Below is my column in the Hill on the recent disclosure of efforts by Rep. Adam Schiff (D., Cal.) to pressure Twitter to censor critics, including a columnist. This effort occurred shortly after Schiff’s office objected to one of my columns accusing him of pressuring social media companies to censor those with opposing views. While publicly denying that he supports censorship, Schiff was secretly pressuring Twitter to censor an array of critics.
Here is the column:
“We don’t do this.” That response from Twitter to Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) is a singular indictment, coming at the height of Twitter’s censorship operations. Apparently, there were some things that even Twitter’s censors refused to do.
One of those things was silencing critics of Schiff and his House committee.
In the latest tranche of “Twitter Files,” journalist Matt Taibbi revealed that Twitter balked at Schiff’s demand that Twitter suspend an array of posters or label their content as “misinformation” and “reduce the visibility” of them. Among those who Schiff secretly tried to censor was New York Post columnist Paul Sperry.
Sperry drew Schiff’s ire by writing about a conversation allegedly overheard by one of his sources. Sperry’s article, which appeared in RealClearInvestigations, cited two sources as overhearing two White House staffers discussing how to remove newly-elected President Trump from office. The article raised the possibility of bias on the part of an alleged key player in launching the first Trump impeachment, CIA analyst Eric Ciaramella. The sources reportedly said that Ciaramella was in a conversation with Sean Misko, a holdover from the Obama administration who later joined Schiff’s staff. The conversation — in Sperry’s words — showed that “just days after [Trump] was sworn in they were already trying to get rid of him.”
Rather than simply refute the allegation, Schiff wanted Sperry and other critics silenced. His office reportedly laid out steps to cleanse Twitter of their criticism, including an instruction to “remove any and all content about Mr. Misko and other Committee staff from its service — to include quotes, retweets, and reactions to that content.”
The date of Schiff’s non-public letter in November 2020 is notable: Earlier that year, I wrote a column for The Hill criticizing Schiff for pushing for censorship of misinformation in a letter that he sent to social media companies. His office promptly objected to the very suggestion that Schiff supported censorship.
We now know Schiff was actively seeking to censor specific critics on social media. These likely were viewed as more than “requests” since Schiff was sending public letters threatening possible legislative action against these same companies. He wanted his critics silenced on social media. After all, criticizing his investigations or staff must, by definition, be misinformation — right?
His office seems to have indicated they knew Twitter was using shadow-banning or other techniques to suppress certain disfavored writers. In the letter, his staff asked Twitter to “label and reduce the visibility of any content.”
Twitter, however, drew the line with Schiff; one of its employees simply wrote, “no, this isn’t feasible/we don’t do this.”
The “this” referred to in this case was raw political censorship. And even a company that maintained one of the largest censorship programs in history could not bring itself to do what Schiff was demanding — but the demand itself is telling.
Not only does it show how dishonest some politicians have been in denying censorship while secretly demanding it, it also shows the insatiable appetite created by censorship. The article in question, written by Sperry, is a good example. Sperry has denied ever supporting QAnon conspiracy theories, as Schiff’s office charged. Yet even if Sperry’s account about Schiff’s staffer was wildly untrue, that should make it easier to rebut publicly.
The move by Schiff to ban Sperry and others on Twitter — and to remove content — is highly ironic. Schiff has been criticized repeatedly for promoting “misinformation” and for relying on unidentified “sources” for his claims of Trump’s criminality. For example, Schiff pushed the false claim that the infamous Hunter Biden laptop was Russian disinformation; he also was criticized for pushing false narratives of Trump-Russia collusion in the 2016 election.
Nevertheless, I would equally oppose any effort to ban Schiff from social media, although that is hardly likely given the demonstrated political bias of past censorship efforts.
As for Sperry, he was later permanently suspended by Twitter, which I also criticized.
Schiff is unlikely to be deterred by the release of these communications. He recently sent a letter to Facebook, warning it not to relax its censorship efforts. His letter, written with Reps. André Carson (D-Ind.), Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), reminded Facebook that some lawmakers are watching the company “as part of our ongoing oversight efforts” — and suggested they may be forced to exercise that oversight into any move by Facebook to “alter or rollback certain misinformation policies.”
