When YouTube recently banned radio host Eric Metaxas for violating their speech guidelines, it hardly rated a headline. We’re too accustomed to Big Tech canceling people, and too afraid we’ll be next. But cases like this have inspired a bipartisan push in Congress to break up the likes of Google (owners of YouTube), Facebook, Apple and Amazon, which presume to decide if your opinion is valid in the public square.
The First Amendment prevents Congress from limiting speech, but the Founders didn’t envision corporations so massive, they could silence citizens more effectively than any law. I’ve spoken to candidates who fear crossing them because Big Tech can throttle their reach — or worse, deny them sweet campaign cash. To paraphrase an axiom: A company big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take everything you have.
I don’t know Eric Metaxas or listen to his show. I have heard of his landmark biography, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, which he shared with President Obama at the 2012 National Prayer Breakfast in a funny and inspiring speech. But supporting rights shouldn’t be conditional on fellowship. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s fellow anti-Hitler pastor Martin Niemöller warned: First the Nazis came for the socialists, then trade unionists, then Jews; each time, he said nothing, for he wasn’t in those groups.
“Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.”
We used to speak up for each other. In 1977, the ACLU even fought for the odious Nazis’ right to march, and Mr. Metaxas is no Nazi. Fittingly, he shares the name of Greek prime minister Ioannis Metaxas who famously responded, “Oxi!” (“No!”) to fascist Benito Mussolini’s demand for surrender in WW2. The Hellenic world commemorates this defiance with Oxi Day on October 28th, a celebration of defending the democracy we invented in its darkest hour.
“No!” is the ultimate dissent to bullies. But nowadays, when someone gets censored, we ask, “What did he say?” as if certain Orwellian thoughtcrime would justify @Winston-Smith erasing their life’s work @TheMinistryOfTruth. Gone is the quaint notion that Alan Alda expressed to my late boss, Rush Limbaugh: “I may disagree with what you say, but I’ll fight for your right to say it.”
Rush didn’t just declare, “I’m in the free speech business,” he lived it. After 9/11, he spun songs like the Gap Band’s “I Dropped a Bomb on You” that stations suggested hosts avoid. His boldness reminded me of Tom Petty’s lyrics lamenting censorship: “There goes the last DJ who plays what he wants to play, who says what he wants to say.”
When liberals like Alan Colmes, Bill Maher, Jim McGreevy, David Brock, and Larry Flynt were targeted by what we now call the cancel culture, Rush stood up for them, too, and I have no doubt he’d stand up for Mr. Metaxas. “The proper response to speech you find offensive,” as the Punisher said in a 1988 comic that featured a Rush doppelganger, “is more free speech!”
But rather than do the hard work of arguing against those they deem poisoned apples, Big Tech behemoths delete DJs with the un-American push of a button, as if citizens are too dumb to vet ideas for ourselves, and declaring fruit forbidden doesn’t make it sweeter.
Our online oligarchs are a modern version of what trustbuster Theodore Roosevelt called “that most dangerous of all classes: The wealthy criminal class,” heirs to Hollywood moguls who refused to back Charlie Chaplin’s Hitler spoof “The Great Dictator,” fearing it would cost Reichsmarks in Germany.
A healthy democracy embraces the right to say unpopular things, like Diebold fixed the 2004 election, Russians tipped 2016, or gremlins stole 2020. Citizens can claim, as RFK Jr. does, that vaccines cause autism — a quixotic obsession that, by the way, has gotten him kicked off social media, too.
When they banned Mr. Metaxas’s show, YouTube cited a similar claim about the COVID-19 vaccine made by a guest, former Al Gore consultant Naomi Wolf. Apparently, our silicon Big Brothers still feel infallible, despite banning people for months over the Wuhan lab-leak theory, until Dr. Anthony Fauci flipped on it.
So Big Tech came for Mr. Metaxas, and we said nothing. But perhaps Congress will call him to testify as they gather the courage to face down digital fascists. If they do, Americans of all political stripes should stand up for free speech even if we aren’t among his listeners. Because if we don’t, history shows that someday, they’ll come for our group, and no one will be left to speak — or tweet — for us.
• Dean Karayanis is content producer for the Clay Travis & Buck Sexton Show, former Rush Limbaugh staffer, and host of History Author Show on iHeartRadio.