Original Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nimWOS3nVx8
Alan Dershowitz is a legendary American defense attorney, former law professor, prolific author, and longtime defender of civil liberties, particularly freedom of speech. Mr. Dershowitz has taught at Harvard Law School for the past four decades, he’s published over 1,000 articles and authored 48 books, including Cancel Culture: The Latest Attack on Free Speech and Due Process, and his latest book, The Case Against the New Censorship: Protecting Free Speech from Big Tech, Progressives, and Universities. In speaking with CEO Jennifer Grossman on November 10, 2021, Dershowitz covers a whole range of topics, including the state of the law in America, Critical Race Theory, the Trump Presidency, meeting Ayn Rand, and Dershowitz’s experience in the legal defense of unpopular people. Watch the interview HERE or check the transcript below.
JAG: Jennifer Anju Grossman
AD: Alan Dershowitz
JAG: Welcome to the 78th episode of The Atlas Society Asks. My name is Jennifer Anju Grossman. My friends call me JAG. I'm CEO of The Atlas Society. We are the leading nonprofit introducing young people to the ideas of Ayn Rand in fun, creative ways, such as animated videos and graphic novels. Today, it is quite an honor to have joining us Professor Alan Dershowitz. We are going to try to get to some questions at the end, but we don't want to take up too much of Professor Dershowitz's time. He has been called, “one of the most prominent and consistent defenders of civil liberties in America” by Politico and, “the nation's most peripatetic civil liberties lawyer, and one of its most distinguished defenders of individual rights” by Newsweek. I also had dinner last night with Alex Kozinski, who was singing his praises, and also has a very flattering and laudatory blurb about Professor Dershowitz's new book, which we're going to be talking about today: The Case Against The New Censorship. Professor Dershowitz has taught at Harvard law school for 50 years. He's perhaps the most prolific guest we've had on the show with over a thousand articles in journals, newspapers, and magazines, and he's authored 48 books. Professor Dershowitz, welcome again. Thank you for joining us.
AD: Well, thank you. It's my honor and privilege to speak to such a distinguished group of people. Now, do you want me to make some opening comments about the American state of the law, or do you want to just go right into questions?
JAG: That would be wonderful because I wanted to just introduce your book. And so perhaps you could tell us a little bit about it, because this is not the first book that you've written on the First Amendment.
AD: On the First Amendment, probably four or five. Look, I think the American judicial system is in crisis. I share Thomas Jefferson's distrust of judges. I think judges have too much power; they're too authoritarian. They often are above the law. They are literally above the law: a judge can't be sued. Let me tell you about a case. People will be shocked when they hear about this case in the United States Supreme Court. So, a father of a young woman who was having sex with a young man went to the judge and said, I don't want my daughter to get pregnant. So, I want you to order her tubes to be tied. And the judge said, well, how would we do that? Well, we'll make believe she has an illness and you order the tubes to be tied—and the judge and the father conspired and got together and did that.
AD: And then the young girl happily married another guy and discovered she couldn't have a baby, and went to the doctor and the doctor said, well, you've had your tubes tied in surgery. And she said, well, who did that? And she found out the story and she and her husband sued the judge. And, the United States Supreme Court said, no, they couldn't sue that judge, judges are above the law. They are the only institution today in government that is above the law. Lifetime tenure for judges is wrong. And, the idea that judges can just literally get away with everything leads to a common joke among lawyers who practice in front of Federal District Court judges: So, the angel Gabriel goes to Freud in heaven and says, “we need you to examine God. He's having delusions of grandeur. He thinks he's a federal judge.”
It was Hamilton who said that the judiciary is the least dangerous branch because it has no purse and it has no sword. I love Alexander Hamilton's writing, but he was dead wrong.
AD: And so, it is really a challenge to democracy to have judges have the kind of power that they have today. A single judge can stop a legislative action from coming into being. Now, judges play a very important function. We couldn't live without judges. You know, you can't live with them. You can't live without them. It's a very hard balance to strike, which is why the greatest judges in American history, Brandeis and Frankfurter and Holmes and Harlan, and some of the others created the doctrine of judicial restraint. It was Hamilton who said that the judiciary is the least dangerous branch because it has no purse and it has no sword. I love Alexander Hamilton's writing, but he was dead wrong. Maybe it was the weakest branch when he was the secretary of the treasury, but today it has become one of the strongest branches of government.
AD: And yet it's unelected, unaccountable. In fact, if you try to criticize it, you can be disbarred. You can criticize the president, you can criticize members of Congress, but if you criticize judges, you risk your bar license. I have risked my bar license many times because I have criticized judges. I wrote a book called Supreme Injustice, where I attack the Supreme Court's decision in Bush v. Gore. In my first book, The Best Defense, I talked about black robes, white lies: about how judges often just lie. The most frequent example of judges lying is when police search somebody. And they say that they searched them because they saw a bulge in the pocket, or they saw him drop something on the floor. Every judge knows that dropsy testimony or bulgy testimony is made up and prosecutors encourage policemen to tell those kinds of lies to convict guilty people.
