Newseum Asked to Rescind Free Speech Award to Apple CEO Tim Cook

The following letter was sent today by NLPC President Peter Flaherty  to Peter S. Prichard, Chairman of the Newseum:

We ask the Newseum to rescind the 2017 Free Expression Award conferred on Apple CEO Tim Cook on April 18 in order to preserve the integrity of Newseum mission, as well as the integrity of the Award itself.

Since Cook accepted the Award, he has struck two blows against free expression, either one of which renders him as a completely inappropriate recipient.

Complicity in Chinese government censorship– On July 29, Apple removed all major VPN apps from the China apps store. VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. According to Jon Russell, a reporter for TechCrunch:

The App Store purge is hugely impactful because VPNs represent the only way that a China-based individual can bypass state censorship controls to access the internet without restrictions. The Chinese government effectively illegalized VPNs when new rules issued in January required them to receive government approval  in order to operate. That appears to be why Apple was forced to remove ExpressVPN and others like it.

Apple may believe it is best for its business to co-operate with requests from Beijing, but this App Store purge just created one of the biggest setbacks for the free internet in China’s history.

ExpressVPN, a company whose apps were removed by Apple, posted on its blog, “…we are troubled to see Apple aiding China’s censorship efforts. ExpressVPN strongly condemns these measures, which threaten free speech and civil liberties.”

Farhad Manjoo, a technology writer for the New York Times, pointed to more far-reaching consequences:

This isn’t just a blow for the liberties of Apple’s customers in China. Authoritarian governments have a tendency to copy what works. Russia just passed a law curbing VPNs. Early this year, Apple pulled down The New York Times app in the Chinese App Store, and both Apple and Google removed the LinkedIn app from their Russian app store.

Cook stated that Apple was “required” to comply with the Communist Chinese request. No it wasn’t. It could have done the right thing and refused. It appears Cook is all for free speech as long as it does not affect his bottom line.

Donations to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC)- On August 17, Cook announced that Apple would make a $1 million dollar contribution to SPLC, match employee gifts two-for-one, and offer iTunes users an “easy way” to donate.

Much of SPLC’s actions are calculated to silence, intimidate, and make civil discourse impossible. In the weeks preceding the Cook gifts, SPLC was experiencing a credibility crisis, with commentators in publications such as the Wall Street Journal detailing and condemning its smear tactics.

The SPLC modus operandi is not very sophisticated. It attempts to discredit responsible, mainstream groups by putting them on the same “hate group” lists as extremists like the KKK. Groups like the Family Research Council and Alliance Defending Freedom have been designated “hate groups” only because they disagree with SPLC on issues like immigration and gay marriage.

SPLC’s leaders can be as candid as they are reckless. According to Mark Potok, who for twenty years served as a SPLC Senior Fellow:

Our criteria for a ‘hate group,’ first of all, have nothing to do with criminality, or violence, or any kind of guess we’re making about ‘this group could be dangerous.’ It’s strictly ideological.

Ironically, Alliance Defending Freedom (formerly known as Alliance Defense Fund) has taken part in programs of the Newseum’s Center on Religious Liberty.

SPLC’s tactics are not only un-American, they are also sometimes dangerous. Floyd Lee Corkins, the gunman who entered the offices of the Family Research Council in 2012 with the intent of murdering its staff, told federal investigators on videotape that SPLC information was the basis for his action.

It is inconceivable that Cook was unaware of the controversy over SPLC’s tactics before he committed Apple shareholder money to the group.

According to the Newseum website, Apple is a Newseum “Corporate Member” and its logo prominently appears. The fact that Apple is a major financial supporter of the Newseum should not affect your decision whether to rescind this award.

In 2014, we asked the National Women’s History Museum to rescind its planned Katherine Graham Living Legacy Award to General Motors CEO Mary Barra in light of the cover-up of an ignition switch defect that cost 30 lives. The Museum did the right thing and Barra did not receive the Award.

The Newseum likewise should do the right thing and rescind this Free Expression Award to Tim Cook. It is the most effective thing you can do this year to promote free speech.