Congratulations, America. Victory against Infowars!

 

You did it, O, you denizens of social media, you sharers of cats, you time-wasters, you. With every appalled tweet and retweet and angry emoji on Facebook, you vanquished the foe, Infowars. You got it banished from Facebook, Apple, YouTube, and Spotify. Congratulations.

I have no inside information to know what made the platforms finally come to their senses. But I will bet that it was the cover provided by the public on social media that gave them the courage to do the right thing.

Consider what Sleeping Giants and Shannon Coulter’s #GrabYourWallet did to get thousands of advertisers to drop Breitbart. After Kellogg dropped Breitbart back in 2016, right-wingers tried to declare a cereal boycott. It fizzled like stale Rice Crispies. Then the social pressure started on every advertiser that appeared on Breitbart and by the hundreds they flew away. I spoke with advertisers who did not resent Sleeping Giants for this. No, they were grateful for the cover.

Meanwhile, #GrabYourWallet also put pressure on retailers to stop carrying the merchandise of the enabler-in-chief and éminence greed, Ivanka Trump, and she killed her company. Last week, many of us brought a shitstorm down on the Newseum for selling fake news T-shirts and they relented. Many of us keep screaming about cable news shows inviting on Trump’s liars and at least a few listened as Morning Joe stopped inviting Kellyanne Conway and Joy Reid, Nicolle Wallace, and Rachel Maddow stopped giving free airtime unencumbered with context to Trump rallies, press briefings, and tweets.

So that is your job, America: Keep demanding the best of platforms when it comes to distributing extremist bile. Demand the best of brands, ad networks, ad agencies, and retailers when it comes to supporting their shit. And demand the best of media — I’m looking at you, cable news — when it comes to inviting pathological liars and extremist nut jobs on your air to amplify their hate and disinformation.

Now it would be nice if the companies that run the internet had long since shown the decency, good sense, and courage to do this on their own. But it seems they feared blowback from the other side, the indecent side, the allies of Infowars and you-know-who. Well, we showed them who is more powerful.

Now I know there’s a risk here. A tool is a tool and bad guys can use them just as well as good guys. Indeed, it was the far right that first went after Facebook with accusations that it was disadvantaging conservative news in its (now gone, thank you) Trending feature. Facebook caved and then cowered — until now. I don’t want to see mobs going after voices because of disagreement. But that’s not what happened here. Citizens went after companies to uphold basic standards of decency. Big difference.

 

My message here is simple: Keep it up, social media. Keep it up, America. Demand the best of ourselves, our technology companies and media companies and their advertisers. Then come November, demand the best of the women and men who represent you in government.

What you’re seeing is democracy and civilization in action — and civilization is winning. At last.

 

Gutenberg in Mainz

Here is the English version of an essay I wrote for the Allgemeine Zeitung of Mainz — the birthplace of Gutenberg and of his invention. I’m honored that it was translated into German by the leading expert in Gutenberg, Prof. Stephan Füssel of Mainz University, who just produced an amazing fascimile of and commentary on the Gutenberg Bible

It is fitting that we pay tribute to Johannes Gutenberg now, as his grand invention reaches its twilight. The lovely geometry of type and the grammar of text have been overtaken by the binary aesthetics of data and dots. Today, our vulgate is visual, our vernacular video. Come the 600th anniversary of movable type, it is unlikely that words will any longer be impressed on paper mechanically, now that they can be sprayed, transmitted, copied, and animated digitally.

But let us not mourn print’s passing. Let us first celebrate the example of innovation Gutenberg set. He was, perhaps, our first technology entrepreneur; Mainz was his Silicon Valley. He had to grapple with challenges similar to any startup’s today. Fundamental to the business he began — as in today’s economy — was the necessity of scale, of manufacturing fonts in large numbers so that books could in turn be manufactured with then-unimaginable speed and efficiency. He tamed many technologies: mechanics to build the ingenious, hand-held mold used to make letters with great precision; metallurgy to produce a lead amalgam that would cool quickly but withstand many impressions; chemistry to formulate the ink whose midnight blackness in his Bibles still has not faded over centuries. He designed an industrial process with division of labor. And he had to innovate new business models based on using risk capital before revenue would flow (which is how he lost much of his business to his financier, Johann Fust).