AD: All right, that's understandable. But the judges then claim to believe that that testimony is truthful. They know it's not truthful, but they want to see the guilty convicted. So this is not a liberal-conservative issue. There's sin on all sides. It's a structural and institutional problem that judges have simply too much power in our system today. They shouldn't be stripped of all of their power. They have to have the power to impose the constitutional constraints on legislative and judicial actions, but it has to be done with humility and with judicial restraint. Our criminal justice system discriminates, and not only discriminates based on race, but does it discriminate based on ideology? If you're a Republican, you get different justice than if you're a Democrat in different parts of the country. If you're liked by the judge, you get a different justice. If you hire a lawyer who's liked by the judge, you get different justice, and there's no accountability for that.
AD: And, the bar frowns on criticism of judges, and I've staked my entire career on criticism of judges. And I paid a price for it because judges will sometimes take it out on me. I fight back and, you know, I have an extraordinary record of winning cases. I've won like 25 out of my 28 murder-homicide, attempted murder cases, which is probably an all time record. But most of that is in front of you, the juries. The appellate courts, not trial courts, appellate courts are a little further from the street and a little further from influence by local judges. So, they're a little bit more insulated, but not completely insulated. So, you don't have in me a fan of judges. Thomas Jefferson was very skeptical of judges, very critical of judges as were many, many of the founding generation; they had much more trust in the people in the legislature.
AD: But, of course, we know with our history of racism, slavery and segregation, and discrimination against women, discrimination against gay and lesbian people that with that kind of discrimination, much of it was tolerated by the courts. And you need, ultimately, judges to be able to strike down popular discrimination and popular illegality as during the McCarthy period. Some judges showed courage and stood up to the popular will of McCarthyism, others just capitulated, and gave in to the times. Today, of course, the greatest threats to civil liberties come, not from the right, but from the left. They come from the woke generation. They come from the extreme left. They come from the AOC and Ilhan America. They come from people who have no sense of acceptance of due process. Remember, if you are certain of your views, the way the woke generation is certain of their views, you don't need a trial.
AD: You don't need free speech. If you know that every woman who accuses a man of misconduct is telling the truth, and every man is lying, what do you need a trial for? Why do you need dissenting opinions? If you know that the left view is the correct one, and the conservative view or the liberal view, the intermediate liberal view is the incorrect one, why do you need dissenting opinions? The great enemy of Liberty is certainty. It was Learned Hand, a great judge, who once said the essence of Liberty is not to be sure you're right. “I'd beseech you in the bowels of Christ,” said Cromwell, “you might be wrong.” And, you might be wrong, which gives rise to the right to dissent, the right to due process. The very rights that are being challenged by the left today, by the hard left today.
AD: And we're seeing extremism on both sides of the political spectrum. And the one thing about extremism is you don't need dissent. You don't need due process if you're an extremist because you know the truth with a capital T. What we know under the First Amendment, the First Amendment does not recognize truth. Truth is a defense to be sure, but the first amendment talks really about a truth-ing process: a process of constantly revisiting truths, constantly challenging them, whether they're religious truth, scientific truth, racial truth, gender truths, any truth, you always have to challenge. But, today, at many universities, you can't challenge. For example, critical race theory—it's a misnomer. You cannot be critical of race theory. If you're critical of what the established race theory is, you get canceled. If you say at the University of California, that the most qualified person should get the job, that’s a microaggression. You have insulted people.
AD: If you say the most qualified people should get the job—let me ask every listener here: You've all been on an airplane, which is going through a terrible, terrible storm. And you're really worried about whether the plane will make it. Do you want the most qualified person to be that pilot? When you go in for surgery, do you want the most qualified person to be your surgeon? Well, if it's true of surgeons and it's true of pilots, it’s sure to be true of a great many occupations in society. And so I have another book that I just wrote about six months ago called The Case for Colorblind Equality in an Age of Identity Politics, where I call for returning to Martin Luther King's dream in which he said, “I dream of a time when my children will be judged by the quality of their character, not by the color of their skin.”
Martin Luther King would be banned on college campuses today. He would be protested. He would be physically attacked. He would be called a racist today because he demands equality.
AD: Martin Luther King would be banned on college campuses today. He would be protested. He would be physically attacked. He would be called a racist today because he demands equality. Today, the call for equality is a call for identity politics for racial discrimination in favor of certain races, gender discrimination in favor of gender discrimination against white males, Christians and Jews. You know, it's only been a hundred years, less, when I graduated Yale law school in 1962, which is only 60 years ago. I couldn't get a job in a Wall Street firm because my name was Dershowitz. And I came from an Eastern European Jewish family, and law firms were apartheid law firms. There were WASP law firms. There were Catholic law firms. There were Jewish law firms. There were a couple of black law firms. There were no women's law firms. And today—we want to go back to that.
AD: When my son went off to college, he discovered that he couldn't sit at a table, which some of his black friends were at because they say this table is reserved only for African-Americans. We want to be separate. We don't want to be integrated. So we're seeing a complete change in our attitudes. The Chinese curse says, “May you live in interesting times.” We live in interesting times. We live in fascinating times. Sometimes I wish I were back teaching. After 50 years I retired. But, if I were back teaching, I would be fighting all of these trends. I would be challenging the woke culture and the established view today on college and university campuses that you don't need dissent. You don't need due process. So, I hope we'll have a conversation, today, in which my view is challenged by you.
