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.”
Let's be honest: The right is making a forced retreat. Here's how we can make it a strategic one that sets our ideas up for better success in the long run.
Joe Biden’s inauguration is a sad day for those of us on the right, and it’s not just because — either through actual votes or through deliberate election confusion — we lost the Senate and presidency. It’s because so many of us are deeply aware of what Democrat reign means.
It means the acceleration of mass murder and forcing taxpayers to pay for it. It means, as my boss Ben Domenech puts it, “nuns are back on the menu.” It means, as I’ve pointed out, the increase of public schools destroying children’s innocence and facilitating minors’ access to drugs that enable HIV-positive sex. It means an entrenchment of the institutional racism of critical race theory in every institution possible, also pushed by taxpayer funds.
It means Democrats rig more structures of American life against those who disagree with them, possibly preventing us from ever having a meaningful voice in our own governance again. It means the proliferation of government spending that accelerates our nation’s likelihood of devastating economic collapse. It means frighteningly labeling half the country “domestic terrorists,” a label that prepares for stripping more of our rights. All this, in turn, makes us increasingly vulnerable to foreign enemies, propagandists, and demagogues.
This is a weight that is difficult for the perceptive to bear. Those of us who deeply treasure what makes America itself are again staring into the abyss of the genuine possibility that what we love about our country may be truly lost forever, as not just lambasted authors of Flight 93 essays but also highly studied, more tonally measured observers such as Charles Murray think is quite clear from the data.
While these losses do mean the increase of genuine moral evils and therefore deserve to be mourned, all is not lost. Yes, we’re forced to retreat, but let it be a strategic, orderly, cunning retreat, not a chaotic retreat that breaks into a rout.
There are now numerous strategic advantages and strategies available to the people who love America, if we choose to employ and enlarge them. With them we may begin, if not to “save America,” at least to enlarge some space for living more closely to America’s founding principles than we inhabit now and to mitigate the evils that are to come.
Those of us who have been paying attention are now highly aware that corporate media and corporate tech are a bicephalic propaganda monster. We’ve learned through a 2020 of constant lies, information control, and gaslighting — from COVID to Hunter Biden — that the quickest way to guess the truth is, as in communist countries, to read what state media are saying and then assume the opposite.
While it’s frightful that corrupt, pedophile-enabling corporate media control our lives right down to the air we are allowed to breathe and whether we are allowed to honestly support our families, and that the majority of Americans either believe their outright lies or are heavily influenced by them, this knowledge is also highly useful. For it means that Americans are not necessarily supportive of socialism and baby murder and all the other things that Democrats do when in power. It means that our country still includes a lot of well-meaning people who love America but have been deeply deceived enough to turn it over to its worst enemies.
This means Democrats do not have, in any way, shape, or form, a mandate to perpetrate the policies upon which they are about to embark. Their empire is built on a throne of lies. And empires like that are weak and unstable, as Democrats’ fortification of the capitol and crazy accusations that U.S. soldiers who voted for Trump are traitors also projects.
This weakness means danger, but also opportunity. We must be ready to bind up the wounds and welcome to our ranks those the left’s culture war has devastated. We must do our utmost to dispel the lies that give the left power. Information warfare — in education and media contexts, primarily — should be a top priority.
Additionally, this means (metaphorical) war against corporate and tech media dominance is highly needed and will be effective. It has plenty of room and need for growth. It also means that citizens need to do more to combat media lies and provide the basic information Americans need and which big media takeovers have entirely hollowed out. Their lies need to not only be exposed, but replaced with truth.
I’d start with forming local blogs focused on local information-sharing about basic entities like the school board, city council, election laws and procedures, and district attorney. It’s not that hard to go to a meeting and write a 800-word summary of what happened. Get a dozen friends and divide up the job.
Ask DA and county sheriff’s candidates their positions on the crazy things Democrats are doing like springing rioters and enabling opioid spread, and publish what they do or don’t say. Stop railing on Facebook and start attending public meetings and writing about them on your own local group blog.
As a part of Democrats’ lack of awareness they lack a mandate other than “don’t be Trump,” they are going to overshoot, big time. They are going to enact many extremist ideas. Even the propaganda media won’t be able to entirely hide this from Americans. And there will be backlash.
This will heighten the contradictions between Democrat leadership and many current Democrat base voters who are staying with the party even though its priorities hurt them and the nation. The lack of Trump as an all-purpose leftist scapegoat will assist with this.
As has been widely noted, Trump was able to break through some of the racial stereotypes about what it means to be a Republican or Democrat and earn more nonwhite support. With him in retirement, those of us on the right have the opportunity to continue making his case without being saddled with his baggage.
