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Bill de Blasio

Mayor Praises Streetsblog (For the Wrong Reason, But We’ll Take It!)

Mayor de Blasio shortly before he said Streetsblog is not recommending terrorism against car makers. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

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Hate speech is roiling our nation, but Mayor de Blasio is certain of one thing: Streetsblog isn't fomenting it!

In a bizarre (and sort-of backhand) compliment, Hizzoner praised the city's foremost transportation website — with which he has tussled repeatedly over the last 18 months — for its role in definitely not telling readers how to commit acts of terror against auto-makers.

No, that really happened.

Here's how: At a press conference on Thursday about this week's anti-Semitic hate crime in Jersey City, de Blasio was asked repeatedly by members of the press about what the city can and should (and should not) do about rabid hate speech on social media. The mayor was cautious to avoid calling for censorship of speech that many people find repugnant because it is still covered by America's guarantee of free speech.

That said, he clearly targeted social media companies, though not by name.

"The bigger effort," the mayor said, "has to be made first to convince the social media companies to deepen their responsibility to stop all forms of hate speech. They are unregulated utilities, they must be regulated, and this is a growing conversation we’re having in our nation. They can’t keep claiming to be innocent, to be neutral. They are not."

Later, the mayor was asked to clarify. That's where Streetsblog comes in.

Here's what he said, singling out our editor, Gersh Kuntzman, who has known de Blasio since he (de Blasio!) was a Brooklyn Council Member representing Park Slope. Kuntzman was in the second row at the presser:

Look, I don’t pretend to have that expertise. I think that the indictment I gave a moment ago, the subversion of our electoral process, the spread of hate speech, making information available about how to commit acts of violence — I mean all of these things, you have to lay at the feet of these companies. ... I look at my old friend Gersh — I don’t think Streetsblog is going to publish a guide to building a bomb, right? You don’t like the auto-industry but you’re not going to tell people how to build a bomb and place it at an automobile factory. So, the fact is, that if online platforms that we all use ... allow people to learn how to make a bomb or how to hate each other, or they allow, you know, automated mass disinformation to subvert an election, that's not what we signed up for. And you all [indicating all the reporters, not just Kuntzman] would not allow that, so why can they allow it?

The official transcript from the mayor's office did not include Kuntzman's interjection, so let the record show that he twice told the mayor, "You're right; we would not do that."

The mayor's use of Streetsblog as a paragon of publishing probity caught the city's vaunted press corps in shock, with several reporters live-tweeting the monologue.

But others were concerned that the mayor was being too soft on the merchants of death in Detroit.

But regardless of your reaction, the mayor's comment allows us to restate our official position on publishing hate speech. It is not hate speech to demand the speedy demise of the automobile industry. But the mayor is right: We will not publish instructions on how to commit violence against the makers of cars.

Call it our small concession to civil discourse.

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