- Representative Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.) released a joint letter directed towards private cable, internet, and streaming services questioning the type of news outlets they are carrying.
- Much of lawmakers’ efforts are to use Big Tech to censor or bar opposing viewpoints, albeit indirectly censoring free speech without Congress making laws to abridge free speech.
- Protecting free speech, even speech we disagree with is essential to preserve democracy.
Top Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Communications and Technology, Representative Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.) released a joint letter directed towards private cable, internet, and streaming services questioning the type of news outlets they are carrying. Their letter singles explicitly out Fox News, One America News Network (OANN), and Newsmax, all considered prominent right-leaning media outlets, for allegedly pushing “disinformation, lies, and half-truths.”
Each of the letters were directly sent to the heads of AT&T, Verizon, Roku, Amazon, Apple, Comcast, Charter (Spectrum), Dish Network, Cox Cable, Altice, Alphabet (Youtube TV), and Hulu.
Here’s the heart of why they are questioning the major providers:
“Our country’s public discourse is plagued by misinformation, disinformation, conspiracy theories, and lies. These phenomena undergird the radicalization of seditious individuals who committed acts of insurrection on January 6th. It contributes to a growing distrust of public health measures necessary to crush the pandemic.
Nearly half of Americans get their news primarily from TV. However, not all TV news sources are the same. Some purported news outlets have long been misinformation rumor mills and conspiracy theory hotbeds that produce content that leads to real harm. Misinformation on TV has led to our current polluted information environment that radicalizes individuals to commit seditious acts and rejects public health best practices, among other issues in our public discourse”
Here’s the problem. The inquiry uses questionable sources to back their premise. Their sources for their claims include Vox, Media Matters, Washington Post, and Slate, all considered left-leaning media outlets that are not friendly to the right-leaning media organizations in question.
As a free society, free speech is a core value in our democracy. Liberals at one point championed the importance of free speech for democracy. However, increasingly after the Jan. 6th Capitol riot, they changed their tune on free speech viewing it as a danger that needs to be controlled.
Censoring Speech to Protect Free Speech?
The January 6th Capitol riots can be argued as the driving factor for liberal position changes on free speech in favor of censoring misinformation or fake news. The Democrat efforts include a House hearing last Wednesday where lawmakers called our right-wing news and cable channels as sources for peddling conspiracy theories about the pandemic and the November election.
Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.), who leads the House Energy and Commerce telecom subcommittee that held last Wednesday’s hearing, said: “Freedom of speech encourages us to ask tough questions about what is going on in the media, what is motivating the tidal wave of disinformation that is putting the lives of so many Americans and ultimately our democracy at risk.” In a joint statement to POLITICO, Dem Reps. McNerney and Eshoo said, “The spread of disinformation poses a grave threat to our democracy.”
Republicans don’t see it this way. Former Bush-era Federal Election Commission Chair Bradley Smith, who now heads the Institute for Free Speech, told reporters before Wednesday’s hearing, “This is a rank abuse of their political power.” On the letters written to cable providers, Mr. Smith blasts Democrats for targeting Fox News and other right-leaning media. He said:
“By writing letters to the cable providers and other regulated entities that carry these news media outlets, the Democrats are sending a message that is as clear as it is troubling — these regulated entities will pay a price if the targeted newsrooms do not conform to Democrats’ preferred political narratives. This is a chilling transgression of the free speech rights that every media outlet in this country enjoys.”
Expand the Reach of Free Speech?
The First Amendment of the Constitution protects free speech for all Americans from government censorship. This amendment reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.”
In the aftermath of Trump, we see an alliance of Congress members, academia, Big-Tech, the media, and political activists calling for everything from censorship to incarceration to blacklists to establishing a ‘Truth and Reconciliation Committee’ and even Chinese-style censorship.
Much of lawmakers’ efforts are to use Big-Tech to censor or bar opposing viewpoints, albeit indirectly influencing the censoring of free speech without making laws to abridge free speech. Nevertheless, there is nothing unconstitutional for Congress to influence private companies to limit free speech since their action does not violate the First Amendment.
Their actions are however, chilling.
Yes, there is a torrent of false information in the Age of Social media, hateful comments, and extremist speech. Nevertheless, the response to these speech types should never be to censor speech but rather to expand free speech.
It is concerning that Facebook and Twitter are censoring speech on their platforms, but regulating these platforms, as some conservatives are pushing, is not the solution. The market solution is competition. The free market will provide a solution with “new sources and structures” as long as regulatory bodies are kept at bay. We already see alternative platforms such as MeWe, Parler, and Gab enter the market to compete against Big-Tech giants.
Why this Matters
Protecting free speech, even speech we disagree with is essential to preserve democracy. Restricting or censoring free speech does not protect democracy; it weakens it. Democrats and their fellow political activists are sacrificing democracy to defend it, counter to traditional liberal beliefs.
We see a dangerous rise in authoritarianism. The United States has always been the beacon of freedom for all the world, but Trump and the Capitol riot transformed our country’s view on free speech. Going down the road of censoring speech could cause irreparable damage. Democrats and political activists are being myopic in not seeing its dangers.
Establishing such a precedent and acceptance of censoring disagreeable speech will come back to haunt Democrats when Republicans return to power.
The solution to disagreeable speech isn’t to censor it. It’s expanding the First Amendment further and protecting free speech for all, not some, even for speech we disagree with. We as Americans have a responsibility to keep the flame of freedom alive in these perilous times to provide hope for those living in oppression.
Mike Price is the founder and Managing Editor of ThinkCivics. He holds a BA in political science and a master’s degree in public administration from Northern Kentucky University. He has been writing about politics, government, and culture for over a decade. When he is not writing about politics, he writes about his faith over on his Christian men’s blog Joshua’s Outpost. Follow him on Twitter at @MPriceMPA or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org