This is a huge opportunity. Without Trump to use as an excuse for everything, Democrats are going to provide clarity to many more voters that they are actually the totalitarians they project onto the right. They are going to harass nuns, foster parents and agencies, Christian camps, and minorities who disagree with them. They are going to be more obviously the party of the rich and corrupt.
It’s a bad look. And it will turn voters away. Again, we need to be ready to welcome these voters even if they are not ideologically “pure.” I’d rather have a wasteful social welfare state that murders fewer babies, supports free speech, and doesn’t harass nuns than a corporate welfare state that harasses the poor and religious. If that is the tradeoff we get, I’ll take it.
In the wake of the capitol riots that weren’t perpetrated by Black Lives Matter, big corporations and chambers of commerce have pulled their high-dollar donations from many Republicans and Republican political funds. Good.
For years, elected Republicans offered lip service and placebos to their base voters and did what big corporate donors actually wanted, which hurt their voters and structurally undermined their long-term support, such as through mass illegal immigration. This has rightly fueled the public perception that Republicans care only about money and rich people, rather than an equal playing field for all and the common good. Now without those donations, they have no reason to offend and harm large numbers of voters to suck up to a small number of donors. This will make them more competitive and less corrupt.
Behavior like the below, for example, will erase the financial incentive for Republican officeholders to provide special breaks and bailouts for businesses that pay politicians big money to slant the legal playing field in their favor. Trump has made for a GOP that is far more competitive in the small-dollar online donor space. This will further help low-information voters see that Democrats are the party of the corrupt at the expense of the people, and make the GOP less so.
COVID shutdowns with no end in sight are a violation of our natural, constitutional, and human rights. However, as with a Biden administration coming to power, this evil also will cause damage to those who attempt to wield it against their enemies.
It will mean a quicker downfall of many corrupted institutions, from “churches” that don’t proclaim orthodox theology losing parishioners who will never come back from “virtual church” to the death of higher education institutions that have been colluding with corrupt politicians to scam gullible young people out of their futures.
Our country is populated by people who fail to the top. But the more of them there are, the more enemies they make and the weaker their rigged systems become. And the more aware their opponents and the people caught in the middle become of their decay.
This will mean more cultural, theological, and philosophical refugees. Ready the lifeboats for them now.
Let every locale where it is possible create the most secure voting systems in the world. Let every locale where it is possible elect and support sheriffs who will not allow a Biden administration to crush Americans’ Second Amendment rights. Let every Republican governor and member of Congress who has lost corporate support now make a ruthless plan to eliminate corporate favors from the entire legal code over which they have jurisdiction.
Let every single town board and town council put Comcast, Verizon, and all other ISPs and broadband providers on notice that if they do not adhere to First Amendment protections for all customers, these local governments will be finding another business to profit from the public infrastructure in their towns. Let every single legislature controlled by Republicans ban the institutional racism of critical race theory in every single public workplace in their state, including universities and public schools. If every elected Republican will not support this, they should be put on record explaining why not, by citizens and their local news blogs.
If the United States is to live under neo-feudalism, in which our rights are subject to the whim of whoever is in power and shift with every election instead of being protected forever equally for all under the Constitution, then let these neo-feudal lords begin to stake their territorial claims and protect their citizens as best they can, severing the levers the abusers of our rights deploy against us (such as federal funding).
Let sanctuary cities and states no longer be only for California. It will be a good thing for the federal government to have more difficulty forcing its schemes on states and local governments.
All this will only accelerate the migration from blue to red states that is already underway.
The sheer extent of the degradation of America’s founding principles and the citizenry who once had the character to live under them clarifies what is at stake. No longer can we pretend that identity group “antidiscrimination” rules are compatible with equal protection or the First Amendment. No longer can we pretend that a government that can dole out unfathomable amounts of money can do so without corrupting both those who give and those who receive this false charity.
We now live among the real-world results of implementing leftist ideology, and it’s not pretty. And no one can really deny it. This is why Democrats take refuge in the culture war, the cult at the core of their secular religion — they have nothing left to offer the masses but bread and circuses.
This is pushing people to make significant life changes towards a more meaningful and integrity-filled way of life, and to seek other people to join this journey. It is also pushing the truly awake people — and a few of our lawmakers — to reach down into the well of first principles to find water in a parched land. This well is an abundant source of life and renewal that many people would not seek if life stayed comfortable.
This is precisely the time for we anti-wokesters to coalesce around principles on which we can all agree. This may be our only hope of survival, in fact. As in the Cold War era, to defeat our common foe we need a broader coalition that is necessarily going to include a lot of people who disagree on a lot of particulars.