Schiff’s actions embody the slippery slope of censorship. By labeling his critics as QAnon supporters or purveyors of “misinformation,” he sought to have allies in social media “disappear” critics like Sperry — yet he found that even those allies could not stomach his demands. Given Twitter’s censorship of even satirical sites, it was akin to being turned down by a Kanye West podcast as being too extreme.
With the disclosure of apparent FBI involvement in Twitter’s censorship program, the release of the Schiff files is another rare insight into how government officials attempted to enlist social media companies for censorship by surrogate or proxy. That is precisely why many in the media, political and business establishments have mobilized against Elon Musk, the new owner of Twitter who has released these compromising files.
In a recent tweet, Schiff chastised Musk and demanded more answers from the Twitter CEO. While insisting that “I don’t support censorship,” Schiff asked Musk if he would “commit to providing the public with actual answers and data, not just tweets?” Well, Musk just did precisely that.
The “actual answer” is that Schiff has long sought to silence his critics, and Musk has exposed the underbelly of censorship — which is where we found Adam Schiff.
Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanTurley.
193 thoughts on ““We Don’t Do This”: Adam Schiff and the Underbelly of American Censorship”
Some are under the mistaken impression that censorship looks only like this:
A clearly stated and publicized government edict that criminalizes certain ideas and expressions, e.g., the publishing of images of Muhammad, criticisms of the state. In that type of censorship, punishment for dissent is clear — fine, confiscation, torture, jail, death. That is the iron-fist censorship of Stalin, Mao, the Mullahs in Iran.
But that type of censorship is clean and sufferable compared to the type of censorship infesting America. We are being censored by bureaucratic whim — by the fleeting desires and petty grudges of civil servants. The ideas and opinions they desire to censor (by proxy) are never stated openly. There is never a publsihed decree announcing: It is a crime to criticize the CDC. And the punishment for dissent is always secret (and often circuitous.)
Iron-fist censors are bold and in your face. Beaucratic censors are sneaky, shifty, deceptive. They hide their censorship behind euphemisms, e.g., “misinformation,” “disinformation.” Iron-fist censors send the secret police to round up dissenters. Beaucratic censors urge private companies to delete you (and then hide behing “ToS”), smear you, deny your company a government permit, pull a business license, trigger a new audit, threaten your loved ones — all with the subtext: This government harassment will stop, once you cease your dissent.
By being utterly arbitrary, ever-changing, and unknowable, beaucratic censorship terrorizes people into silence. Individuals cannot know in advance which ideas and expressions will trigger a bureaucrat’s ire, and they cannot know what the punishment will be. Such is the chaos of their Kafkaesque world.
If you want to cow people into silence and submission, do what Shiff, the FBI, DHS (and sundry government agents) are doing: Impose beaucratic censorship.
Adam Schiff is a reminder of the dubious activities of the reprehensible Sen Joe McCarthy, who always overshot with his assertions of Communists among his fellow Americans. Schiff is showing himself to be just as arrogant in his irresponsible words and deeds. He deserves a rebuke from his fellow House members, with the possibility of future censure and expulsion.
Except Joe McCarthy was correct.
Joe McCarthy was proven correct. Check out the Venona Files. Check out “Blacklisted by History” by M. Stanton Evans. The left strikes fear into the hearts of conservatives by making them question their personal character. There is nothing wrong with conservatives and libertarians. There is a lot wrong with the left.
Here is part of a blurb:
“But that conventional image is all wrong, as veteran journalist and author M. Stanton Evans reveals in this groundbreaking book. The long-awaited Blacklisted by History, based on six years of intensive research, dismantles the myths surrounding Joe McCarthy and his campaign to unmask Communists, Soviet agents, and flagrant loyalty risks working within the U.S. government. Evans’s revelations completely overturn our understanding of McCarthy, McCarthyism, and the Cold War.”
Take note of how we can’t seem to find Nancy Pelosi’s communications and we can’t see the videos from the Capitol building. Take note of how much information is missing. Then consider that when researching McCarthy the sources such as newspapers are missing their archives for crucial periods of time. Those archives would show an alternative story when whatever history remains is reviewed.
McCartyhy exxagerated ther influcnece of Communists.
Schiff completely fabricated it.
