The Rise of The Corporate Censors: How America Is Drifting Toward The Chinese Model Of Media

Below is my column in The Hill newspaper on the censorship of the Hunter Biden controversy by Facebook and Twitter. The response of the Biden campaign and figures like Rep. Adam Schiff has been to dismiss the story as the likely product of Russian intelligence. Notably however they do not address the underlying emails. As many of us have written, there is ample reason to suspect foreign intelligence and the FBI is reportedly investigating that possibility. However, that does not mean that the emails are not authentic. Hillary Clinton was hacked by Russia but the emails were still real. It is possible to investigate both those responsible for the laptop’s disclosure and what has been disclosed on the laptop. The censorship by these companies however has magnified concerns in the controversy, particularly with the disclosure of close connections between some company officials and the Biden campaign.

Chinese citizens watched President Xi Jinping deliver an important speech this week not far from Hong Kong. Well, not the whole speech: Xi apparently is ill, and every time he went into coughing spasms, China’s state media cut away so that he would be shown only in perfect health.

Xi’s coughs came to mind as Twitter and Facebook prevented Americans from being able to read the New York Post’s explosive allegations of influence-peddling by Hunter Biden through their sites. The articles cited material reportedly recovered from a laptop; it purportedly showed requests for Hunter Biden to use his influence on his father, then-Vice President Joe Biden, as well as embarrassing photos of Hunter Biden.

Many of us have questioned the sketchy details of how the laptop reportedly was left by Hunter Biden with a nearly blind computer repairman and then revealed just weeks before the presidential election. There are ample reasons to question whether this material was the product of a foreign intelligence operation, which the FBI apparently is investigating.

Yet the funny thing about kompromat — a Russian term for compromising information — is that often it is true. Indeed, it is most damaging and most useful when it is true; otherwise, you deny the allegations and expose the lie. Hunter Biden has yet to deny these were his laptop, his emails, his images. If thousands of emails and images were fabricated, then serious crimes were committed. But if the emails and images are genuine, then the Bidens appear to have lied for years as a raw influence-peddling scheme worth millions stretched from China to Ukraine to Russia. Moreover, these countries likely have had the compromising information all along while the Bidens — and the media — were denying reports of illicit activities.

Either way, this was major news.

The response of Twitter and Facebook, however, was to shut it all down. Major media companies also imposed a virtual blackout on the allegations. It didn’t matter that thousands of emails were available for review or that the Bidens did not directly address the material. It was all declared to be fake news.

The tech companies’ actions are an outrageous example of open censorship and bias. It shows how private companies effectively can become state media working for one party. This, of course, was more serious than deleting coughs, but it was based on the same excuse of “protecting” the public from distractions or distortions. Indeed, it was the realization of political and academic calls that have been building for years.

Democratic leaders from Hillary Clinton to Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) have long demanded such private censorship from social media companies, despite objections from some of us in the free speech community; Joe Biden himself demanded that those companies remove President Trump’s statements about voting fraud as fake news. Academics have lined up to support calls for censorship, too. Recently, Harvard law professor Jack Goldsmith and University of Arizona law professor Andrew Keane Woods called for Chinese-style internet censorship and declared that “in the great debate of the past two decades about freedom versus control of the network, China was largely right and the United States was largely wrong.”

It turns out traditional notions of journalism and a free press are outdated, too, and China again appears to be the model for the future. Recently, Stanford communications Professor Emeritus Ted Glasser publicly denounced the notion of objectivity in journalism as too constraining for reporters seeking “social justice.” In an interview with The Stanford Daily, Glasser insisted that journalism needed to “free itself from this notion of objectivity to develop a sense of social justice.” He said reporters must embrace the role of “activists” and that it is “hard to do that under the constraints of objectivity.” Problem solved.

Such views make Twitter and Facebook’s censorship of the Post not simply justified but commendable — regardless of whether the alleged Biden material proves to be authentic. As Twitter buckled under criticism of its actions, it shifted its rationale from combating fake news to barring hacked or stolen information. (Putting aside that the information allegedly came from a laptop, not hacking, this rule would block the public from reviewing any story based on, say, whistleblowers revealing nonpublic information, from the Pentagon Papers to Watergate. Moreover, Twitter seemingly had no qualms about publishing thousands of stories based on the same type of information about the Trump family or campaign.) Twitter now says it will allow hacked information if not posted by the hacker.

