‘Every American should be deeply concerned by the fact that a few unaccountable big tech companies are controlling the free flow of information.’
Facebook obliterated an award-winning conservative Wisconsin news page and cut off thousands of its followers without warning this week after wrongfully censoring it for months.
The Silicon Valley giant censored Wisconsin Right Now after the popular news site posted a story from The Australian to its Facebook feed that compared a picture of the infamous “Falling Man” from 9/11 to the horrific footage of Afghans falling from planes following President Joe Biden’s disastrous U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.https://fd234f0003ecc424d4282e89fd3ef1ef.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
Facebook quickly hid the post and slapped it with a community standards violation for “content related to suicide or self-injury.”
WRN appealed the violation, noting that the article did not advocate for self-harm, and Facebook reversed its decision but still unpublished WRN’s page.
A message from Facebook claimed that WRN “violates Facebook Pages terms” but did not specify why. The Big Tech company claimed that WRN could appeal if the unpublishing seemed to be a mistake but the link given by Facebook’s support team is broken.
Facebook did not respond to a request for comment.
“Every American should be deeply concerned by the fact that a few unaccountable big tech companies are controlling the free flow of information in our democracy, and that the decisions they make are often arbitrary and unfair,” Jim Piwowarczyk, WRN owner and contributor, told The Federalist. “What has happened to us is a very troubling example of this, and we call on Facebook to reverse its decision.”
Even before Facebook nuked WRN’s main page, the social media company restricted the page’s ability to invite new followers to “like” the page and live-stream videos for simply reporting the news.
Even though WRN won numerous awards for its airtight coverage of the Kyle Rittenhouse trial, Facebook limited the news site’s ability to share articles about the young gunman.
“We led coverage on this case, going to the scene, interviewing witnesses a half-hour after it happened, uncovering missing ballistics evidence mentioned during the trial, and more,” Piwowarczyk explained.
Facebook still suppressed WRN’s coverage even after the media company published an analysis stating the firearm charge against Rittenhouse wouldn’t stand under Wisconsin gun laws, something the judge presiding over the case publicly ruled one day later.
“Facebook then did not remove the violations when Rittenhouse was acquitted,” Piwowarczyk said.
Facebook also enlisted the help of its fake “fact-checkers” to censor reposts about Hillary Clinton’s role in promoting the Russian collusion hoax and a meme about Rittenhouse playing video games with his judge.
“We have reported many stories the mainstream media will not, and it is highly questionable and troubling that Facebook would seek to prevent Wisconsin voters in a key battleground state (where Facebook-traced money was involved in elections) from learning all sides of the equation in the political debate and other news stories, especially as the midterm elections loom,” Piwowarczyk said.
Earlier this week, Twitter locked the account of The Babylon Bee, a right-leaning parody site, after it awarded Rachel Levine, a transgender Biden administration official, the title of “man of the year” in reaction to USA Today naming Levine one of its “women of the year” last week. This is just the most recent example in a long train of Big Tech censorship actions.
Taking a stand against Big Tech censorship, the state of Texas passed an anti-discrimination social media law (HB 20) last September. It seeks to limit Big Tech companies’ power to silence viewpoints they don’t like.
The law does so by prohibiting social media platforms with more than 50 million active monthly users in the United States from censoring users or their expressions based on the viewpoint expressed. Along with explicitly prohibiting viewpoint discrimination by social-media companies, the law enables censored users to seek declaratory and injunctive relief in court.
Texas’ law was cause for hope for many nationwide who want the giant social media platforms to be held accountable for their suppression of free speech. Unfortunately, Judge Robert Pitman, an Obama appointee, in early December enjoined the Texas non-discrimination social media law from going into effect.
But those who want a fair and democratic public discourse need not despair yet. That lower court decision was appealed, and soon the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit will hear oral arguments on this appeal.
A wide range of distinguished amici have argued to the court that it should uphold the Texas statute and thereby protect Americans from censorship. The briefs include a profound story by David Mamet, an eminent doctor’s account of how even privatized suppression threatens science, and an exploration of the thought of John Stuart Mill by Columbia students against censorship.
What may need more explanation here is why the protection against tech censorship does not intrude on the tech company’s own free speech. As argued in an amicus brief filed by the Center for Renewing America and the Claremont Institute’s Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence, there are good First Amendment reasons for upholding the Texas law and reversing Judge Pitman’s flawed and biased order.
First, the appellate court should correctly recognize that the First Amendment applies differently to speakers than to those who host or transmit speech. While the government forcing a person or group to speak a particular message raises First Amendment concerns, regulating the terms under which entities host or transmit others’ speech complies with the Constitution.
For instance, for centuries courts have required common carriers, industries that play a central role in economic, social, and political life, such as telephones, utilities, and airlines, to treat customers without discrimination. The numerous legal requirements have never raised First Amendment concerns. HB 20’s protection of Texans against social media’s discriminatory viewpoint censorship falls within this general rule, allowing for government regulation of hosting or transmitting speech to ensure such channels of communication are open to all comers.
Pitman’s opinion errs by treating social media’s discriminatory censorship as “editorial discretion” that expresses a coherent “message” worthy of First Amendment protection like a newspaper op-ed page or a parade.
Unlike a newspaper editor or parade organizer, however, social media companies do not review all content they host; they review only a tiny fraction. A newspaper op-ed page or parade expresses the judgment of its editors and organizers with every article or marcher it includes, as well as with the newspaper or parade as a whole. By necessity, a newspaper or parade, given its limited size, exercises powerful editorial control over its content.
In contrast, a social media firm is a passive conduit. It rarely edits, and its infinite bandwidth gives it no need to edit. Moreover, platforms cannot express themselves in the billions of posts they cannot review. Nor can the platforms’ stealthy, inconsistent, and often hidden acts of content moderation constitute a coherent “message,” let alone an expression worthy of First Amendment protection.
Finally, non-discrimination requirements to refrain from discriminatory censorship of others do not burden the platform’s own speech because social media platforms are free to tweet or post as much as they’d like.
Secondly, the court should recognize that Texas can lawfully regulate social media because the platforms are common carriers. For centuries, common carrier laws have required certain industries that hold themselves out to the public to serve all without discrimination. Communications networks have always operated under these non-discrimination requirements. The Texas social media law simply applies these historical precedents to the modern public square: social media platforms.
Pitman ignores the centuries of cases in which courts and regulatory agencies imposed non-discrimination requirements on railroads, telephones, and internet firms and simply asserts that “this Court starts from the premise that social media platforms are not common carriers.”
The opinion justifies this finding with no precedent, but with circular reasoning that because social media companies currently discriminate, they cannot be regulated as common carriers. By Pitman’s reasoning, then, if a telephone company started to discriminate, the state of Texas could no longer regulate it as a common carrier.
Undermining the power of the state to regulate is indeed a strange move for liberals like Pitman, who generally welcome government power into every aspect of our lives. Pitman’s ruling reveals the left’s disturbing protectiveness of Big Tech and a preference for a public discourse controlled by content moderators.
Furthermore, in recognizing Big Tech’s deplatforming and censoring as a First Amendment-protected exercise of “editorial discretion,” the lower court is jeopardizing the bodies of civil rights and common carriage law by essentially asserting that discrimination is expression worthy of First Amendment protection.
Pitman and others on the left incorrectly view the First Amendment’s free speech guarantees as protecting Big Tech’s censorship, rather than preserving Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’s famous concept of the vigorous marketplace of ideas.
