“Not All TV News Sources Are The Same”: Congress And The Slippery Slope Of Censorship

Congressional SealBelow is my column in the Hill on yesterday’s hearing on possible private and public limitations on free speech and the free press, including a letter from Democratic members asking companies why they do not remove Fox News and networks from cable. I recently responded to comments made by Rep. Anna Eshoo in the hearing.  However, the letter highlighted the continuing pressure from members on both Big Tech and cable suppliers to silence opposing viewpoints. What was most disappointing was that no Democratic members used the hearing to offer a simple and unifying statement: we oppose efforts to remove Fox News and these other networks from cable programming. Not a single Democratic member made that statement, which (in my view) should be easy for anyone who believes in free speech and the free press. Even though every witness (including one who lost her father to Covid-19) made that statement, no Democratic member was willing to state publicly that they would oppose efforts to remove Fox News from cable access. That silence was also chilling to the point of glacial.

Here is the column:

English essayist Samuel Johnson wrote that “when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.” I thought of Johnson’s words in preparing to appear before a House committee exploring limitations on free speech, including a campaign by some Democratic members and activists to remove networks like Fox News from cable carriers. As someone who just came over to Fox News as a legal analyst from CBS and the BBC, the hearing concentrated my mind “wonderfully” on the future of free speech and the free press.

Increasingly, free speech in the United States is described as a danger that needs to be controlled, as opposed to the very value that defines us as a people. While I am viewed as a “free speech purist” by many, I maintain what once was a mainstream view of free speech. I believe free speech is the greatest protection against bad speech. That view is, admittedly, under fire and may even be a minority view today. But history has shown that public or private censorship does not produce better speech. It only produces more censorship and more controlled speech.

There is no disagreement that we face a torrent of false, hateful, extremist speech on social media and in other public forums. This speech is not without cost: It fuels those filled with rage, victimizes the gullible, and alienates the marginal in our society. It is a scourge, but not a new one.

The Constitution was written not only for times like these — it was written during times like these. Politics has always been something of a blood sport, literally. At the start of our Republic, the Republicans and Federalists were not trying to “cancel” one another in the contemporary sense; they were trying to kill each other in the actual sense, through measures like the Alien and Sedition Acts. There also were rampant false conspiracy theories about alliances with Great Britain, France, Spain, and other foreign powers. Newspapers and pamphleteers were highly biased and partisan.

Members of Congress are now pushing for public and private censorship on the internet and in other forums. They are being joined by an unprecedented alliance of academics, writers and activists calling for everything from censorship to incarceration to blacklists. For example, an article published in The Atlantic by Harvard law professor Jack Goldsmith and University of Arizona law professor Andrew Keane Woods called for Chinese-style censorship of the internet, stating 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.”

Much of the effort by politicians and activists has been directed at using Big Tech to censor or bar opposing viewpoints, seeking to achieve indirectly what cannot be achieved directly in curtailing free speech. Congress could never engage in this type of raw content discrimination between news organizations under the First Amendment.

However, it can use its influence on private companies to limit free speech. The move makes obvious sense if the desire is to shape and control opinion — the essence of state-controlled media. Controlling speech on certain platforms is meaningless if citizens can still hear opposing views from other sources. You must not only control the narrative but also eliminate alternatives to it.

The most extreme effort was made plain this week as some in Congress sought to pressure companies like AT&T to reconsider whether viewers should be allowed to watch Fox News and other networks. In a recent letter to cable carriers like AT&T, House Democrats Anna Eshoo and Jerry McNerney of California appeared to mirror calls from activists to drop such networks from their lineups. The members stressed that “not all TV news sources are the same” and called these companies to account for their role in allowing such “dissemination.”

The letter solely targeted those networks that the members and their constituents do not like or likely watch, a list of every major television channel viewed as conservative leaning. If the cable carriers were to yield to such pressure, there would be no major television outlet offering a substantial alternative to the coverage of networks like CNN and MSNBC. Tens of millions of viewers would be forced to watch those channels, or watch nothing at all. The limitation or elimination of conservative networks clearly would work to the advantage of Democrats — an obvious conflict of interest laid bare not only by the demand but the inclusion of only networks with large conservative audiences.