When you say exaggerated, one has to know what you mean. McCarthy was proven correct and the Venona files (Army) proved him right as did defectors and spies that turned. Why can’t we skip bowing to the left by dissing McCarthy. I’ll agree he wasn’t nice, did some things wrong etc., but why don’t we praise his efforts to rid communists from government?
If you have one thing in particular that bothers you about McCarthy, let’s have it.
Do you know we shipped the Soviet Union uranium, specialized tubing for centrifuges, and information?
Guys are like Shifty is why the colonists were so very fond of tar and feathers.
That’s what my son keeps reminding me of. The aholes keep it up & the Citizens are going to give them something to consider.
I see a bit of actions by the Irish & now in Brazil I see today.
Roberts Barnes is supposed to do a bit of a round up tonight on some of the current major legal issues on the radar.
Note Thursday a judge attack one of the J6/ Proud Boys attorneys, Norm Pattis.
Greg Reese Report on J6:
Jan 6 Political Prisoners and the Inversion of Justice in America
Jan 7, 2023
Innocent Americans facing decades in prison for peaceful protest
I love how the story changed from, “censorship by Twitter is a right wing nut job conspiracy theory” to “it depends on what the word ‘censorship’ means.”
Keep spinning kids, we see what’s going on.
“I love how the story changed from, “censorship by Twitter is a right wing nut job conspiracy theory” to “it depends on what the word ‘censorship’ means.”
Nothing new for the Crime Party:
From “never had sex with that woman.” to:
Is there some reason these Congressmen can’t be sued for civil rights violations?
It depends on the speech and debate clause..
If a congressman were to claim on the floor that Jonathan Turley took turns with Brian Mitchell in raping Elizabeth smart, the speech and debate clause woulsd obviate a lawsuit.
Turley himself is spreading disinformation by claiming that Twitter is censoring people. Twitter has no such power. Only the government has the kind of power that can be used to impose censorship.
Except that what you say is absolutely untrue – the evidence shows it.
The evidence shows that Twitter was censored by the government, not that Twitter ever censored anyone.
What? It shows no such thing.
What sort of organization do you believe the FBI is, then?
By this: “Twitter has no such power. Only the government has the kind of power . . .” SS means that Twitter (as with any private company) has economic power — which is the power of choice and trade. Only government has political power — which is the power of physical force (law enforcement). “Censorship” means suppression of ideas and opinions by physical force. To conflate the two types of power is a grave error.
… won’t let me hit the “like” button ….
When the government can (and did) threaten to punish via regulation there is no substantive difference.
“When the government can (and did) threaten to punish via regulation there is no substantive difference.”
That is a different issue. And you are right. However, SS was referring just to Twitter as a private company. He was not referring to government censorship by proxy.
The power you speak of that the government has is being used legally.
No, censorship is illegal.
No, censorship by the *government* is illegal.
There really is no other kind of censorship. Censorship is a capability only a government possesses.
Legal analysis, please!
You are smarter than that comment. Of course Twitter can censor. Everybody knows by now that Adam Schiff is an admitted liar and relishes in being one. If Twitter doesn’t publish this comment it is censoring the truth. Now you know!
>>’Of course Twitter can censor.'<<
Not in the real world.
So, you are telling us you know more about Twitter than the one who owns it, and has the authority to review all their documents and e-mails? And you expect us to believe you?
If Musk thinks Twitter has any power to actually CENSOR anybody, then he is sadly mistaken.
“Deplatforming,” for instance, is NOT censorship. It would only be censorship if the government was putting people on “not allowed to speak in public” lists.
Yes, it is censorship.
It is not censorship if private owners don’t want you on a platform. It is censorship if the government keeps you off.
Only a government is capable of censorship — that is the only institution in which that kind of coercive power resides.
“And you expect us to believe you?”
The expectation is that you focus on the (valid) issue he raised.
The issue is not one’s knowledge of Twitter. The issue, with respect to censorship, is the type of power held by a *private* company (such as Twitter) versus the type of power inherent in government (which, again, is its police powers — physical force).
If you do not grasp that distinction, ask your local grocer. He can explain to you the difference between a customer who trades money for product, and a thief with a gun.
The distinction between editorial control and police powers makes all the difference.
It is not censorship if private owners don’t want you on a platform. It is censorship if the government keeps you off.