Daily Media Links 11/13

November 13, 2020   •  By Tiffany Donnelly   •  
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Supreme Court

Politico: Alito’s politically charged address draws heat

By Josh Gerstein

During his half-hour-long speech, [Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito said:]

“One of the great challenges for the Supreme Court going forward will be to protect freedom of speech. Although that freedom is falling out of favor in some circles, we need to do whatever we can to prevent it from becoming a second-tier constitutional right.” 

While the conservative justice insisted he was not opining on the legal questions related to coronavirus lockdown orders and similar restrictions, he painted those moves as oppressive.

“The pandemic has resulted in previously unimaginable restrictions on individual liberty,” Alito said, insisting that such an observation was transparently true. “The Covid crisis has served as a sort of constitutional stress test and in doing so it has highlighted disturbing trends that were already in evidence before the pandemic struck.” …

Alito also engaged in another regular lament from legal conservatives, complaining that law schools are hostile to those with right-of-center political views and others whose beliefs go against the majority viewpoint.

“Unfortunately, tolerance for opposing views is now in short supply in many law schools and in the broader academic community,” the justice said. “When I speak with recent law school graduates, what I hear over and over is that they face harassment and retaliation if they say anything that departs from the law school orthodoxy.”

The Courts

Courthouse News: Trump Loses Libel Case Over CNN Op-Ed on Mueller Report

By Aimee Sachs

The Trump campaign’s libel lawsuit against CNN over an opinion article about Russian election interference was thrown out Thursday by a federal judge who found the campaign did not prove the network knowingly disregarded the truth.  

The lawsuit filed in Atlanta federal court in March is centered on an op-ed written by CNN contributor Larry Noble last year. Referring to former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Noble wrote: “The Trump campaign assessed the potential risks and benefits of again seeking Russia’s help in 2020 and has decided to leave that option on the table.”

Suing various CNN entities, the president’s campaign claims Noble’s statement was “defamatory and false, and at the time of publication, defendants knew it was false.”

In an 18-page ruling issued Thursday, U.S. District Judge Michael L. Brown wrote that the Trump campaign’s “analysis of legal authority contains several errors.”

New York Post: AOC & Co.’s loathsome plan to keep lists of pro-Trumpies

By John Podhoretz

Last week, there arose something that calls itself the Trump Accountability Project. Its founding manifesto contains these words: “We should welcome in our fellow Americans with whom we differ politically. But those who took a paycheck from the Trump administration should not profit from their efforts to tear our democracy apart.”

Following the oxymoronic sophistry of these two contradictory sentences, the manifesto goes on to name three types who should be punished economically. First, those who elected Trump by working on his campaign. Second, those who staffed his government. And third, those who funded him.

That may not go far enough, though. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez thinks people need to collate information on anyone who might ever have said anything positive about Trump – lest such people scrub their records and try to pretend they were critical of Trump all along…

In my youth, the blacklist of Hollywood Communists was ­almost universally considered to have been a moral calamity, even though the things those people believed and the causes they advanced were among the greatest evils the world has ever seen.

Welcome to the new blacklisters – same as the old blacklisters. Joseph Ocasio-McCarthy, your time is now. You’ve got a little list.

National Review: Biden Appoints Free-Speech Antagonist to Sell Free Speech Abroad

By David Harsanyi

When Rick Stengel left his job as managing editor of Time magazine to take the job of Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs in 2013, he became the 24th journalist to officially join the Obama administration…

Stengel is now on Biden’s transition team to the U.S. Agency for Global Media, which I just learned is an agency that oversees “public service media networks that provide unbiased news and information in countries where the press is restricted.”

Considering Stengel’s animosity towards free expression this seems quite a poor fit. You might remember his infamous 2011 Time cover piece, featuring a picture of the Constitution with the headline “Does It Still Matter?”

In it he argued:

We can pat ourselves on the back about the past 223 years, but we cannot let the Constitution become an obstacle to the U.S.’s moving into the future with a sensible health care system, a globalized economy, an evolving sense of civil and political rights…

Stengel went even further, arguing in a 2019 Washington Post op-ed that the state should begin policing speech.

Politico: Where Trump’s recount fundraising dollars are really going

By Maggie Severns

In the coming months, Trump could use money from his new PAC, called Save America…to travel the country and stage rallies, which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. He could promote candidates who were loyal to him and make donations to their campaigns. And, if he wanted to, he could place his family members and former administration officials on payroll, and continue to host lavish events at his properties without tripping up campaign finance law.

