Why Protesting Spotify and Standing Against Joe Rogan Isn’t a Free Speech Issue

Joe Rogan has significant sway. And with great influence comes great responsibility.

A few days ago, I pulled all of my podcasts from Spotify. In terms of influence, I am about as far from Neil Young and Joni Mitchell (or, for that matter, Roxane Gay) as you can get. But I could not in good conscience allow the art that has taken up happy years of my life to be shared on the same platform as Joe Rogan, who has repeatedly demonstrated his commitment to spreading disinformation and offering a platform for anti-trans rhetoric. Rogan has stood against science (or even commonplace thinking) and, with that stance, debased the courageous front-line workers who have put in long and often traumatic hours to serve the commonweal — often with thankless and even hostile or violent reactions.

But that is my choice. It doesn’t mean I want to silence Rogan. It doesn’t even mean that I won’t listen to him — particularly if some viral clip pings on my radar. It just means that I don’t want to be associated with him. Just as I don’t want to be associated with Nazis (now making a resurgence in Florida), racists, sexists, hatemongers, people who never tip, those who exploit others for their own gain, and numerous other unpleasant individuals who stand against the human condition. This is no different from boycotting Florida orange juice in the 1970s because of Anita Bryant’s hateful homophobia.

Until Sunday, when Rogan responded to the Spotify controversy on Instagram, Rogan had outright flouted his duties as a significant influencer. It was only after Spotify lost $2 billion in market value that Rogan had deigned to say anything.

I am fully committed to free speech, perhaps far more than most people these days. My audio drama, The Gray Area, is devoted to the pursuit of humanism and empathy in narrative form. And Joe Rogan, who isn’t exactly the sharpest blade in the kitchen drawer, is fundamentally opposed to these core tenets. So I stand in solidarity with the 270 members of the medical and scientific community who signed an open letter against Rogan’s unhinged and mercenary fidelity to hate and misinformation. (And, as an aside, Media Matters‘s Alex Paterson truly deserves hazard pay for subjecting himself to 350 hideous hours of that mumbling marblemouth. I wouldn’t subject such an insalubrious assignment on my worst enemy. On the other hand, this did need to be done.)

Joe Rogan has faced controversy ever since he shifted his podcasting empire to Spotify for the kingly sum of $100 million. In September 2020, Spotify employees offered pushback against some of the more unsettling elements of the show — such as offering a platform for transphobic writer Abigail Shrier, in which she suggested that trans people suffered from autism and that social media was little more than a propaganda outlet to persuade young people to transition.

The showdown among Spotify employees and Joe Rogan was framed as a free speech issue. It was presented as wokesters trying to “silence” Rogan. But an examination of the underlying facts reveals that isn’t quite the case at all. Spotify staffers demanded editorial oversight of Rogan’s podcast. And Vice reported that there had been ten meetings between the Spotify employees and various higher-ups. Did these Spotify employees want to silence Rogan? There is no evidence. The Spotify employees simply wanted Rogan to be more mindful and sensitive to the present-day clime. They clearly understood that Rogan was a draw and they did what any loyal employee would do upon seeing a cluelessly intransigent C-level executive who is out of touch with the present clime getting hammered at the holiday party and making inappropriate remarks. They said that they felt “unwelcome and alienated.” They pointed out the dangers of hosting transphobic content. It was not unlike the brave Gimlet employees who stood against former Reply All host PJ Vogt’s toxic behavior. In the case of Gimlet, there were actual consequences. In the case of Spotify, well, as the old saying goes, money talks.

There isn’t a single artist out there who couldn’t use editorial oversight. One’s freedom to express opinions isn’t so much hindered by a careful editorial hand, as it is enhanced by someone who can help a talent find the best way to communicate that view to an audience. And that would include controversial views and opinions that often make people uncomfortable. There have been many times in my life in which I would have benefited from editorial oversight. Like anyone, I’m still learning. Rogan, however, has remained adamantly resistant to anyone helping him to become a better communicator.

Let’s examine the episode that caused a furor within Spotify. If Rogan had offered pushback against Shrier and her fringe shows on his show, then he wouldn’t have attracted concern from Spotify employees, much less trans people who have had to endure significant hate and ridicule for who they are.