The epochal impact of Gutenberg’s work will be measured for still another millenium. “Print technology created the public,” said Marshall McLuhan. “Invent the printing press and democracy is inevitable,” Thomas Carlyle is often quoted as saying. The Reformation, the Scientific Revolution, the Enlightenment, even the Industrial Revolution — could any of these fires have been lit without printing’s spark? I am not arguing for technological determinism — that printing caused these disruptions with certain outcome — but instead that printing made them more possible. The acts were still human; the tools Gutenberg’s.

At the dawn of the net age, we still see the future in the analog of the past, in Gutenberg’s terms. Two Danish professors, Tom Pettitt and Lars Ole Sauerberg, argue that Gutenberg’s centuries were an exception in human history — the Gutenberg parenthesis, they call it. The book — a container — made us see in the world as packages with boundaries, with a beginning and an end. Says McLuhan: “The line, the continuum — this sentence is a prime example — became the organizing principle of life.” Thus we came to call literature and journalism “content” to fill containers: books and later newspapers. Books standardized our languages and helped define us as distinct peoples and nations with boundaries of their own. With the copyright law that followed Gutenberg by a century, books and that which filled them could be bought and sold as property. With the addition of steam power to the press, we came to measure mankind by volume: mass media, mass marketing, mass culture, mass man. Books — more abundant than ever but still a scarcity — supported the elitism of the author, the academic, the expert, and eventually the celebrity.

And now we have the internet. Invent it and what is possible? It is too soon to know. Today, we are only 24 years from the introduction of the commercial web in 1994. Reckoning by Gutenberg time, that puts us at about the year 1474. Consider that Martin Luther was not born until 1483. What if our Luther — the visionary who will fully understand and exploit the greater potential of the internet — is not yet born?

In the internet, we have a world in which every person can be connected to every other person and to any fact instantly. We have the opportunity to collect and build upon information as never before; now our machines can manufacture not just books but intelligence itself. Because we now communicate with images on Instagram, video on YouTube, and symbols as emoji, the definition of literacy has opened up so everyone is empowered to speak, be heard, and create a public. What becomes then of our economy of content, our notion of nations, our ideas of education, our standards of culture, our laws governing ownership of content or data, and our hierarchy of elites vs. masses? Who knows?

I would like to think that we can return to the other side of Gutenberg’s parenthesis and learn once again how to hold conversations as the threads that weave a society. I would like to see us move from a society built on transactions to one built once again on interactions with ideas and facts, emotions and empathy, and each other. Can the net help us gather into communities more easily and then to build bridges among them? Can it help offer the power of education and creativity to many more people in the world? Can the internet help us recognize our connected humanity again?

Today — especially in the narrative of media — it may feel like the opposite is occuring, as if we live in an age of cold, impersonal technology that is challenging our institutions, threatening our jobs, grabbing our data, spreading lies, amplifying hate. But the machines aren’t doing all that. We are. Or rather, some small number of people — trolls, thieves, demagogues, racists — have learned how to exploit weaknesses in both technology and society before the rest of us have a chance to plug the leaks in our morality.

What I fear most is fear itself. I worry that society is entering into a full-blown moral panic over technology and that — especially in Germany and Europe — laws will be enacted to limit not only the risks but also the opportunities the internet brings. Please remember that when Gutenberg invented his press, leaders of church and state alike feared it — not without reason — and tried to license and limit its use. “To what corner of the world do they not fly, these swarms of new books?” Erasmus complained. “The very multitude of them is hurtful to scholarship, because it creates a glut and even in good things satiety is most harmful.” After the English Civil War, writer Richard Atkyns worried that printers had “filled the Kingdom with so many Books, and the Brains of the People with so many contrary Opinions, that these Paper-pellets become as dangerous as Bullets.” Eventually, though, society and its institutions learned how to live with and by the book. We can and should do the same with the net. To do that, we will need to:

