In 1968, the Democrats chose Chicago for their national convention. Through its course, members of the radical left swarmed the streets, vandalizing and clashing with police, demanding to have their point of view not only heard by the establishment, but obeyed. Over the following decades, they succeeded in moving the party far to the left and becoming its establishment.
This week, two Democrats in Congress sent a letter to various media companies that carry Fox News, Newsmax, and One America News Network, questioning those companies for choosing to do so. The letter specifically questions what moral and ethical principles are relied upon in such a choice, whether there are content guidelines, whether any action has been taken against those news outlets by platforms to “reduce the spread of disinformation,” and if those platforms intend to continue carrying the named outlets beyond the date of their current contracts.
The letter itself is, in effect, an ultimatum to any company which carries Fox, Newsmax, or OANN, to place restrictive demands on these networks, penalize them, or drop them — and, if not, the letter all but promises that lawmakers will find a way to pursue action against the carrying companies.
The letter is the latest direct challenge to free speech from the left, and this letter is a challenge in more than one way. Because not only does it undermine rights to free speech, but it also undermines a crucial function of the American public — the ability to critically consider what is read or heard.
A republic is based on its citizens making informed, consensual choices. In the United States, that ranges from who we vote for to how we feel about a new kind of food. The decision-making process is only genuinely viable provided those making a choice are not intentionally denied information, or banned from sharing it.
And Americans have, throughout their history, more often made the right choices than not when able to critically consider for themselves what was known to them. Understanding something, or another’s opinion, or the person making it, comes about by asking why.
It is among the reasons why the founding generation was so particular about guaranteeing freedom of speech. It was through the written words of broadsheets, pamphlets, and newspapers printed and shared throughout the colonies that the case was made first for independence, and then for the adoption of the Constitution. Americans ultimately came to support leaving the Crown and protecting their natural rights under the Constitution, in part because they were so well informed.
The American leftist revolutionaries of 1968 claimed as much as a matter of heritage — that they were seeking not merely an end to the Vietnam War, but to ensure the rights of all Americans.
But such revolutionaries only care about rights until they gain power. Then, rights are ambiguous, at best. The French Jacobins, the Russian Bolsheviks, the Chinese Maoists, the Cuban socialists, all began by declaring themselves for the people and their rights, only to swiftly turn and crack down against those very same people in order to consolidate control through violation of those rights. The same could even be argued of the Federalists in this country through the Sedition Act of 1798, which stifled dissent over the quasi-war with France.
Some of today’s Democrats, and their left-leaning allies, are arguing they are seeking to “save democracy” by curtailing rights and democratic practices. This is why Facebook’s contextual expert warnings, Twitter’s suspension of particular accounts, book companies refusing to publish conservative authors or controversial subjects, the deplatforming of a social network, and now, the calling out of companies which carry news networks like Newsmax, are so alarming.
This growing trend of censorship threatens not only to reduce the First Amendment, but it also stands to dislodge Americans’ critical reasoning by preemptively shutting down a conversation with a negating but intellectually sophisticated term of force. Who, after all, would willingly defend “disinformation” featured on a suspect network, let alone talk about it or ask “why”?
It is also important to remember that forming incorrect conclusions, making mistakes, having a different point of view, or even attempting to learn more are well within the right to free speech — and not grounds for censorship. Neither do they justify the label “disinformation.”
Yet Democratic lawmakers send veiled threats to companies and platforms about this very sort of thing. While they label contrasting views about election 2020 as an example of “disinformation,” the term “disinformation” itself is broad and inclusive. As with the Federalists in 1798, anything deemed harmful to those in governance could be deemed disinformative and shut down.
Not all Democrats agree, and some, like strategist Naomi Wolf, are joining conservatives in speaking out against the trend. Historically, the Sedition Act ultimately led to the Federalists’ undoing in Election 1800. And perhaps both fittingly and ironically, conservative and libertarian students at the University of Chicago have recently unveiled a new free speech journal, The Chicago Thinker. That may be even more radical than the events of 1968.
Joe Vigliotti, a contributor to The Flip Side and a Taneytown city councilman, writes from Taneytown. His column appears every other Friday. Email him through his website at www.jvigliotti.com.