by David Catron
Henry Ford famously quipped, “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black.” The Democrats take a similar view about what the public should be permitted to see on broadcast and cable networks. A Wednesday hearing conducted by the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology made it abundantly clear that they believe we should be free to view anything we like so long as it fits the Democratic version of the “facts.” Titled “Fanning the Flames: Disinformation and Extremism in the Media,” the hearing was primarily devoted to testimony from “media experts.”
Among the “experts” who provided testimony was Kristin Danielle Urquiza, who lost her father to COVID-19. Urquiza’s opening statement includes this assertion: “The primary person and entity responsible for my father’s death … is Donald Trump and his administration.” She then indicted the cable news industry as Trump’s “accomplices” and inevitably singled out one network: “Cable news channels like Fox News are complicit.” In other words, Trump’s “lies” killed her father and Fox abetted the crime. Urquiza was presumably invited to tell her dad’s story in order to put a human face on the testimony of former CNN “journalist” Soledad O’Brien, who discussed what she calls truth decay:
I have both feet planted firmly on the media landscape — and this is what that landscape looks like. Media disguised as journalism has been spreading lies for years, elevating liars, and using the ensuing slugfest to chase ratings, hits, subscriptions and advertisers.… In fact, the elevation of liars has accelerated, with radio, broadcast and cable TV in particular, repeating and reenergizing lies that harm all of us. The bombast that accompanies these lies, has also set the stage for an alarmingly xenophobic and racist narrative that has taken hold in this country.
O’Brien’s solution to this metastasis of prevarication is surprisingly simplistic considering how long she has worked in media: Don’t book liars or advance lies. The problem here should be obvious. Who decides if a particular statement or narrative is a “lie”? They aren’t always easy to spot, as O’Brien herself clearly demonstrated last August. On August 6, then-President Trump suggested it was possible that a COVID-19 vaccine could be developed “around November 3.” This comment inevitably made its way to Twitter, where O’Brien denounced it thus: “This is a lie.” As it happens, she was wrong. The first serious vaccine candidates were announced only six days after Trump’s hypothetical date.
This is by no means the most ironic feature of O’Brien’s testimony. Katie Pavlich at Townhall reports that this enemy of “truth decay” has a history of promoting false information and hoaxes, including the lie that the Covington Catholic students were racists and the Trump–Russia hoax. That no one on the subcommittee knew this suggests that its members are woefully ill-equipped to use “disinformation” as a pretext for infringing on freedom of the press. Yet two Democratic members have already sent a threatening letter to several cable, satellite, and streaming TV companies demanding to know why they continue to air certain networks. As law professor Jonathan Turley testified on Wednesday:
In a recent letter to companies like AT&T, Reps. Anna Eshoo and Jerry McNerney demanded answers from carriers on why they continued to air Fox News, Newsmax, and other networks on cable television. The letter follows calls for cable companies to refuse to air the networks.… From the perspectives of free speech and the free press, the letter is not just chilling; it is positively glacial. The letter does not address the long-standing objections to networks like CNN, MSNBC, and others for pronounced bias and refuted stories.
In other words, the Democratic majority on the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology is less interested in stamping out disinformation than in censoring the few surviving conservative news outlets. This was not lost on the subcommittee’s Republican members. Ranking member Bob Latta (R-Ohio) phrased it as follows: “Rather than suppressing speech and viewpoints we don’t agree with, we should be encouraging more speech and conversations between one another.” Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) was clearly outraged by the letter and none too happy with the two Democratic subcommittee members who had written and signed it:
In all my time on this committee, there has never been a more obvious direct attack on the First Amendment. Elected officials using their platform to pressure private companies to censor media outlets they disagree with — that sounds a lot like actions from the Chinese Communist Party, not duly-elected representatives of the United States Congress. Here we cherish free speech and a free independent press. We believe in dialogue and in the battle of ideas. Rather than censor and silence constitutionally protected speech, the answer is more speech. That’s the American way. Now more than ever, we need to uphold the First Amendment.
Rep. Eshoo responded to this with the standard line that all Democrats give when attacking free speech. She pointed out that the First Amendment forbids Congress from passing laws abridging freedom of the press and that she had not proposed any such law. But Rep. Eshoo’s letter is clearly meant to convey a threat (“Nice cable company you have here. Hate to see you get a visit from the FCC”). The Democrats know how to exploit the cowardice of corporate CEOs and boards. Moreover, they see the remnants of the free press as an existential threat that must be neutralized, so they want to make sure the public gets only one set of pre-approved “facts.” Unlike Henry Ford, however, they aren’t joking.
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David Catron is a recovering health care consultant and frequent contributor to The American Spectator. You can follow him on Twitter at @Catronicus.