But that’s not Rogan did. Here’s a transcript from his conversation with Shrier:

Shrier: A reader wrote to me — I write most often for the Wall Street Journal — and a reader wrote to me and she said, “Listen, I’ve tried to get every mainstream journalist to pick this up. No one will touch it. But my daughter got caught up in this. All of a sudden she went off to college all of a sudden with her friend. She had a lot of mental health issues, anxiety, depression. And all of a sudden, with her group of friends, they all decided they’re trans. And she went on hormones.” And this is happening to parents all across the country. Teenage girls all of a sudden deciding with their friend that they’re trans, wanting surgeries and hormones and getting them. And at first I thought, I don’t need this. And so I tried to get another journalist to take it up. A real investigative reporter. I’m not I’m an — I’m an opinion journalist usually, you know, that’s what I’ve done. And I couldn’t get someone to take it up.

Rogan: Because it’s such a minefield. Because —

Shrier: Yeah because it’s a minefield. Because for some reason, the activists who are do not [sic] representative of transgender adults that I’ve met at all. But the activists had convinced the world that because, you know, they — they, you know, object to anyone’s transition being questioned, we can’t talk about a mental health issue facing teenage girls.

Rogan: Now I’ve heard there’s an issue with some teenage girls who are on the spectrum who wind up getting sort of roped into this idea that that’s what’s wrong with them. Is that one of the things you cover in your book?

Shrier: Yeah, I actually don’t deal with that specifically very much. And the reason is that’s a whole book in of itself. Because a lot of it is true that a lot of girls who are high functioning autistic. And I did interview some experts in autism and that’s when I realized that’s a book of its own, which is that a lot of girls who are high functioning autistic, you know, they tend to fixate and they had they are particularly susceptible to fixating on the idea that they might be a boy when it’s introduced to them. So yeah, I know exactly what you’re talking about in there. They are one part of this phenomenon, but they’re a big part.

This snippet is a complete failing of legitimate debate. Here’s why it’s so harmful and dangerous:

  1. Shrier uses a single anecdote to paint a broad brush about young girls who choose to transition, framing this as an epidemic. This, of course, is a logical fallacy. It is akin to saying, “Someone told me that they turned into a giant whippoorwill — the size of the Chrysler Building — after eating a chicken mole burrito for lunch. Therefore, having a chicken mole burrito for lunch will transform you into a gargantuan nightjar.” Rogan does not acknowledge this logical fallacy to his listeners..
  2. At no point does Rogan stop Shrier and say, “Wait a minute. Do you have any tangible evidence for your claim?” Instead, he agrees with Shirer’s fringe view without question, thus endorsing a transphobic view.
  3. Rogan says nothing when Shrier suggests that transgender activists are incapable of having their assertions questioned. Furthermore, Shrier here isn’t presenting any solid foundation for her claims here. By her own admission, she’s merely an “opinion journalist.” Little more than some hopped up yahoo rambling at a bar.
  4. Rogan, practicing his usual illiteracy, not only hasn’t read Shrier’s book. But he hasn’t been filled in by one of his staffers on the content that is contained within it. He’s “heard” there’s an issue with teenage girls on the spectrum, but has no actual evidence to back this up. More transphobia.
  5. Shrier suggests, quite preposterously, that a large proportion of teenage girls who are exploring their gender identity are autistic. Again, Rogan does not question this transphobic belittling of teenage girls. He does not interrogate this unfounded assertion. Thus, an impressionable Joe Rogan listener comes away from this colloquy believing that what Shrier has said is true.

Joe Rogan takes this approach because he understands on some rudimentary level that allowing pernicious views like this to be propagated without question will (a) upset and infuriate a lot of people and (b) win him attention and social media buzz.

Now I’d like to believe that Joe Rogan can change and use his platform for good. One of the baleful realities about anyone getting cancelled is that our culture is fundamentally opposed to the basic human truth that people can learn and change. Furthermore, objecting to Joe Rogan for promulgating these views doesn’t mean that he’s cancelled. It means that you insist on stronger editorial oversight. It involves acknowledging that the “views” that Rogan peddles on his podcast represent 2022’s answer to endorsing segregation without leaving any room for the audience to think for itself.

Additionally, Rogan simply cannot be cancelled. Even if Rogan were to be exiled from Spotify, it’s abundantly clear that he would still have a large platform. He has an estimated reach of 11 million listeners per episode. He has a rabid fan base that hangs on to his every word.

Thus, it is a reasonable position for any thinking person to object to the company that is enabling Rogan. It simply isn’t a free speech issue. It’s the marketplace of ideas deciding what constitutes food for thought.

