while this matter works its way through the courts. In other words, a law explicitly intended to prevent litigious bullies from forcing their victims to withdraw from “public participation” has resulted in the defendants themselves voluntarily withdrawing from “public participation.” That’s nuts.
Meanwhile, in the same period, Dr. Mann has been brandishing his hockey stick out on the campaign trail against Republican candidates. . . . and perhaps one day, two or three or five years down the line, a D.C. court will agree. But it’s not much of a First Amendment that requires a bazillion dollars in legal fees and a half-decade vow of silence to enjoy the security thereof — all while the plaintiff’s using his freedom of speech to knock off your political allies.
I don’t think much about the First Amendment these days. As a practical matter, it’s simply not feasible in a global media market to tailor one’s freedom of expression to the varying local bylaws. So I take the view that I’m entitled to say the same thing in Seattle as I would in Sydney or Stockholm, Sofia or Suva. But, were Dr. Mann to prevail, it would nevertheless be the case that his peculiarly thin skin and insecurities would enjoy greater protection under U.S. law than they do in Britain, Canada, Australia, and other jurisdictions. It would thus be a major setback for the First Amendment.
That’s worth making a noise about. Up north, following a similar SLAPP suit from the Canadian Islamic Congress, my publisher Maclean’s, who are far less ideologically simpatico to me than NR, nevertheless understood the stakes — and helped get a disgusting law with a 100 percent conviction rate first stayed by a hitherto jelly-spined jurist and ultimately repealed by the Parliament of Canada. This too is a free-speech case. Free speech is about the right to thrash out ideas — on climate change, gay marriage, or anything else — in the public square, in bright sunlight. And you win a free-speech case by shining that sunlight on it, relentlessly. As we embark on our second year in the hell of the D.C. court system, that’s what I intend to do.
Unfortunately (or not), the piece in which he said all this may itself have represented such an act of parting ways. In it, he also said this:
We are now having to start all over from scratch, with a brand new complaint, brand new motions to dismiss, and a brand new judge — all thanks to the original judge’s remarkable incompetence and careless management of her case. I’m an immigrant and I’m told that in America one shouldn’t criticize judges, but I’ve done so in England and Ireland, Canada and Australia, and I don’t really see why a third-rate judge should be any more immune from criticism than a third-rate plumber. At the risk of oversimplifying, I wonder if in a republic a society’s natural monarchical reverence doesn’t simply wind up getting transferred elsewhere — in this case to omniscient robed jurists. At any rate, it seems to me that a fear of offending judges is unbecoming in a free people. So screw that.
Meanwhile there was also a series of pieces, around the same time, which were on their surface about a very different subject, but, as Steyn said this week, “all of which fall broadly under the banner of free speech.” First (December 20th, 2013), Steyn wrote a great column, published on National Review Online as “The Age of Intolerance”. Sample:
Look, I’m an effete foreigner who likes show tunes. My Broadway book was on a list of “Twelve Books Every Gay Man Should Read.” Andrew Sullivan said my beard was hot. Leonard Bernstein stuck his tongue in my mouth (long story). But I’m not interested in living in a world where we have to tiptoe around on ever thinner eggshells. If it’s a choice between having celebrity chefs who admit to having used the N-word in 1977 (or 1965, or 1948, or whenever the hell it was) and reality-show duck-hunters who quote Corinthians and Alec Baldwin bawling out some worthless paparazzo who’s doorstepping his family with a “homophobic” slur, or having all of them banished from public life and thousands upon millions more too cowed and craven to speak lest the same fate befall them, I’ll take the former any day.
Along the way, he also repeated two now-“unsayable” jokes, including “How do you make a fruit cordial?” (Read the whole thing.)
The same day, one of National Review’s editors, Jason Lee Steorts, responded publicly with a not-so-great post in the Corner, beginning, ironically,
I admire Mark Steyn’s gallantry in defending freedom of speech and thought, but his weekend column is less than illuminating. It seems to have been 200 percent felt and half thought.
It went downhill from there.
It is a matter of some regret to me that my own editor at this publication does not regard this sort of thing as creepy and repellent rather than part of the vibrant tapestry of what he calls an “awakening to a greater civility”. I’m not inclined to euphemize intimidation and bullying as a lively exchange of ideas – “the use of speech to criticize other speech”, as Mr Steorts absurdly dignifies it. So do excuse me if I skip to the men’s room during his patronizing disquisition on the distinction between “state coercion” and “cultural coercion”. . . .
I am sorry my editor at NR does not grasp the stakes. Indeed, he seems inclined to “normalize” what GLAAD is doing. But, if he truly finds my “derogatory language” offensive, I’d rather he just indefinitely suspend me than twist himself into a soggy pretzel of ambivalent inertia trying to avoid the central point — that a society where lives are ruined over an aside because some identity-group don decides it must be so is ugly and profoundly illiberal.
Or, as Steyn put it in April 2014, “My final appearances at National Review Online were a spat with my editor, Jason Lee Steorts . . . .”
Curiously, Stubborn Things points out that NR’s publisher, Jack Fowler, commented on the Steyn-Steorts exchange, and offered a surprisingly strong defense of Steyn.
The Left does not distinguish about the field of battle, culture, or state. Its goal is . . . the goal. If the desire is to shut you up, Duck Dynasty Commander or Mark Steyn or NR, they will find a way. This isn’t some academic exercise — it is a fight. So we must deal with reality, and not build artificial constructs. . . .
And what will our state do? This Mann lawsuit may prove to be a First Amendment lark compared with battles to come. Who here doubts that in a few years we will be discussing the arrest of a Roman Catholic priest for his refusal to officiate at a gay marriage?
Stubborn Things asks, Then why does Steorts still work there, and Steyn doesn’t?
Update (February 1st, 2016): Big thanks to Mark Steyn for the link, and welcome to Steyn Online readers!
Update (February 2nd, 2016): While you’re here, also check out my exclusive amateur translation of this French-language interview with Mark Steyn about his cat Marvin. More on Steyn here. Mohammed drawings here.