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Online Think Tank Censors Speech On US Income Inequality
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Online Think Tank Censors Speech on US Income Inequality

Dear TED:

Though your name isn't John, this is a “Dear John” letter: it is to inform you that I'm breaking up with you because you've broken my heart.

What started out as as summer fling in 2008 when I was researching information about Alzheimer's disease became a stimulating relationship that I was proud of. You introduced yourself to me as a nonprofit organization “devoted to ideas worth spreading.” Though you initially focused on providing an online environment for those in the technology, entertainment, and design fields (thus, TED), you didn't hesitate to take in others when they came knocking.

Some of those others were already familiar to me, like former U.S. President Bill Clinton, cellist Yo Yo Ma, Reverend Billy Graham, and the founders of Microsoft and Google. But what I felt you did best, TED, was introduce me to people from all walks of life who in turn introduced me to all sorts of different ways of looking at things.

For instance, there was the creative director who pointed out how to turn a 404 Not Found Web page into an Internet marketing opportunity. There was the woman who turned her prosthetic legs into works of art. There was the journalist who spent a year living strictly in accordance with the Bible. And there was the biologist who explored the links between Darwinism and atheism.

While those last two TED speakers may seem to be at odds with each other, I didn't mind in the least. I never held you to any obligation that you deliver viewpoints that did not conflict with my own, and ideas that did provoked neither my fear nor my outrage. And that is why I am so thoroughly disappointed that you DIDN'T introduce me to Nick Hanauer.

Hanauer is a venture capitalist who was one of the first investors in Amazon, then went on to start companies that went on to be acquired by Overstock and Microsoft. The subject of his TED lecture was U.S. economic inequality and job creation. And he said, in effect, that one has nothing to do with the other: True job creation was generated by a middle class with enough money to consume the products and service the the upper classes offer.

Which brings us to the heartbreaking part.

I know what Hanauer said not because you had his video lecture on the TED Web site, but because I read it in a news story about how you DIDN'T put it on your Web site – it was “too controversial.” Too controversial? For you, TED, who have openly given sanctuary to ideas like letting go of religion, exploring the effects of the pentatonic scale on brain waves, and sculpted wooden legs?

Hanauer wrote in an email, “I got a sensational reaction...including a big standing ovation...(I)f it was too political, why have me do it in the first place? They knew months in advance what I would speak about, and I gave the talk word for word.” What was it that scared you about what Hanauer said – that it made sense? Or that current and former members of the middle class might go to the polls wondering why the job-creating class hasn't started creating jobs?

Don't get me wrong, TED – this isn't about politics per se. This is about your making a decision about our relationship that you used to trust me to make. Your censorship of Hanauer makes a gargantuan mockery of what you're supposed to stand for -- especially since you're backed by nearly two dozen corporate partners.

We've had a lot of good times, TED, and I'll miss you terribly. But it's over now – I'm out of here.

Street Talk

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