It is long past time for states to impose non-discrimination requirements on Big Tech and to hold these companies accountable for their viewpoint censorship. The Fifth Circuit should recognize the substantial government interest in doing so and reverse the lower court’s error-ridden decision. The Texas law would serve the nation as a model for restoring our cherished principles of free speech.
Washington governor Jay Inslee seems unclear on the whole “no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech” concept:
What does he have in mind? Here’s what Inslee referenced.
The governor also assailed three Republican state lawmakers — Brad Klippert, Vicki Kraft and Robert Sutherland — who attended at taxpayer expense an election conspiracy theory conference in South Dakota last summer. The Seattle Times first reported the details of that trip earlier this week. “The defeated president and his allies, including some legislators in Washington state, are perpetuating the belief that this election was stolen from them,” Inslee said. “What do you think is going to happen if you perpetuate that belief? Of course violence can be happening as a result of that.”…The governor likened the rhetoric about elections being stolen to “yelling fire in a crowded theater.” “The defeated president as recently as an hour ago is yelling fire in the crowded theater of democracy,” Inslee said, referring to statements Trump issued Thursday. Those statements included: “Never forget the crime of the 2020 Presidential Election. Never give up!”
This is a straightforward effort to criminalize speech about politics. A broad spectrum of stolen-election and rigged-election theories have been widely circulated in the United States since at least the 1824 election, if not 1800. Most of them are lies, hokum, and hyperbole, but our system of political speech has always allowed an open contest in the marketplace of ideas to deal with that. As Inslee’s own state’s Supreme Court wrote in that 2007 case striking down a ban on candidates lying about each other, “The notion that the government, rather than the people, may be the final arbiter of truth in political debate is fundamentally at odds with the First Amendment.”
Moreover, this is specifically the kind of speech that it is common to hear from Democrats. Kamala Harris just hired a new communications director, Jamal Simmons, who tweeted less than a year ago — not for the first time — that he believed “W stole the 2000 elex.” And Simmons is, if anything, more temperate on the subject than many leading Democrats. Joe Biden’s Chief of Staff, Ron Klain, has long pushed a similar line, and in 2014, when Vox tweeted a poll saying that 68% of Americans think U.S. elections are rigged, Klain responded, “That’s because they are.”
Don’t hold your breath waiting for the likes of Jay Inslee to call for any of these people to be prosecuted. Presumably, what Inslee means when he limits this to lies “likely to incite or cause lawlessness” is that he will appeal to sympathetic courts to say that it’s only likely to incite that when his political opponents do it. But a rule-of-law system is supposed to mean one rule for everyone.
Note that the examples Inslee cites — legislators attending a conference, Donald Trump issuing a press release — are a far cry from the constitutional requirement of inciting imminent criminal action, a standard that would be imposing to apply even to Trump’s January 6 speech. As David Harsanyi has observed about the “fire in a crowded theater” canard:
This is probably the weakest – and the most infuriatingly overused — analogy used in efforts to restrict rights. The line, taken from Oliver Wendell Holmes’ decision in Schenck v. United States and subsequently repeated by thousands of censorship apologists since, was at the heart of one of the most egregious violations of free expression in American history. The Schenck decision allowed the Wilson administration to throw anti-war activists into prison for violating the Espionage Act of 1917. It’s difficult to think of a more legitimate exercise of political expression than debating war and peace. In any event, Schenck was basically overturned by the Brandenburg v. Ohio decision, which found that the First Amendment protects speech unless it is likely to incite “imminent lawless action,” which yelling “fire in a theater” does not.
It may be that Inslee was just engaging in a one-day January 6 message, but his press release sounds as if he actually intends to push this into law. That should deeply alarm friends of the classical liberal values of free speech and democracy. It would be one thing if we read a statement like this from some inexperienced young progressive firebrand. But Jay Inslee — who followed this up with an executive order permitting racial discrimination by the state government — is about as much of an experienced, establishment figure as exists in the Democratic Party. He’s been in public office almost continuously since 1989. He spent a decade and a half in Congress. He’s the longest-serving sitting governor in the United States. He ran for president in 2020. That he is pushing for laws to throw political opponents in jail over political speech should tell us how deep the rot is on free political speech among the Democrats.
Gigi Sohn's political activism could influence her regulatory approach
Telecommunications experts worry that President Joe Biden’s decision to put a career political activist on the Federal Communications Commission could transform the agency into a bludgeon for the administration to attack conservatives.
Gigi Sohn has called for expanding the FCC’s authority to investigate and regulate conservative networks. She has suggested that one of the leading conservative broadcasting companies should not have a broadcast license and founded a nonprofit that is actively lobbying cable providers to drop the right-wing One America News Network (OANN).
Sohn could soon have the power to act on these radical positions, which some say is cause for concern.
“There’s reason for concern she’d take punitive action against conservative voices,” one telecommunications expert told the Washington Free Beacon.
Katie McAuliffe, the executive director of the pro-market nonprofit Digital Liberty, said Sohn has one major outlet to hamstring conservative media: She could “use the broadcast licensing regime to challenge someone’s use of the airwaves.”
Television networks need to obtain an FCC license to broadcast on the air. The agency has the authority to revoke licenses it has already issued. If confirmed, Sohn will be one of five commissioners who rule on broadcast licensure.
Sohn has throughout her career indicated where she falls on this issue. After right-leaning network Sinclair in 2018 called off a merger with Tribune Broadcasting, Sohn questioned whether “Sinclair is qualified to be a broadcast licensee at all.” She has also called for congressional investigations into Fox News for broadcasting “few if any opposing viewpoints.”
Licensure is not the only area in which Sohn has called for more aggressive FCC intervention. She last year endorsed the activist group Free Press after the group petitioned the FCC to make greater use of the “broadcast hoax” rule, which allows the agency to intervene when broadcasts cause “substantial public harm” to the public interest.
Free Press says that former president Donald Trump’s statements on the coronavirus could violate the “broadcast hoax” rule. The petition specifically names the former president’s March 2020 claim that “I hear the numbers are getting much better in Italy.”
Sohn is a longtime progressive activist known for her “personal relationships with power players all over the capital,” according to The Hill. She cofounded Public Knowledge, a nonprofit that “promotes freedom of expression” and “an open internet.”
Public Knowledge president Christopher Lewis told the Free Beacon that the organization has no interest in government mandates against protected speech but said, “It’s hard for us to fight for free expression when there’s so much disinformation.” Although the group is working to pull OANN off the airwaves, Lewis asserts that the group remains committed to “free expression and promoting diversity of content.”
The Free Beacon reported this month that OANN has thrown its weight behind Sohn’s nomination in the hopes that she will be an ally in disputes with cable carriers.
Sohn faces an uphill battle in the Senate, where she is expected to appear on December 1. Senator Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) has called her “a hack” and vowed to fight her nomination. One source tells the Free Beacon that three or four Democratic senators are considering opposing Sohn because of her support for net neutrality.
A lot is going on in Washington right now that’s of momentous import, but the nation’s capital is not the only place making news. In California last week, legendary comedian Mort Sahl shuffled off his mortal coil at the age of 94.
Largely forgotten now, in the age of Eisenhower, Sahl was to political humor what “Saturday Night Live” has now been for several decades. Standing on stage, hip and cool, in a sweater and clutching a newspaper, he’d riff on current events in ways no one before him had managed to do. He was a giant of American humor and he changed stand-up for all time.