AD: And in which we can have a fair and full exchange about our legal system, about our system of equality, about censorship. We can also talk about the vaccine. I've written a book about that. In my retirement, I have a little bit more time because I'm not teaching. So I wrote eight books in the last two years. And, another one on the way called The Price of Principle, how difficult it is to remain a principled person and how attacked you are if you don't choose sides. So, I don't choose sides politically. I always come down on the side of the Constitution and civil liberties. So let's have at it, ask me your questions. You don't have to be polite. You can be tough. They don't have to be questions. They can be comments. Let's have the kind of thoughtful discussion here that we can't have on many college campuses today.
JAG: Well, yes. And I'm surprised that you would be up for another round on college campuses. In your book, you described some of the experiences where you have been threatened with violence or where your speeches had to be moved. In particular with your strong support of Israel, which you've also described as coming under assault from the Squad and from AOC, a kind of new bigotry. What is it about the Democratic Party that is providing a haven for that kind of extremism?
AD: Well, they learned the lesson last Tuesday when they lost overwhelmingly in Virginia and in other places where they lost voters. American voters vote center, whether they be republicans or democrats. The republicans don't want extreme right-wing radicals who don't approve of free speech and due process; and democratic voters, for the most part, don't want the AOCs. The AOCs of the world get elected in tiny districts, usually in primaries where very few people vote. They are not representative of either the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, or American voters in general. And I hope that the election on Tuesday and perhaps the coming election a year from now will make it clear that Americans do not want extremist leaders. That's why they voted for Biden. He was seen as a moderate, as an antidote to Trump, and as somebody who can get along with both parties. I'm not here to defend him or to attack him or to really talk about today's political situation, but about how people get elected today: if they're perceived as common sense, centrist, non-radicals, people who can talk to each other and get along.
AD: Unlike Larry David—Larry David, the comedian—he won't talk to me. He just screams at me and insults me, and he yells at me because I defended president Trump. And, because I patted on the back, Mike Pompeo, my former student who had brought about great, great results in the Abraham Accords and the peace processes between Israel and some of the Arab countries. And, because I patted him on the back, he [David] called me disgusting, will never talk to me. People don't want that. People may like Larry David's comedy. They don't like his politics. I don't need him.
JAG: Yes, well, I do agree with that. I'm the only Republican in a family of Democrats. And my father would probably be in line with you on most issues. He doesn't always vote party line. But there was certainly something about the Trump presidency that drove some people into a kind of mania or derangement, and you write about that in this book. And I know that, politically, you were not a supporter of President Trump, although you clearly have voiced your support for his policies in the Middle East: finally moving the embassy to Jerusalem, and going out on a limb to forge some of these peace accords. But, what was the role of the Trump presidency in energizing this backlash to First Amendment protections, to basic civil liberties. And, do you have hope for things returning to some kind of new normal?
AD: I have no hope of returning to a new normal in my lifetime, perhaps in your lifetime. I think we're on at least the 20- or 25-year trend with the new woke culture and the new racial politics. Look, Trump was very divisive. That's how he won. He divided the country. He really made people hate him. And people did. People who are normally rational people, who I know from Martha's Vineyard, who have been friends for 30 or 40 years, thought that Donald Trump was Hitler. And therefore, if I defended him, I was defending Hitler. Well, no, Donald Trump wasn't Hitler. Hillary lost the election, and he didn't want to leave office, but he left office in a democracy. You can't be Hitler, if the people vote and they don't like you. But because of that, they decided they didn't need civil liberties. They didn't need basic politeness.
AD: But remember that the people who were McCarthyites had the same belief. There's no difference between Larry David and McCarthy when it comes to that. Larry David honestly believes that Trump is the devil, and McCarthy honestly believed that communism was the devil. He honestly believed that if we allowed communists to speak and to be in government and to teach in universities, we would turn into the Soviet Union. Remember at the time of McCarthyism, the Soviet Union had taken over all of these countries in Europe, much of central Europe, China, Cuba, Greece—so many parts of the world. And Khrushchev had said, “We will bury you.” People were scared. When I was in elementary school, we had duck and cover exercises. We had to duck under our desks because an atomic bomb was going to hit nearby. That, maybe, we'd have a chance of surviving if we were under our desks was ridiculous, but we would be genuinely scared, more scared than Larry David was of Donald Trump, and the same reaction.
AD: Just the way McCarthy said, “We won't talk to you, we won't tolerate you, we won't accept you, if you are in any way an enabler of communism,” Larry David did the same thing with people who were perceived as enablers of Trump. What he failed to understand is that in the American system of justice, when you're a lawyer, you're not an enabler. You're a lawyer for the Constitution. When I defended President Trump on the floor of the Senate, I never once mentioned his name. I said I was here to defend the presidency. I was here to defend the Constitution. I thought that the democratic Congress had voted to impeach on unconstitutional grounds: abuse of power; 44 presidents have been accused of abuse of power. And I was there to defend the Constitution, but that's not good enough for the Larry Davids of the world. For them, if you are in any way perceived as helping Donald Trump, you are the devil in much the same way as McCarthy saw people who were perceived as enablers of communism. That's not America.
