Reprinted from Bracing Views with the author’s permission.
Yesterday, journalists Matt Taibbi and Michael Shellenberger testified before the House Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government. Their testimony, and the risible reactions of Democrats on the subcommittee, are well worth watching; I watched the entire hearing, which lasted 140 minutes. Kim Iverson has an excellent summary here which lasts about 23 minutes. As Iverson notes, the Democrats on the subcommittee demonized the journalists while supporting censorship of ordinary Americans for political advantage, a clear violation of freedom of speech and the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Clearly, the Twitter Files have revealed government-directed censorship of lawful speech. The reactions and strategy of the Democrats on the subcommittee were as follows:
To smear the two journalists who volunteered to appear before Congress as “so-called” journalists; as being biased witnesses in favor of the right (even though Shellenberger testified he’d voted for Biden, and Taibbi described himself as a traditional ACLU liberal); as having the basest of motives, such as taking payments and otherwise profiting from their journalism; and of being willing or unwilling dupes of Elon Musk.
To repeat, again and again, that Russia massively interfered in the 2016 and 2020 elections, therefore government-directed efforts to suppress “foreign interference” in US elections was both legitimate and praiseworthy.
To associate Elon Musk with Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Russia, China, and other alleged bad actors, thereby suggesting that the Twitter Files are tainted and compromised by foreign information ops and influence.
To defend the FBI and other government agencies like the DHS and CIA as trustworthy and reliable defenders of truth as well as upholders of the First Amendment.
To suggest that the journalists involved posed a “direct threat,” e.g. to workers at Twitter, not the federal government or powerful corporations like Twitter itself or Facebook.
To imply the subcommittee’s purpose wasn’t about free speech at all; that its purpose was purely political and intended to advance right-wing agendas.
Specific to the Hunter Biden laptop story, one Democrat implied the hard drive could have been altered, thus calling into question the validity of emails and other data on that drive.
To change the subject by accusing Republicans of being worse offenders since they’re trying to ban books; also that Donald Trump is worse because he jailed one of his opponents.
Not one Democrat on the subcommittee expressed concern about the peril of state-sponsored censorship and suppression of free expression. Indeed, the Democrats took pains to portray the journalists in front of them as the real peril, along with Russia, Elon Musk, Republican book-banners, and other bad actors.
It was all rather amazing, a “shit storm” to quote Kim Iverson.
So many important points made by Taibbi and Shellenberger could easily get lost in this political shit storm, which I suppose was the Democrats’ strategy. Here’s a short list of those points:
As Taibbi said, state-directed censorship on Twitter didn’t just affect the right but also people on the left and publications like Consortium News and Truthout.
We’re looking at an emerging censorship-industrial complex, an unholy alliance between government and private corporations to filter, constrain, and otherwise control information sources. A form of “digital McCarthyism.”
Ordinary Americans are being deprived of their free speech rights without due process. Not only that: some are de-platformed and then denied access to pay sources (like PayPal) as punishment. So, not only can’t you speak freely: you also can’t support yourself financially.
Government calls (in this case by the FTC) to investigate the backgrounds of Taibbi, Shellenberger, and other journalists involved in the Twitter Files creates a chilling effect on journalism. As Shellenberger noted, it’s reminiscent of the Stasi (secret police) in East Germany.
Democrats on the subcommittee had no interest in any of this. Their strategy was to dismiss the hearing as politically motivated and the journalists involved as greedy opportunists handpicked by Elon Musk (whom, you might recall, was associated with Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Russia, China, and perhaps Hitler, Stalin, and Darth Vader).
Interestingly, I learned a new word in the hearings: “pre-bunking.” Apparently, the Democrats in 2020 knew the Republicans had Hunter Biden’s laptop, so they engaged in an exercise to “pre-bunk” the release of embarrassing details from that computer. To wit, mainstream media “journalists” were encouraged not to follow the “Pentagon Papers” model of publishing leaked and legitimate material quickly. Rather, they were primed not to cover such a story, or to cover it as a case of Russian disinformation.
And that’s exactly what the mainstream media did in October 2020: as a group, they wrongly dismissed the Hunter Biden laptop revelations as Russian disinformation as the government worked hand-in-glove with Twitter, Facebook, and others to suppress the story as malicious and false. As we now know (and as was known then), the Hunter Biden laptop story was well-sourced and accurate. There was no Russian connection whatsoever. (Kudos to the Democrats for their dirty tricks here; even Richard Nixon couldn’t have done it better.)
Again, Democrats on the subcommittee showed no interest in or concern about an emerging censorship-industrial complex and its suppression of free speech rights. They painted the journalists before them as bad or sketchy actors and the FBI and other government agencies like DHS and the CIA as the good guys, working selflessly and without bias to protect us all from the “dangerous” ideas of our fellow citizens.
Welcome to the era of state-sponsored thought police, brought to you by your Democratic friends in Congress.
Addendum (3/11): All those Democrats so eager to pillory Taibbi and Shellenberger: they all took an oath to support and uphold the Constitution.
I’m not sure there’s any more fundamental right to that oath than freedom of speech.
If you take your oath seriously as a Member of Congress, your focus at the hearing should – must – have been on upholding that fundamental right against government-directed interference and censorship.
Yet none of them mentioned this or their oath – their sworn duty – to the Constitution.
This is worse than mendacity; they are derelict in their duties as representatives and public servants.
William J. Astore is a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF). He taught history for fifteen years at military and civilian schools. He writes at Bracing Views.