To work out our strategies and points of agreement to fight not against each other but against our common foe in the ideology of the totalitarian left, we need to encourage more speech, not less. We need to engage more points of view and be willing to let more people speak, not fewer. We need to not be primarily attacking and tone-policing people of good will who love our country, but primarily facing outward at the barbarians who control the gates and want to destroy our country.
This doesn’t mean there are no morals, that people should be relieved of the burden of proving their assertions, or that we should elevate the voices of people who believe things that have been soundly proven to be wrong (such as Holocaust deniers). It means, however, that instead of banning them from the Internet or refusing to allow them to air their ideas, we should listen with empathy and try to understand their points of view. Our primary orientation should be persuasion, conversion, discussion, and openness, not eradication.
Instead of shutting people up because we disagree with their conclusions, we should ask them to prove their assertions and explain what led them to their stances, as James Lindsay and Peter Boghossian recommend in their excellent book. If it works with Ku Klux Klan members and people in divorce counseling, it can help our country too.
As regarding the capitol rioters, the propaganda narrative depicts us and Trump making a cacophonous, beaten-puppy exit. But in fact, as this week’s impeachment vote and more prove, we are highly unified. The outliers are given outsized voices by corporate media to deceive and demoralize us.
We are not like these rioters in any way, including in making an ignominious exit. Yes, we’re headed for the wilderness circuit that befalls a party out of power, but the truth is, we’ve been out of power this whole time. Trump was undermined and lied to continuously by every branch of the government he was elected to command. The past four years have made this and many other truths much plainer to see. Seeing clearly makes it possible and necessary for us to act prudently.
Being in the wilderness also has its advantages. They include loyalty — not sycophancy, but loyalty of the kind that only arises amid brothers and sisters in arms under constant attack. It teaches us to sacrifice, to become tougher, leaner, smarter, more agile. These are all great assets that may or may not give us a political advantage here in this temporal life, but absolutely make us better fit for eternal life. And the left can never truly command people whose souls are free, no matter how strong they appear to be.
It’s not enough to kick conservatives off of Twitter. Narrative control is the goal. Any alternative, any other avenue of ‘freer’ speech, must be shut down.
The dominant Big Tech companies’ power to control the access and availability of information was unmasked during the Donald Trump presidency. The full extent and intent of that power has been further exposed in the 2020 election.
From Facebook, to Google, to Twitter, it is now clear that these companies have every intention of using the unprecedented control they have amassed, not to facilitate a diversity of speech and viewpoints, but to shape national narratives in the direction they prefer. Users—even those who are elected—will comply, or be banned.
Twitter, in particular, has shed any pretense of being a platform interested in facilitating free expression. In 2011, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo characterized Twitter as “the free speech wing of the free speech party.” The sentiment was echoed a year later by Tony Wang, general manager at Twitter UK, who claimed the company’s founding principles compelled it to remain “neutral” about the content its users posted.
Nearly a decade later, those sentiments have flipped. Twitter has spent the Trump years aggressing against the president, placing his tweets behind filters, blocking his press secretary, and censoring his Senate-confirmed advisors.
The platform aggressively ran interference for the Joe Biden campaign, refusing to allow a New York Post story detailing corruption in the Biden family from circulating on its platform. Users were prohibited for weeks from sharing the story, and their accounts were locked if they did.
Even the use of direct messages—Twitter’s supposedly private communication tool—was screened and filtered for wrong-think. That practice has continued outside of sharing the Hunter Biden story, casting doubt on Twitter’s claim that the company doesn’t read your direct messages. It is clear that, at least in some capacity, they do.
All of this was under the guise of preventing “misinformation” from spreading on Twitter—that, presumably, could inform voter behavior. This made it all the more bizarre when Twitter’s deeply weird CEO, Jack Dorsey, claimed while under oath to the Senate Commerce Committee that the platform has no ability to influence election outcomes.
Sen. Ted Cruz, who had asked Dorsey the question, appeared almost caught off-guard by the absurdity of the claim. Cruz responded with the obvious follow-up. If you can’t influence election outcomes, he said, then why do you moderate political content at all?
But Twitter does moderate political content, and they very clearly do so in one direction. In the wake of the election, under the guise of moderating for “misinformation” and “fomenting violence,” the platform has banned the bombastic former Trump advisor Steve Bannon for stating that he’d like to see Dr. Anthony Fauci’s “head on a pike,” while happily allowing comedian Kathy Griffin to re-post her notorious photo of a beheaded Trump.
Richard Baris, one of the few pollsters who was right about the 2020 election results, had his account blocked for tweeting his findings about voter fraud. And not just his account, but that of his business, his newsletter, and his wife. There was “no reason given,” he said in a post on Parler, where he had just opened an account.