Social media companies have long enjoyed protection, under Section 230 of the federal Communications Decency Act, from liability over what users post or share. The reason is that those companies are viewed as neutral platforms, a means for people to sign up to read the views or thoughts of other people. Under Section 230, a company such as Twitter was treated as merely providing the means, not the content. Yet for Twitter to tag tweets with warnings or block tweets altogether is akin to the telephone company cutting into a line to say it doesn’t like what two callers are discussing.

Facebook and Twitter have now made the case against themselves for stripping social media companies of immunity. That would be a huge loss not only to these companies but to free speech as well. We would lose the greatest single advance in free speech via an unregulated internet.

At the same time, we are seeing a rejection of journalistic objectivity in favor of activism. The New York Times apologized for publishing a column by a conservative U.S. senator on using national guardsmen to quell rioting — yet it later published a column by a Chinese official called “Beijing’s enforcer” who is crushing protests in Hong Kong. The media spent years publishing every wacky theory of alleged Trump-Russia collusion; thousands of articles detailed allegations from the Steele dossier, which has been not only discredited but also shown to be based on material from a known Russian agent.

When the Steele dossier was revealed, many of us agreed on the need to investigate because, even if it was the work of foreign intelligence, the underlying kompromat could be true. Today, in contrast, the media is not only dismissing the need to investigate the Biden emails, but ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos didn’t ask Biden about the allegations during a two-hour town hall event on Thursday.

This leaves us with a Zen-like question: If social media giants prevent the sharing of a scandal and the media refuses to cover it, did a scandal ever occur? After all, an allegation is a scandal only if it is damaging. No coverage, no damage, no scandal. Just deleted coughs lost in the ether of a controlled media and internet.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. You can find his updates online @JonathanTurley.

296 thoughts on “The Rise of The Corporate Censors: How America Is Drifting Toward The Chinese Model Of Media”

  1. “House resolutions clearing leakers Snowden and Assange gain third co-sponsor in sole Libertarian”

    https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2020/oct/21/justin-amash-backs-tulsi-gabbard-resolutions-urgin/?cache

    “Rep. Justin Amash threw his support Wednesday behind congressional resolutions calling for the U.S. government to abandon its cases against wanted leakers Edward J. Snowden and Julian Assange.

    Mr. Amash, Michigan Libertarian, announced on Twitter that he signed on to become a co-sponsor of separate, similar resolutions urging the government to drop the charges facing the two secret-spillers.

    Both resolutions were introduced by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Hawaii Democrat, and had already gained slight bipartisan support before Mr. Amash — the only registered Libertarian in Congress — joined in.”

    — Washington Times

    Kim Dotcom:

    “Biden lies
    Trump lies
    Big tech lies
    Fake news are lies
    Political polls are lies

    The biggest source of unfiltered truth is in jail for telling the truth. #FreeAssange”

    https://twitter.com/KimDotcom/status/1319503072322711553

  2. we’re gonna send these CHICOM lackeys the Biden crime family a message they don’t like when we get out and vote for TRUMP

    WOOOO Im excited! This is fantastic! What a great time to be able to be alive and vote! Make it count!

  3. What I find astounding is that when Twitter and Facebook blocked the NYPost, and locked their and anyone who shared the stories accounts’, instead of attacking social media sites some in the media praised them. A story in the Guardian actually said Twitter and Facebook didn’t do enough. Think about that. What would happen is a journalist at the New York Times wrote a negative story about Trump that Twitter didn’t like so they locked the account of the New York Times? Could you imagine what would happen? They would declare it to be a worse attack than 9/11 and reign down freedom of the press fire and brimstone. What journalist believes that it is OK for anyone to censor their work, and not allow them to post stories they wrote? How would a journalist make a living if Facebook and twitter get to decided what everyone else is allowed to see? Remember when Jim Acosta got tossed from the White House? But not here, here we have a Biden licking media praising an act that is completely ati-freedom of the press. Do they really want sycophants over at Twitter having full control of their careers?