Democrats are pushing for cable carriers to explain their “moral” criteria for allowing tens of millions of viewers access to Fox News and other targeted networks. The answer should begin with the obvious principles of free speech and a free press, which are not even referenced in the Eshoo-McNerney letter. Instead, the companies are asked if they will impose a morality judgment on news coverage and, ultimately, public access.

This country went through a long and troubling period of morality codes used to bar speakers or censor material that barred atheists, feminists, and others from espousing their viewpoints in newspapers, books, and movies. Indeed, there was a time when the Democratic Party fought such morality rules, in defense of free speech.

Those seeking free-speech limits often speak of speech like it is a swimming pool that must be monitored and carefully controlled for purity and safety. I view speech more as a rolling ocean, dangerous but also majestic and inspiring, its immense size allowing for a natural balance. Free speech allows false ideas to be challenged in the open, rather than forcing dissenting viewpoints beneath the surface.

I do not believe today’s activists will succeed in removing the most-watched cable news channel in 2020 from the airways. But, then again, I did not think social media sites — given legal immunity in exchange for being content-neutral — would ever censor viewpoints.

Roughly 70 years ago, Justice William O. Douglas accepted a prestigious award with a speech entitled “The One Un-American Act,” about the greatest threat to a free nation. He warned that the restriction of free speech “is the most dangerous of all subversions. It is the one un-American act that could most easily defeat us.”  The measures being discussed in Congress have the potential to defeat us all. It is surprisingly easy to convince a free people to give up their freedoms, and exceedingly difficult to regain those freedoms once they are lost.

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

61 thoughts on ““Not All TV News Sources Are The Same”: Congress And The Slippery Slope Of Censorship”

  1. Below Elvis Bugs Argues for Renewable energy this is in response;——– Those that think that renewable (electric generation) excluding Hydro can serve a society at this time are living in a fantasy world. Wind and Solar (Photovoltaic/Water Heating/Concentrator) are subject to earthly occurrences, daylight hours and variable weather patterns which cannot be accounted for with guaranteed certainty, and make the grid susceptible to spiking (balancing). Currently Solar production on a utility scale produce annually (2020) 90.891 thousand Megawatthours, plus an estimate from small scale production of 41,740 MWH and tally some 132,631 MWH. On a utility scale including Coal, Petroleum Liquids, Petroleum Coke, Natural Gas, Other Gas, Nuclear, Hydroelectric, Renewable other than Hydro and Solar, other, and minus Hydro Pumped Storage equal 4,009,085 MWH, currently Solar represents about 3.3% of annual production. Taking the other renewable category from annual production equaling 410,494 MWH or 10.2 % of total utility scale production, getting 13.5% of annual electric production from renewable energy sources. Looking further on a monthly basis for the other category it fluctuates month to month in excess of 28%, and Solar on a utility scale fluctuates (as an example in January 2020 utility scale solar produced 4657 MWH, and in July 2020 production was 10,478 MWH then continued to fall during Fall and Winter months. I bring these numbers up just as an illustration that currently we cannot and should count on renewable energy. There are efforts underway to store energy at the battery level but again that is true fantasy at this time considering the amount of storage which would have to occur. There was an effort in Northern Nevada using concentrate beams width to melt salt for steam, but it failed and is now shut down (a major boondoggle). The numbers come from Electric Power Monthly – U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) Net Generation by Energy Source: Total (All Sectors), 2010-December 2020.

