Has Intolerance Become the New Tolerance?

When the US constitution’s first amendment established freedom of the press, the tolerance of citizens’ right to criticize the government became a core element of US democracy. The Washington Post prefers to use its own freedom to slander and censure other news sources less inclined than themselves to echo US government propaganda.

United States Constitution with its preamble “We the People” – Government of the United States of America. © Joseph Sohm / shutterstock.com

June 19, 2024 05:31 EDT

Two years after the formal adoption of the US constitution in 1789, Congress proposed and the states ratified what is known as the “Bill of Rights.” Not many Americans are familiar with the text of the constitution itself. Many believe that Thomas Jefferson’s words from the 1776 Declaration of Independence — “all men are created equal” — appear in the constitution. But thanks to media and ongoing political debates, every American is familiar with the Bill of Rights, or at least its first two amendments.

The second amendment establishes what people now refer to as “gun rights” at the core of the nation’s patented “gun culture.” The first amendment is, however, the big one that reveals the true originality of US political culture. This is where the idea of “freedom” is made explicit. It tells us that Americans are not only free to speak and publish, to practice or refuse to practice a religion, but also to assemble and protest. Here is the text of the amendment.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Most Americans are taught at school to see this amendment as a dictum that imposes the notion of tolerance of diversity as the foundational value of the nation. Everyone is free to express disapproval of what they don’t like, but they must accept its existence. It expresses the ideal libertarians seek to push to its extreme.

That ideal is quickly becoming “more honored in the breach than in the observance.” We are living out a moment in history when the government’s commitment to supporting violent, destructive and even genocidal wars implies the media’s obligation to suppress forms of discourse that contradict or fail to conform to the dominant propaganda.

A hit piece published by The Washington Post on June 2 provides a perfect example of what has become a campaign to make propaganda great again. A key element is an innovative intolerance of tolerance. What was once assumed to be a foundational virtue has become not just a vice but a crime. The author, Joseph Menn, explains that “Americans’ tolerance for information paid for by foreign actors has made disinformation one of the most critical threats to U.S. democracy.”

Today’s Weekly Devil’s Dictionary definition:


Traditionally a virtue appreciated for of its acceptance of diversity but now deemed a vice for the same reason in a society that prefers enforcing conformity of thought and expression.

Contextual note

War inevitably breeds conditions that favor the emergence of Manichean discourse. Those involved frame conflict as a battle between good and evil. Whatever our side does will always be good and anything our adversaries do — even cooking dinner or walking the dog — will always be evil. Even when we ourselves flagrantly violate obvious laws and moral principles, we explain that it’s because “a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.” If our adversary makes a reasonable and reasoned overture in the name of resolving the conflict, we reflexively assume it’s a manipulative ploy because we are convinced that whatever they do springs from an evil intention.

Now Menn, as a true Manichean, has to stretch things a bit to prove that an American journalist doing his job is on the side of evil. But stretching things in modern journalism is part of what a man’s gotta do. or at least what a Manichean’s gotta do.

Menn’s and the Post’s adversary in this battle between good and evil, black and white, is the appropriately named Gray Zone, an annoying group of seriously diligent investigative reporters led by Max Blumenthal and Aaron Maté. They are singularly annoying because of their insistence on taking seriously the first amendment right to “redress grievances” with regard to a US government with a developed taste for spending money on war. Rather than address the terms of the grievance, Menn focuses his attack on an employee of the Gray Zone, Wyatt Reed, whom he calls “a top editor.” He also provides similar “evidence” against Blumenthal himself.

If he cannot prove that what these people do is evil, he must prove that these gentlemen are contaminated by evil. But how do you provide proof of contamination? That’s easy for a Manichean. Practically any direct or remote contact — past, present or future — with designated evil parties will seal the case for contamination. (In this case, it’s Russia and Iran, which readers of the Post now understand to be pillars of the new “axis of evil.”) Especially if that contact involves money.

Thanks to the careful “investigative” work of Menn, identified by the Post itself as a “technology reporter,” we learn that, once upon a time, Reed earned “thousands of dollars” paid by an Iranian broadcaster “for occasional contributions to its programming in 2020 and 2021 while he was working as a correspondent for Russia’s Sputnik news outlet.” That is a case of flagrant contamination. Thousands of dollars can go a long way to twisting one’s psyche. Menn probably understands that from within.

Reed’s case contrasts with that of Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, who was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to literally “sit” on the board of Burisma, a company run by a notoriously corrupt Ukrainian oligarch, Reed’s thousands were paid for journalistic work he actually did to earn a living. His crime was to have earned those thousands by working for an employer whom the Post identifies with the source of all evil. Blumenthal was equally guilty of working for Sputnik and even “accepted a trip to Moscow” for an event in which Vladimir Putin, the devil himself, was present.

Case closed.

Historical note

This story has much to tell us about how the notion of tolerance has evolved since being enshrined in the first amendment to the constitution 233 years ago. The obvious conclusion is that intolerance now has the upper hand with regard to tolerance. If you were paid in the past by someone beyond our borders now considered evil, you are literally contaminated for life. Even if your motive was limited to ensuring your personal survival, you are contaminated and everything you do or say is intolerable.

In contrast, Hunter Biden, who earned many more thousands abroad, chose to do so for good rather than evil masters. His vastly superior pay may be explained by the fact that he needed the cash to nurse his expensive drug habit, a personal weakness that should never be seen as evil.

Some judge Hunter’s pay to be excessive in relation to the work he was asked to provide. In 2019, the Post reported that “Hunter Biden brought knowledge of international politics to the board, which met twice a year.” What is clear, however, is that unlike Reed, the younger Biden was not “contaminated” by the money he received. That is borne out by the fact that, unlike Reed and Blumenthal, he can still be counted on to refrain from abusing his first amendment rights by denigrating the policies of his father’s administration.

Manichean political cultures become the norm in times of war, breeding a form of intolerance clearly incompatible with the first amendment. The US has become a nation no less addicted to war than Hunter Biden has been to his various drugs. Intolerance has become a kind of norm that takes the form of censorship, blanket condemnation of ideas and forms of expression and breeds the kind of implicit libel Joseph Menn practices in the guise of Washington Post journalism. AI is now a tool of intolerance in the hands of our new technofeudal masters, with the capacity to build their intolerance into the “logic of the system.”

To save honest journalism, the US constitution may need an amendment to its first amendment.

*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news. Read more of Fair Observer Devil’s Dictionary.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.


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