His passing is relevant today because he was, in his own way, the target of the cancel culture of his day. He came at things on a slant, undermining the conventional mores that contributed so much to the blandness of the 1950s. Sahl shook up the establishment. Not, perhaps, as much as Lenny Bruce and others would later do, but enough that his act clearly presaged the national shift toward youth and vigor represented by the Kennedys and Camelot.
Back in those days, the entertainment establishment was largely conservative. Network executives concerned about offending the heartland shied away from anything edgy. Their concerns allowed the McCarthy-inspired blacklisting of television and motion picture performers to briefly flourish. It was a sad time that shouldn’t have been forgotten.
It appears it has. Look no further than the vitriol directed at Dave Chappelle and Netflix over his latest special because he poked fun at some transgender shibboleths. It has led to calls for Chappelle to apologize, to be censored and to even be excommunicated from the business—and for Netflix to apologize.
Chappelle hasn’t caved and refuses to grovel. More power to him. Humor is very much a part of our humanity. There’s nothing out there we should be afraid to joke about—even things some people find grossly offensive. It’s part of who we are and it helps our common American civilization evolve.
The culture of political correctness is killing comedy. That’s a bad thing, and not just because it goes against the free speech culture that has contributed so much to making America an exceptional place. It also places limits on how we can talk about ourselves, our similarities and our differences. Putting restrictions on comedy impedes cultural change.
With that in mind, consider another instance in which cancel culture prevailed. In the late 1960s, the two-man comedy folk act The Smothers Brothers got a variety show on CBS. Aside from its stars, Tommy and Dick Smothers, its production team included people who made American humor what it is today. The Smothers may have still been brothers without the support of performers and writers like Steve Martin, David Steinberg, Rob Reiner, Bob Einstein, Lorenzo Music, Carl Gottlieb, Stan Burns and others, but they wouldn’t have had a hit show.
The “Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” was edgy without being offensive. It addressed tough issues like the Vietnam War, the developing drug culture, the increasing demands for female equality, the role of the police in society and the emergence of youth with wit, charm and creativity.
The public loved it but, as students of American humor know, both the Johnson and Nixon White Houses took much of what they did on-air as a personal affront. Bowing to political pressure, as David Bianculli brilliantly recounted in his book Dangerously Funny, the network began to put restrictions on the brothers that made it hard for them to do the show they wanted to do.
Eventually, the cancellers won and “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” was canceled. The brothers sued CBS and won, but the damage was already done. There was no turning back, even though the network gave them another show many years later. What people miss is that while canceling the show did not make the brothers any less funny, it did make the rest of us a little more sour.
Every year but one since 1998, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts has given out the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor to someone who has “had an impact on American society in ways similar to” Mark Twain. It’s been given to Bill Murray, Tina Fey, Steve Martin, the aforementioned Dave Chappelle, Neil Simon, Bob Newhart, Lily Tomlin, Lorne Michaels and others who’ve made the nation live while also making it think.
It would strike a much-needed blow against cancel culture if the next award were to be given to Tom and Dick Smothers—not just because they made us laugh, but because they stood up in defense of the integrity of comedy and the way it acts as a mirror of society. If there’s anything more Twain-like than that, I can’t think of it.
The nation’s colleges and universities market themselves to prospective attendees and their families as places where academics and inquiry combine to produce well-rounded students capable of advanced thinking and prepared for the world of tomorrow. The reality, a recently published database of campus incidents shows, is quite different.
The College Fix, a website sponsored by the Student Free Press Association that provides student journalists with the opportunity to expose the insanities and inanities that occurred regularly in contemporary higher education recently compiled a database of incidents showing the so-called “cancel culture” to be alive, well, and growing throughout American institutions of higher learning.
The organization’s work, it says, is the first real attempt to quantify the problem. According to The Fix, the intolerant, politically correct crowd who are both socially prominent and academic decision-makers on so many campuses can claim, at minimum, to have taken “650 scalps” over the past ten years.
Among the outrages large and small identified in the database are:
–A move by the University of Pennsylvania to rename its Alice Paul Center – named for a suffragette who was instrumental in securing the passage and ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment giving women the right to vote – as the “Center for Research in Feminist, Queer, and Transgender Studies” to signal a “commitment” to LGBTQ “intellectual and political movements.”
–A public apology delivered in 2021 by the president of Muhlenberg College – a private college well known for its theater arts department – for a production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Mikado” put on in 2010 followed by the deletion of all the photos of the performance from the school’s website.
–The expulsion from the University of Louisville (KY) School of Medicine of fourth-year student Austin Clark, allegedly over his expression of pro-life beliefs school officials labeled unprofessional.
–The dismissal of Hannah Berliner Fischthal, an adjunct instructor at St. John’s University in Queens, NY after she read a passage containing the N-word from Twain’s anti-slavery novel “Pudd’nhead Wilson” in her “Literature of Satire” class – but not before first explaining the context of the word and saying she hoped it would not offend anyone.
“What we have witnessed over the last decade is nothing short of a new Red Guard enforcing its cultural revolution on American college campuses,” said Jennifer Kabbany, editor of The College Fix. “This database stands athwart the campaign to condemn, erase and rewrite our shared history.”
The number of incidents cited in the database amount to roughly one per week for every week for ten years. The College Fix said updates would be made regularly as part of an ongoing effort “to document every example of targeting and suppression in an age of censorship, memory-holing, and soft totalitarianism.” What has been uncovered so far, the group said, is likely just the tip of a very large iceberg “but there are likely more examples out there, and much more to come.”
By resisting censorship from the government, corporations, or cancel mobs, we reaffirm the value of the freedoms won and cherished in centuries past.
As I wrote in a preceding essay, the First Amendment was written to limit the government’s power. In the 18th century, only the state was conceived as possibly wielding the power to keep free people from speaking their minds. Thus, if maintaining a free people requires free speech, it followed that the government must be kept from controlling speech. For a long time, no more was necessary, but that would change.
As the United States grew in population and prosperity, there was very little agitation against business. There did not need to be. Most businesses were small affairs, owned by one man or one family, employing a handful of workers. Relations between labor and management were dealt with between individuals.
n 1854, Abraham Lincoln summarized this small-scale economy, speaking of a system in which a man “may look forward and hope to be a hired laborer this year and the next, work for himself afterward, and finally to hire men to work for him! That is the true system.”
Yet as corporations grew in size and power, that “true system” changed. Instead of one apprentice negotiating with an owner, a company that employed thousands would tell workers what they would get: take it or leave it.
In response, workers began to join together in trade unions, leveling the playing field, although diminishing their own independence. The balance between workers and management was restored, but the growing power of corporations still overpowered that of individual consumers.
Antitrust and utility laws were the response, but none of this much affected the realm of free speech. There was no news monopoly — newspapers were more plentiful than today — and restrictions on the new technology of radio came from the government, not the station owners. The biggest threat to the practice of free speech remained the state.
Although the two streams of jurisprudence here — anti-monopoly and free speech — did not much overlap in the early twentieth century, some of the same great thinkers were doing work in both. Foremost among these was Louis Brandeis, who joined the Supreme Court in 1916.
Brandeis was a progressive who saw Big Government and Big Business as equally threatening to the average American. Although he focused more on the growth of corporate power in his days as a private lawyer, Brandeis saw the danger in the government becoming too powerful. His solution was to resist consolidation in both regards — keep businesses small and local, and the government could stay small, too.
In regards to free speech, Brandeis also led the resistance to censorship, although often unsuccessfully. While American citizens were the freest in the world in their right to speak and publish, limits remained.