Why Trigger Warnings Threaten Free Speech, Original Voices, and Thoughtful Discourse

“Don’t be so gloomy. After all, it’s not that awful. You know what the fellow said. In Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed. But they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love. They had five hundred years of democracy and peace. And what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.” — The Third Man

On February 26, 2014, a UC Santa Barbara student named Bailey Loverin pushed “A Resolution to Mandate Warnings for Triggering Content in Academic Settings” through the Associated Students Senate. The resolution called on professors to issue “trigger warnings” for students on “materials with mature content” taught in the classroom — whether it be a difficult film shown for context, material assigned for reading, or even a casual conversation on a tough issue. Loverin cited her own discomfort sitting through a film, one which she has refused to identify, depicting sexual assault. The class’s unnamed professor, according to Loverin, provided no warning before the film. Loverin claimed that it was harder for her to walk out of the movie, because doing so in the dark would apparently draw attention. (I have consulted other interviews with Loverin to establish the facts. Loverin did not return my emails for comment.)

Loverin has stated that she’s a survivor of sexual abuse, but she has not suffered from PTSD — the chief reason proffered for the “trigger warning” resolution. In an interview with Reason TV, Loverin said, “We were watching a film. And there were several scenes of sexual assault and, finally, a very drawn out rape scene. It did not trigger me. I recognized the potential for it to be very triggering.”

Loverin is not a psychologist, a sociologist, or a medical authority of any kind. She is a second-year literature major who has become an unlikely figure in a debate that threatens to diminish the future of free speech. Yet Loverin isn’t nearly as extreme in her views as the trigger warning acolytes at other universities.

Rutgers’s Philip Wythe has claimed that trigger warnings are needed for Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway (for students suffering from self-harm) and for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (apparently a literary gorefest on the level of an episode of The Walking Dead). Oberlin threatened to issue trigger warnings over such traumatic issues as “heterosexism, cissexism, ableism, and other issues of oppression,” before the policy was sensibly pulled for further reconsideration.

Loverin claimed in an opinion roundtable for the New York Times that the UCSB resolution “only applies to in-class content like screenings or planned lectures and doesn’t ban the content or excuse students from learning it.” The resolution offers a suggested list of “rape, sexual assault, abuse, self-injurious behavior, suicide, graphic violence, pornography, kidnapping, and graphic depictions of gore” as trigger warning options. Students who feel that they “have a negative emotional response” (note that it is any “negative emotional response,” not necessarily PTSD) “to such content, including distressing flashbacks or memories, should be allowed to leave the classroom or skip class altogether without being penalized.” And while there certainly isn’t any direct prohibition, there is still the unsettling possibility of professors forced to soften their materials, which leads one to wonder how they can adequately teach war, genocide, slavery, or imperial conquest in the classroom. Another question, one that has remained unconsidered by trigger warning boosters, is whether or not skipping class over material that easily offends will be used as a catch-all excuse for students to shirk their scholarly duties.

In the Reason TV interview, Loverin said, “Being uncomfortable, being upset, being even a little offended is different than having a panic attack, blacking out, hyperventillating, screaming in a classroom, feeling like you’re under such physical threat, whether its real or perceived, that you act out violently in front of other people.” It certainly is. Yet there is no evidence to support Loverin’s claim that there is a widespread epidemic of students acting out violently in class over a movie. The PTSD Foundation of America observes that 7.8% of Americans will experience PTSD at some point in their lives. But most people who experience PTSD are children under the age of 10 or war veterans. Furthermore, an NCBI publication reveals that intimate group support among fellow trauma victims (CISD) and rigorous pre-trauma training (CISM) are effective methods for helping the PTSD victim to move forward in her life.

There are some connections between media and PTSD, such as a study published last December which observed that some Americans who watched more than six hours of media coverage about the Boston Marathon bombings experienced more powerful stress reactions than those who refrained from watching the news or who were directly there. Another UC Irvine study found that 38% of Boston-area veterans who suffer from PTSD and other mental disorders experienced some emotional distress one week after the bombing. But these studies point to (a) people who already suffer from PTSD, (b) PTSD victims being exposed to media for a lengthy duration, and (c) PTSD victims in close proximity to a recent attack.