  4. It will be fascinating when the CNNs and NBCs do their first report on the Laptop story.

    Do ‘journalistic’ organizations do ‘reverse retractions’ for legitimate stories that they do not publish for illegitimate or incompetent reasons?

  5. Book,,
    It’s certainly fitting that you of all people quote the TNYT. Like you, they have earned a double-flush reputation. The most embarrassing legacy you have is asserting indictments = guilt; no indictments = no guilt; feelings = truth > facts/evidence. Damn!

    1. Going 115 years back in time, here is a quote from Communist leader Lenin then plotting to overthrow government of Russia in 1905: “Down with non-partisan writers! … Literature must become a component of organised, planned and integrated Social-Democratic Party work.” (This piece is titled Party Organization and Party Literature)

      Looks like political parties learned the lesson. Is non-partisan media a history now?

      1. Is non-partisan media a history now?

        Andre,
        It certainly seems that way. My belief is this has been exacerbated by the Marxist’s taking control of our system of education. We have generations of citizens now that lack the ability to distinguish between fact and fantasy. So when the NYT and WaPo run opinion pieces on page 1 above the fold, instead of in the OpEd section, readers will entertain the “reporting” as fact-based.

        1. Ole, you are right, but education is a part of a bigger problem. The plague of Marxism started with a very appealing narrative of equality and justice, and only a few decades later turned some countries into concentration camps. And they are not playing by our rules – or laws!

          1. Andre,
            Your post reminded me of an email I received this morning.

            This morning, I realized that everything is about to change. No matter how I vote, no matter what I say, something evil has invaded our nation, and our lives are never going to be the same.

            I have been confused by the hostility of family and friends. I look at people I have known all my life–so hate-filled that they agree with opinions they would never express as their own. I think that I may well have entered the Twilight Zone.

            You can’t justify this insanity. We have become a nation that has lost its collective mind!
            • We see other countries going Socialist and collapsing, but it seems like a great plan to us.
            • Somehow it’s un-American for the census to count how many Americans are in America.
            • Russians influencing our elections are bad, but illegals voting in our elections are good.
            • People who say there is no such thing as gender are demanding a female President.
            • Universities that advocate equality, discriminate against Asian-Americans in favor of African-Americans.
            • Some people are held responsible for things that happened before they were born, and other people are not held responsible for what they are doing right now.
            • Criminals are caught-and-released to hurt more people, but stopping them is bad because it’s a violation of THEIR rights.
            • People who have never owned slaves should pay slavery reparations to people who have never been slaves.
            • If a dude pretends to be a woman, you are required to pretend with him.
            • It was cool for Joe Biden to “blackmail” the President of Ukraine, but it’s an impeachable offense if Donald Trump inquires about it.
            • People who have never been to college should pay the debts of college students who took out huge loans for their degrees.
            • Immigrants with tuberculosis and polio are welcome, but you’d better be able to prove your dog is vaccinated.
            • Irish doctors and German engineers who want to immigrate to the US must go through a rigorous vetting process, but any illiterate gang-bangers who jump the southern fence are welcome.
            • $5 billion for border security is too expensive, but $1.5 trillion for “free” health care is not.
            • If you cheat to get into college you go to prison, but if you cheat to get into the country you go to college for free.
            • And, pointing out all this hypocrisy somehow makes us “racists”?!

            Nothing makes sense anymore, no values, no morals, no civility and people are dying of a Chinese virus, but it racist to refer to it as Chinese even though it began in China. We are clearly living in an upside down world where right is wrong and wrong is right, where moral is immoral and immoral is moral, where good is evil and evil is good, where killing murderers is wrong, but killing innocent babies is right.

            Wake up America, the great unsinkable ship Titanic America has hit an iceberg, is taking on water, and is sinking fast. The choice is yours to make. What will it be? Time is short, make your choice wisely!

  6. If a laptop of one of Donald Trump’s children were found to contain what Hunter Biden’s laptop contained, the presstitutes at the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, MSNBC, etc. would have already destroyed Trump and he would have dropped out. But, because the presstitutes are presstitutes, and their agenda calls for implementing their China Joe protection racket, they spin BS such as what JT peddles here.

