Editor’s Note: When our February cover story was published ("Anti-Boycott Laws Run Afoul of the Free Press"), we at E&P were surprised to receive the same industry response that Alan Leveritt got in response to The New York Times editorial he wrote about his lawsuit challenging an anti-boycott law in his state: crickets. It had us wondering if no one noticed, if no one cared. Then, we heard from HD Media’s Lee Wolverton, who penned an op-ed in response to our story. It appeared in HD Media’s newspapers over Super Bowl weekend, and we share it here with his blessing. HD Media is the news publisher that filed the first federal antitrust lawsuit against the Big Tech platforms in 2021. Leveritt and Wolverton deserve our attention. Please read his op-ed and share your comments.
Deteriorated by dullness, the bulwarks of the American experiment, enshrined in her Constitution, are shattering. Eyes on screens and heads in the sand — or up some things — her people neither see the devastation nor hear the crash of democracy falling.
West Virginia is part of a movement to increase and transform centralized government’s role in halls beyond its own, in the homes and workplaces of the governed. The evidence is, like government, ubiquitous.
State lawmakers have decided local school boards no longer can be trusted to make determinations about pandemic response or curriculum. Steadily more intrusive, government also is steadily more closed, demonstrated by legislation blocking access to jail records, elected officials’ subversion of open meetings law by use of electronic devices and public universities conducting public business in private.
Unnoticed in last year’s legislative session, the state Senate authorized the study of a law that would prohibit state agencies from conducting business with entities that boycott Israel. Palestinians in 2005 launched an international movement under the acronym BDS, meaning boycott, divestment and sanctions, touted by advocates as means to punish Israel for colonialism, apartheid and occupation.
Legislation like that which passed here aims to demonstrate support for Israel, described in state Senate Concurrent Resolution 71 as “one of the United States’ closest allies and international trading partners.”
Conservatives side with Israel, and liberals with Palestinians. Those among us who think independently or don’t bother thinking at all either smirk at both sides or simply don’t give a damn. American hubris is most vividly displayed in its quest for peace in the Middle East, where conflict is as old as the land.
Have this state’s senators nothing better to do? Like other laws passed or sought by the Legislature, Resolution 71 is an answer without a question. Businesses here are hardly lining up to boycott Israel.
That also would figure to be the case in Arkansas, where a measure dating to 2017 requires businesses dealing with state agencies to either sign a pledge not to boycott Israel or pay a 20% penalty on state transactions. The law drew little attention there, just as few were aware of the resolution here.
But as writer Gretchen Peck explains in her recent cover story for Editor and Publisher, the newspaper industry trade journal, the Arkansas Times took painful notice in 2018. The University of Arkansas’ Pulaski Technical College, a longtime advertiser, issued an ultimatum to the newspaper: sign the pledge not to boycott, or the ad money stops.
“Our paper focuses on the virtues of Sims Bar-B-Que down on Broadway,” Publisher Alan Leveritt wrote in an op/ed for The New York Times. “Why would we be required to sign a pledge regarding a country in the Middle East?”
Leveritt is neither a highfalutin New York Times type nor one of those blow-dried TV dimwits against whom conservatives rail (because they prefer their own blow-dried TV dimwits).
“We're just white-trash farmers,” Leveritt says in “Boycott,” a documentary film. “I mean, that’s where we come from.” Peck writes that the documentary shows Leveritt “gathering eggs and tending gardens.”
“As a recovering conservative,” he adds, “I want to be left alone, you know? Do your job. You get your business on merit, and you get paid for it, and you don't pass some political litmus test. This is America.”
In the words of Peter Sellers’ immortal Jacques Clouseau: “Not anymore.”
Count me among those who don’t particularly give a damn about the Middle East. America has enough problems of its own, and I have enough of mine, without thinking overmuch about how to bring peace to a place continually and historically hellbent on not having it.
I give a damn about freedom of worship, free speech, a free press and the rights of the people to peacefully assemble and petition the government for redress, legal foundations written into the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights.
As Evelyn Beatrice Hall famously wrote in “The Life of Voltaire:” “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” a position both sides would do well to take.
Responding to last week’s offering in this space, a delightful lady called asking what she might do. Here is an answer for all:
Pull your eyes from the screen and your heads from the sand or wherever else they might be deposited. Call your representatives in government and demand they get about the business of building and repairing physical infrastructure, improving schools and creating jobs. Get out of the business of stealing our freedoms. Or get out altogether.
Remember: A free republic once fallen might never be revived.
Lee Wolverton is vice president of news and executive editor at HD Media in Charleston, West Virginia.
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