astronautfeldstein

It is certainly reasonable for a professor to ask her class if any student suffers from PTSD, but the trigger warning approach is uncomfortably similar to the Comics Magazine Association of America’s crackdown on comic books over gory content in 1954, which led Charles F. Murphy to wrongfully conclude that reading violent comics leads to juvenile delinquency. As Saladin Ahmed recently pointed out at BuzzFeed, Murphy’s Puritanical Comics Code — a kind of self-regulated and equally self-righteous “trigger warning” system of the time — forced a black astronaut to be made white in order for Al Feldstein and Joe Orlando’s “Judgment Day” to run. (Before the Comics Code, the story would have appeared without a problem.) The pro-trigger warning crowd also refuses to consider the benefits of confronting trauma. If Steve Kandell hadn’t possessed the courage to visit the 9/11 Memorial Museum 13 years after his sister was killed in the attacks, then we would not have learned more about that tourist attraction’s crass spectacle and its deeply visceral effect on victims. There was no trigger warning at the head of his essay.

Discouraging students from confronting challenging topics because of “a negative emotional response” may also result in missed opportunities for humanism. In her thoughtful volume A Paradise Built in Hell, Rebecca Solnit examines numerous instances of people reacting to disasters. Contrary to the reports of doom and gloom presumed to follow a disaster, people more often react with joy and a desire to reforge social community. Those distanced from disaster tend to become more paralyzed with fright. No less a literary personage than Henry James, who read sensationalistic accounts of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, imagined that his brother William underwent some perdition: “I feel that I have collapsed, simply, with the tension of all these dismal days,” he wrote in a letter. “I should have told you that I have shared every pulse of your nightmare with you if I didn’t hold you quite capable of telling me that it hasn’t been a nightmare.” But William. who was impressed with the rapid manner in which San Francisco came together, replied, “We never reckoned on this extremity of anxiety on your part.”

Only a week after Loverin’s resolution was passed, a group of anti-abortion activists had one of its banners, which featured a bloody picture of an aborted fetus, plucked by professor Mireille Miller-Young. A YouTube video capturing this incident features the professor pushing Joan Short, one of the Christian activists and the person operating the camera, after she attempts to retrieve her sign from an elevator. At the 2:46 mark, Miiller-Young can be seen kicking Short’s shoe out of the elevator bank.

triggerreport

The police report, which I obtained from the Santa Barbara Independent‘s Tyler Hayden (the PDF can be viewed here), cites “triggering” as one motivations for Miller-Young’s actions. Miller-Young asked the Christian activists to remove the sign. They refused. Miller-Young grabbed the sign and destroyed it in her “safe space” with scissors. “I’m stronger,” said Miller-Young, “so I was able to take the poster.”

As a hard progressive and free speech advocate who is strongly pro-choice and as someone who finds gory pictures of aborted fetuses to be a repugnant response to civility, I am nevertheless appalled that a supposedly enlightened figure of authority like Miller-Young would use “trigger warnings” as an excuse to not only shut down another person’s perspective, but to completely destroy the sign used to present it. These activists were not harassing young women outside of an abortion clinic, yet Miller-Young claims in the police report that “she felt that the activists did not have the right to be there.”

Many ostensible liberals have attempted to paint “trigger warnings” as something harmless, yet they refuse to see how appending a precautionary warning can lead to a chilling curb of free speech. And like Miller-Young, in their rush to condemn, it becomes clear that they are less interested in comforting those who are sensitive and more concerned with painting anyone who disagrees with them as either “a jerk” or someone who delights in the suffering from others. On Twitter, two privileged white male writers with high follower counts revealed their commitment to petty despotism when opining on the trigger warning issue:

We have seen recent literary debates about unlikable characters, an essential part of truthfully depicting an experience. But if an artist or a professor has to consider the way her audience feels at all times, how can she be expected to pursue the truths of being alive? How can a student understand World War I without feeling the then unprecedented horror of trench warfare and poison gas and burying bodies (a daily existence that caused some of the bravest soldiers to crack and get shot for cowardice if they displayed anything close to the PTSD that they felt every minute)? How can one understand rape’s full hurt and humiliation if one does not wish to become familiar with its baleful emotions? How can any student comprehend climate change if the default response is to ignore the news and play a distracting cat video that will amuse her for two minutes?

I realize that the trigger warning police mean well, but human beings are made of more resilience and intelligence than these unlived undergraduates understand. Hashtag activism may work in a virtual world of impulsive 140 character dispatches, but it cannot ever convey the imbricated complexities of the human spirit, which are too important to be stifled and diminished by a censorious menagerie of self-righteous kids, including middle-aged genre writers who can’t push their worldview past adolescent posturing that’s as preposterous as Jerry Falwell claiming emotional distress over a parody.