JAG: Yes. Well, I think it goes back to a dynamic that I hadn't quite thought of before. The way that you framed it is this absolute certainty that you're right. And, I see it not just in partisan politics. I mean, even within Objectivism, The Atlas Society promotes a kind of brand of objectivism. We call it Open Objectivism, that specifically emphasizes tolerating different points of view, debate, descent, and the way you framed it helped me understand the thought process of those who take a different view, a closed-objectivist approach: they have complete certainty that their interpretation is correct. And, if you have a different point of view, then it's akin to what you said. It's sacrilege, it's blasphemy.
Religion has become much more open to discourse. Today it’s leftwing politics that is burning heretics for dissent. They don't call it burning. They call it canceling.
AD: Which is a good word because it starts with religion. The Catholic Church burned people who dissented. I've always been very proud of my faith, Judaism, because it created the Talmud, and the Talmud was filled with questions, and dissenting opinions are preserved in the Talmud. Whereas at a time when the Christians and Muslims were burning heretics, Jews were praising that. And today, of course, the Catholic Church has changed. Protestant churches have changed, and even many, many Islamic Imams have changed. They now welcome debate. The Sharia has debate as well. And so religion has become much more open to discourse. Today it’s leftwing politics that is burning heretics for dissent. They don't call it burning. They call it canceling. But, in American society, essentially, it's the same thing. You cannot raise questions about race, gender privilege, any of these issues. They are sacrosanct.
AD: If you dare to raise a question or a doubt about it, if you are critical of race theory, you are out and nobody will go to your classes. Nobody will promote you. If you're a teacher, nobody will hire you, if you want to go from college to college. And so the messages become clear to young faculty members, and even the students: toe the line. If you want a job, don't raise questions. In the 50 years I taught at Harvard, the question was the key. You know, it was the great, great physicist, Feynman, who, when he won the Nobel prize, he credited his mother because his mother, when he came home from school as a seven year old, didn't ask him, what did you learn today? What did the teacher say today? His mother would always say, did you ask any good questions?
AD: And that's the key for me as a teacher for 50 years, my best students were the ones who asked the questions, were the ones who didn't know, were the ones who weren't so certain, were the ones who came into the classroom with an open mind, who wanted to learn, and my job is not to teach them what to think. It's to teach them how to think, how to make their views, if they're conservative, stronger as a conservative: if they're liberal, stronger as a liberal, even if they're woke, you know, I want to help them develop thought processes, which are going to be useful in life. Now, I'm not sure that they're useful today in life, because there are many jobs where thinking too much, questioning too much, analyzing too much is the death knell and you won't get anywhere. Today, in many jobs, just shake your head and say, yes; duck; and go under the desk.
AD: Don't make waves. Then you'll get somewhere. But, if you have questions that relate to subjects that are taboo, it won't happen. About 15 years ago, I taught a course with Steven Pinker, who's one of the great intellectuals of our time. Stephen and I taught a course called Taboo in which we had 15 weeks with a thousand students in the class, something like that. And each week we talked about a taboo subject. A subject you cannot talk about in universities. We talked about race. We talked about gender. We talked about them in extremely critical ways. I was always known as the devil's advocate. I would always raise the kind of questions you're not supposed to raise. The students clamored for that class. They wanted it. They wanted questions to be raised. They didn't want anything to be taboo. Today, a course like that could not be taught at any university.
JAG: Yes, well, in terms of becoming a better advocate, a better proponent for one's point of view, certainly being exposed to contrary points of view and testing them and being able to defend your position, that would seem to be a way to strengthen your ability to be more persuasive. And, in terms of asking the questions, we had our annual gala last week, we honored Peter Thiel. And, one of the things that struck me about him was in his interviews, we were talking about job interviews, one of his standard questions is asking candidates, “What belief do you have that very few people agree with you on.” And I think it's the ability to not only defend an unpopular position, but also to not cave at the first sign of disapproval.
AD: I think I would've got the job with Thiel.
JAG: Well, maybe you would have. You probably just had so many unpopular ideas.
AD: Yeah, unpopular ideas on unpopular people. And, you know, people tell me all the time: We love the fact that you defend unpopular people, but why—and then they add one name.
JAG: What's the one name that you most get? Is it Trump or is it Von Bulow or is it Jeffrey Epstein?
AD: Jeffrey Epstein, Trump, OJ Simpson, Claus Von Bulow. I defended Nazis marching through Skokie, Illinois. I have defended communists, all the people on the left say, “We understand how you can defend communists, but how can you defend Nazis?” People on the right say, “We understand that you can defend Nazis, we don’t understand that you could defend communists?” And then almost everybody, including my mother, said, “How could you defend OJ Simpson? You know he did it, everybody knows he did it.” And, you know, you have to be skeptical. You have to be uncertain, but the attitude out there is he did it. So what does he need a defense for? Or, you can defend them, but plead him guilty. But even when you plead him guilty, as we did with Jeffrey Epstein, that wasn't good enough because he didn't get a long enough sentence.
AD: As if that's my responsibility, it wasn't my responsibility. He didn't get a long enough sentence. My job is to get him the shortest possible. I failed. I should've gotten him free. That would have been a success. He got 18 months and I'm blamed for it, instead of the judge and the prosecutor, because people hate him, and they have a right to hate him, but they have no right to hate me for satisfying my constitutional obligations to defend them. By the way, the flack I got for Jeffrey Epstein was 1% of what I got for defending Donald Trump, 1%. And people forget that I defended Bill Clinton. I was one of the consultants on his defense team. I was on the floor of the Senate, defending Alan Cranston, a liberal Democrat from California. I defended the Democratic governor of Louisiana. I defended the Democratic borough president of the Bronx. I would say of my political cases, I think I can only think of one Republican I've ever defended. And that's the one that got me more cancellation from the hard left than in all of my other cases combined.
