PERKINS: Let’s End Government Bullying on Free Speech
In a recent interview, FBI Director Christopher Wray nonchalantly announced that “the FBI has for quite some time now assessed that the origins of the [COVID] pandemic are most likely a potential lab incident in Wuhan.” Now that the FBI has acknowledged what the legacy and social media giants censored three years ago, the agency should turn its attention to that censorship; but such hopes are wishful thinking now that evidence suggests the FBI has played a key role in censoring those with narratives the Left does not like.
In the absence of an administration willing to protect First Amendment freedoms, the Republican House must fill the void. The perfect place to begin is with the paper trail established by overly confident Democrats in the wake of the 2020 election who called for AT&T to remove conservative news outlets like OAN and Newsmax from DirecTV, both of which have now been canceled.
The company’s decision to dump Newsmax should be a wake-up call for Republicans, who’ve seen the virus of suppression threaten America as much as the pandemic ever did. Did the Democrats use their positions of oversight of the industry to “persuade” AT&T to cancel OAN and Newsmax? The new Republican House majority should find out.
The campaign to boot conservatives from major satellite services began with COVID, but it has expanded. A month after Joe Biden was sworn in, Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and then-Rep. Jerry McNerney fired off letters to 12 companies, insisting that “right-wing media” outlets were hives of “misinformation,” “conspiracy theories,” and “lies,” which, they allege (among other things) sparked the January 6 riots. They also accused networks like Newsmax, Fox, and OAN of being “key vectors” of disinformation about COVID that “could end up getting people killed.”
Of course, we know now that the only real vector of COVID deception was the government itself. But a letter like this, even Politico argued, “cross[es] a line.” It “represents a rare effort by members of Congress to intrude into companies’ decisions …” One editorial board called the inquiry “about as subtle as carpet bombing.”
Eshoo was the chair of a powerful Energy and Commerce subcommittee at the time, which should raise plenty of questions about whether she used her public position to strongarm America’s airwaves. Did she abuse her position to aggressively censor news, facts, and opinions Democrats didn’t like? Did AT&T and DirecTV follow the Left’s orders?
DirecTV called their January announcement to drop their fourth-highest-rated cable news channel a “business decision.” A “cost-cutting” move. That’s interesting since it had no qualms keeping 20 other less popular channels that are more expensive for the broadcaster to carry. Republicans, who are used to Big Media putting its thumb on the scales of public debate, smelled a rat. And based on the letters sent by Democratic leaders in 2021, they have every reason to.
“In all my time on this committee,” Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers (R-Wash.) fumed, “there’s never been a more obvious direct attack on the First Amendment.” Former congressman Jody Hice agreed, telling me, “This ought to literally send a chill down the spine of every freedom-loving American. We are watching, unfortunately, a left-leaning Democratic Party use the government as a weapon to [punish] their political opponents.” And we’ve seen it in everything from FBI raids of pro-lifers to the Justice Department’s labeling of parents as “domestic terrorists.”
The Left’s biggest fear has always been open debate. They can’t defend their positions, so they want to silence the opposition. But here’s the problem: The First Amendment applies to the government. Private entities can kick people off of their services if they choose to. But just as we’ve seen with “the Twitter files” controversy, businesses cannot be enticed, encouraged, and directed by the federal government. And yet, we’ve witnessed this collusion on a titanic scale since the dawn of cancel culture.
Now, as Vivek Ramaswamy rightly points out, “This is not the invisible hand of the free market. This is the invisible fist of government, using companies like AT&T through the back door to get done what government could not get done through the front door under the Constitution — which is to censor disfavored viewpoints.”
These were letters of intimidation by two very influential members of Congress with actual oversight of communications. There’s simply no other way for CEOs to read their demands than, “If we don’t take action, the full force of the federal government will be upon us.” “From the perspective of free speech and the free press,” law professor Jonathan Turley argued, “the letter is not just chilling, it’s positively glacial.”
House Oversight Chair James Comer (R-Ky.) is raring to take on DirecTV and its parent company, AT&T, demanding in a February committee meeting that the service restore Newsmax “or face the consequences.” Those consequences, conservatives hope, would include dragging CEO John Stankey to Washington for a turn in the hearing hot seat. “You know darn well if DirecTV had kicked MSNBC off, [the Left] would be going crazy right now,” Comer said.
That’s because deep down, even the Left understands that every network is entitled to its opinion, just as every citizen has a right to theirs. It’s not the government’s job to be the federal fact-checker and determine who gets to speak and who doesn’t. And who would want them to, based just on how wrong they were on COVID alone? With each passing day, the facts reveal that the censorship Democrats called for over the lockdowns, mask mandates, and vaccines isn’t supported by the science. In the greatest of ironies, the real misinformation was being spread by the Left’s allies — CNN, MSNBC, and the legacy media. So maybe it’s time to deplatform them.
Liberals, who used to at least pretend to have some use for free speech, have dropped all pretense now. Their pattern of silencing people and ideas that threaten their leftist orthodoxy must be addressed — or this devastating cancer will spread. It’s time to find out if DirecTV’s actions to cancel OAN and Newsmax were motivated by congressional Democrats. If so, those impacted may finally have a legal recourse to hold these members responsible.
Tony Perkins is president of Family Research Council and executive editor of The Washington Stand.