The so-called “Red Scare” that followed communist revolutions in Europe led governments to clamp down on people’s right to advocate socialist ideas in America. In Whitney v. California in 1924, the Supreme Court heard a challenge to one such law. Brandeis was in the minority, but Whitney soon became one of the rare cases more famous for the dissent than for the opinion of the court. Brandeis wrote:
Those who won our independence believed that the final end of the State was to make men free to develop their faculties; and that in its government the deliberative forces should prevail over the arbitrary. They valued liberty both as an end and as a means. They believed liberty to be the secret of happiness and courage to be the secret of liberty. They believed that freedom to think as you will and to speak as you think are means indispensable to the discovery and spread of political truth; that without free speech and assembly discussion would be futile; that with them, discussion affords ordinarily adequate protection against the dissemination of noxious doctrine; that the greatest menace to freedom is an inert people; that public discussion is a political duty; and that this should be a fundamental principle of the American government.
Brandeis’s words remain one of the great summaries of the custom and law of free speech in America and follows the line of thinking started by Milton and Locke. In 1969, the Supreme Court adopted Brandeis’s ideas and overturned Whitney.
Since then, the government’s attempts to restrict free speech have mostly been rebuffed. Some efforts, like the censorship at issue in the 2010 case of Citizens United v. FEC, nearly succeeded, but most failed and failed quickly. The struggle for free speech in law trends toward greater liberty.
Today, however, something novel is happening in America: private actors have become a greater threat to free speech than the government is. Part of that comes from a laudable achievement — we have tamed free speech’s historical foe, the state. But part also comes from the rise of new means of communication that not only displace the old but are uniquely susceptible to monopolization in a way the old media were not.
That means that for the first time, corporate power might be a greater threat to our rights — especially our right to free speech — than the power wielded by the state. This accounts in part for the recent resurgence in antitrust advocacy.
Not long ago, there was considerable diversity not only in the sources of news and entertainment but also in the distribution of such things. Not only have the sources of news been subject to consolidation, but they have become separated from the methods by which they reach us. This vertical dis-integration might be seen as an antitrust success, except that the distribution methods are even more consolidated than the news sources.
The “distribution sources” in question are the social media giants of Facebook and Twitter, along with less powerful players in the field like Reddit and LinkedIn. Instagram and WhatsApp are also cited as delivery methods for news, but it does little good to mention them since they are both owned by Facebook. Consolidation across Silicon Valley has narrowed the real players in Big Tech to about half a dozen: Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft among them.
As far as free speech is concerned, some of these players are more dangerous than others, but the interaction among them is also a problem. Six big technological competitors might look like a healthy industry, but it is an illusion. While they clash at times, these Big Six have divided up the tech world much as the 19th-century colonial powers divided up the globe. Spheres of influence are mutually respected and the political aims of each align with the others.
First, the social media giants established monopolies in their respective fields. As companies grow in power, they exert control over their marketplaces. They evaded detection in doing so because their monopolies are different from those of the past.
What they monopolize is not a commercial product like Standard Oil’s monopoly on kerosene. Their monopoly is on access to a thing they created and that, outside of their network, cannot exist. As I wrote in the Washington Examiner last year:
There is no place to tweet except Twitter; there is no way to create Facebook posts outside Facebook. If Facebook or Twitter delete your posts or restrict your account, that network is closed to you, and each is a network that increasingly dominates the exchange of ideas. Even beyond the market for news and commentary, access to social media for businesses (especially Facebook) can be a make-or-break proposition.
The monopoly is on each social media company’s network, and the danger is in our increasing reliance on those networks to convey ideas. By 2019, a majority of Americans said they often or sometimes got their news over social media, and the number increases every year.
Unlike old-fashioned monopolies, social media companies use their power not only to exclude competitors but also to exclude customers with whom they disagree. AT&T wanted to control all telephony, but at least they only wanted your money. Facebook and Twitter also want to limit what you say, the equivalent of a telephone operator breaking in to shut down phone calls that their bosses find distasteful.
The Department of Justice shattered AT&T’s monopoly in the 1980s, breaking the company into several “Baby Bells.” The result was cheaper, better telephone service for everyone.
But that precise solution will not work for social media. No one is concerned about the price of a service that is given away for free, and the quality of the apps was never the problem. This network, and equal access to it, is the issue. Destroying that network would make service worse, not better. Moreover, it misses the point.
The intersection of monopoly power with free speech is something new. Even beyond the threat of exclusion from a social media company’s network, the collusion among the networks further stifles free expression. Consider the treatment of a rival social network.
In reaction to Twitter shutting down accounts with whose content it disagreed, two entrepreneurs launched an alternative site, Gab, in 2016. It went public in 2017 and seemed to offer the traditional alternative for dissatisfaction with a business: taking your business elsewhere. If the dispute with Twitter had been a traditional one, such as price or quality, that would have solved the problem.
But the nature of Twitter’s monopoly worked against Gab. Twitter users who had not been banned were reluctant to leave the network, because as unhappy as they were with it, it still offered the best forum for reaching a mass audience. Some maintained accounts at both sites, but only the banned — those who had no other option — were active users at Gab. Google decided it was a hate forum and removed it from their Play Store. Apple had never allowed it in the first place.
Gab was then restricted only to people extremely motivated to seek it out, and it became a deeply unpleasant echo chamber. When it emerged that the perpetrator of the 2018 mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue was an active Gab user, the site was forever known as the home of murderous extremists. The providers that hosted them terminated their arrangements, forcing it further underground. The same process played out with Parler in 2020, and it will play out again for the next would-be Twitter competitor.
Mainstream opinion is unbothered. Few had heard of Gab or Parler, which they could not find in their phone’s app stores, and many who were aware of it associated it with Nazis. Shutting them down was good riddance to bad rubbish.
Those few who raised free speech concerns were told to read the law, as though that is all there is to our ancient liberty. Recent episodes of tech censorship have involved a larger combination of tech companies and taken in a larger swath of users — including a former American president.
The drive to stifle speech is not limited to social media. Other tech monopolies have flexed their muscles. Amazon, which controls a majority of book sales in the United States, has started deciding which kinds of books it will allow. Anything that explores sexual orientation or gender dysphoria as mental illnesses is now forbidden. Tweets and Facebook posts on the subject are also likely to be censored if they voice the “wrong” opinions.
If free speech is necessary to enable individuals to discover virtue and choose their leaders, then monopoly censorship is just as harmful as government censorship. Even beyond the specific harm of stifling free expression, it does harm to the idea of free speech itself.
Legalistic denials from Big Tech supporters — “it’s not censorship if it’s not the government!” — miss the point. By allowing continued monopolies over segments of the public square and acquiescing in a restriction of free thought there, we erode the principle of free speech while piously upholding the laws that do nothing against this new threat.
As long as people believe in free speech, it will endure. According to a 2020 poll by Pew, a majority of Americans see the social media threat for what it is: censorship. That is good news. People are not distracted by the distinction of government and non-government; they see a powerful force trying to muzzle them and do not like it. The people understand that this right belongs to them and will resist anyone who tries to take it away.
The bad news is that such sentiments are declining. Americans, especially the young, increasingly are intolerant of speech that they hate. Instead of the liberty and courage that Brandeis extolled, they seek to decide public questions with private force. Milton and Locke would recognize the methods from their own times, although the actors and questions debated have changed.
That same 2020 Pew poll showed a majority of Democrats endorsing social media companies’ labeling of “inaccurate” tweets and posts. Polling by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) that same year finds that significant percentages of college students support suppressing unpopular speech through heckler’s veto (27 percent) or blocking entry to an event (11 percent). Only 4 percent of those surveyed claimed that it was acceptable to use violence to suppress offensive speech, but that is still too many.