  2. Here’s a refutation of my link above. It’s probably the most authoritative, but I have problems with the refutation:

  3. Extreme speech? What, exactly, is “extreme”? Was it extreme for colonists to call for independence from Great Britain? Was it extreme for Northern abolitionists to call for the use of force to free slaves in the South? Was it extreme for Franklin Roosevelt to seek to involve the United States in the war in Europe? Was it extreme for Abraham Lincoln to send troops into the recently seceded former Southern state to force them back into the Union they had left? Was it extreme to call for the removal of the Cherokee from Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee? I can think of lots of things that have occurred within and/or involving these United States that are applauded today. In short, “extreme” is something YOU don’t like. In short, “extremism” is relative.

  4. We need a new political party. Centrist. No commies like the hang of four or Nazis like the Capitol stormers. I think the name should be “Midwest Party’. No east coast snots.

    1. Joe Biden to blacks: “You ain’t Black if you don’t vote for me!”

      Big Tech to blacks: You are free to think and speak only in ways WE approve of.

      Democrat Party to Blacks: You are not allowed to leave the Democrat plantation to think or speak freely. You shall do and act and speak only as WE allow. Stay in your place voting ONLY for Democrat Party or we will silence you and destroy you. You are not free. Who do you think you are?

    2. Anonymous……….re: Amazon and Clarence Thomas docu: I spent 45 minutes on the phone with them. Spoke with 2 men……each responded in Colonel Schultz style ” I know NOTH-INK!”
      One man said he will look into it……..uh-huh.
      I told him there is a video listed in the results area of prime video Search, entitled “Created Equal”.
      It is NOT the Thomas docu, but has the same title!. It is an old feature film by the same name, and has no connection at all to Justice Thomas. It should be removed from search results so that the public will not mistakenly think Amazon is providing Thomas’ documentary. It is not.

      1. Thank you for making the calls! It’s outrageous, isn’t it? Why Blacks continue to vote for Democrat Party is so beyond foolish that its sad. What Big Tech and the Democrat Party are doing is not “liberty” nor does it represent “freedom.” It is about censorship and approved group-think. Disgusting.

        Here is the link for the movie:

        https://www.justicethomasmovie.com/

        As former VP Mike Pence said: ‘On this last weekend of #BlackHistoryMonth, take time to watch “Created Equal”, a documentary of a brave and inspiring American, Justice Clarence Thomas. Find a way to watch his authentic and courageous story.’

        https://www.justicethomasmovie.com/

        1. This movie will remind us what a total prick Joe Biden really is. Ask Clarence Thomas what he thinks of Joe Biden. He’ll tell you that he is not an honorable man. That’s the truth and anyone who takes a minute to examine who Joe Biden *really* is, will see the truth quite clearly.

    3. ‘It’s hard to understand why the life story of America’s only sitting Black Supreme Court justice—a story that has been so inspirational to so many—has been removed from Amazon Prime during Black History Month. What’s going on, Amazon?’ @KayColesJames

  5. The plot thins!
    Daily, we witness the same predictable tantrums and lies from the Democrats/Lefties. They will continue until we all die of boredom.

  6. Keep in mind that Louise Slaughter and Ernest Hollings put some effort in to trying to write the humbug ‘Fairness Doctrine’ into statutory law, because they were enraged that radio commentary was taking exception to what PBS, NPR, and commercial network news was saying. This mentality has been present for quite a long time (and is manifest in Gainesville’s commentary on these boards). Pretty cute when Slaughter signed on as an occasional contributor to Daily KOS. Democratic pols tend to oscillate between obtuse and conniving.

  7. Liberals rarely see the consequences of their actions. We now have a potus who is cognitively incapable of even delivering a state of the union. I wonder will Pelosi tear it up when his handlers finally get him cognizant enough to read what they tell him to read?

  8. Hear Ye, Hear Ye, Hear Ye.——– The public square is now closed to those who do not follow the directives and principles of Ruling Chiefs. You’ll now profess your faith, whole mind and body to the new government, the most knowledgeable. ———–Hear Ye, Hear Ye, Hear Ye. Those refusing to bow to the Governor/ness(‘S) shall be cast aside, labeled Secessionists, denied individual rights, and forthwith referred to as a Conservative Strumpets.

