As a long-standing free speech advocate, the last few years have been alarming and, frankly, depressing. The censorship efforts of the government are, unfortunately, not new. However, what is new is the support of the media and the Democratic Party in such censorship. That was on display on various channels after the recent opinion finding that the Biden Administration had violated the First Amendment in “the most massive attack against free speech in United States history.” However, the New York Times immediately warned that the outbreak of free speech could “curtail efforts to combat disinformation.” Yet, no one expressed more simply and chillingly than CNN Chief White House Correspondent Phil Mattingly who stated that it “makes sense” for tech companies to go along with government censorship demands.
Mattingly admitted that social media platforms “more often than not” gave in to the censorship demands by the Biden administration. However, he insisted that it “makes sense,” and is “probably what we should do on public health grounds.”
“[T]he Biden administration would regularly reach out to Twitter and Facebook and other companies in kind of the early stages of their COVID response and say, this person is spreading lies about vaccines, this account is spreading misinformation that is inhibiting — not just our efforts, the administration’s efforts to address COVID — but also public health, do something about it. And often, I think more often than not, the companies would respond and say, okay. And there are emails that came out during the course of this case that that was something that I think — when it was explained to me at the time, I thought, alright, that makes sense, that’s probably what we should do on public health grounds.”
What is striking is not just the blind acceptance that the government should be protecting us from harmful thoughts. It is also the failure to recognize that the government was wrong on many of these points while experts were being banned and blacklisted.
Many people were routinely censored on Twitter and other platforms for daring to challenge the official position on masks.
The Centers for Disease and Control Prevention (CDC) initially rejected the use of a mask mandate. However, the issue became a political weapon as politicians and the press claimed that questioning masks was anti-science and even unhinged. In April 2020, the CDC reversed its position and called for the masking of the entire population, including children as young as 2 years old. The mask mandate and other pandemic measures like the closing of schools are now cited as fueling emotional and developmental problems in children.
The closing of schools and businesses was also challenged by some critics as unnecessary. Many of those critics were also censored. It now appears that they may have been right. Many countries did not close schools and did not experience increases in Covid. However, we are now facing alarming drops in testing scores and alarming rises in medical illness among the young.
Masks became a major social and political dividing line in politics and the media. Maskless people were chased from stores and denounced in Congress. Then-CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said during a Senate hearing that “face masks are the most important powerful health tool we have.”
However, there are now ample studies stating that “a new scientific review suggests that widespread masking may have done little to nothing to curb the transmission of COVID.” It added that “wearing a mask may make little to no difference in how many people caught a flu-like illness/COVID-like illness (nine studies; 276,917 people); and probably makes little or no difference in how many people have flu/COVID confirmed by a laboratory test (six studies; 13,919 people).”
It also found little evidence of a difference from wearing better masks and that “wearing N95/P2 respirators probably makes little to no difference in how many people have confirmed flu (five studies; 8407 people); and may make little to no difference in how many people catch a flu-like illness (five studies; 8407 people), or respiratory illness (three studies; 7799 people).”
Again, I expect that these studies will be debated for years. That is a good thing. There are questions raised over the types of studies used and whether randomized studies are sufficient. The point is only that there were countervailing indicators on mask efficacy and a basis to question the mandates. Yet, there was no real debate because of the censorship supported by many Democratic leaders in social media. To question such mandates was declared a public health threat.
The head of the World Health Organization even supported censorship to combat what he called an “infodemic.”
Scientists previously objected to the suspension of Dr. Clare Craig after she raised concerns about Pfizer trial documents. Those doctors were the co-authors of the Great Barrington Declaration, which advocated for a more focused Covid response that targeted the most vulnerable population rather than widespread lockdowns and mandates. Many are now questioning the efficacy and cost of the massive lockdown as well as the real value of masks or the rejection of natural immunities as an alternative to vaccination. Yet, these experts and others were attacked for such views just a year ago. Some found themselves censored on social media for challenging claims of Dr. Fauci and others.
The media has quietly acknowledged the science questioning mask efficacy and school closures without addressing its own role in attacking those who raised these objections. Even raising the lab theory on the origin of Covid 19 (a theory now treated as plausible) was denounced as a conspiracy theory. The science and health reporter for the New York Times, Apoorva Mandavilli, even denounced the theory as “racist.”
Yet, Mattingly and others are defending censorship by repeating a tautology: the government must seek the censorship of ideas because some ideas must be censored. Governments have always claimed that censorship of critics and dissenters is for the public’s best interest. They have always defined certain views as harmful or false.
Now, however, major media figures are shrugging off free speech concerns and supporting censorship as what former CNN media host CNN media correspondent Brian Stelter called a “harm reduction model.” While once fiercely opposed to censorship and government-supported blacklists, many in the media are echoing Mattingly’s view that the natural default should be to obey the government and its directions on permitted speech. After all, this is all for our own protection. Censorship just “makes sense.”