We all have reason to doubt the accuracy of polling after the failures of the last few years, but there can be no doubt that the principle of free expression is under renewed threat. Looking at that threat requires reacquainting ourselves with the history of free speech and monopolies. Our forefathers fought censorship and fought monopolistic abuses, but political battles are rarely won for all time. These two are back, joined up in novel fashion, but no different than what came before.
The lessons of Milton, Locke, Bastiat, Lincoln, and Brandeis must guide a new generation to protect our ancient freedoms. If we fail, those freedoms will fade from memory and their protection in law will fade with them. We may vote for legislators, but few of us will ever directly influence the words of a law.
In the custom that underpins the law, though, we all have a role to play. By resisting censorship from the government, corporations, or cancel mobs, we remind the world of the value of the freedoms won and cherished in centuries past, and further reinforce them for the challenges to yet come.
Veteran Emmy-winning broadcaster Rita Cosby, it was announced Monday, is joining the primetime lineup on WABC 770 AM, the New York City-based station that at one time served as the flagship for the late Rush Limbaugh, whose three-hour daily program changed American radio forever.
In an interview conducted before the launch, Cosby promised her show would be “a cancel free zone” and invited listeners and fans of all kinds to call in with questions and comments.
“Rita Cosby is the best in the business, with a tremendous following and incredible background,” John Catsimatidis, CEO of the Red Apple Group and 77 WABC Radio, said. Her new show, which will air weeknights from 10 pm to 12 midnight “will bring a new and exciting dynamic to our important evening programming.”
“Rita’s top-notch interviewing skills, impeccable record in journalism, and deep ability to connect with our listeners,” he added, portends big things for both the show and the station, Catsimatidis continued. The program begins at a time when the future of terrestrial talk radio, at one time an incredibly economically robust industry platform, is undergoing major changes thanks to the proliferation of podcasts, satellite radio, and internet streaming service.
None of that should pose any problems for Cosby, one of America’s most recognized broadcasters whose successes across various media platforms can be matched by few other journalists. Her work in journalism has taken her around the globe and includes live reporting from the war zone in Afghanistan, from Belgrade in the former Yugoslavia during the NATO bombing, and along the U.S. border with Mexico. Known for her engaging style and headline-making interviews, she has obtained exclusives with more than twenty world leaders, including seven U.S. Presidents and Pope Francis, as well as with entertainment icons Michael Jackson, Tom Hanks, Bruce Willis, and infamous inmates Dr. Jack Kevorkian and David “Son of Sam” Berkowitz, a serial murdered who terrorized New York’s five boroughs beginning in the summer of 1976 through his arrest in August of 1977.
“We are thrilled to have Rita Cosby taking over this important timeslot. Beginning Monday, our evening listeners will get a great dose of the latest news along with powerful and compelling interviews, from one of the country’s most well-regarded broadcasters,” said Chad Lopez, the president of Red Apple Media/77 WABC Radio.
Cosby was named Radio Ink’s 2018 Most Influential Woman Legend of the Year and has won six Gracie Awards in radio, including for Outstanding Host and Outstanding Talk Show. She previously worked at 77 WABC radio, serving as the station’s political editor and as the anchor of weekend and midday talk shows, from 2014 to 2018.
“The Rita Cosby Show” begins at 10 pm on March 15, 2021, and be heard on 770 AM throughout the New York City greater metropolitan area and live on the internet at https://wabcradio.com/.
A new Democratic-sponsored Colorado Senate bill is raising eyebrows with the proposed establishment of a state-run ministry of truth to regulate online speech.
The bill, titled “Digital Communications Regulation,” seeks the creation of a digital communications division under the state department of regulatory agencies to regulate online content available in the state. The division will be run by a new commission to serve as government-blessed arbiters of truth.
Under the legislation, proposed by Democratic state Sen. Kerry Donovan, the new commission is tasked with the authority to investigate and hold hearings on claims filed with the division that accuse a particular platform of engaging in what the government declares unlawful conduct. Such conduct under the proposal ranges from promoting “hate speech” to “disinformation,” “fake news,” and “conspiracy theories,” or content the commission determines is meant to “undermine election integrity.” The idea for a similar proposal at the federal level was floated by New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in January.
The bill puts government force behind an already-implemented progressive purge pursued by Silicon Valley tech giants wielding unprecedented power over the digital public square, with many of the same rules already in place. Such rules, however, which have become more stringently enforced to justify censorship of conservatives and reporting unfavorable to progressive interests, have been applied with remarkable inconsistency.
“We all know from experience at other places where such rules are in place, they’re not applied equally,” Joshua Sharf, a senior fellow in fiscal policy at the Denver libertarian think tank Independence Institute, told The Federalist. “They’re actually impossible to apply equally.”
The contrast between the four-year conspiracy alleging President Donald Trump was a Russian agent and the online suppression of blockbuster revelations published by the New York Post last fall, which implicated then-Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in his son’s potentially criminal overseas business ventures, illustrates how rules governing online content are arbitrarily enforced for political purposes. There is no shortage of examples highlighting Silicon Valley’s double-standards.
“Realistically, we all know what the intent here is,” Sharf, who runs his own online blog, warned. “The intent here is to limit what Sen. Donovan considers conservative speech.”
Donovan did not respond to The Federalist’s request for an interview.
Under the senator’s legislation, communications-oriented online businesses, including social media platforms and media-sharing platforms with services offered to Colorado residents, would be forced to register with the new government ministry of truth. Failure to do so would classify as a class-two misdemeanor with up to a $5,000 fine each day until they comply.
Republican Colorado Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, who sits on the State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee where the bill was introduced, railed against the proposal as unconstitutional and shared no faith that the independent commission appointed by the governor would dictate online content fairly.
“I have no confidence whatsoever that if the commission was formed it would be somewhat politically diverse,” Sonnenberg told The Federalist. “It’s almost like a giant commission just like Facebook to determine what posts are accurate and what are not.”
Republicans in the state’s upper chamber have already pledged their opposition, though Democrats control both houses of the Colorado legislature.
“Nobody wants an unelected commission of wannabe authoritarians deciding what is and is not ‘fake news’ and what we can and cannot read on the internet,” Colorado Senate Republican spokesman Sage Naumann told The Federalist. “We’re hopeful this bill never makes it to the floor.”
Sonnenberg said he saw no momentum for that happening, even as Democrats hold the majority.
“Anybody with a reasonable mind would look at this bill and go, ‘This doesn’t make sense.’ This indeed is a violation of our First Amendment, a blatant violation,” Sonnenberg told The Federalist. “If this is a party-line vote and it gets out of committee, we have bigger problems in our country.”
Although many lament the dark times for conservative ideas and the death of free speech, they should see this as an opportunity to break free of corrupted institutions.
In a recent edition of the Stanford Review, scholars Scott Atlas, Victor Davis Hanson, and Niall Ferguson wrote a statement defending themselves against the baseless attacks of leftist colleagues at Stanford University who accused them of encouraging extremism, conducting illicit opposition research, and causing the deaths of “tens of thousands” from COVID-19. Atlas then discussed the issue at a virtual student meeting.
These accusations are completely untrue and tied to an antisemitic activist who aligns himself with Antifa. Nevertheless, Atlas, Hanson, and Ferguson felt the need to make their case even if it’s unlikely they will face any real threat to their livelihoods or reputations, as the Hoover Institution and Stanford have backed them.