Parler, which has grown in popularity among conservatives as a Twitter alternative, is predictably being labeled as “a threat to democracy” by CNN. It’s not enough to kick conservatives off of Twitter. Narrative control is the goal. Any alternative, any other avenue of “freer” speech, must be shut down.
Defenders of the social media platforms often do so in a vacuum. They defend Twitter’s content moderation as a private company expressing its First Amendment rights. Not only does this argument ignore that Twitter, like Facebook and Google, exercises its First Amendment rights in a privileged manner, it intentionally sidesteps the consequences Twitter’s actions have on Americans’ ability to consume news, think for themselves, and express their views away from Twitter.
Social media platforms are no longer merely independent actors, facilitating information sharing and viewpoints. Increasingly, they inform the news. Although it has a far smaller market share than Facebook and Google, Twitter has the most news-focused users and a much broader share of continuous, minute-by-minute engagement by news outlets, media elites, elected officials, and public policy intellectuals. Their engagement with the platform drives, and very much determines, news coverage.
“Though Twitter may not be a huge overall source of traffic to news websites relative to Facebook and Google, it serves a unique place in the link economy,” said a report by Nieman Labs in 2016. “News really does ‘start’ on Twitter.”
Recall the absurd story in 2017 that Trump killed an entire pond of koi fish while on an official visit in Japan. Multiple news outlets breathlessly covered the story, speculating wildly about the fish and mocking Trump. That story, which was false, began with tweets—not filed stories—from news outlets and reporters. The tweets then directedcoverage on multiple outlets.
Tucker Carlson, who has the most-watched cable news show in the country, spent the summer covering the violent elements of the Black Lives Matter protests in ways that every other network refused to do. Much of the coverage he aired on his show came from videos posted to Twitter by reporters on the ground, outside of the mainstream networks.
Earlier this month, Axios reported that newsrooms are planning “to invest more heavily in coverage of social media and internet trends as a way to observe political sentiment from a wider group of people.”
Twitter does far less to facilitate the news than it does to make it. Thus its content moderation decisions have ramifications far beyond Twitter. They echo down the corridors of what makes news in America, and who is allowed to do it, and what ordinary Americans are allowed to say about it. This means Twitter plays an outsized role in creating, gatekeeping, and sustaining the national narrative.
Twitter’s offline consequences extend beyond its manipulation of the news narrative, as Twitter is increasingly the woke mob’s favorite venue of cancellation.
Late last week, a Twitter user with minimal followers complaint-tweeted at Target because it sold a book by Abigail Shrier questioning the wisdom of promoting irreversible transgender surgery and hormone therapy for children. Target subsequently banned the book, although it was later reinstated after public outcry.The platform’s role in the viral nature of cancel culture belies the notion that these are merely ‘private platforms’ with no larger effects.
The Lincoln Project tweeted the images of two attorneys working for the Trump campaign, their emails, phone numbers, and photos alongside the phrase “make them famous.” Twitter allowed the tweet to circulate on its platform for hours before it was finally removed.
Twitter does not drive these cancellation decisions as a matter of policy, but the platform’s role in the viral nature of cancel culture belies the notion that these are merely “private platforms” with no larger effects on free speech, free thought, and free behavior in America.
They also raise troubling questions about how that role will evolve. As the left continues to push for a social credit system—that is, say or suggest wrongthink, get banned from polite society—what role will social media play as the reporting Stasi arm of the woke mob?
Big Tech has grown from a handful of Silicon Valley startups to a handful of the most powerful companies in the world, exercising unprecedented control over minds, markets, behavior, and independent thought. They are changing how we live together.
How we choose to deal with them, politically, is less a binary question of “regulation” or “government interference in business” than it is, truly, a question of the social order; of who sets the terms of social engagement. Is it a free people, speaking through their rights and representative government, or a set of corporations weaponized by an illiberal woke agenda controlling our news narrative, information gathering, and social and cultural compliance?
The Department of Education published a final rule Wednesday that expands religious liberty protections on college campuses and allows DOE to suspend or cut federal funding from colleges that violate the First Amendment.
Known as the “Improving Free Inquiry, Transparency, and Accountability at Colleges and Universities” final rule, it ensures the equal treatment of religious student groups at public universities, and “provides clarity for faith-based institutions with respect to Title IX.”
“This administration is committed to protecting the First Amendment rights of students, teachers, and faith-based institutions. Students should not be forced to choose between their faith and their education, and an institution controlled by a religious organization should not have to sacrifice its religious beliefs to participate in Department grants and programs,” said Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
If public universities fail to give religious student groups the same rights as other campus organizations, such as use of campus facilities and access to student fee funding, they could lose federal funding.
