Blue-check journalists entered an uncontrolled spiral of self-righteous victimhood over the weekend after several of their colleagues were issued temporary bans on Twitter. Reporters from a number of outlets including the Washington Post, CNN, and the New York Times were suspended from the social media platform for doxxing after linking to an account posting the real-time location of Twitter’s new owner, Elon Musk. Taylor Lorenz of the Washington Post was later added to the list of bans for previous doxxing behavior.
Apoplectic journalists reacted predictably, shrieking about how the suspensions constituted an attack on freedom of the press, referring to the event as a massacre, and generally acting like they just witnessed their best friend getting gunned down in Vietnam. As ridiculous as the hyperbolic and narcissistic display might seem, it was, sadly, not confined to the left. Many conservative columnists and commentators rushed to condemn the temporary bans, asserting that the suspension of any journalist was a violation of freedom of speech. This dangerous and one-dimensional understanding of conservative principles has infected the right for far too long and all but ensures its defeat.
Elon Musk has stated that these suspensions were issued not just because the actions already violated existing Twitter policy on doxxing, but because they revealed the real-time location of his children. The tech mogul, whose son was followed by an alleged stalker last week, described the doxxing as “basically assassination coordinates,” which is of course exactly what they were. These journalists hate Musk and understand that posting the constantly updated real-time position of his children online is an invitation for violence.
Journalists are more than happy to engineer situations that are likely to end in left-wing violence in order to intimidate their targets. One only has to look at the behavior of the press during the riots of 2020 or the media’s encouragement of illegal mobs at the homes of Supreme Court justices to understand the game these journalists are playing. Conservatives should understand that a father’s first principle must be that the safety of his children is paramount, but unfortunately many commentators believed that playing into the left-wing narrative due to some mistaken notion of consistency was more important.
The concept of small-government conservatism has, rather disastrously, become a core part of the right-wing identity. Unfortunately, this principle has metastasized into the idea that the right should never seek or use power, especially if doing so could be viewed as punishing one’s enemies. This ideological version of unilateral disarmament has created a political rachet, ensuring that the growth of power always moves only leftward. This structural advantage not only ensures that conservatives always lose but also tricks them into believing that they must lose unless they want to violate their principles and become as ugly and hypocritical as those they oppose.
To better understand the problem, we must first look at how the rachet works. The left believes in the acquisition and use of both state and corporate power, so when the left is in charge of a branch of government or private organization, using the might of that organization to reward friends and punish enemies is aligned with the left’s principles. Leftists believe that conservatives are an existential threat to their way of life, and so their highest principle is to stay in power in order to defend against the right. Progressives have not only the right, but the duty to crush conservatives and reshape the world in their own image. They are always justified in bending or completely rewriting the rules if it means advancing their agenda.
Conversely, when conservatives are in control of an institution, their first priority is to follow the rules and provide a neutral playing field. Conservatives have been convinced that their name means conserving the system rather than a specific nation of people with a specific culture. Many on the right now value the system over the well-being of the people that system was created to serve. This makes them extremely vulnerable to the manipulation of that system and warps their understanding of their own principles.
When conservatives are in charge, they believe it is their duty to avoid doing anything their opponents would call into question, be above reproach, and wait patiently until progressives return to power so that the left can resume banning and punishing their enemies.
Not only does this asymmetrical design allow the left to make sure that politics only ever advances in one direction, it also allows progressives to provide the illusion of legitimate opposition. Conservatives can be allowed to occupy important institutions for a time because their principles ensure that they will never use them to acquire more power or advance their agenda, that they will never really take control. Progressives get to complain about how an insufficient number of illegal immigrants are being given amnesty, or that children aren’t being indoctrinated into gender ideology at a young enough age, without ever worrying about the GOP actually using power to permanently alter the immigration system or outlaw the teaching of gender ideology. The left can rile up its base, play the victim, and provide the illusion of opposition, safe in the knowledge that there will never be real consequences for being out of power, because the leftists are never truly out of power.
People respond to incentives. If one side rewards its clients and punishes its enemies, while the other side refuses to use even the mildest deterrents to punish abusive behavior, it is not hard to figure out whose team you want to be on. People like Taylor Lorenz are professional doxxers. They destroy the lives of innocent people because doing so allows them to acquire money and status. Not only are these “journalists “ not ashamed of their behavior, they see themselves as righteous crusaders holding the hateful and bigoted red-state masses accountable. They are inquisitors purging the sinful and unclean, and they will not be persuaded to abandon their holy mission by weak appeals to some common ideal of journalistic neutrality. These zealots will stop when the incentives are removed and the consequences are too much to bear, and not one minute before.
Some have made the case that running all the progressive journalists off of Twitter is a mistake, and I agree. The magic of Twitter is that it serves as the digital public square where the average person can interact directly with the powerful and influential. Destroying that dynamic would be foolish, but sending a clear message to journalists that the rules apply to them and that inciting the mob will have consequences is still valuable.
Others are skeptical of Musk and his intentions. He is not a traditional conservative and is prone to eccentric behavior. On Sunday the billionaire posted a Twitter poll asking if he should step down as head of the social media company, stating that he would abide by the decision, and the vote came down in favor of his replacement. I do not believe that Musk puts out polls like this unless he has already decided to act and knows the results will support his decision, but I understand conservatives who are hesitant to put all their trust in the billionaire. Unfortunately, there is a critical truth emerging out of this Twitter saga that those on the right must understand.
Many conservatives still believe, despite all of the malicious bias against the right revealed by the Twitter Files, that if there are simply clear moderation policies in place, users will not be subject to the judgment of those who decide how those policies are applied, but that is foolish. The lesson of the Twitter Files is not that if only the social media company had applied its own policies correctly, everything would have been fine. The lesson is that someone always decides, and what matters is who decides.
The decision can be made by a nameless, faceless bureaucratic swarm that is impossible to hold accountable, or it can be made by a single man who can be asked to explain his actions to the public. The one truth that is inescapable is that someone always decides. When Musk decides to send a message that journalists do not get a free pass on doxxing, even if he is not the perfect conservative ally, there is no need to dive in front of these smear-merchants on principle. If a leader is using the authority of an institution to hold malicious actors accountable, that is a just exercise of power. Conservatives can never hope to win any meaningful victories if they are unwilling to support even the most basic consequences for those who wish to profit off of harming the public.