  • Study and learn from prior disruptions in society — starting with Gutenberg’s own — to give us perspective and inform our decisions today.
  • Rely on evidence of actual harm before assuming the worst and acting on that fear to legislate and regulate. I am not convinced that the internet is addicting us or killing privacy or even that the fake news on it can sway elections. Nonetheless, we certainly must become smarter about recognizing and counteracting efforts to manipulate politics, markets, and lives with technology.
  • Negotiate new norms of behavior. We have decided it would be rude to take a phone with a camera into a locker room or sauna. We are close to deciding when it is OK to pick up a phone to check messages and when it is not. A far more difficult question is how we negotiate the the balance between free speech and threatening, hateful, manipulative, or false speech.
  • Most of all — as difficult as it might seem in this age of AfD, Trump, and Brexit — we need to regain faith in the sense and civility of our fellow man and woman. Technology alone does not corrupt the human brain and soul. Despite fears that it would, the book did not ruin civilization. The internet won’t either. We’re too smart for that.
In the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz. Photo by Stefan Sämmer for the Allgemeine Zeitung

Finding the line

In his interview with Kara Swisher, Mark Zuckerberg at last drew a line around what is not acceptable on Facebook.* I think he drew the line in the wrong place. So do many commentators.

So where do you think the line should be drawn? Where do I? If we cannot agree on where it should be, can we expect Facebook to determine this on its own and in every one of millions — perhaps billions — of questions it faces in its platform for human behavior?

Here I will try to put this discussion in the context of Facebook’s role in the world versus the role it has perceived for itself. More to the point, I will explore some of the standards that could be used to set the line: harm, threat, conspiracy, incivility, bigotry, hate, manipulation. Warning: I will fail. But especially because I raised money from Facebook for my school (disclosures below*), I need to address these questions myself.

Let us start with Zuckerberg’s pronouncements. With Swisher, he seemed to defend Holocaust denial as free speech. He said:

I’m Jewish, and there’s a set of people who deny that the Holocaust happened. I find that deeply offensive. But at the end of the day, I don’t believe that our platform should take that down because I think there are things that different people get wrong. I don’t think that they’re intentionally getting it wrong…. It’s hard to impugn intent and to understand the intent.

That could not be more wrong, for denying something that is so overwhelmingly documented and universally accepted as true can only be to intentionally mislead. In a week marked by people walking back things they’d said, Zuckerberg emailed Swisher to walk this back:

I personally find Holocaust denial deeply offensive, and I absolutely didn’t intend to defend the intent of people who deny that. Our goal with fake news is not to prevent anyone from saying something untrue — but to stop fake news and misinformation spreading across our services. If something is spreading and is rated false by fact checkers, it would lose the vast majority of its distribution in News Feed. And of course if a post crossed line into advocating for violence or hate against a particular group, it would be removed. These issues are very challenging but I believe that often the best way to fight offensive bad speech is with good speech.

As an example of what does cross the line, Zuckerberg discussed Myanmar and said Facebook would take down content that incited imminent violence or physical harm against people there.

That’s his line.

He also said he would not take down Infowars — but instead promote it less — because it did not cross that line. Infowars was the topic of a heated discussion between Facebook and journalists days before when the new head of News Feed, John Hegeman, said Facebook would not take down Infowars because Facebook does not “take down false news…. I guess just for being false that doesn’t violate the community standards.”

Right reasoning, perhaps, but wrong decision. I do not think we should expect Facebook to take down everything or anything that is false. For the 1000th time, can we agree that no one — least of all Facebook — wants them to be the arbiters of truth in society?

But I do think Facebook should take down Infowars. For me, that is an easy decision to make anecdotally as Infowars is so notoriously putrid. But as I said in a Twitter discussion on the topic the other day, the harder question is: What is the ongoing and enforceable standard that justifies that decision and that can be applied elsewhere at scale? Where’s the line?

In a lengthy discussion of all this on the latest This Week in Google, host Leo Laporte shifted the line, I think, to a better place: harm. Infowars may not harm bodies and take lives as disinformation, propaganda, hate speech, and incitement do in Myanmar, but with his despicable conspiracy theories and rabid lies Alex Jones certainly causes harm — to the families of Sandy Hook, to democracy, to decency.

I am not arguing that Facebook should take Infowars down as a matter of law or leave it up as a matter of free speech. I am arguing that taking down Infowars is an act of enlightened self-interest for Facebook: the service (being yelled at by an insane hate-monger is what I’d call a bad user experience), the brand (does Facebook really want to enable and be associated with such as this?), and the company (if Facebook loses users and advertisers because of this kind of crap, its bottom line and equity suffer).

