After September 11, editors who had spiked exactly zero of my previous 152 columns and articles about politics and the media suddenly refused to publish five out of 11 about the terrorist attacks and their aftermath.
Woe! Censorship! Dissent squashed!
In Europe over the holidays, I met up with an editor friend from an academic journal, who was struggling over how to "tone down" a strident column by a prominent elected official critical of Arab regimes' dreadful human rights policies. "We don't want to be seen as being in the pocket of the Jews," he explained.
Woe! Censorship! Possible whiff of anti-Semitism!
A few days ago, my French-journalist wife, whose personal Web site is mostly in her native tongue, received an e-mail that warned: "IF YOU WANT TO WORK IN THIS WONDERFUL COUNTRY, THEN SPEAK DE ENGLISH OR HIT THE ROAD!"
Racism! Censorship! Internment camps!
My viewpoints quashed, my wife a potential victim of ethnic cleansing--it's high time I stood up and declared myself a fully vested target of the New McCarthyism. After all, every other victim is so damned rich.
There's millionaire television comedian Bill Maher, who responded to outrage over one of his bad jokes by reminding the oppressed proles at Vanity Fair: "If you can be quashed for speaking your mind, then we become our enemy." There's Brentwood socialite Arianna Huffington, who leapt to Maher's defense by accusing ABC sponsors and executives of "using the Taliban's trademark weapon--the stifling of dissent."
Bestselling author and long-toiling intellectual Susan Sontag also made the conceptually daring connection between criticism of her foolish reactions to September 11 and the domestic victory of the Thought Police: "It turns out," she concluded, "we have increasingly become incredibly conformist, and very afraid of debate and criticism." Too true! Pass the book deal! As Vanity Fair's Leslie Bennetts so rightly lamented, "Some frustrated American commentators have even resorted to publishing in British and European outlets." Oh, to feel that pain!
Of course, the downside of my new Get Rich Quick scheme would be a certain amount of personal embarrassment, a condition my seven-figure role models don't seem to suffer from. It's hard to keep a straight face while crying "censorship" in 21st century America--with its cheap and widespread Internet access, tiny percentage of state-owned media, and hundreds of thousands of media jobs--when you've met people like Cuban baseball historian Severino Nieto. Nieto has written more than a dozen important works of scholarship since 1959, knowing full well that none will be published in his lifetime unless Fidel Castro dies first. (El Jefe doesn't like reminders that there were organized sports before the Revolution.)
"Yes, but I'm talking more about self-censorship," one editor told me (before he stopped running my columns). Well, sure. It must be hard to pull down $62,000 and benefits at a media company while not quite having the guts to write what you think. I'd sign up for that gravy train, too, but I guess invertebrates are born, not made.
So that leaves me with no choice but the narcissistic thrill of imagined persecution. With Attorney General John Ashcroft accusing his critics of aiding the enemy, and President George Bush classifying decades of presidential documents as secret, there certainly is some promising material with which to build a case for a current "chilling climate" for speech.
But what do you know? I was able to find other editors from more prominent, higher-paying publications who liked my rejected columns just fine. Not only that, I can also publish anything I want on my Web site, which costs $25 a month to maintain and has more readers than Cuba has non-government Internet users.
It doesn't quite top Bill Maher's salary and sloe-eyed perks, but at least I don't have to act like a moral jackass in a comparatively free country.