All of them are highly accomplished intellectuals who have amassed large followings. It is they who bring clout to Stanford, not the other way around.
The real tragedy here is that they have to bother explaining themselves at all. It’s beneath them. They could be writing books, articles, giving talks, and continuing their work, but now they have to waste time with nobodies. Even the leadership of Stanford could see this, which is why this effort to cancel fell flat. Unfortunately, as writer Jonathan Tobin explains, their survival of this cancellation attempt was an exception to the rule.
After all, who in the world is David Palumbo-Lieu, one of the four professors leading the charge against these conservative scholars? Has he spoken out against the blunders of the American government’s COVID-19 policy? Does his CV include so many well-written books and countless articles on a limitless range of topics? Did anyone see him on a popular television series celebrating the key successes of Western culture?
No, Palumbo-Lieu’s great work appears to be praising his students “who occupied and blocked the San Mateo Bridge at peak commuting hours, endangering lives, causing minor car crashes, and getting themselves arrested.”
This episode is reminiscent of the great theologian St. Augustine of Hippo exerting so much energy denouncing the Donatist heresy. Much like today’s left, the Donatists were intellectually bankrupt and frequently resorted to the same petty tactics of destroying their opponents’ reputations with slander, false accusations, and the intervention of corrupt politicians.
That Augustine wasted so much time with them means that he had less time to write another “City of God” or “On Christian Doctrine.” Tallied with every other instance of a great mind taking on what’s beneath him, this Stanford kerfuffle amounts to a great loss in progress. The world is shallower, less informed, and less healthy as a result.
So what should happen in these cases? How do the attempted cancellations stop? As Atlas, Hanson, and Ferguson demonstrate, it isn’t through compromise or complaining; rather, it is through excellence. As the saying goes, success is the best revenge against one’s enemies. It is also the best way to overcome cancel culture.
This doesn’t mean that defending free speech is not important, but it shouldn’t become a fixation. Otherwise, it can detract from the work of building a competing culture and undermine the very reason to preserve free speech itself.
Free speech is the means, not the ends. This point is sometimes lost when people respond to yet another canceling or instance of censorship. Because it seems like conservatives are constantly defending themselves, they end up making the same points repeatedly and struggle with moving forward. As such, leftists can dismiss conservatives for having “no content,” no vision of what they want.
What results is a growing despair over free speech. If the fruits of free speech are partisan mudslinging and rehashing the same arguments, many people stop seeing the point of protecting the freedom to express one’s views.
It also doesn’t help that the left always frames these debates over free speech as about hate speech and misinformation, never around truth and reason. As a result, conservatives have to defend themselves from being called white supremacist Nazis or crackpot conspiracy theorists while leftists tell (often fabricated) sob stories about the many victims of conservative speech.
Since this is what seems to prevail, most people, particularly young people, simply shrug and give up the fight. If this is what free speech looks like, even if conservatives are right and progressives are wrong, it still seems mostly frivolous and needlessly stressful. Like the villain Cypher in “The Matrix,” they prefer to accept that their lies go unchallenged and declare, “Ignorance is bliss.”
This doesn’t mean that Atlas, Hanson, and Ferguson were wrong to write their statement, nor does it detract from their point about free speech. It’s just a shame that they and so many others have to worry about this kind of thing. Rather, Stanford should worry that their best people feel the need to speak out in this fashion.
It’s time to think bigger. Change will only happen when conservatives have their own Stanfords. If elite universities want to go down the paths of critical race theory, social justice activism, and an abandonment of standards, conservatives should build and support alternatives.
As Arthur Milikh points out on last week’s American Mind podcast, conservatives need to stop slamming Ivy League universities only to confer their respect on these places in the next breath. Instead, they need build their own equivalent and dominate. Otherwise, these places won’t change. One would think that the very people who support movements like school choice would understand this.
In all of her novels, Ayn Rand spoke exactly to this problem and offered a vision of what could happen. Whether it’s “Anthem,” “The Fountainhead,” or “Atlas Shrugged,” the primary conflict was always the same: a protagonist is a brilliant creator, but he lives in an envious world that seeks to tear him down.
How does the protagonist resolve this? Not only by making impassioned speeches (although, admittedly, there are few of those), but by continuing to create on his own terms and let his excellence carry the day. Conservatives today need their own version of Galt’s Gulch.
Although many lament the dark times for conservative ideas and the death of free speech, they should see this as an opportunity to break free of corrupted institutions. There is a dearth of excellence that needs to be filled.
Instead of enlisting the best and brightest conservatives for defending conservatism, conservatives should defend their best and brightest so that they can be left free for excellence. That means giving them space and time to do their work, understanding that this is the whole purpose behind preserving freedom. Not only conservative ideas, but the country and the culture, will be all the better for it.
The left’s push to censor, block, and purge is part of a larger project to undermine the American ideal of self-government and liberal democracy.
Last week, YouTube removed videos of former President Donald Trump’s speech at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference, citing violations of its rules about “misleading election claims” under its “presidential election integrity” policy.
Also last week, Ebay blocked all sales and purchases of the half-dozen Dr. Seuss booksrecently deemed unfit for children because they allegedly “portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.” Amazon blocked access to a documentary about Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
Twitter suspended the account of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Facebook continued its purge of QAnon-linked accounts, which began back in October. And the cable network TCM announced a program to reframe classic films like “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” “The Searchers,” and “My Fair Lady,” which it considers “problematic” and “troubling.”
That was just last week. The growing movement on the left to censor, purge, block, and suspend anyone who expresses disfavored views, or any book or film that some might consider offensive, isn’t just an attack on conservatives or a quixotic war on the past. It represents the single greatest wholesale rejection of liberal democracy, civil society, and the ideal of self-government in American history.
Simply put, the people who will not allow Trump’s CPAC speech to be searchable on YouTube do not think you can think through things and make your own decisions, let alone participate in democratic governance. To them, you are only slightly more intelligent than an animal, and ought to be treated as such.
The reason it matters—and the reason this illiberal, censorious impulse can’t just be laughed off—is that the institutions and industries behind all this are incredibly powerful. They control what you watch, read, discuss, and share—even with your own children.
Disney Plus, for example, pulled a bunch of classic titles from its children’s programming back in January for “negative depictions and/or mistreatment of people or cultures.” The banned films include “Lady and the Tramp,” “Peter Pan,” “The Jungle Book,” and “Dumbo.” The titles are still available, with a disclaimer, on the main streaming service, but the writing is on the wall: if you want your kids to enjoy the originals, better buy the DVD now.
Let’s be clear about something: this isn’t about ferreting out “offensive” content or ideas, or making society more tolerant and inclusive. After all, whether or not something is offensive is relative. This is about taking away your agency, your ability to make choices and decide for yourself what you think, whether it’s about Dr. Suess or a presidential election.
Why else would Amazon pull down a well-reviewed and by all accounts fair and sober book about transgenderism, as they did last week to Ryan T. Anderson’s 2018 book, “When Harry Became Sally”? It’s not because the book is offensive to a wide swath of the reading public. It’s because the ideas presented in it—including the now-radical notion that biological sex is immutable and that encouraging children and teens to “transition” causes irreparable harm—challenge the left’s utopian vision for society.
In other words, it’s not that these ideas are offensive, it’s that they’re in the way. The people who applauded Amazon for taking down Anderson’s book do not want to contend with Anderson’s arguments. It’s much easier for them if a corporate behemoth like Amazon just blots them out, makes them disappear.