I would also say this to Zuckerberg: Facebook is not the internet and should not want to be (though it is often accused of exactly that ambition, especially in developing markets). In this context, what I mean is that free speech is not Facebook’s burden. It’s not as if Alex Jones has no place else to nest with his cockroaches. That is the internet and it is uncontrollable. Facebook is controllable, by you, Mark. People are begging you to control it. That responsibility — and right — are yours. You need to decide  not whether speech is acceptable (of course, it is) but whether Infowars is (I say it is not).

That is far from a universally held opinion; many do not trust Facebook to make decisions and in any case do not believe it should. Back in the day, I might have agreed, being a dogmatist on the side of openness and free speech. But the platforms — and I — have had to learn that pure openness inevitably breeds manipulation of economic, psychological, and political origins. I’ve come to see that my friend Dov Seidman, founder of LRN and the How Institute, is right when he says that neutrality is not an option.

I should add that, no, I do not believe that if Zuckerberg and company choose what is and is not appropriate for their distribution, promotion, and monetization then that makes it a media company. Media people tend to look at the world, Godlike, in their own image and think anyone who does anything they ever did is media. No. Seeing Facebook in the analog of the past is what is getting us into this mess, for it blinds us to how the internet and Facebook are new and different and require a new perspective and new solutions. Facebook is a company not built around content or information but instead people. You can’t expect Facebook to be the Columbus Dispatch: neatly and cleanly packaged and produced. Facebook reflects life’s messes.

One could say that is a reason to leave Infowars up: it reflects society’s mess. Except Infowars is made to manipulate Facebook and YouTube and their algorithms — as well as every media outlet and their editors and every politician. It screams for attention and gets it. We are its chumps. We do not have to be. We can urge Facebook and YouTube to take it down, because it harms, and they are free to act.

I recognize the political hazards, of course. You have a member of Congress, allegedly Republican, wanting to interfere in the market and declare the platforms public utilities because his favored right-wing fake-news factory doesn’t get enough traffic online! This isn’t easy. I get that. Doing the right thing oftentimes is not.

So now we return to the hard question that remains: How to define harm in a way in which Myanmar incitement and Infowars conspiracy theories end up on one side of the line and mere controversy on the other? I wish I had a neat formula. I don’t. That is why the platforms — Facebook, Google, Twitter, all of them — avoid this decision, because they can’t turn it into a rule set, a formula, an algorithm. On Twitter just now, legendary VC Vinod Khosla — responding, it so happens, to a Swisher tweet (she is everywhere) — asked, “Is there a mathematical optimization for societal good?”

No. Humanity doesn’t scale. Civility isn’t a formula. Decency isn’t an algorithm. I’m afraid my first useful suggestion to Facebook is not formulaic but procedural, not technological but human, not cheap but very expensive. Facebook needs humans making human judgments. Facebook’s community standards clearly are not working as they allow all kinds of horrid behavior in, behavior any decent, mature, responsible human being would recognize as unacceptable in civil company. Facebook probably needs a very large customer service department and a means to communicate with them. (Want to ask someone with experience in this field, I’d suggest asking Craig Newmark,* whose job was customer service.) To understand the need, see Casey Newton’s stories here about people who have tried to reach Facebook to alert them to the harm they are experiencing. Yes, I understand that this is a problem of scale. At Facebook’s F8, Zuckerberg said the company is killing a million fake accounts a day. The bad guys are aggressive. So must Facebook be. But I still don’t have a clear standard — a line — they can point to.

If reporting harm is difficult to manage then does any other standard make it easier for Facebook to make its own judgments? As I said above, I don’t think truth is the test. Witness the pile of new books on my desk, each trying to figure out what truth is: The Death of Truth, Orwell on Truth, A Short History of Truth, Truth Matters, Truth, and Post-Truth (three of those). Truth is hard.

The flip-side of truth is conspiracy. This is Infowars’ specialty. Is it possible to judge conspiracy theories without also judging truth? I’m not sure. It could be possible to develop catalogs of harmful conspiracy theories: anti-vaccination does harm people; 9/11 conspirators do harm education and society. Who makes that catalog in each nation and society? Data & Society* is doing a good job of ferretting out such manipulation of truth online in the U.S. and the European Union is doing well against Russia in Europe. It might be possible. It starts by reversing Zuckerberg’s view that denialist conspiracy theories do not intend to misinform. They most certainly do.