  9. “Car 54 (Comrade Chrissy Wray), Where Are You?”
    _________________________________________

    John Sullivan, Black Lives Matter goon, Antifa organizer.

    IGNORED BY MEDIA AND FBI: Antifa-BLM Activists Are Posting Photos and Bragging Online About Storming US Capitol on Jan. 6

    NOT MAKING HEADLINES:

    Utah Activist John Sullivan Organized Antifa Protest Near US Capitol Before It Was Stormed — Tweeted About BLM Buses in DC on the 6th

    “We About to Go Get that MotherF***er! – It’s Time for Revolution!” – VIDEO – BLM Threatens to Rip President Trump from White House

    – Gateway Pundit

  10. This news source says Joke Bi-den literally bent over for China.
    __________________________________________________

    China Apologizes for Forcing Biden Team to Bend Over and Give Anal COVID Tests
    By Victoria Taft Feb 25, 2021 8:10 PM ET
    Ju Peng/Xinhua via AP

    What’s Mandarin for “bend over”? If anyone should know that, it’s Joe Biden, “the big man” who, according to Hunter Biden’s laptop and his old business partner, was given a cut of his son’s take in his business proceeds from China and elsewhere. Now it’s being reported that Biden’s State Department diplomats literally had to bend over so that Chinese health inspectors could give them ANAL COVID-19 tests. Did they get the American diplomats’ DNA, too? Vice News reported that the Chinese government says it gave the Americans the tests “in error.” Vice reported that U.S. diplomats never agreed to anal testing. “The State Department never agreed to this kind of testing and protested directly to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs when we learned that some staff were subject to it,” a State Department spokesperson told VICE World News on Wednesday. The spokesperson said Beijing had assured Washington that the test was given “in error” and that diplomatic personnel were exempt from the test, which was mandatory for incoming travelers in some parts of China. “We have instructed staff to decline this test if it is asked of them, as was done in the past.” Vice reports that the State Department protested the testing and received assurances that U.S. diplomats will no longer be required to have them in order to preserve their dignity. But the BBC reports that China denies giving the tests at all. A State Department spokesman said that China did require the testing and that this was never agreed to between countries. “The State Department never agreed to this kind of testing and protested directly to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs when we learned that some staff were subject to it,” a State Department spokesperson told VICE World News on Wednesday. The test works like you would expect a test that’s called an anal swab would work. The swab goes inside the rectum about two inches and is wiped around. Chinese officials demonstrated the test on this dummy when they introduced the test. That’s not undignified for American diplomats or anything. China swears the tests are more accurate than the nose swabs that send a swab so far up you think it’s going into your brain. Then again China said the virus didn’t come from China and wasn’t transmitted between humans, either.

    1. “Did they get the American diplomats’ DNA, too?”

      They don’t need it. They already have Hunter’s and Swalwell’s. 😉

  11. In our ever-more-partisan existence FOX NEWS is the last Bastian of “news” production in the MASS CONSUMED NETWORKS which allows exposure and proper transparency TO INCLUDE THE CONSERVATIVE NARRATIVE. God bless them!

      1. Good pick. Your comment reminds me of how our societal narrative is being dissected to death and each coming generation submits even more to being spoon-fed entertainment because we no longer have to kill what we eat!

  12. Has anyone noticed that gas prices have skyrocketed about $.50/gallon (some 25%) since Biden became president?

    Yet another step in his administration’s campaign to: “Make America Weak Again.”

  13. Here’s something else the Democrats want to bury.

    The link below is a documentary about how green energy is a hoax and con game. Here’s the kicker: it was released by MICHAEL MOORE!!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5x7UgKfSug0

    I was amazed by how compelling and candid it was. I have no doubt all of you will feel the same… well, almost all.

    Some trolls will cherry-pick the usual shills and sources to claim it’s debunked. THEY ARE ALL LYING. In recent years, BILL GATES, MICHAEL SHELLENBERGER and others said much of the same before they were bullied into silence–by Democrats, no doubt. This documentary is not bunk. It’s confirmation.