    Meanwhile, you can find the truth in the world of genuine journalism based on facts and evidence. It’s a relatively small world, but it does exist if you seek it out. The following is an example.

    1. There still hasn’t been any confirmation from law enforcement that it’s HB’s laptop. Let the shop owner be questioned under oath.

          1. If I understand your skepticism correctly, if photos of Trump Jr. with a crack pipe and pornography showed up on a laptop alleged to be Trump Jr’s., you would immediately suspect this was Russian disinformation? Even though no on in the intel community has found any connection with any Russian operation?

            Yeah, me either.

        1. The FBI didn’t do that.

          How do you read “purported Hunter Biden laptop” and interpret it as confirmed to be HB’s?

          Fox News correspondent Jacqui Heinrich said “Regarding the FBI’s statement that they have “nothing to add” to Ratcliffe’s statement: They understand this to mean FBI has nothing to add about *available actionable intelligence* at this time, but the investigation is ongoing – not understand it as affirming Ratcliffe.” She also says her source told her “members of the intelligence committee have learned that the FBI is indeed investigating the provenance of the emails and whether it is part of a foreign disinformation operation – which the FBI would investigate whether or not the emails are real. The FBI’s handling of John Paul Mac Isaac indicates he is a target of the investigation, rather than a witness.”

    2. Anybody that claims that this story is only out in a small world is not telling the truth. When I google “held by H for the big guy” I find the story everywhere including many on FB and twitter.

      But it is not much of a story. The email was from 2017. Joe and Hunter are private citizens at that time, so even if this is about the financials of Hunter and Joe which is not 100% clear there is not much that looks like anything illegal.

      Where’s the beef??

  7. Not reading anything from TNYT. Biased biased biased fake one-sided propaganda rag.

    The NYT made its bed. Now it can lie in it.

  8. The New York Times blew its reputation years ago. No one, and I mean no one in-the-know, considers the NYT to be a ‘reliable’ nor ‘unbiased’ source of “news.” The NYT has only themselves to blame for destroying any reputation they once had. NO MORE. The NYT is Biased Fake News.

    1. This Gray Anonymous is our usual troll who comments at least 16 hours per day under too many names to mention. Said troll wants us to know there is ‘only him’ on Johnathan Turley’s blog. He will be the ‘first’ and ‘last’ responder on any post. Which guarantees that no one else will want to engage.

    2. @Anon. at 10:42PM,

      That’s a classic ad hominem response.

      You’ve presented no evidence that the information in the article is incorrect, and complaining about their reputation doesn’t change that.

        1. Thanks for the love Anonymous. “There is only you. No one else.” Sounds like a love song. I’m blushing. And, good thing there’s ‘you’ to keep the ‘cool’ vibe going here on this blog. You always ‘bring the cool’…..totally. xoxo

    1. At Trump’s Erie PA rally tonght….

      ‘Trump has a giant video screen set up at his PA rally and is playing Biden and Kamala’s comments about banning fracking to the audience

      Now he’s talking about “the laptop from hell”

    2. ‘BLM” now means ‘Biden Loves Minors’ (Hunter and Joe who sniffs their hair and makes them cry)

      Joe, you’ve got some explaining to do….come out….come out….come out of your basement bunker and answer some questions, Joe!

      You DO NOT get to stow away two weeks before a presidential election avoiding any and all public and press scrutiny.

      Think again Joe Hidin’ Biden. The Voters will not let you get away with this Bullsh*t Joe Hidin’.

      1. REGARDING ABOVE:

        Here’s our blog troll doing what he does best: ‘Posting insane smears’. Never mind the sick, irrational tone. The object is to simply nauseate new readers. Our troll seeks to keep this blog as stupid as possible. No intelligent discussion can possibly develop. That’s the whole idea! It reflects the dead-end culture of Trumpers at this point.

        1. Someone is doing this to get under your skin, Seth (Anon @ 12:02 AM), and you’re only making things worse, with your responses. Let it go.

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