Journalist Cose (Democracy, If We Can Keep It) delivers a brisk and well-informed rundown of contemporary debates over the limits of the First Amendment. Noting that the ACLU fought on behalf of “white-rights activist” Jason Kessler to hold the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., Cose asserts that the concept of free speech as a universal, all-encompassing right was invented in the 20th century and is “inextricably linked to the notion that in the competition of ideas, good ideas generally crowd out bad.” He details how social media algorithms have exposed that truism as naive at best and dangerous at worst, and how corporations have asserted their First Amendment rights in order to “dominate political discourse” and justify and preserve social inequality. According to a legal scholar Cose cites, in the 2010 Citizens United decision abolishing limits on corporate campaign spending, the Supreme Court was “doing precisely the opposite of what it claimed to be doing... instead of protecting speech, the court was disempowering citizens.” Cose also examines how President Trump “brought the ethos of the internet to traditional media” by running a campaign “based on polarizing emotions and a war on truth.” Though short on practical solutions, Cose makes a persuasive argument that the balance between free speech and democracy is out of whack. Progressives will be drawn to this nuanced and wide-ranging account. (Sept.)
Speech in the United States has never truly been completely free, maintains Cose, in this latest work after Democracy, If We Can Keep It: The ACLU's 100-Year Fight for Rights in America. The author describes how, from the early days of the nation, there have been various curbs on speech, both written and oral. Speech is generally placed in a continuum ranging from the harmless to dangerous, sometimes with fairly severe penalties for overstepping the bounds. This concise work gives a relatively brief history of some of the more notable instances, relating them to political and social movements. A constant theme is the degree to which uncomfortable, offensive, or frankly false speech has been permitted or blocked. A number of 21st-century issues dealing with the effectually unregulated internet provide examples for discussion. Cose explains that the question we should be mindful of in a world full of easily transmitted speech is: "What is the purpose of free speech—and at what price, and with what limits, do we protect it?" VERDICT Popular history suitable for high school and undergraduate reading that does not provide easy answers and warns that one of our most basic rights is under more serious attack than ever.—Edwin Burgess, Kansas City, KS
A concise study of how free speech has changed throughout America's history.
Cose has had a remarkably distinguished career: Newsweek columnist and contributing editor, New York Daily News editorial page chief, fellow at the Gannett Center for Media Studies at Columbia University, and inaugural writer-in-residence at the ACLU, among other positions. His latest book is a cogent, well-informed analysis of the vexed problem of free speech. The freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment, writes the author, was crafted by “frustrated and exhausted men” who believed that “in the competition of ideas, good ideas generally crowd out bad.” Within a decade, however, the Alien and Sedition Act curtailed speech attacking the government; Cose cites many more subsequent cases when courts have ruled on “the question of what is acceptable and what is not, what speech merits protection and what speech deserves punishment.” There has never been a time, he writes, without constraints on speech. The author examines many impediments to free speech, such as voter suppression; the Citizens Uniteddecision; and the Electoral College and the Senate, both resulting from the founders’ suspicion of direct democracy. Cose also considers free speech protests on college campuses, suggesting that students need instruction in critical thinking in order to evaluate information and misinformation. The author is deeply troubled by dialogue “dominated by the likes of Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, and other apps that specialize in bursts of short, superficial communication.” The nation’s founders had no foresight to know that the First Amendment, “which was designed to enable the people to speak truth to power—would be hijacked by hatemongers, propagandists, and opportunists more interested in despoiling democracy and degrading debate than in ensuring that a diverse nation speaks in harmony.” When “lies swaddled in bigotry” dominate political dialogue, the fantasy of free speech, and our “absolutist illusions” about the founders’ intentions, has become pernicious.
A knowledgeable and timely perspective on the current fraught state of democracy.
This timely, compelling narrative guides its readers toward understanding the complex twists and turns of free speech in America. This engrossing journey includes a diagnosis and dissection of a broken system with hope for a resurrection of free expression for individuals struggling to be heard and understood. A rigorous argument for a new trajectory for the First Amendment. Unfettered free speech may be greatly threatened, but don’t count it out…even amid a pandemic and cries for justice.
An urgent and illuminating work about the stranglehold the rich and powerful have on free speech. And, what is essential to defend the voice of individuals in order to protect the freedoms of all.
As Ellis Cose observes in his provocative and timely new book, ‘free speech’ has always been contested terrain, not a fixed star. With most Americans now getting their news and information from private platforms that seek to ‘engage’ rather than enlighten and that are optimized for corporate profits rather than public interest, the need for a critical analysis of the purpose of free speech has never been more urgent. Even readers who will view Cose’s ‘death’ notice as premature – perhaps especially those readers – will find much to grapple with here.
With searing clarity, Ellis Cose explores what happens when as a society, we coddle the powerful and privileged—even when they enable the forces of hate and pursue anti-democratic goals—at the expense of the people. . . . This book is both an indictment of our social and political landscape and a source for inspiration, offering a way forward for building a 21st century democracy—one where all of our voices are valued and heard.
In a stunningly original book, Ellis Cose cuts to the very core of free speech battles. Ordinary people are being held captive by ear-splitting political voices while not enough Americans are protecting and being freed by listening to the voices of ordinary people. An abolitionist book for this moment, for this time when free speech slumbers in chains.
Ellis Cose is a strong, brilliant, original writer dealing with the most important issues of our democracy—good and bad speech, the broken electoral college, our awful voter suppression problem, race, and the coronavirus crisis. His writings on divisive issues, past and present, come from a unique and compelling perspective.
During this period of social disruption, misinformation and political uncertainty, Ellis Cose brilliantly outlines past battles to protect and expand the First Amendment to exercise our right to be heard and to speak truth to power. . . . As importantly, Cose brings us face-to-face with the reality that dark money and darker science are suborning truth to invented realities, and makes us face the fact that our proposition that free speech will out the truth, will instead be drowned in crashing waves of willful misinformation.
With searing clarity, Ellis Cose explores what happens when as a society, we coddle the powerful and privileged—even when they enable the forces of hate and pursue anti-democratic goals—at the expense of the people. . . . This book is both an indictment of our social and political landscape and a source for inspiration, offering a way forward for building a 21st century democracy—one where all of our voices are valued and heard.”