Hurricane Sandy: The Right to Yell Flood in a Crowded Twitter and Why Peter Vallone Doesn’t Know What He’s Talking About

As Hurricane Sandy ravaged a vast swath of the Northeast on Monday night, a hedge fund analyst and conservative troll named Shashank Tripathi was spreading misinformation on Twitter under the handle @comfortablysmug.

In a barrage of tweets all beginning with the mealy allcaps cry BREAKING, Tripathi claimed that Con Ed was shutting down all power in Manhattan, suggested that Governor Cuomo had been trapped in Manhattan, and declared that the New York Stock Exchange was flooded.

While many authorities and journalists swiftly corrected Tripathi’s pathological lies (including Con Ed’s official Twitter account), Tripathi’s 140 character dispatches were retweeted and favorited by enough people to become a problem. Gullible media professionals like CNN meteorologist Chad Myers and The Weather Channel’s Bryan Norcross reported the NYSE prevarication as truth. Tripathi’s true identity was exposed by BuzzFeed’s Jack Stuef. Not long after, a vocal lynch mob formed sharp pitchforks with their tongues. Tripathi offered an apology on Tuesday night after many hours of silence.

Tripathi’s deceitful tweets have led to a vibrant discussion on how Twitter works as a medium. While many television reporters opted for the aesthetic allure of standing in a flooded area with tall boots and flapping windbreakers, Twitter proved an invaluable and more constructive medium to seek out and confirm leads. People who lived in devastated areas were understandably keen to communicate what was happening, with the information promulgated at a swift and unprecedented rate. As the storm crept its way past the coastline, users were uploaded ten pictures per second to Instagram. Over the course of 21 hours, there were more than 1.1 million Twitter mentions with the word “hurricane.” Of course, it is a universal truth that a hungry Internet in want of more information will invent what it can to cope.

https://twitter.com/AHurricaneSandy/status/262736402075246592

The misinformation spread through text was matched by misinformation in imagery, with The Atlantic‘s Alexis Madrigal establishing an online forum to distinguish true photos from the doctored ones. Such resources as Madrigal’s page demonstrated how false information could be equally combated with a healthy dose of skepticism and a small amount of research.

New York City Councilman Peter Vallone wants to put a stop to all this. On Tuesday night, he announced that he wants to seek criminal charges against Tripathi. But why stop there? Does not CNN and The Weather Channel also bear some responsibility for failing to corroborate Tripathi’s tweets? Furthermore, should not free speech extend to a fake storm’s declaration of wanton corporate destruction?

But we really don’t need to dabble in silly rhetoric. Because Vallone doesn’t quite understand the way the law works. Oddly enough, much like Tripathi, Vallone prefers speculative sentiment and attention over the facts. And while Vallone has every right to tweet what he wants, he is regrettably not as amusing as a pumpkin spice hurricane.

The common parallel being trotted out is Oliver Wendell Holmes’s famous opinion in Schenck v. United States, in which he noted that “the most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic.” This condition created a “clear and present danger” limitation in American free speech which endured for fifty years. Yet the “danger” inspired by Tripathi’s trolling was quickly stubbed out by authorities and journalists who reacted and corrected and rightfully questioned the source.

Vallone offers the “fire in a crowded theater” example in his remarks to Buzzfeed. But this is incorrect, reflecting a paraphrased standard of Holmes’s opinion that was replaced in 1969. If one shuttles forward to the “imminent lawless action” standard established with the Brandenberg v. Ohio ruling, Tripathi’s tweets become even more difficult to criminalize. As First Amendment Scholar David L. Hudson, Jr. noted on the fortieth anniversary of Brandenberg, imminent lawless action did not apply in NAACP vs. Claiborne Hardware Co. when a NAACP field secretary threatened violence against those who refused to boycott white businesses. Moreover, in Rice v. Paladin Press (1997), the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the right of a publisher to print a manual on how to kill people. Tripathi didn’t go nearly as far as either of these cases.

The problem resides with belief culture and the ongoing erosion of journalistic standards. We’ve seen examples of this with ABC News’s misreporting in the Aurora shooting and Tony Scott’s death, as well as CNN and Fox News announcing the wrong Obamacare verdict in June. If Tripathi must be tarred and feathered by wild-eyed councilmen from Queens who don’t understand free speech law, then we must also extend the batshit vigilante impulse to CNN’s Chad Myers and The Weather Channel’s Bryan Norcross, who were just as culpable in spreading misinformation.

