Four days before the release of her sixth album, Reputation, Taylor Swift is coming under fire for threatening a music writer’s freedom of speech. On Monday, news broke that the 27-year-old singer is threatening PopFront editor, Meghan Herning, for writing a review comparing Swift’s song, “Look What You Made Me Do,” to support of white supremacy and the alt-right.
The review, which was published on September 5 and titled “Swiftly to the alt-right: Taylor subtly gets the lower case kkk in formation,” argued that Swift’s music catered to racism in the United States and claimed that the singer was a member of the “lower-case kkk,” a term dubbed by actor Aziz Ansari to refer to quiet supporters of white supremacy.
Herning’s piece referenced Swift’s lyrics (such as “I rise up from the dead. I do it all the time.”) and a shot from the music video, where Herning compared her stance to Adolf Hitler’s, as evidence of Swift’s racism. “Silence in the face of injustice means support for the oppressor,” Herning wrote.
On October 25, roughly two months after the review was published, Herning received a letter from Swift’s legal team demanding that the story be taken down and that PopFront issue a retraction. The letter, which calls the review “defamatory,” also privately stated Swift’s denouncement of white supremacy—though, Swift’s attorneys restricted Herning from publicizing the denouncement due to copyright protection.
After receiving the letter, Herning reached out to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for help. In a letter hitting back at Swift, the ACLU argued that the singer has no legal basis for a lawsuit threat, considering the review was based entirely on opinion and thus protected by the First Amendment and freedom of speech. “This is a completely unsupported attempt to suppress constitutionally protected speech,” said ACLU attorney Michael Risher.
The ACLU’s letter also took subtle jabs at Swift’s music, with sentences cheekily referencing the singer’s lyrics and song titles. “Criticism is never pleasant, but a celebrity has to shake it off, even if the critique may damage her reputation,” is one of several references the ACLU made.
In her own statement, Herning also denounced Swift, claiming that the singer used “scare tactics” to bully her and PopFront, a culture blog with less than 130 twitter followers, into submission. “The press should not be bullied by high-paid lawyers or frightened into submission by legal jargon,” Herning said. “These scare tactics may have worked for Taylor in the past, but I am not backing down.”