I don't defend people who are in the business of crime and who are using me just to get out so that they can commit more crimes. I don't defend drug dealers. I don't defend professional criminals, or terrorists
JAG: Is there anyone that you would not defend?
AD: Yes. I have a policy. I don't defend people who are in the business of crime and who are using me just to get out so that they can commit more crimes. I don't defend drug dealers. I don't defend professional criminals, or terrorists. An interesting story: So, I was called by Slobodan Milosevic, who was the man who was in charge of parts of the former Yugoslavia and was accused of genocide. He was hiding away from the authorities, and he called me from his hideout, and asked me if I would defend them. And I said, no, I have a rule that I won't defend fugitives. If you will come with me and surrender yourself to the Hague I will then defend you in court. But, he said he couldn't do that. So, I didn't defend him; I have limitations, but it's not based on whether the person is guilty or innocent or the seriousness or nature of the crime.
AD: It's based on whether or not he's in the business of doing it, and will continue to do it in a recurring way, and whether or not he's a fugitive, somebody who is not willing to subject himself or herself to the justice system. But beyond that, I will defend anybody for a past crime unless I'm involved. I mean, if somebody hurt a member of my family, I wouldn't defend them. I would try my best to prosecute that. But, if I had nothing, no involvement, then I think the Constitution obliges me. And, because I was a professor with tenure for 47 years to three years without tenure, I had a special obligation never to turn down a case because of the unpopularity of the defendant because I couldn't get fired. Whereas other lawyers could get fired, could get disciplined, could get bankrupted. I had a good salary. And so, I had no excuse for not defending the most hated people in the world, and believe me, I did.
JAG: Well, you had, as you say, a professional obligation to defend some of these very egregious characters, but, in Objectivism, we believe we have a moral obligation to defend ourselves. And you haven't shied away from that either. In your book, you talked about your suit against CNN, which you mounted, “not to enrich myself, but to deter CNN and other media from maliciously misinforming their viewers at the expense of innocent people.” Tell us a little bit for those viewers who aren't familiar with that. And, what is the status?
AD: So, for the first 75 years of my life, I never sued anybody and was never sued. I never had a lawsuit for 75 years. It started when a woman I never met, never heard of, claimed that Jeffrey Epstein had her have sex with me. I never met her. I never heard of her. I was able to prove by my documents and my records that I couldn't have been in the place that she'd said I was in, and that she has a long history of lying. Lying about Al Gore, lying about George Mitchell, lying about Bill Richardson, lying about lots and lots and lots of people. And then, finally, I got her own lawyer on tape, surreptitiously, to admit that she was wrong, simply wrong, that she could not have been in the places she said, and her other lawyer admitted it in a television interview with me.
There’s a quid pro quo all the time. The Palestinians are told, unless you stop terrorism, we won't send you money. The Israelis are told, unless you stop building on the West Bank, you will do this or that, or the other thing. So it’s quid pro quo, quid pro quo all the time.
AD: So, I was vindicated. But, she's still suing me for defamation, and I'm suing her for defamation. So, that’s suit number one; my next suit is CNN. I went on the floor of the Senate, and I was asked the following question: is a quid pro quo enough to impeach a president. It was an interesting question. Of course, a quid pro quo is not enough. We see quid pro quo all the time. Just that day, I had been to The White House and in The White House there’s a quid pro quo all the time. The Palestinians are told, unless you stop terrorism, we won't send you money. The Israelis are told, unless you stop building on the West Bank, you will do this or that, or the other thing. So it’s quid pro quo, quid pro quo all the time.
AD: So, in answer to the question, I said, if the quid pro quo is illegal or unlawful in any way, it's an impeachable offense, but if it's completely legal, and the president did it in order to help his own chances of getting reelected, which he thought would be in the public interest, that quid pro quo could not be an impeachable offense. So, CNN deliberately omitted the part of the conversation in which I said, “if it was illegal or unlawful,” and then they had their commentators deliberately, maliciously, and willfully say, “Dershowitz said, ‘the president can do anything, even murder somebody, even commit crimes’” after I spent the whole day before saying if a president commits a crime, he could be a impeached. And, I started the answer to this question by saying, if it's lawful or legal, if it's not unlawful, not illegal, that he can't be impeached; but, they deliberately distorted it, and then called me Hitler and Mussolini and all kinds of terrible names.
AD: So, I decided I had to sue them. I've sued them. CNN made a motion to dismiss. We won, and the case is now scheduled for trial. And I think that we will get an enormous verdict, which I will contribute largely to charity. And I think that will help CNN learn their lesson. So just today, CNN got berated by the judge in the Rittenhouse case, because they totally, completely distorted what he said. Look, there's one rule in CNN. If Jeffrey Toobin said it, you could count on it being wrong. Every prediction he's made virtually has turned out to be wrong. Why not? Because I'm so much a better lawyer than he is. He was my student, but because he makes predictions based on his desires and his wishes, he allows his own personal preferences to influence. And I've urged CNN and other stations to show on the air what he predicted, and then show what happened so that the public can judge whether they want to listen to him.