I’d like to propose a saner and more reasonable alternative. Instead of seeking a scapegoat to drown in the Gowanus Canal without a fair trial, why not educate the public in critical thinking? If the information is wrong, it should not matter whether it emerges from a troll or a CNN anchor. Why not trust the people to distinguish between outright lies and hard facts? Common sense pulled the Northeast through the largest storm ever recorded. It can also defeat the online trolls, whether they are hedge fund analysts with too much time on their hands or Queens councilmen who prefer spewing ignorant drivel over community leadership.

Is Thomas Hawk a First-Rate Jerk?

[6/30/2017 UPDATE: One of the parties named in this article contacted me. And I have decided to change his name, in the interest of fairness and after listening to his story and given that this incident was ten years ago and everyone has the right to move forward.]

Thomas Hawk is at it again. But this time, he’s determined to smear a man’s reputation based on his own decidedly subjective account.

For those who haven’t followed Hawk’s blog, Hawk is a San Francisco photographer who campaigns against institutions wishing to ban photography. If a building or a museum won’t let him shoot a photo, he blogs about it. He uploads photos of those who wouldn’t let him snap shots, and fires back shots with impunity.

He’s been doing this for some time. Sifting through Hawk’s blog, Hawk’s unalienable right to take photos are often more frequent than the photos.

Now Hawk’s target is the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Or rather a man named Klimt. Hawk was taking photos under an open photographic policy. There was an altercation. He was kicked out. It’s clobbering time. Hawk initially called Horace Klimt, its Director of Visual Relations, “a first rate asshole” and published a photo of Klimt. He later replaced “asshole” with “jerk.”

As someone who has had to persuade a few folks with chips on their shoulders that my podcasting equipment isn’t intended for terrorist purposes, I can sympathize with Hawk to some extent. While most proprietors I’ve encountered in my podcasting adventures have been friendly and permitted me to conduct an interview (some of them becoming so fascinated with the conversation that they’ve asked for the URL), there have been a few petulant managers who have remained hostile to the idea of a room or a table being used for unanticipated purposes. They have made unreasonable efforts to eject me. But I have not named these names. After all, maybe the manager was having a bad day. Maybe the manager has been screamed at by somebody else and the manager is taking this out on me. At the end of the day, I figure that the podcasts will trump these inconveniences. But in a few cases, reason (and bountiful tips) has won out, and I’ve returned to the establishment for another interview.

What troubles me about the Hawk contretemps is how Hawk and his acolytes are so willing to crucify Klimt when Hawk hasn’t once suggested that his own conduct may have been one of the reasons that things escalated this far. Unlike monologuist Mike Daisey, who showed real class in trying to contact the individuals who walked out of his show and poured water on his notes, Hawk hasn’t even tried to open up a broader debate by directly contacting SFMOMA. To give you some sense of the outcry, a commenter at the SFist writes, “If Klimt read this SFist article, he just soiled his pants and will be out of a job by Monday,” taking apparent glee in this shitstorm.

This is not a case where the offense comes from a third party. This is a situation in which we have only Hawk’s word to go by. But what of Klimt himself? It’s not as if Klimt has a high-traffic Web page or runs a major newspaper outlet in which he can respond to Hawk’s charges. Does he even have an online presence? Is this really a fair battle? Many have remarked upon this incident, but nobody has thought to contact Klimt to get his side of the story.

If Klimt had a history of banning photographers from SFMOMA when the museum keeps an open policy towards photography, then I might be one of the first people in line to criticize his actions. If there was video of the exchange presenting unimpeachable evidence that Klimt was out of line, then I’d be more inclined to cite this as another example of free speech being muzzled in a post-9/11 age. But this is only one incident, perhaps poorly handled by both men. And the broader debate about artistic expression has been lost in the skirmish.

Hawk’s blunt words about Klimt seem unreasonable to me. It makes the blog medium look bad. Hawk is unwilling to suggest that he may have been wrong, and his undiplomatic efforts here suggest that he is more interested in being a half-baked martyr than an activist. Hawk was just as autocratic in his grievances as Klimt was in kicking Hawk out of the museum. And it makes bloggers look like the first-rate assholes that the mainstream media continues to portray them as. In an age when Jason Fortuny humiliates people by invading their privacy, there are vital questions that must be asked.