"Not All TV News Sources Are The Same": Congress And The Slippery Slope Of Censorship
Added 02-26-21 09:55:02am EST - “Below 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?” - Jonathanturley.org
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Below 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.
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.
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