AD: Jeffrey Toobin wouldn't last a week. If they showed what he said would happen and then showed what actually happened. On the other hand, everything I say always turns out to be correct because I don't allow my personal views to influence my predictions. I make predictions based on my legal expertise, and my knowledge of the courts, on my knowledge of the law. And, I challenged CNN to come up with one prediction that I made about law or a lawsuit that turned out to be wrong. And, I challenged them to show me predictions that Jeffrey Toobin and some of the other legal commentators made that turned out to be right. They won't be able to do that.
JAG: So we've got a couple of questions here that are along the similar thread of regulation of social media companies, what to do about the censorship within certain platforms of more conservative voices. I mean, these companies also have their first amendment rights, right? To be able to publish what they want to publish. But, it also seems that they've moved more and more away from just being a platform. They moved from just posting whatever anybody tweets to picking and choosing and curating. And does that movement move them more into a vulnerable position with regards to the case for regulation?
AD: I think it will. When President Trump sued some of these companies, I said, this was a very important First Amendment case because it's the first time the First Amendment has really been used, not as a shield, but as a sword to prevent free speech. The First Amendment is suppressing free speech. And that's what's so interesting about this case and other cases that are now challenging social media. I think there's a solution to it. Section 230 of the Communications Act immunizes platforms like that from any defamation or other kinds of related lawsuits. But, it was intended to cover them only because they weren't picking and choosing everything that went on the air. You could just post. Now that they pick and choose and decide what to allow and what not to allow on, they should lose their exemption of Section 230.
AD: So, I would amend 230 to say, every media company has to fill in a box: Do you censor or don't you censor? If you don't censor, you get the benefit of 230. If you censor, you don't. Now it's not easy to do mechanically because, say, Twitter or YouTube, they don't pre-censor. Anybody can post anything they want. So, my approach would be this. If a complaint has been lodged and within 10 days, you haven't taken it down, you lose your exemption. You are subject to being sued for it. If within 30 days, even if there's been no complaint, if there's something that's clearly defamatory, you lose your exemption. So, it gives the media platforms an opportunity to still allow anything to go on initially, but then they have a responsibility to monitor if they want to get the benefit of not being sued. But, what they can't do is censor, decide what to put on the air, curate, as you say, and then at the same time, get an immunity under 230. That makes no sense at all. So I'm in favor of abolishing that broad immunity.
JAG: So, but they would still be required to, if not pre-censor, then monitor pornography or child-pornography.
If you're picking and choosing, if you’re allowing Democrats to defame Republicans, but you’re pre-censoring Republicans like President Trump and saying: We're not going to let you do anything, campaign, do anything, say anything to the American public. Then, you have violated the understanding of Section 230, and you should be amenable to lawsuit.
AD: They do that today, and that's fine. And, nobody objects to that. If it's illegal, you don't have to put it on the air. And, if it's completely and obviously defamatory, you don't have to put it on the air. But, then, what are you worried about? You're not putting defamatory material on the air, then you don't need an exemption. It's if you're picking and choosing, if you’re allowing Democrats to defame Republicans, but you’re pre-censoring Republicans like President Trump and saying: We're not going to let you do anything, campaign, do anything, say anything to the American public. Then, you have violated the understanding of Section 230, and you should be amenable to lawsuit.
JAG: What has this experience been like for you personally, having these long time friends now turn completely hostile to you, defaming you in public? I mean, just that whole experience over the past four years. Has there been any upsides, or maybe winnowing out who are the kinds of people you want to spend time with, or just having a greater sense of independence, of not really caring that much what other people think?
AD: Okay. It made me feel terrible for myself for having ever befriended some of those people on Martha's Vineyard. It made me realize that they were not real friends. They were my friends only if I could help them. I'll give you an example of Larry David. I got Larry David's daughter into college. He pleaded with me to help his daughter get into college. I didn't help get her into college—I got her into college, essentially, and did everything in my power to do it. And it got her in. He never thanked me, never thanked anybody, never thanked the admissions, never thanked anybody. You know, Larry David thinks he's entitled. So, I thank God I'm no longer friendly with people who only came to me because they knew I could help them. Because one person's father was in trouble with the SEC. Now he says, I won't socialize with you anymore. One person's daughter was almost thrown out of college. Now, they won't socialize with me anymore. I don't need people like that. It's been much harder on my family. I'm used to it. It’s been very hard on my wife. It's been hard for my children. It's been hard on my grandchildren. And, you know, Dershowitz was a name that they used to be able to be proud of. Today, people say: Oh my God, you're Alan Dershowitz's so-and-so, it must be such a terrible thing! Because people despise who I represent, or who I represented. So, you know, if you don't have a thick skin and if you can't take this kind of thing, then you can't be a criminal defense lawyer. But, I have to admit it hurts. It hurts me, too. It hurts me for what it's done to my family, and what it's done to me because there were a few people that I really regret having lost friendship with. Just a few, a very small number of people, but enough to make me worry about that.