The final rule also seeks to promote “free inquiry” and to protect “academic freedom” on college campuses. “Denying free inquiry is inherently harmful at any institution of higher education because students are denied the opportunity to learn and faculty members are denied the opportunity to freely engage in research and rigorous academic discourse,” the rule reads.
In extreme cases of First Amendment violations, DOE can determine a university is ineligible for future grants. Private universities can also face the same consequences if found violating their own speech codes.
“These regulations hold public institutions accountable for protecting the First Amendment rights of students and student organizations, and they require private colleges and universities that promise their students and faculty free expression, free inquiry, and diversity of thought to live up to those ideals,” DeVos explained.
While the final rule claims that universities must allow for differing ideas and viewpoints on campus, it also gives private or religious institutions the freedom to adopt their own speech standards, so long as they comply with them.
“Religiously affiliated institutions, in freely exercising their faith, may define their free speech policies as they choose in a manner consistent with their mission,” the rule states.
The rule also states that “religious student organizations should be able to enjoy the benefits, rights, and privileges afforded to other student organizations at a public institution” as well.
The final rule will going into effect 60 days after the date of official publication in the Federal Register.
Photo by: Matt Rourke
FILE – This April 26, 2017, file photo shows the Twitter app icon on a mobile phone in Philadelphia. Twenty-six words tucked into a 1996 law overhauling telecommunications have allowed companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google to grow into the giants they are today. Those are the words President Donald Trump challenged in an executive order Thursday, May 28, 2020 one that would strip those protections if those companies engaged in editorial decisions like, for instance, adding a fact-check warning to one of Trump’s tweets. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
On Thursday, President Trump issued an executive order calling for new regulations under Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act that, he says, will prevent Big-Tech platforms from continuing what many believe is a pattern of discrimination against conservatives.
We’re not sure that’s the case — just as we’re not sure that much, even all of it will survive the inevitable challenges it will face in the courts. What we do know is that his effort to change the interpretation of Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, just like his call for reform of libel laws during the 2016 campaign, should spark a national conversation about free speech that would be healthy for our republic.
Instead, the whole thing will ground down in pitched rhetoric passing back and forth between the president’s supporters and those who believe he is single-handedly responsible for the destruction of the nation, especially its core values and its reputation for having a civilized political process.
It seems clear Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, by allowing the presidential tweets to be footnoted, he’s acting like an editor, commenting on posts and making decisions about what other people can see. On its face, this would seem to put his platform outside the safe harbor Section 230 establishes to protect tech companies from being held liable in civil suits for things posted by platform users.
“In a country that has long cherished the freedom of expression, we cannot allow a limited number of online platforms to handpick the speech that Americans may access and convey on the internet,” the order says. “This practice is fundamentally un-American and anti-democratic. When large, powerful social media companies censor opinions with which they disagree, they exercise a dangerous power. They cease functioning as passive bulletin boards, and ought to be viewed and treated as content creators.”
That ought to be a nifty jumping-off point for a robust discussion of speech and how the protections provided by the First Amendment factor in — or don’t — to the part of the national conversation carried on in cyberspace. Legal scholars can point to numerous decisions upholding the idea the government can not infringe on speech, defined broadly to included campaign contributions, flag burning, pornography, as well as the written and spoken word when it occurs in the public square. That’s clear and has shaped a culture whose values generally extend into private space.
But what if the “public square,” however one defines it, now exists predominantly in a place that is privately owned. It’s worth discussing whether information carriers and conveyors like Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and Google have a responsibility to keep the space they own and operate open to all points of view, including the ones with which they disagree as well as the ones they may find abhorrent?
A strict reading of the U.S. Constitution would say as a matter of law, they don’t. But what about, to borrow a phrase so popular these days with those who would regulate just about every other aspect of the U.S. economy, their corporate social responsibility?
Further, the potential removal of Section 230 protections from any platform — which, as a matter of full disclosure, we also enjoy concerning the comments posted by readers of this our anything else we publish but not for the things we publish online or in print — is an opportunity for a vigorous discussion of the costs imposed on speech by the threat someone might get sued.
On the one hand, as we’ve seen an awful lot in the Trump era, people on both sides of the aisle have been telling outrageous lies and fabrications, made egregious exaggerations, and sullied the reputations of political leaders in both parties, journalists and entrepreneurs.
This had added an unpleasantly coarse overtone to the national debate yet, because of the way charges of libel, slander and defamation are viewed by the courts based on the existing case law, the victims of these slurs are often left without recourse and unable to recoup damages, if any. Tort reform is long overdue, we have long held, but some fresh eyes on this issue might help restore some sanity to a news business, forgive our obvious bias, driven by breaking television segments rather than the more thoughtful approach often taken by print media.
