Should Journalists Be Allowed to Continue Saying 'White Supremacist'?
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At Huffpost, Jessica Shulberg asks if “white supremacists” should be allowed to practice law.[Should White Supremacists Be Allowed To Practice Law? December 27, 2017]

An absurd question, right-thinkers will say: even lefties don't (or shouldn't) like the idea of ideological requirements for becoming a lawyer. If certain political beliefs are banned from the brains of would-be lawyers, we're in deep Orwellian trouble.

No less silly is my proposed question. Of course journalists have a right of free speech, and can call anyone they disagree with a 'white supremacist.'

But really. Can we get a media ethicist quoted here?

The media wields terrific power. If I have observed anything in my life, it's their still-real power to get people scurrying under desks and fired from jobs. Even in the age of the Internet and "fake news", they set the normalcy standard: if bigger media outlets are talking about it, it's a real thing.

Shulberg's piece purports to be a serious one. She's pulled in a variety of viewpoints, even if it's fairly obvious that she herself doesn't think white people have any sort of right of self-determination.

But there it is–“white supremacist”, right in the headline.

Here’s the problem. The term “white supremacist” has gale-force shaming power, connotes wanton violence and killing, and implies a complete lack of decency.

But the term has zero descriptive utility. No living person calls himself a “white supremacist”, or would even accept the title. Sam Dickson is not a man, or a lawyer, who condones wanton violence and killing.

There are those who would call themselves “white nationalists”. There are those who would call themselves “white separatists”. And there are those who would call themselves “white advocates.”

But the pejorative shockwave of “white supremacist” is too much, even for advocacy journalism of the type Shulberg practices.

It’s also defamatory, though courts seem not to care about that.

I guess I’m appealing to a rules of war idea here: nations have agreed we can blow each other to bits, but we’re going to lay off the mustard gas.

“White supremacist” is mustard gas.


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