AD: And it made me think of what must have happened during the McCarthy period. And the interesting thing is that one of the real victims of McCarthyism was Martha's Vineyard. And particularly the town I live in, Chilmark, because there were a lot of leftists who lived there. A lot of movie people, a lot of writers: Lillian Hellman, people like that. And they were really, really made to suffer by McCarthy. And now the heirs of these people, the people who think they're just like them, are the ones who are promoting this kind of left-wing McCarthyism. So, it's made me think about friendships. It's made me think about reputation. It's made me think about whether I should care. But, you know, inevitably you have to care, and it hurts. It's hurt my legacy and my heritage. And recently, not so recently, a couple of years ago, the obituary writer for the New York Times called me, and you know, they always have this deep, deep, almost deathlike voice.
AD: “This is the obituary writer from the New York Times. We don't think you're going to die soon, but we like to prepare in advance. And we have to tell you that in your obituary, there will be a discussion of the fact that you were accused of having sex with this woman who you never met.” You learn to deal with that. But, you know, you try to develop a reputation all your life. I told my students all the time, if you're going to be controversial, if you're going to be challenged with things, you have to live a perfect personal life. You can't even come close to lines. And I think I did. I don't flirt. Fifty years at Harvard—I was never accused of anything sexual. In my life, I was never accused of anything sexual. I don't touch people. I had fifty research assistants who were women, secretaries who were women.
AD: And, every one would testify for me, if the judge would allow them to. Yet, people believe it because a woman said women are genetically born to tell the truth and men are genetically born to lie. That's the Me Too movement’s approach. So we don't need to process, but think about it. And if it's your son, or your nephew, or your father, or your uncle who has been falsely accused by somebody for the money—just for the money. The woman who accused me, she's already made five and a half million dollars by accusing people. She made another $160,000 by claiming that she met Al Gore on Jeffrey Epstein's island. Al Gore never met Jeffrey Epstein, never was on his island, never had anything to do with him, but she got $160,000 for telling that story and other false stories. So there's an incentive out there to lie and to make money and people make fortunes of money.
If there's smoke, there's fire. No, sometimes if there's smoke, there’s arson—somebody has set the fire.
AD: There's a case now involving Leon Black, the director, and the chief shareholder of Apollo. He agreed to pay an extortion demand of. . . he had to pay, what was it now, a hundred thousand dollars a month for 15 years to this woman? So this woman was good at it, she wanted a hundred million dollars not to report a consensual sexual affair. She should be in prison, obviously. And the people who helped her organize this should be in prison. But instead, the person who's the subject of the extortion plot pays the money, and then gets exposed anyway. Of course, I would never pay a penny because I never did anything wrong. So, they're not going to get anything from me, but it still has made my life miserable. And it's made some people look at me as if somehow I must've done something wrong. If there's smoke, there's fire. No, sometimes if there's smoke, there’s arson—somebody has set the fire. And that's what I'm going to prove in my case. So, I'm ready. I'm ready to do battle. And I hope I live long enough to do battle successfully.
JAG: Well, as my grandmother would say of me, I will say of you, “it's early days.” And so, you're going to live for another 30 years is my prediction. And at the rate you're going, writing four books a year, you'll be writing the last line of that narrative. But, how do you do that? We at The Atlas Society, we promote philosophy, but, we're not as much talking about law or economics. We talk about morality, we talk about values, and in our pantheon of values, we celebrate productivity. And, Ayn Rand talked about her philosophy, and the essence of man as a heroic being with productivity as his noblest activity. What do you attribute yours to?
AD: Well, first of all, I met Ayn Rand.
AD: My favorite teacher at Brooklyn College was somebody you might've heard of, John Hospers. John was a great theoretician and ethicist. And, he was friendly with Ayn Rand, and he brought her to class, and she talked to us. And, John Hospers, who ultimately ran for president of the United States on the Libertarian ticket, and who taught for many years at the University of California was an enormous influence on my own life. And, I've always been very productive. So, at the end of my autobiography called Taking The Stand, I write a letter to the editor to be delivered the day after I die. It's an answer to my obituary. I said: “I always have to get the last word. I always want to correct things. So, here's my last word. I'm writing it from where, I don't know, but here's what I have to say. No, I didn't only represent famous people. I did half of my cases, pro bono. I lived a life of principle, et cetera, et cetera.” So I get to say my last thing. My wife has a copy of that letter, and she is going to deliver it to the New York Times the day after I die. I hope it'll be withered and old by that time, the paper, but still, I want to get the last word.
JAG: Oh boy, what I wouldn't give to be able to peek into that letter.
AD: You don’t have to give anything. All you have to do is buy my book.
JAG: It's actually in there. But, you weren't just talking about the letter that’s in there.
AD: The letter as I wrote it back then is in the book.
JAG: I will definitely do that because this particular book was fascinating. And, some of your upcoming books are going to be hot potatoes—the case for the vaccine mandates.
AD: Now, I'm in favor of a soft vaccine mandate only as a last resort with exemptions and exceptions. And only if it's done properly by the legislature, not just by the president. So, whichever side of the vaccine debate you're on, I think you'll enjoy my analysis. It's based on the writings of John Stuart Mill.
JAG: How has your own experience been in the pandemic and with COVID?