How about incivility as a standard? Twitter has said it will pay more attention to its impact on the health of the public conversation. Facebook has said its aim now is to encourage “meaningful interactions between people.” I worry that the term “incivility” (like “fake news”) has been coopted by the Orwellian uncivil among us to cut off criticism of them. When I said that to authorYascha Mounk as we began his podcast, he urged me to hold onto the term, advising that it is possible to be civil while also meeting one’s obligation to call out evil. So civility matters; it is a precondition to becoming informed and to holding a productive conversation in society. But civility is too low a bar for this discussion. If the uncivil were banned, I’m afraid that many of us — including me sometimes, I’m sorry to say — would be doomed.

Then how about bigotry? Hate speech is forbidden in Facebook’s community standards. I believe that Infowars and its confederates engage in it. But they’re still on Facebook. So something’s not calibrated correctly here. In Germany, Facebook now has to enforce a ban on hate speech under the NetzDG law. Because of this — and laws in other countries — Facebook is hiring 20,000 crap detectors to get rid of hate speech, among other things. That might sound like what I’m asking for above: people with judgment and authority. But the law requires these people to act within 24 hours and so there’s no time for consideration. Because the fines are considerable — $60 million for a failure — the unintended consequence of legally required zealousness is that satire and legitimate speech are imperiled; caution wins every time. This is why I would prefer Facebook taking responsibility in its own self-interest over legislation.

That leaves me with manipulation. This is the criteria that I think is most comfortable for the platforms as they already make this judgment at scale when it comes to economically motivated bad guys: spammers and fraudsters. They decide what is made just to game them. Can they do the same with psychologically and politically motivated manipulators?

So I have failed. I, like many, disagree with where Zuckerberg drew the line. I want a test that Infowars will fail. But until we can formulate a rule set that does that, I fear we will be stuck with Alex Jones and I hate that.

I am not letting Zuckerberg or Facebook off the hook. I believe they must set standards for what is and what is not acceptable on their platform (ditto for Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Snap, and other platforms that deal in the messiness that is us). They need to stand by their decisions. They need to invest in systems and people to reliably enforce those standards.

But we’re still only at the first stage: Where’s the line?

* Disclosures: I raised funds from Facebook as well as the Craig Newmark Philanthropies, the Ford Foundation, and others to start the News Integrity Initiative at CUNY. We are independent of Facebook. I personally receive no funds from any platform.
Craig Newmark Philanthropies recently gave a large endowment to the school where I work and it is being rechristened the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY.
Data & Society is a grantee of the News Integrity Initiative

Thank You, Craig

I am proud that starting today, I am on the faculty of the newly rechristened Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY. My friend Craig has given a generous gift to endow our J-school and we have named it in his honor. This represents an ideal alignment of missions — his and ours — in the service of trustworthy journalism in a public university.

I can’t remember exactly when I first met Craig. Like everyone I’ve ever witnessed meeting him, I was impressed to meet the Craig of craigslist. He is unique: a self-proclaimed nerd’s nerd, a model of humility, curiosity, goodwill, intelligence, humor, irony, and most of all generosity.

I love watching others puzzle over him. Many years ago at the rich and ritzy Foursquare business conference, I saw the CEO of a then-major media company throw up his arms in frustration at Craig’s refusal to clog his service with ads and maximize its revenue so he could sell out. “If I can’t interest you in a very large offer,” the exec asked, “can I interest you in a very small offer?”

Early in our school’s life, I invited Craig to speak to a room packed with our students, one of whom was as perplexed as that media executive. After Craig talked about supporting the philanthropic causes he cares so much about — trustworthy journalism and veterans among them — our admirably entrepreneurial student asked Craig why he would not maximize the value of the enterprise he founded, sell it for billions, and then donate the proceeds of the resulting endowment to the groups he wanted to support. Craig said that he saw himself a philanthropist of classified ads, leaving money in the pockets of untold real people in the market rather than in the pockets of the middlemen who controlled marketplaces for apartments, cars, jobs, pianos, whatever.