What the president has ordered is likely more a tempest in a teapot than a challenge to the constitutional order. But it raises issues worth talking about, intensely and for a long time in search of a new consensus concerning the role Big Tech plays in conveying information to the American people. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has it right when he says these platforms shouldn’t be “arbiters of truth.” That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have a conversation about what they should be.
While CNN is now out of the case, Nicholas Sandmann’s lawsuit against the Washington Post and NBC continues, and soon there will be some new defendants, according to his lawyers.
One year after Nicholas Sandmann’s image went viral in one of the biggest mainstream media missteps of the decade, news broke on Tuesday that CNN had agreed to settle the teen’s defamation case.
Sandmann sued CNN, the Washington Post, and NBC last year in a Kentucky federal court, alleging the media powerhouses had defamed him by claiming he had blocked Native American activist Nathan Phillips from ascending the steps of the Washington monument, while he and his Covington Catholic High School classmates surrounded him and chanted “Build the Wall.”
A video snippet of the encounter between Phillips and Sandmann—then a 16-year-old high school junior participating in the annual March for Life protest at the capital—showed the young man in a MAGA hat standing toe-to-toe with Phillips. Without pausing to learn the truth, the media ran that image along with Phillips’ tale that as he started walking toward the moment, “groups of people started separating and separating and moving aside to allow me to move out of the way, or to proceed, this young feller put himself in front of me and wouldn’t move.”
However, a full-length video of the encounter later emerged, proving that Phillips had spun the tale: Contrary to Phillips’ telling, Sandmann had not “put himself in front of” the man and hadn’t blocked his way. Rather, Phillips had marched into the group of kids, who had been waiting for their school bus as directed.
But by the time Phillips’ story had been debunked, Sandmann had been doxed, with his name and image plastered across America as a symbol of bigotry. CNN alone, according to Sandmann’s complaint, made “no less than four false and defamatory television broadcasts, nine false and defamatory internet articles, and four false and defamatory tweets of and concerning Nicholas.”
Among other defamatory statements, Sandmann’s lawsuit pointed to CNN’s January 19, 2019, broadcast opener, “We are hearing from a Native American elder and Vietnam War veteran speaking to CNN after a disturbing viral video shows a group of teens harassing and mocking him in the nation’s capital.”
Sandmann highlighted another broadcast, later published online with the subtitle, “‘SHAMEFUL ACT—VIRAL VIDEO CAPTURES TEENS MOCKING NATIVE AMERICAN VETERAN,” that began, “You’ve probably seen it by now, the viral video sweeping the Internet of a mob of MAGA hat wearing high school students surrounding a Native American chanting and drumming in the nation’s capital at the Indigenous Peoples March.” CNN’s broadcast then added that Phillips and “others were harassed and taunted by students from Covington Catholic High School, a private all boys school in Kentucky.”
With these samplings of CNN’s reporting on the incident, it is no wonder that CNN quickly cut its losses and settled with Sandmann. The details of the settlement are unknown, and when asked about the payout for the teen, Sandmann’s Kentucky-based lawyer, Todd McMurtry had no comment. However, McMurtry told The Federalist, that “the outpouring of support in Northern Kentucky for the settlement with CNN has been overwhelming.”
The support spans more than Sandmann’s home state, with news of the settlement quickly filtering through social media. Conservatives celebrated CNN’s comeuppance, seeing the settlement as not just vindication of the young teen, but as a payback of sorts to the fake news they’ve seen peddled of late by the airport lounge-lizard.
While CNN is now out of the case, Sandmann’s lawsuit against the Washington Post and NBC continues, and soon there will be some new defendants, according to McMurtry. McMurtry told The Federalist his team will soon name Gannett, the owner of the Cincinnati Enquirer, as an additional defendant.
Sandmann’s lawyers are also considering claims against ABC, CBS, The Guardian, Huffington Post, NPR, and Slate, as well as several smaller media outlets. McMurtry noted that during Tuesday’s scheduling conference, Sandmann’s legal team assured the judge that additional defendants would be added in the next 30 – 40 days.
Which defendants Sandmann eventually pulls in will depend on several factors. First, the lawyers will focus on the defamatory statements presiding Judge William Bertelsman held were legally actionable. Those included statements that Sandmann had “blocked” Phillips and “wouldn’t allow Phillips to retreat,” and the assertion that Sandmann or the other students shouted “build that wall” at Phillips or the nearby Black Hebrew Israelites.
