Last night the Newseum gave its second annual "free speech award" to Apple CEO Tim Cook. The honor was just one of several "Free Expression" awards that "recognize those who exhibit passion for and dedication to free expression." I can't be the only person who found this ironic.
It was only a few months ago that Apple removed the New York Times app from the Chinese version of the App Store. "The move limits access to one of the few remaining channels for readers in mainland China to read The Times without resorting to special software," the paper reported. Nor was this the first time Apple had accommodated the communist dictatorship in its quest to deny Chinese readers an independent media. "Apple has previously removed other, less prominent media apps from its China store." When the Times asked Apple what was going on, the global corporation, with a market cap of some $700 billion, said it was merely complying with the request of the Chinese authorities. Funny: a year earlier Tim Cook had self-righteously refused to comply with an FBI request to unlock the iPhone of the San Bernardino terrorists. Some authorities must be more authoritative than others.
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The award illustrates just how perverse an institution the Newseum is. What connection does Tim Cook have to the cause of a free press other than in suppressing it for profit? His tenure at Apple has been more about political involvement than technological innovation. He's known for advocacy of same-sex marriage, hiring former EPA administrator Lisa Jackson, the San Bernardino pose. He doesn't finance newspapers, he has made no stand against political correctness. I've never heard him utter a word that would offend John Oliver or Trevor Noah, say something that wasn't a cliché. "We must be open to alternative points of view, not alternative facts," he said in his acceptance speech. Unless you live in China!
The Newseum is famous for the huge slab of marble that hangs from its facade. On it is engraved the text of the First Amendment. That amendment also guarantees the right to religious liberty, but Cook opposes state religious freedom statutes because they "would allow people to discriminate against their neighbors." That's a tendentious interpretation, to say the least, and Cook has never shown any sign of reckoning honestly with religious believers who disagree with him. So he's 0 for 2.
If the Newseum had presented Cook the "Thank you for using your power to squelch dissident views and by the way please donate to us award," I wouldn't be making a fuss. It would have been consistent. As it stands the museum may want to reconsider its motto and swap the First Amendment for Orwell. There are several passages from 1984 that would work.
Why did Cook receive this honor? A reader points out that, according to the program, Apple is a "platinum sponsor" of the Newseum's Free Expression awards.