Yes, some have accused Craig of forestalling the business models of those middlemen: newspapers. I have always disagreed. Craig didn’t invent the internet. He created the most prominent example of what the internet could do in directly connecting buyers and sellers, reducing inefficiency in a market. Long ago, I argued to newspaper bosses that they would be displaced by their former customers — real estate agents, job agents, car dealers — who would use the net to go around them to bring their information directly to a more-perfect market. I was nearly beheaded as a heretic. But the moral of the story is clear: Craig Newmark and craigslist did not ruin newspapers or their business models but only showed them what the future would look like. So, no, Craig Newmark is not endowing our journalism school out of penance for what happened to newspapers. Craig Newmark is endowing our journalism school because — like us all — he is worried about the future of journalism, the fate of truth, and the health of the republic.

I never had the nerve to ask Craig for money. I never wanted to impose on my friendship with Craig. Instead, he generously invited me to ask. At another Foursquare conference — years after the one I recount above — he suggested I submit a proposal to him regarding trustworthy news. The result was the News Integrity Initiative, which enabled us to leverage Craig’s founding donation to raise more money from Facebook, the Ford Foundation, AppNexus, and others to support innovation in trustworthy news.

My dean and partner in innovation, Sarah Bartlett, was the one to suggest to Craig that he could make a profound impact on the future of our public journalism school. But I get ahead of myself. In February 2014, when Sarah was appointed dean, she asked me to schedule a tour of Silicon Valley — to Google, Facebook, Twitter, Medium, LinkedIn (during which we hatched a new degree in Social Journalism) — and I added a stop in Craig’s favorite boite in San Francisco’s Haight. Craig and Sarah hit it off. So now I fast-forward to a meeting around Sarah’s small conference table in her office when Craig said he planned to give away the money he earned to support the causes he cares so much about. I watched as Sarah presented the opportunities of our school. Craig’s ears perked up. The rest is our future.

Craig’s gift enables so much for our small, wonderful J-school. It assures our independence and our ability to create new degrees, to hire innovative faculty, to support new programs, to recruit diverse students, to do nothing less than reinvent journalism. The great thing about an endowment such as this is that it comes with no conditions but provides resources we and our successors can take advantage of for years go come: forever.

Craig Newmark and his wife Eileen are friends I enjoy seeing at journalism conferences from Perugia to the Presidio and as neighbors in New York, where they’re now spending much of their time. I am grateful for Craig’s friendship and support, advice and counsel, wisdom and vision. I am grateful beyond words for Craig’s support of the institution I so dearly love, now named the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism.

Thank you, friend. Thank you, Craig.

Thank you, Secretary Clinton

Friday at Radcliffe — in a tent wonderfully filled with 80 or 90 percent women, from the class of ’41 on— I had the privilege of seeing Hillary Clinton receive the Radcliffe Medal. I left ever-more impressed with her wisdom, experience, and civility — with her leadership — and, of course, ever-more depressed that what should be is not what is.

As a journalist and journalism teacher, I was grateful for her defense of my field in the face of the right’s attacks on it and in spite of its certain role in her defeat. “Defend the press,” Clinton urged. “And believe me, that’s not easy for me to say all the time. But I know well that in the absence of a free and vigorous press our democracy is not going to survive.” While the press itself is busy tying itself in knots debating whether to call a lie a lie (isn’t that our single most important job?) she did not mince truth: “It’s not just Fox, it’s now Sinclair. They are essentially delivering propaganda.… We need more outlets for reliable information.” [Disclosure: I donated to and volunteered for the Clinton campaign many weekends in Bethlehem, Pa.]

It is striking how Clinton manages to paint a picture of the nation that is more honest and accurate — and yet, surprisingly, more empathetic and hopeful — than I see painted by my colleagues in the news these days. I can do no better than to quote her admonition at length. Please listen:

Our country is dangerously polarized. We have sorted ourselves into opposing camps…. The divides on race and religion are starker than ever before and as the middle shrank, partisan animosity grew….

Now I don’t want to get political, but I want to say this is not just — just — a both-sides problem. The radicalization of American politics has not been symmetrical. There are forces — and leaders — in our country who blatantly incite people with hateful rhetoric, who stoke fear of change, who see the world in zero-sum terms so that if others are gaining then everyone else must be losing. That is a recipe for polarization and conflict.

I do believe that healing our country will take radical empathy, reaching across the divides of race, class, but mostly politics to try to see the world through the eyes of people very different from ourselves, and to try to return to rational debate, to find a way to disagree without being disagreeable, to recapture a sense of common humanity.