After determining which media outlets made or repeated those false statements, the question of personal jurisdiction arises. To sue in a federal court in Kentucky, the court must have “personal jurisdiction” or “power” over the defendants. Generally, speaking that requires the defendants to have “minimum contacts” with the state. For the larger media outlets, that standard is easily met, but questions abound when you consider online-media platforms or smaller outlets. Finally, Sandmann’s lawyers will likely do a cost-benefit-analysis to determine whether it is worth pulling in additional defendants.
On this last point, a unique area of Kentucky law creates some uncertainties. Kentucky is one of few “pure comparative fault” states. In a pure comparative fault state, the plaintiff’s recovery is reduced by his own fault, if any—not relevant to the Sandmann case—and damages are allocated to each defendant based on their relative fault. So, theoretically, if Sandmann’s damages totaled $300 million, each defendant would be liable proportionately to his fault. Some of the smaller media outlets’ responsibility might tally a mere 1 percent of the total culpability, making them not worth the effort to sue.
That is assuming Kentucky’s pure comparative fault statute, KRS 411.182, applies to defamation. It might not: Every false statement of fact impugning the young Sandmann might be considered its own separate wrong—like several separate car accidents, as opposed to a mass collusion.
Judge Bertelsman has not yet definitely decided how Kentucky’s pure comparative negligence law applies in Sandmann’s situation, but his attorneys appear to be playing it safe by looking to add any big players who peddled the same balderdash as CNN, the Washington Post, and NBC. Once all the parties are added, it will be time for the real fun—discovery—because that’s when we may see a glimpse of what the left-leaning media really thinks about conservatives.
For all we know, what’s left of journalist Jamal Khashoggi is fertilizing olive trees in the hills outside Istanbul. It’s been a year since he went missing but the people who know what really happened to the well-known critic of the Saudi regime who disappeared after entering his country’s Turkish consulate aren’t saying.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salam, who probably knows all, is giving lots of interviews as the anniversary of the disappearance approaches. He denies he ordered him killed but admits it “was a heinous crime,” as he told CBS’ 60 MinutesSunday. “I take full responsibility as a leader,” he said, adding it would be ridiculous to expect him to keep close track of the activities of the millions in the employ of the family business the rest of the world calls the Saudi government.
His denial is hard to swallow. A few senior officials lost their posts over the whole business but probably got to keep their heads. Which is more than can be said about Khashoggi, if the widely accepted rumors concerning his demise are true. Generally, things go on as before, with the Trump Administration and the Saudis continuing to cozy up in pursuit of regional peace.
The degree to which the Khashoggi affair has ceased to be a topic of conversation among American journalists is disturbing. Presuming he was killed (there’s no reason to believe he wasn’t) consider why. He was killed over his criticisms, because he made them and because they had power and were starting to be believed. One need not have liked him to be outraged. One does not have to believe what he wrote to be inflamed. And even if he was working, as some opinion writers friendly to Saudi interests working on behalf of another government have claimed, it is still gobsmacking that expression of his opinions got him killed.
The U.S. response has been weak, likely because presidential adviser Jared Kushner’s much-touted plan for Middle East peace depends so heavily on a lead role for the Saudis in checking Iran’s ambitions. The risks associated with opposing or even deposing MBS, as the crown prince is typically referred to, are considered too high to allow for decisive action against him.
MBS knows this and uses it to his full advantage. The interviews he’s giving now are designed to take the edge off through an expensive damage control operation, providing just enough cover for him to be welcomed into the family of global leaders once his father, the current King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud finally folds his tents and goes gently into the night.
It doesn’t have to be that way. MBS’s succession to the Saudi throne is not automatic. The order of succession is not clearly defined. In 2006 a royal decree still in effect established the need for future kings to be elected by a committee of Saudi princes rather than see possession of the throne go from brother to brother or father to son.
This new wrinkle may explain why MBS imprisoned members of the royal family and some of the nation’s wealthiest businessmen in the Riyadh Ritz-Carlton for an extended period ending in 2018. Instead of the anti-corruption effort, he said it was, it may have been what in western parlance is called “an effort to line up votes” for his eventual ascent to the throne. Those formerly imprisoned have been left living in what more than one publication termed “a climate of fear and uncertainty.”
Before the U.S. settles on MBS as the person around whom the future relationship with the Saudis will be built, policymakers need to think carefully about what they’re doing. In addition to Khashoggi’s murder and the imprisonment of much of the country’s political and business elite, MBS’s fingerprints are said to be all over the war in Yemen and the kidnapping of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri. He plays hardball, without a doubt, but can he be trusted to play it in a way that coincides rather than conflicts with U.S. interests over the next 40 or 50 years or does the United States need to look for other options?
