Below is my column in The Hill on continued scorched earth tactics of Democrats in attacking any witnesses raising free speech concerns over government censorship.
Here is the column:
“At long last, have you left no sense of decency?” Those words were first asked by lawyer Joseph Welch in his confrontation with Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-Wis.) during the Senate’s infamous Army-McCarthy hearings. This week, nearly 70 years later, Welch’s words seem more relevant than ever after House Democrats savaged two journalists who attempted to explain a government effort to censor citizens.
It was only the latest of a series of hearings in which FBI agents and other whistleblowers, experts and journalists have been personally attacked for raising free-speech concerns. Last week’s hearing showed definitively that we live in a post-decency era.
The latest attacks came as journalists Matt Taibbi and Michael Shellenberger testified about breaking the “Twitter Files” story, detailing how the FBI and other agencies secretly sought to censor or ban citizens from social media. In her opening statement, Delegate Stacey Plaskett (D-Virgin Islands), the ranking member of the House Judiciary subcommittee, attacked them as “so-called journalists” and said they were “a direct threat” to the safety of others by reporting the censorship story.
Taibbi pushed back, saying that “I’m not a ‘so-called’ journalist” and giving a brief description of his award-winning career at Rolling Stone magazine and other publications. Yet other committee members also attacked the honesty of the two journalists. And after failed efforts to claim they were Elon Musk’s corrupt “scribes,” or limited by him in their investigations, the committee members attacked their ethics.
The witnesses were attacked on everything but their choice of socks. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) even claimed that “being a Republican witness today certainly casts a cloud over your objectivity.” When Wasserman Schultz impugned the two journalists’ honesty and ethics, she immediately “reclaimed (her) time” to prevent them from defending themselves. When the subcommittee chair gave them a chance to answer her claims, Wasserman Schultz and her Democratic colleagues objected that a witness was allowed to defend himself after being blocked from doing so.
In an earlier attack, Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) prevented Taibbi from answering a question and dismissed his effort to defend his position, saying: “This is how it works now. I’ll ask the question and you try to provide an answer if you can.”
After attacking the very notion of investigating the government for possible censorship efforts, the attacks then took a particularly menacing turn as some members began to demand confidential information on the journalists’ sources. Taibbi pushed back and said he could not reveal information on his sources, but that only seemed to make the Democrats more irate.
Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-Texas) pressed Taibbi to say that Musk was a source. Taibbi again replied, “I can’t give it to you, unfortunately, because this is a question of sourcing, and I’m a journalist. I don’t reveal my sources.”
And that’s when it got ugly.
Garcia effectively declared that she had trapped Taibbi because the “only logical conclusion” was that Musk was his source. When House Judiciary Committee chairman Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) objected to badgering a reporter for his sources, Democrats piled on. Plaskett declared that if Taibbi wouldn’t comment on Musk, it must mean the Twitter owner was the source in question.
It was a chilling but defining moment.
For several years now, many Democratic members have embraced censorship on social media and resisted efforts to uncover government efforts to silence citizens. As someone who grew up in a liberal, Democratic family in Chicago, I knew that a commitment to free speech was one of the most compelling values of the party — back then. Today, free speech often is treated as harmful and dangerous.
President Joe Biden is arguably the most anti-free-speech president since John Adams, and the Democratic Party is largely committed to censorship and speech regulations. Some Democratic figures, including Plaskett, have declared that hate speech is unprotected under the First Amendment — a categorically untrue claim.
As the evidence mounts of an even broader censorship effort by the Biden administration, the Democrats’ attacks have become more unhinged and unscrupulous. After shredding any fealty to free speech, they now are attacking journalists, demanding their sources and claiming their reporting is a public threat.
Plaskett even attempted to defend the Federal Trade Commission demanding that Twitter turn over the names of journalists who have communicated with the social media company. Other Democrats have similarly shrugged off this outrageous demand by the FTC, headed by Chairwoman Lina Khan, a former Democratic staffer with the Judiciary Committee.
For many of us, this week demonstrates the final severing of many House Democrats from both free speech and free press values.
What is left is raw rage and politics.
There is a major difference between today and the McCarthyism of 1954. Back then, when attorney Welch objected to the Republican senator trashing his client, the press lionized Welch. Yet, as noted by Shellenberger and Taibbi, today’s media have remained largely silent as fellow reporters were attacked for covering the Twitter censorship story.
If Joseph Welch appeared today to support free speech, he might very well be dismissed as some QAnon conspiracy theorist or “Putin lover.” But his words from the past — that “until this moment … I think I have never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness” — should be read to every one of these members. It is not that we expect decorum from our leaders today, but decency itself now seems as irrelevant as reason.
Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at The George Washington University. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanTurley.
123 thoughts on “Post-Decency Politics: House Democrats Use Hearing to Attack Both Free Speech and a Free Press”
Okay Captain Obvious, what is to be done about this assault on the First Amendment? Everyone can clearly see what the liberal phuktards are doing, but no action is being taken to stop them.
The democrat party has left the honest constitution adherents behind. They are so out of the mainstream and in such a minority that they are very nervous about losing their power and having their crimes found out.Be sure your sins will find you out.That’s why they resort to lying and cheating. They are panicking.
The Thing is, sen. Joe McCarthy was right. If America had listened to him 70 years ago our govt wouldn’t be infested with Bolsheviks now.
This commentary by Mr. Turley nails what is now impossible to ignore moving forward: the current Democratic Party is-quite literally and quite openly-no longer connected to the fundamental principles expressed in the Constitution nor the basis for its creation found in The Declaration of Independence. Indeed, it would be difficult after watching the conduct of Plaskett, Wasserman-Shultz, et al. not to see exactly why we declared independence and how closely the modern Democratic Party is like the King George described in the Declaration itself. While it is absolutely true that the Republican Party itself is hardly better, Turley is spot on.