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Politically Speaking: National Review's French on bolstering free speech on college campuses

David French
Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio
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On the latest edition of the Politically Speaking podcast, St. Louis Public Radio’s Jason Rosenbaum and Jo Mannies are pleased to welcome the National Review’s David French to the program.

French was in St. Louis on Wednesday for a Washington University lecture about free speech on college campuses. It’s a topic that’s become more pronounced in recent months, especially after Donald Trump’s election as president.

A graduate of Harvard Law School, French is a senior writer for the National Review. He’s a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and co-authored the best-selling book Rise of ISIS: A Threat We Can’t Ignore. Last year, French considered running for president after Trump won the Republican nomination – but ultimately decided against such a move.

French’s speech at Washington University focuses on what he sees as a corrosive atmosphere on college campuses when it comes to free speech. Before he gained notoriety for his work with National Review, French spent a number of years litigating free speech issues on college campuses.

He points to examples where speakers from all sides of the political spectrum have been shouted down – or protested. There have been disruptive protests against conservatives like Ben Shapiro and liberals like Claire Guthrie Gastañaga of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Here's what French had to say during the show:

  • “We’re right in the middle of a wave of campus censorship” that French fears curbs the access of students to varied viewpoints on many issues. He argues that limited access to opposing opinions leads to people embracing only certain views and “dumbs us down … It makes you prone to believe stupid things.”

  • While arguing for campus free speech, French is concerned about “shout-downs’’ and violent efforts to discourage or oppose certain types of speakers on campuses. In the long run, the aggressors often lose out, he said. “The message often gets lost in the method.”

  • He contends that the nation is suffering from “a cultural collapse in the belief that there is value in hearing dissenting opinions.” As a result, French argues that “we have a pop culture that is divided and laden with conspiracy theories and spewing venom.”

  • French is sharply critical of President Donald Trump, and says the president “has absolutely no business’’ telling athletes or anybody else that they must stand for the National Anthem “or be fired’’ from their jobs. French says Trump’s comments are “completely inappropriate and a repudiation of our Constitution.”

Follow Jason Rosenbaum on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Follow Jo Mannies on Twitter: @jmannies

Follow David French on Twitter: @DavidAFrench

Music: “I Won’t Back Down” by Tom Petty

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.
Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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