    WIND MILLS ARE THE MAGINOT LINE OF THE 21ST CENTURY. Enjoy!!

    1. Watched five minutes of this and will watch the rest later, Dog Man. Work beckons…

      As the son of a physicist who wrote much of the material for NASA about how sustainable energy would integrate into the economy in the 70’s, someone who has lived entirely off pv and wind energy off the grid for large chunks of time, and someone who now lives on an island powered almost 100% by windmill in the fist offshore wind development in the country…, well, you’re going to have a tough sell for this with me.

      Keep in mind the main stumbling blocks to sustainable tech don’t lie with the method, they lie with grid politics and the fact the combustible lobby owns and controls distribution. Add to that the fact the fossil fuel lobby was subsidized into existence and managed to block any equal subsidy to the sustainable energy industry with all their influence and you’ll realize that, on equal footing, there is literally no way an industry that has to drill and then collect and then distribute can match an industry that only has to collect and distribute on production cost. Also, realize the resulting affordability gap, at first quite overwhelming, is now closing every single day.

      And look, I’ve not mentioned the fossil fuel lobby having been able to nearly completely skate on their cleanup costs in a way no other industry has been granted. Or just the environmental effects at all. Yes, the Cuyahoga river no longer catches on fire, but carbon pollution works both covertly and beneath the surface.

      Don’t care that Michael Moore produced this…, he often is misled. And the first harping on the fact it will take fossil fuels and nukes to shift over to a sustainable power generation economy I’m out. Of course it does. No one in the industry ever said it wouldn’t. My patience for divide and conquer rhetoric is extremely short these days.

      Elvis Bug

      1. Here’s a refutation of my link above. It’s probably the most authoritative, but I have problems with the refutation:

      2. Kapitan Elvis insect…Love how you subtly say “large chunks of time ” and “almost 100%”. You are talking very tiny examples that can not be maintained by the gargantuan demand for power. You fail to see the forest for the trees. The brown outs are simply due to not enough power produced , not enough because the green means just cant produce enough on the scale used. The cost to even attempt to get to your utopia is staggering ,and still under par for the demand. Preach your green weenie-ism , go right ahead while people freeze or have no power for large stretches at a time. Not everybody is the son of a big brain physicist and lives in a tiny utopia that for “allegedly large chunks of time” sorta works. Sort of , and not 100% don’t hunt.

        1. Phergus, a lot of countries are cheating by resorting to biomass, biomass being the biggest and ugliest green hoax of all. The reason they’re cheating is because wind and solar cannot meet the green targets. Understand, these same wind and solar sites were the best locations. Scale it and it will get worse, and you’ll still have to pay for two generating systems whenever the green system is dormant.

          There’s several fundamental arguments against green energy: the ramifications of low energy density on the environment, loss of grid efficiency when switching between green and gas, and–probably the worst–the weakness of battery technology to compensate for intermittency.

          It would be smarter to spend more on developing safer nuclear. Gates is quietly emphasizing that, and Musk is acting more and more like he gets it. A green grid will never make his cars practical.

      3. Elvis Bug tells us about the big money in fossil fuels. He conveniently doesn’t mention the big money in green energy. He lives on an island powered by renewable energy. He lives off the grid. Don’t tell him that the rest of us have to get up every day and make our way to work. His is a living outside of the reality that everyone else has to deal with. Nose in the air telling all the rest of us we need to just shut up and lower our standing of living to live the virtues life with the rules made up by Elvis Bug. If you don’t drive an electric car Elvis is prepared to put his foot on your neck. He has a nice shiny pair of hobnail boots to make sure that the tasks he prescribes is well performed.

        1. Thanks, Think. I was amazed when I saw the ERCOT chart below. Gas failed in part because it couldn’t cover the gap suddenly created by renewables. You don’t hear that in the media. I had not been aware until I read your article.

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