America’s Media Giants Face a Profound Choice

I’ll never forget the first time I was personally exposed to the power of the New York Times to drive the national news. It was March 2005, and I was president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). In February we’d written a letter to Le Moyne College, a small Catholic school in New York, warning them that they’d breached their promises of academic freedom by summarily expelling a student for advocating corporal punishment in schools (cancel culture isn’t new, by the way).

Back at the beginning of the battle against university censorship, it was often hard to get national media outlets to pay the slightest bit of attention to free speech on campus. Local media would cover stories, but in the absence of national coverage we’d often labor to convince the public that campus intolerance was a real problem. Then the New York Times came calling, and on March 10, 2005, Patrick Healy wrote a long story about the Le Moyne case.

I remember walking into our conference room, putting the newspaper on the table, and telling our team, “Get ready for the phones to explode.” Sure enough, within the hour we had fielded calls from multiple networks. The lesson was clear: If the Times says something is a story, then it’s a story.

And I’ll never forget the first time I was personally exposed to the power of Fox News to put a cause (and a person) on the conservative map. By 2006 I had moved on from FIRE to start the Center for Academic Freedom at the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). A young pro-life activist named Lila Rose had entered Planned Parenthood clinics in California posing as a pregnant, underage teenager and had recorded employees who appeared willing to conceal what looked like statutory rape.

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