AD: Well, I got two vaccinations. I couldn't get the third because I have a medical problem. I'm hoping to be able to get the third soon. I wear a mask whenever I go out. And, I don't have dinner in enclosed restaurants. I eat out a lot, but I eat out in outdoor restaurants. My biggest loss has been the opera. I love the opera, and when I'm able to, I go to at least one opera a week, but I'm now watching them on television and I'm taking precautions. I'm 83 years old, and I have some medical issues. So, it's very important that I not get COVID. And so, I'm going to take extraordinary steps to try to avoid that.
JAG: Well, it sounds like you're doing well, but getting back to Ayn Rand, that was quite the bombshell to drop in our last few minutes here. So, did you get a chance to meet her? Did she make an impression on you? Clearly, you were talking about, when you graduated from college, there were various law schools for different kinds of ethnicities. There were no women law schools. And, think of what she did coming into this country just a few years after women actually had the right to vote.
Ayn Rand is an amazing, amazing woman. Of course, I had read Atlas Shrugged. You know, everyone my age when I was growing up, every teenager, read her. We fought about her. There were many liberals, conservatives, individualists, et cetera. We were just awestruck by her.
AD: Yeah. Now, Ayn Rand is an amazing, amazing woman. Of course, I had read Atlas Shrugged. You know, everyone my age when I was growing up, every teenager, read her. We fought about her. There were many liberals, conservatives, individualists, et cetera. We were just awestruck by her. We had a class, a two-hour class, and then John Hospers, Professor Hospers, served as chair. You were allowed to have sherry when you were 18, then. I would never do it if it was illegal. In fact, I refused to serve sherry to my college students, even though other professors did this. I'm very law abiding, and I would never knowingly participate in a crime, even though I might disagree with it. So, we had a little glass of sherry, and we spoke to her; she gave us all personal advice. I didn't get to sit and have a one-on-one with her, but there were about 18 people in the class and just her and Professor Hospers.
JAG: Well, I think in a lot of the issues that you talk about in your most recent books in terms of cancel culture, in terms of the courage to remain independent, to not just default to the group mentality, to the majority opinion, Ayn Rand had a famous quote. She said, “I am not brave enough to be a coward. I see the consequences all too clearly.” And, she was an amazing woman, an incredible novelist, and artist, really, in terms of using the medium of art to communicate her sense of life, and her values. And of course. . .
AD: It's not taught today in most American universities. On the other hand, Gertrude Stein, who was a terrible, terrible woman, a collaborator with the Nazis. She may have actually revealed a hiding place of Jewish people. She was Jewish, but she loved Hitler. She nominated him for a Nobel peace prize. She wrote the introduction to a book by the head of the occupation of France. She had a close relationship with the head of the Gestapo. She's taught, and admired by many feminists in many universities today. But, Ayn Rand is not. And, that's a tragedy because if she were around today, she would have a great deal to say about life in America.
JAG: And that's why we are around today at The Atlas Society. We're continuing to engage young people with her ideas. We, of course, promote reading Atlas Shrugged, and The Fountainhead, and all of her great screenplays. But, reading habits have changed. And that's why we have a different twist on it with some of our graphic novels and animated videos.
When I was younger, everybody was carrying around a bent paperback copy of Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged. It was just de rigueur, no matter what side you were on politically, you had to read her, and you had to either react to it or accept it, but nobody was neutral. Nobody would say, oh, this is an interesting novel. No, it was a novel that provoked tremendous controversy. But remember back in the fifties, controversy could be civil.
AD: Back when I was younger, everybody was carrying around a bent paperback copy of Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged. It was just de rigueur, no matter what side you were on politically, you had to read her, and you had to either react to it or accept it, but nobody was neutral. Nobody would say, oh, this is an interesting novel. No, it was a novel that provoked tremendous controversy. But remember back in the fifties, controversy could be civil; nobody lost “which side you are on, on Atlas Shrugged.” So I wish we could go back to those days, and I wish she were around to help structure the debate today about individualism and civil liberties and Liberty in general.
JAG: So I guess I'll end on the note of, first, if there's anything that you didn't cover that you wanted to cover, or the places that we can follow you and read your—how many articles do you write?
Please be yourself. Don't be taken in by “the mob.” Don't let other people tell you what your values have to be. Don't let people tell you you're politically incorrect, or you're going to be canceled. We have this amazing ability to think for ourselves, and too few people use that ability.
AD: I usually write two a week. And, I try to write two or three-thousand words a day toward my books. I don't always meet my quota, but I also love going out and walking with my wife, and I walk five miles a day. And, we're living a pretty good life, and are productive. All I would have to say in closing is: Please be yourself. Don't be taken in by “the mob.” Don't let other people tell you what your values have to be. Don't let people tell you you're politically incorrect, or you're going to be canceled. We have this amazing ability to think for ourselves, and too few people use that ability. And so, I'm really thrilled and honored to have been able to speak to the members of your society. And you know what I mean to do in the next couple of weeks? I'm going to go back and read either The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged, just to remind myself of something I haven't done for many, many years. And so, I would urge other people to do that as well. Thank you for the opportunity to speak.
JAG: Thank you, professor. We might need to consider having you come and give a keynote speech at next year's gala, because this was an absolutely fascinating, eye-opening interview. And I could not more wholeheartedly second your exhortation to our viewers. So thank you very much.
AD: Happy to be invited. Thank you so much. Bye.