When we think about politics and judge our leaders, we can’t just ask: ‘Am I better off than I was four years ago?’ We should also ask: ‘Are we all better off? Are we as a country better, stronger, and fairer?’ And empathy should not only be at the center of our individual lives, our families, and our communities but at the center of our public life, our policies, and our politics. I know we don’t think of politics and empathy going hand-in-hand these days, but they can and they must.

As Madeleine [Albright] writes in her new book: This generosity of spirit, this caring about others and the proposition that we are all created equal is the single most effective antidote to the self-centered moral numbness that allows fascism to thrive….

Right now we are living through a crisis in our democracy. There certainly are not tanks in the street. But what’s happening goes to the heart of who we are as a nation. And I say this not as a Democrat who lost an election but as an American afraid of losing a country.

There are certain things that are so essential they must transcend politics. Waging a war on the rule of law and a free press, delegitimizing elections, perpetuating corruption, and rejecting the idea that our leaders should be public servants, undermining our national unity, and attacking truth and reason — these should alarm us all, whether we’re Republicans, Democrats, independents, vegetarians, whoever we might be.

And attempting to erase the line between fact and fiction, truth and an alternative reality, is a core feature of authoritarianism. The goal is to make us question logic and reason and sow mistrust, toward exactly the people I think we need to rely on: our leaders, the press, experts who seek to guide public policy based on evidence, ultimately ourselves.

So how do we build democratic resilience? It does begin with standing up for the truth, facts, and reason, not only in the classroom and on campus but every day in our lives. And it means speaking out about the vital role of higher education in our society to create opportunity and equity. It means calling out actual fake news when we see it and supporting brave journalism and reporting — and, yes, subscribing to a newspaper; remember those? Most of all, as obvious as it seems, it means voting….

And finally, that’s why I am so optimistic about the future, because of how unbelievably tough we are proving to be. I’ve encountered many people in recent months who give me hope: the students in Parkland, now the students in Santa Fe, many people in communities who have responded with courage and resolve…. And I find hope in the many women — and men — who are dismantling the notion that women should have to endure harassment and violence as a part of life….

So, yes, I know there are many fights to fight, and more seem to arise every day. And it will take work to keep up the pressure and to stay vigilant. We can neither close our eyes nor numb our hearts or throw up our hands and say, someone else take over from here.

But there has not been a time — certainly in fifty years, and maybe not even for longer than that — where our country depends on every citizen believing in the power of your actions, even when that power is invisible, and your efforts feel like you are in an uphill battle, and voting even when your side loses. It comes down to be a matter, really, of infinite faith. So pace ourselves. Lean on each other. Look for the good wherever we can. Celebrate the heroes. Encourage the children. Find ways to disagree respectfully. Be ready to lose some fights. But don’t quit. As John McCain recently reminded us, no just cause is futile, even if it’s lost. What matters is that we keep going.

I could not help feeling that she is leading a government in exile. Like de Gaulle issuing messages on the wireless, she had one for civil servants trapped in an uncivil administration: “I hope people in government who are not political appointees will stay as long as they can.” She is defending our nation against an attack from within: “It’s not been an easy time for more than half our country since the 2016 election. And I still think that understanding what happened in that weird and wild election will help us defend our democracy in the future.” Yes, Mr. Mueller, do your work.

What was striking in hearing about and watching Clinton was that it reminds us what it is like to have a human in politics. No matter how the press portrayed her, she’s charming and funny. She talked about her father forbidding her to attend Radcliffe on his dime because he’d heard it was filled with beatniks. She talked about trying to go incognito and how hard that is with Secret Service in tow: One night while Clinton was walking in Washington a woman on a bike stopped to whisper: “I have to tell you, there’s a man following you.”

I was also impressed with how she never shrinks from the toughest fight. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey asked Clinton what company she’d want to head. She didn’t hesitate, even for a beat. “Facebook,” she replied. Why? “It is the biggest news platform in the world.” This is why I hope someday to be able to talk with her in front of our CUNY journalism students about her view of political coverage and how to fix it.

After her talk, given the chance — what the heck? — I joined the scrum of fans just to shake her hand and thank her. For what? For fighting for us.


Here’s video of the address I transcribed above:

And here is her discussion with Healey: