Home / General / “I call you an idiot and you shut up”: the Free Speech Ballad of Kyle Duncan and Matt Taibbi

“I call you an idiot and you shut up”: the Free Speech Ballad of Kyle Duncan and Matt Taibbi

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In the midst of another blog standing up for some of the most powerful forces in the country in the name of “populism,” Matt Taibbi presents a tellingly misleading account of the Duncanghazi:

There was a ridiculous scene at Stanford law school recently, in which a conservative judge was muffled by a gaggle of future lawyers who’d been led by an assistant Dean in a characteristically moronic shouting-down exercise. The current strain of Junior Anti-Sex League-type protesters who fill campuses from coast to coast now sure do love their “heckler’s veto…”

The Stanford Law School Dean Jenny Martinez was brilliant in response. Instead of doing what the heads of organizations have been doing for years in such situations, instead of doing, frankly, what I did during my own cancelation episode — frantically over-apologizing to people who have no use for or interest in apologies…

Let’s stop right there. It’s tempting to assume that Taibbi has become a full-time shill for reactionary plutocrats because it’s highly lucrative, but I don’t think that’s the only factor, and might not be even the biggest factor. It’s no accident that his full turn to the right happened after he received some criticism for a memoir describing himself as a misogynist shithead during a book tour. Needless to say, far from “over-apologizing” he gave some “sorry if you were offended” statements that asserted that all of the bad stuff in his presented-as-non-fiction book was “satire” that was written by his co-author anyway.

Note as well that this was a “cancellation” in the Bari Weiss sense — that is, he ended up resigning voluntarily for a new gig that would entail making more money for doing less work. FREE SPEECH IN AMERICA IS DEAD! Moving right along…

Martinez sternly called the students out as clowns, reminding them in a long, serious, punishing letter that if they ever become officers of the court, they will be held to a higher standard than “lay people,” swearing to conduct themselves “at all times with dignity, courtesy and integrity.”

Even if we stipulate that the students should not have tried to shout Duncan down, this is a comprehensively dishonest presentation of the facts. The student protest was not “led” by Tirien Steinbach, who in fact told students that while she also disagreed with Duncan’s views he should be allowed to express them. (Of course, to the Intellectual Dark Web, publicly disagreeing with a reactionary is a violation of their free speech.) But even more ridiculous is to repeat Martinez’s pious comments about “dignity, courtesy, and integrity” without saying a word about the revolting conduct of the Article III judge who called students “appalling idiots” among other expressions of pure contempt because he didn’t want to answer their questions or defend his views with anything but the most inane banalities even after he was allowed to speak. The idea that Duncan was interested in any kind of reasoned discourse as opposed to the bad faith (and self-promoting) trolling of much less powerful people is a ludicrous fiction, and it’s shameful that not only MAGA grifters but Dean Martinez have advanced the carefully constructed tall tale Duncan hopes to sell to Leonard Leo and the next Republican president.

The whole idea that Kyle Duncan was interested in a discussion of ideas is a category error. As the late Robert Cover said about Warren Burger, the only reason to have any interest in what Duncan has to say about the law (which it completely generic 2023 Republican Hack) is that he has the immense coercive power of the state at his disposal. The idea that some law students who briefly interrupted is lecture are the real sources of power here is critical to understanding Taibbi’s worldview, in which assistant professors of English literature and Oberlin sophomores are more powerful figures than Tucker Carlson or Sam Alito.

And when you go MAGA, you generally go all the way:

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