‘Deplatforming Works’: Left Learns Wrong Lesson from Week of Media Firings
Far-left Democrat Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.) raised eyebrows — not to mention blood pressures — with her response to Tucker Carlson’s abrupt departure from Fox News. Her most offensive comment was not the mean-spirited joke, “couldn’t have happened to a better guy,” nor the possibly libelous claim that Carlson was “arguably responsible for driving some of the most amounts of death threats, violent threats, not just to my office but to plenty of people across the country,” but the political conclusion she drew, “deplatforming works, and it is important, and there you go.”
By “deplatforming,” Ocasio-Cortez means more than just someone losing a platform (in the abstract, modern sense of “platform” that includes all digital-age equivalents for mounting a literal platform to deliver a speech). For her and other leftists, “deplatforming” describes a particular form of censorship achieved by disallowing those who express undesirable views from using the media by which they reach their intended audience. She also seems to have in mind not only the act of removing someone from a platform, but the activism and pressure campaigns that lead to that result — in two words, cancel culture.
This is emphatically the wrong conclusion to draw.
For starters, Ocasio-Cortez completely overlooks the context of Carlson’s firing. Unless you’ve been reading the news about “the news” — which, let’s be honest, you probably shouldn’t — you’re probably unaware that Carlson’s departure from Fox is only one item in a string of high-profile firings across cable and network television. In just the past week, CNN booted left-wing gadfly Don Lemon, Comcast (which owns NBC) parted ways with NBC Universal CEO Jeff Shell, Disney-owned ABC (which owns election data site FiveThirtyEight) did not renew a contract with FiveThirtyEight founder Nate Silver, and Fox fired commentator Dan Bongino in addition to Carlson. With all this sacking, it’s a wonder the price of burlap hasn’t gone through the roof.
Surprisingly, these clustered separations seem to be unrelated to one another. Lemon got the hammer after engaging in a racially charged tirade against Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy, of Indian heritage. Shell was pushed out at NBC over an inappropriate sexual relationship. Silver got swept up by Disney-wide layoffs (apparently subsidizing the rainbow renders other colors unaffordable).
Meanwhile, Fox has given no public reason for the firings, but they might be related to the company’s legal problems. The pair of firings came days after settling a defamation lawsuit in which Carlson was mentioned frequently with voting machine manufacturer Dominion for a stunning $787 million; the company still faces a defamation lawsuit from another voting machine company, Smartmatic, and a hostile work environment lawsuit from a former booker for Carlson’s show, Abby Grossberg. Another possible reason for at least Lemon’s and Carlson’s ousters is that the CEO or owner disliked them and was actively looking for an opportunity to show them the door.
These details indicate that there are many possible reasons why a network might terminate a relationship with an anchor — reasons which might be totally unrelated to a cancellation campaign against them. Without knowing the reason why a host lost his show, it’s impossible to prove that “deplatforming works” in the strategic sense Ocasio-Cortez means.
Left-wingers tried to cancel Carlson on numerous occasions. In 2021, the Anti-Defamation League called for an advertising boycott, but that failed to drive audiences away. On former White House press secretary Jen Psaki’s MSNBC show, Ocasio-Cortez herself on Sunday endorsed government action to end his show, calling for “federal regulation, in terms of what’s allowed on air and what isn’t. And when you look at [what] Tucker Carlson and some of these other folks on Fox do, it is very, very clearly incitement of violence. Very clearly incitement of violence. And that is the line that I think we have to be willing to contend with.” But what Ocasio-Cortez called for did not happen.
In fact, the coincidental cancellation campaign may have had no more effect on Carlson’s firing than a child attempting to use “the Force” on a supermarket’s automatic doors.
A separate issue from the factual accuracy of Ocasio-Cortez’s position — and a more important one — is whether the “deplatforming” she envisions is acceptable in a free society. Ocasio-Cortez explicitly called for government suppression of the distribution of opinions with which she disagrees. The policy outcome flies so obviously in the face of the First Amendment’s protection of free speech and a free press that Ocasio-Cortez felt the need to justify herself by claiming the speech that offended her was “very clearly incitement of violence.” If that case could be proven in court, surely someone would have sued Fox News over that by now.
A giant chasm yawns between what actually happened to Tucker Carlson and what Ocasio-Cortez wanted to happen to him. Opinions will differ about whether Rupert Murdoch (owner of Fox’s parent company News Corp) made the right decision or for the right reasons. But at root, Carlson’s employer no longer wanted to employ him, so he terminated his employment. One bedrock principle of a free market is that no one is forced to do business with anyone they don’t want to do business with. Ocasio-Cortez wants the government to dictate to broadcasters who they can put on air.
The Left seems not to recognize or understand this difference, as Ocasio-Cortez’s recent “deplatforming works” claim underscores. Left-wing cancellation efforts target not only Fox News, but virtually every right-wing news outlet you can think of. Ironically, the self-proclaimed opponents of fascism have ripped a page right out of the fascist playbook (and every other dictator in history) in agitating to shut down dissenting media outlets.
This trend has increased in recent years. Pew Research Center found that the percentage of Democrat or Democrat-leaning U.S. adults who agree that “the U.S. government should take steps to restrict false information online, even if it limits freedom of information,” increased from 40% in 2018 to 65% in 2021. Even more (76% of Democrat or Democrat-leaning adults) believed in 2021 that “tech companies should take steps to restrict false information online, even if it limits freedom of information.”
This notion is dangerous to America. But rather than censor it, proponents of free speech must defeat it through persuasion, which is far more challenging.
If Ocasio-Cortez and other leftists have taken the “wrong” — both incorrect and totalitarian — lesson from Carlson’s departure from Fox News, what is the right lesson? Combined with other recent media departures, it’s clear that the American news media — for all of its problems — remains capable of self-adjustment. Different outlets continue to represent different points of view, cycle between spokespersons, and remain accountable both to the public and to the legal system. The media landscape continues to remain open to independent new players, such as The Washington Stand or (possibly soon) the Tucker Carlson Network. No one has a monopoly on the facts, the right opinions, or the press. That’s how things are supposed to work in a rambunctious popular government.
There is, and will always be, a fundamental difference between government regulators taking a popular program off the air and that program’s broadcast cutting that program from its lineup. The difference is freedom.
Joshua Arnold is a staff writer at The Washington Stand.