With MBS in charge, there might be just as much of a reason to move Saudi Arabia onto the lists of state supporters of terrorism as there is to consider them our closest Arab ally in the region. Before we decide what to do, MBS needs to make a full account regarding what happened to Jamal Khashoggi. That won’t absolve him of all his sins by any means, but it would be a good start at the kind of candor we need from someone who says he wants to be our ally.
The day when universities are forced to rediscover their historic role as guardians of open inquiry and debate is coming, whether they like it or not.
There was a time, in the recent past, when universities were in the grip of a kind of speech-code fever. Even as recently ten years ago, after a wave of litigation striking down campus speech regulations, the vast majority of American colleges and universities still kept clearly unconstitutional speech codes on the books. They kept losing in court, yet they still couldn’t quit their codes.
Fast-forward a decade and that’s changed. Between 2009 and 2019, the portion of surveyed American universities with what the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education classifies as “red light” speech codes has shrunk from 74.2 percent to a mere 28.5 percent, and a total of 17 states have enacted some form of campus free-speech legislation. But the impulse to censor dies hard, and some schools have been nothing if not creative in their efforts to control speech without explicitly and clearly running afoul of the law. Witness, for example, the phenomenon of the “bias-response team.”
While the system varies from university to university, in general a bias-response team represents an institutional effort to identify alleged student bias and bigotry and eliminate it through some form of reeducation. Students report speech they find discriminatory or otherwise problematic, a university team investigates the “incident” — including sometimes meeting with the alleged offender — and then often creates a report describing the events. Sometimes bias-response teams can and will refer conduct to university disciplinary officials or university police if they feel more substantial punishment is warranted.
Last year, a group called Speech First filed an important lawsuit against the University of Michigan, challenging the content of the university’s bullying and harassment policy and its bias-response team’s procedures. The district court denied Speech First’s request for an injunction, holding in part that the group lacked standing to challenge the policy. Under the law, a court will not grant standing to a plaintiff in the absence of what’s called an “injury in fact,” and the question was whether the members of Speech First had suffered an “objective chill” to their free-speech rights or a mere “subjective chill.” For the chill to be objective, there must be proof that a “concrete harm” (enforcement of a statute or regulation) “occurred or is imminent.” If the plaintiff is concerned merely with the defendant’s “data-gathering activity,” and can’t meet the “concrete harm” standard, then the chill is subjective.
Make sense? To put it as plainly as possible, Michigan argued that the courts should move along — that there was nothing to see here because the bias-response team itself couldn’t punish anyone. Speech First said that actually, there was a problem, because the bias-response process itself could act as a form of punishment, and the team could still refer incidents to those with power to explicitly punish students.
Yesterday, in a decision with national implications, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Speech First, reversed the district court and ordered it to reconsider the group’s request for an injunction. Its ruling recognized the obvious power of the bias-response team:
The Response Team’s ability to make referrals — i.e., to inform OSCR or the police about reported conduct — is a real consequence that objectively chills speech. The referral itself does not punish a student — the referral is not, for example, a criminal conviction or expulsion. But the referral subjects students to processes which could lead to those punishments. The referral initiates the formal investigative process, which itself is chilling even if it does not result in a finding of responsibility or criminality.
This is quite right: There isn’t a student alive who wouldn’t find the bias-response team’s investigative process intimidating. But the problem extends beyond the team’s ability to refer students for punishment; it reaches to the team’s power to request a meeting with an accused student, as the court went on to explain:
Additionally, the invitation from the Response Team to meet could carry an implicit threat of consequence should a student decline the invitation. Although there is no indication that the invitation to meet contains overt threats, the referral power lurks in the background of the invitation. It is possible that, for example, a student who knows that reported conduct might be referred to police or OSCR could understand the invitation to carry the threat: “meet or we will refer your case.” Additionally, the very name “Bias Response Team” suggests that the accused student’s actions have been prejudged to be biased. The name is not the “Alleged Bias Response Team” or “Possible Bias Investigatory Team.” It is the “Bias Response Team.”
The dissent argues that Speech First did not present any evidence of actual or imminent interaction with the bias response team, but — as the majority notes — that’s the entire point of the chilling-effect analysis. When the spectral threat of government action looms, private actors will refuse to engage in any speech that could even potentially result in state investigation.
The university will now be required to defend its response team on the merits, and it is highly likely to lose. But even this standing ruling alone is likely to spawn additional litigation, including in different federal circuits. Once again, universities will find themselves on the defense — at least until the day comes when they at long last rediscover their true historical purpose, to serve, in the court’s words, as “guardians of intellectual debate and free speech.”