Otherwise, Anderson might actually persuade some people that he’s right, that transgenderism isn’t just morally wrong, it’s also bad for society, and maybe we should rethink our sudden embrace of it. Maybe we should have some honest debate about it and let people make up their own minds.
The left would like to take those kind of choices away from you, even (especially) for children’s literature. The hypocrisy of the left in this regard knows no bounds.
CNN’s Jake Tapper, who once championed the publication of controversial images—including cartoons of Mohammed, even though it’s deeply offensive to Muslims—denounced Republicans last week for complaining about the cancellation of Dr. Seuss. Tapper was upset because they keep citing beloved titles like “Green Eggs and Ham,” not the half-dozen books that contain what Tapper calls “empirically racist” images that are “indefensible.”
He’s wrong about that. This is an argument for another column, but the images in those banned Dr. Seuss books are entirely defensible and, to my mind, not at all racist, empirically or otherwise.
But of course one need not defend the content of burned books to protest the burning of them. It’s even possible simultaneously to object to the content of a book and the notion that it should be burned for its content. This is a pretty basic tenet of classical liberalism, and Tapper knows it. He’s just being dishonest.
Everyone, in fact, who champions the banning of books—any books—or films or speeches or whatever, is engaged in a deeply anti-American project to undermine the means by which we form citizens capable of self-government. If you can’t be trusted to think through whether the mention of “Eskimo Fish” in Dr. Suess’s “McElligot’s Pool”is appropriate for your kids, then you certainly can’t be trusted to think through whether the 2020 election was marred by fraud and loose rules for absentee ballots.
Likewise, you can’t be trusted to make decisions about COVID-19, about whether to get a vaccine or wear a mask, which is why Dr. Anthony Fauci saw fit to lie about mask-wearing to the American people at the onset of the pandemic last year. He doesn’t think you can be trusted with the truth because he thinks you’re an idiot child who needs be governed, not an American citizen who has the natural right to govern himself.
When I watch Fauci lie, or see Tapper and his peers cheer digital book-burnings, or see example after example of censorship to protect us from supposedly offensive ideas or images, all I can think of is a line from an interview conducted in 1842 with a veteran of the American Revolution. The man was asked why he fought, and he replied, “Young man, what we meant in going for those redcoats was this: we always had governed ourselves, and we always meant to. They didn’t mean we should.”
Why Rush Limbaugh matters
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on Feb. 7, 2020. The Washington Free Beacon is reposting on the occasion of Rush Limbaugh’s death Feb. 17, 2021.
Florida governor Ron DeSantis spoke to Rush Limbaugh last fall at a gala dinner for the National Review Institute. The radio host was there to receive the William F. Buckley Jr. award. “He actually gave me one of the greatest compliments I’ve ever had,” Limbaugh told his audience the next day. “He listed five great conservatives and put me in the list.” DeSantis’s pantheon: William F. Buckley Jr., Ronald Reagan, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Limbaugh.
Good list. No media figure since Buckley has had a more lasting influence on American conservatism than Limbaugh, whose cumulative weekly audience is more than 20 million people. Since national syndication in 1988, Limbaugh has been the voice of conservatism, his three-hour program blending news, politics, and entertainment in a powerful and polarizing cocktail. His shocking announcement this week that he has advanced lung cancer, and his appearance at the State of the Union, where President Trump awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, are occasions to reflect on his impact.
It’s one thing to excel in your field. It’s another to create the field in which you excel. Conservative talk radio was local and niche before Limbaugh. He was the first to capitalize on regulatory and technological changes that allowed for national scale. The repeal of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987 freed affiliates to air controversial political opinions without inviting government scrutiny. As music programming migrated to the FM spectrum, AM bandwidth welcomed talk. Listener participation was also critical. “It was not until 1982,” writes Nicole Hemmer in Messengers of the Right, “that AT&T introduced the modern direct-dial toll-free calling system that national call-in shows use.”
Limbaugh made the most of these opportunities. And he contributed stylistic innovations of his own. He treated politics not only as a competition of ideas but also as a contest between liberal elites and the American public. He added the irreverent and sometimes scandalous humor and cultural commentary of the great DJs. He introduced catchphrases still in circulation: “dittohead,” “Drive-By media,” “feminazi,” “talent on loan from God.”
The template he created has been so successful that the list of his imitators on both the left and right is endless. Even Al Franken wanted in on the act. Dostoyevsky is attributed with the saying that the great Russian writers “all came out of Gogol’s ‘Overcoat.'” Political talk show hosts came out of Limbaugh’s microphone.
Limbaugh’s success prefigured more than the rise of conservative radio. His two bestsellers, The Way Things Ought to Be (1992) and See, I Told You So (1993), were the leading edge of the conservative publishing boom. And his television program, The Rush Limbaugh Show, produced in collaboration with Roger Ailes, was a forerunner of the opinion programming on Fox News Channel. “I had to learn how to take being hated as a measure of success,” he told a Boy Scouts awards dinner in 2009. “Nobody’s raised for that. And the person that taught me to deal with this and to remain psychologically healthy was Roger Ailes.”
Limbaugh is not fringe. His views fit in the conservative mainstream. He idolizes Buckley. “He was a fundamental individual in helping me to be able to explain what I believed instinctively, helping me to explain it to others,” Limbaugh saidlast year. The ideas are the same but the salesman is different. Limbaugh is Buckley without the accent, without the Yale credentials, without the sailboat and harpsichord. Limbaugh is a college dropout from Cape Girardeau, Missouri, who spends Sundays watching the NFL and speaks in plain language. His background connects him to the audience—and to the increasingly working-class Republican voter.
Limbaugh entered stage right just as Ronald Reagan made his exit. He took from Reagan the sense that America’s future is bright, that America isn’t broken, just its liberal political, media, and cultural elites. “He rejected Washington elitism and connected directly with the American people who adored him,” Limbaugh said after Reagan’s death. “He didn’t need the press. He didn’t need the press to spin what he was or what he said. He had the ability to connect individually with each American who saw him.” The two men never met.
Limbaugh assumed Reagan’s position as leader of the conservative movement. In a letter sent to Limbaugh after the 1992 election, Reagan wrote, “Now that I’ve retired from active politics, I don’t mind that you have become the Number One voice for conservatism in our Country. I know the liberals call you the most dangerous man in America, but don’t worry about it, they used to say the same thing about me. Keep up the good work. America needs to hear ‘the way things ought to be.'”
In a long and evenhanded cover story in 1993 by James Bowman, National Review pronounced Limbaugh “the leader of the opposition.” Bowman quoted R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr., editor of The American Spectator. “We need to have people who can dramatize ideas,” Tyrrell said. “You need that literary spark. Luigi Barzini had it; Buckley has it. And, though he’s a great talker rather than a great writer, Rush has it too.”
More than a decade later, after the Republican defeat in 2008, Limbaugh once again stepped into the breach. The media likened Barack Obama to FDR. Republicans wavered. Should they cooperate with President Obama in building a “New Foundation” for America? Limbaugh gave his answer on January 16, 2009. “I’ve been listening to Barack Obama for a year and a half,” he said. “I know what his politics are. I know what his plans are, as he has stated them. I don’t want them to succeed.” Limbaugh said he hoped Obama failed. “Liberalism is our problem. Liberalism is what’s gotten us dangerously close to the precipice here. Why do I want more of it?” The monologue, and the speech he delivered to the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C., a month later, became a sensation. They set the tone for the Tea Party and Republican victories in 2010 and 2014.
