Culture

Speech, Media Bias, and the Google Fallout

You’ve likely read a number of pieces over the last few days about that now infamous Google memo.

If you’ve just read the headlines, however, you probably missed a key point.

Before we get to our main points, here’s what you need to know about the memo itself. Originally circulated internally at Google and then published at Gizmodo, the memo has been described primarily as “anti-diversity” by most mainstream outlets, including Fox NewsCNNABC Newsthe BBCNBC NewsTimeSlateEngadgetThe Huffington PostPBS, and others. Here is how the memo opens:

I value diversity and inclusion, am not denying that sexism exists, and don’t endorse using stereotypes. When addressing the gap in representation in the population, we need to look at population level differences in distributions. If we can’t have an honest discussion about this, then we can never truly solve the problem. Psychological safety is built on mutual respect and acceptance, but unfortunately our culture of shaming and misrepresentation is disrespectful and unaccepting of anyone outside its echo chamber.

The opening three words contradict the “anti-diversity” label that has been so prevalent throughout the media. But we’ll return to that. For now, the other major fact you need to know is that, after the memo went viral, Google fired the employee who wrote it.

We’re going to look at two major aspects of the whole fiasco: speech and media bias.

First, on the speech aspect, here’s how David French describes the troubling aspects of the situation:

It’s important to note that Google and American Airlines are both private corporations. They have enormous latitude to advance their own corporate viewpoints and to regulate the speech of their employees. There is no First Amendment violation here. There’s nothing illegal about fellow employees or corporate employers attempting to squelch the speech of employees who quite literally dissent from the company line.

But just because something is legal does not mean it’s right, and the result is a crisis in the culture of free speech in the United States. As the politicization of everything proceeds apace, the “company line” has increasingly moved well beyond promoting its own products to promoting a particular kind of politics. Major corporations and virtually every university in the nation are now political entities just as much as they’re commercial entities, and they wear their progressivism on their sleeves.

French is definitely right about his cultural analysis. We’ve seen across our nation college after college attempting to shut down free speech, sometimes with handcuffs. If students cannot speak freely, then they will struggle with any dissenting opinion when they enter into the workplace. If you need evidence that employees might struggle with disagreement, just note that, after the memo was distributed internally, a number of employees stayed home on Monday saying that they were uncomfortable going back to work.

This does not reflect a culture that values diversity, at least not reasonable ideological diversity.

On to the second point: the media bias.

The memo’s primary point is not “anti-diversity” in any way. Reading just the opening paragraph would tell you that, but the author also repeats throughout that he values diversity. What he disagrees with is Google’s method of accomplishing diversity.

Whether you think his arguments hold water, the point here is relatively simple: Disagreeing with methodology while broadly agreeing with values should not disqualify someone from holding their job. Here’s how The Atlantic describes this obvious media bias:

[The memo’s author] wants to use different means to address “the problem,” he insists, and doubts that the tradeoffs of getting to a staff of 50 percent men and 50 percent women would be worth it (a position implicitly shared by every company that doesn’t have gender parity in its workforce). He may be incorrect, but even if the substance of every viewpoint that he expressed is wrongheaded and even if Google must make huge strides in its treatment of women, that won’t make characterizing the memo as an anti-diversity screed any more accurate.

That kind of disagreement is at the core of many of our political differences. Most everybody believes that the poor need assistance, but Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, and other parties may disagree on the appropriate method of providing that assistance. So why was the media so intent on reporting this memo as an “anti-diversity screed”?

One possibility is simple laziness. Gizmodo did the original publishing, and the website isn’t exactly subtle with its political leanings. When other media outlets wanted to get the story out quickly, they simply copied the description and ran with it. But repeating charges without investigating them is not responsible journalism.

The other possibility is the one that the memo itself addresses:

Google’s left bias has created a politically correct monoculture that maintains its hold by shaming dissenters into silence. This silence removes any checks against encroaching extremist and authoritarian policies.

If you replace “Google” there with “mainstream media” or “many colleges and universities,” the evidence adds up. The ultimate conclusion is this: Google may have had the right to fire its employee for disagreeing with the way it handles diversity programs, but when you couple that decision with the biased response from the media and what we see happening frequently on college campuses in this country, the effect on our culture of free speech becomes obvious.


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James Arnold

News and Research Manager

James Arnold manages and edits the Alliance Alert, a daily repository of news in all forms—written, spoken, or in video format.

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