Limbaugh did not mock Trump when the businessman announced his presidential campaign in June 2015. “This is going to resonate with a lot of people, I guarantee you, and the Drive-Bys are going to pooh-pooh it,” he said. He spent the primary reminding listeners of the importance of defeating Hillary Clinton. Trump was not an ideological candidate, he said. Trump was a missile aimed at the establishment. If ideology matters, then you should vote for Ted Cruz. “If conservatism is your bag, if conservatism is the dominating factor in how you vote,” Limbaugh said in February 2016, “there is no other choice for you in this campaign than Ted Cruz, because you are exactly right: This is the closest in our lifetimes we have ever been to Ronald Reagan.” But, Limbaugh added, the feeling in the country might be so anti-establishment that Trump’s unusual coalition could win the presidency. It did.
To say that Limbaugh supports the president would be an understatement. Last December he introduced the president at a Turning Point USA summit. He mentioned a recent encounter on a golf course. Someone told him it is hard to defend President Trump. “I said, ‘What? Hard to defend the president? It’s one of the easiest things in the world to do.’ President Trump does not need to be defended.” The crowd cheered. A few seconds later Limbaugh said, “How do you defend Donald Trump? You attack the people who are attempting to destroy him. They’re trying to destroy you. They’re trying to transform this country into something that it was not founded to be.”
Bold, brash, divisive, funny, and amped up, President Trump’s style is similar to a shock jockey’s. His presidency is another reminder of Limbaugh’s staying power. The American right has been molded in his anti-elitist, grassroots, demotic, irreverent, patriotic, hard-charging image. Rush Limbaugh is not just a broadcaster. He defines an era.
BlockNYT app bars 800 Times reporters from Twitter feed
A new app offers the ability to block New York Times reporters on Twitter en masse, escalating the feud between the tech community and the Paper of Record.
The BlockNYT project rolled out Monday morning anonymously on Twitter, promising the ability to “block 800 NYT reporters for the low price of $0.” It circulated rapidly among West Coast tech workers, who in recent years have grown to distrust the reporters who cover tech companies and online culture.
Reporters at the Times have developed an increasingly adversarial relationship with major tech figures. Angel investor Balaji Srinivasan has clashed repeatedly online with Taylor Lorenz, a tech reporter at the Times. Lorenz drew fire for claiming on February 6 that investor and entrepreneur Marc Andreessen, cofounder of venture capital firm a16z, had used the word “retard” in the voice-chat app Clubhouse. Multiple participants in the chat room denied the allegation.
The glossy “BlockNYT” website mimics the Times‘s front page. But rather than real news headlines, the page features 21 Times scandals, ranging from Walter Duranty’s whitewashing the Soviet famine in 1933 to the recent news that a podcast on ISIS got key facts wrong.
Reached for comment, the anonymous figure behind the app said, “The New York Times won a Pulitzer Prize for helping starve five million people to death. That was almost ninety years ago. Their star reporters lied on Twitter. That was yesterday.”
In June 2020, a Times journalist reportedly planned to doxx—or publicly identify—the anonymous figure behind “SlateStarCodex,” a popular blog in the tech community. The blogger, who claimed anonymity was vital for his safety and livelihood, deleted all posts on the blog, leading to widespread condemnation of the Times.
Blocklists have gained popularity in recent years as a tool for managing one’s experience online. Block Party, a popular blocklist app, bills itself as a “service for tackling online harassment.” In 2015, Twitter rolled out tools to make and share blocklists, but quickly removed the functionality.
Internet theorist L.M. Sacasas pointed out that BlockNYT also functions as a symbol of in-group identity: “The average user of an app like this isn’t really interested in blocking New York Times reporters so much as they are interested in being perceived as the sort of people who block New York Times reporters.” But he also noted that in an era of “information superabundance,” comprehensively blocking a specific outlet may not meaningfully decrease the amount of news the user receives.
That superabundance of information may be driving competition between the Times and tech. A Times piece over the summer documented the flood of journalists moving from legacy media organizations to Substack, an email newsletter platform that allows writers to monetize their writing directly. In a January 25 podcast, Times opinion writer Kara Swisher warned that Donald Trump could reach a mass audience through Substack. The newsletter platform is backed by several major venture-capital firms, including a16z.
Journalists have become the thing they profess to hate — closed-minded censors who want to stifle free expression.
The American media — long stalwart defenders of the First Amendment — are now having second thoughts.
For decades, it was a commonplace sentiment among journalists that freedom of the press was one of the glories of our system. It helped to make the government accountable and to air diverse points of view — even unpopular ones — to be tested in the marketplace of ideas.
Media organizations were at the forefront of the fight to vindicate First Amendment rights, with the New York Times involved in two landmark Supreme Court decisions (New York Times Co. v. Sullivan and the Pentagon Papers case), and tended to rise as one against any perceived threat to their prerogatives and freedoms.
This advocacy has been sincere, although, if nothing else, journalists should be First Amendment purists out of a sense of self-interest. In a 2018 essay in The Atlantic representing the bygone conventional wisdom, titled “Why a Free Press Matters,” the longtime newscaster Dan Rather noted, “As a working journalist, I know I have a stake in this concept.”
One would think so.
Yet now journalists have lurched from finding a threat to freedom of the press in every criticism of reporters and news outlets by former President Donald Trump to themselves calling for unwelcome media organizations to be shut down.
They’ve become the thing they profess to hate — closed-minded censors who want to stifle free expression, First Amendment be damned.
Perversely, the TV program and email newsletter of the top media analyst at CNN, Brian Stelter, have been clearinghouses for such advocacy, whether it is demands to get right-wingers removed from social media or — more astonishingly — to keep conservative cable networks off the airwaves.
Stelter’s colleague, media reporter Oliver Darcy, tweeted about his effort to get cable companies to answer why they carry pro-Trump channels such Newsmax and One America News Network. “Do they have any second thoughts about distributing these channels given their election denialism content?” he asked on Twitter. “They won’t say.”
In the same vein, Washington Post columnist Max Boot drew a direct line between how we deal with foreign terror groups and how we should treat right-wing media organizations. “We need,” he wrote, “to shut down the influencers who radicalize people and set them on the path toward violence and sedition.”
Boot noted, approvingly, that the U.K. doesn’t have the equivalent of Fox News because regulators won’t allow it. The U.K. also doesn’t have a First Amendment, a small detail that might be worth considering if the point is to protect our freedoms rather than to destroy them in a fit of ideological vengeance.
A writer at the progressive publication Mother Jones argued for an advertiser boycott instead of regulatory action in a post called, charmingly, “It’s Time to Crush Fox News.”
A boycott wouldn’t violate the First Amendment like a direct crackdown on Fox and others. Still, it would be private action undertaken in the service of a profoundly illiberal goal, running counter to the country’s culture of free speech.
All of this would be bad enough if it weren’t people who write and comment on TV for a living advocating it. But journalists have been moving in this direction for a while now, as Armin Rosen catalogues in a disturbing report for Tablet magazine.
The author Steve Coll, who is no less than the dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University, said last December, “Those of us in journalism have to come to terms with the fact that free speech, a principle that we hold sacred, is being weaponized against the principles of journalism.” The former managing editor of Time magazine, Richard Stengel, has written: “All speech is not equal. And where truth cannot drive out lies, we must add new guardrails.”
And so its erstwhile champions are ready to retreat from strict adherence to the First Amendment to a new rule of “free speech for me, but not for thee.”