“Former presidents have all sort of faded away after their last election. Trump is clearly a different person,” said Ben Ginsberg, an election lawyer who served as counsel to the Bush-Cheney campaign and the RNC. “He can go in and help candidates that he likes, he can use the money to advocate on issues as they come up if he wanted to do that. He can keep a donor list fresh.” …

Lawmakers are generally prohibited from using leadership PAC money to fund their campaigns, which makes it unlikely that Trump would legally be allowed to use his leadership PAC money to help fund the legal fights, legal experts told POLITICO.

“I don’t think the FEC has ever said leadership PACs can be used for this purpose, and I don’t think they would” allow it, said Adav Noti, former counsel at the Federal Election Commission.

Independent Groups

The Fulcrum: Anxious democracy reformers pressing Biden to make more of their causes

By David Hawkings

Joe Biden has plenty of campaign promises to keep, beyond the obvious and enormous top priorities of corralling the coronavirus and stabilizing the economy. And that’s made democracy reform groups, which have never counted him as an impassioned ally, newly skeptical their priorities will get addressed in his new administration.

Their anxiety has come to the surface this week. A coalition of 170 progressive good governance and voting rights organizations asked the president-elect to elevate a collection of fix-the-system proposals into his first 100 days’ agenda. Separately, one of the most influential such groups, RepresentUs, lambasted the Biden transition for “an omission of epic proportions” by giving short shrift to the issues it cares about.

Sludge: Here’s How Much Dark and Gray Money Was Spent on Congressional Races

By Donald Shaw

In 2020, non-disclosing nonprofits-so-called “dark money” groups-spent more than $44 million on U.S. House and Senate races, according to Sludge’s analysis of data from the Center for Responsive Politics. 

PACs that disclose their donors to the Federal Election Commission but reported taking funds from dark money groups spent more than $1 billion on 2020 congressional races. These PACs, whose spending is sometimes called “gray money” because they mix funds from disclosed sources with funds from entities that don’t disclose their donors, were responsible for the largest share of total outside spending in the 2020 election cycle for the first time.

Online Speech Platforms

Washington Post: Tech companies brace for the long haul with Trump’s unrelenting attacks on election outcome

By Elizabeth Dwoskin

Technology companies face a Catch-22, experts say. In extensively preparing to ward off election turmoil, they raised the bar on their willingness to alter their services to fight misinformation. Now the public expects them to maintain that high bar, even if it is almost impossible…

“This is an unsustainable pace” for the social media companies “to have so many resources aimed at one event,” said Alex Stamos, Facebook’s former chief security officer and the director of the Stanford Internet Observatory, in a Zoom call last week with the Election Integrity Partnership, a coalition of disinformation researchers…

“The fact that these companies had to label so much content since the election shows how intractable the problem is,” said Joan Donovan, director of the Technology and Social Change Research Project at the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School. “Social media companies now see how their inaction has harmed many and that, while they may try to return to the features they have limited in this election period, I hope they see how these interventions are necessary if they truly care about the health of our democracy.”

Bloomberg: Twitter Says Changes Curbed Spread of Election Misinformation

By Kurt Wagner

Twitter Inc. said product changes made ahead of the U.S. election, including one that made it more complicated to share other people’s posts, diminished the spread of misinformation on the social-media service.

The San Francisco-based company on Thursday said it put labels on 300,000 user posts from Oct. 27 to Nov. 11 for violating its rules around election misinformation. Twitter also said changes to its retweet feature ahead of the Nov. 3 vote were useful in limiting the spread of confusing or misleading posts…

“This change slowed the spread of misleading information by virtue of an overall reduction in the amount of sharing on the service,” Twitter said, though it didn’t provide specifics on how much misinformation was prevented from proliferating.

Candidates and Campaigns

Wall Street Journal: Biden Grants Waivers to Lobbyists to Serve On Transition

By Chad Day and Andrew Restuccia

At least 40 people serving on President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team are or were once registered lobbyists, according to an analysis by The Wall Street Journal.

The Biden transition team has sought to limit the influence of lobbyists in setting up the new administration. Its ethics rules don’t impose a blanket ban on lobbyists, but they require individuals who are registered lobbyists, or have registered as lobbyists within the past year, to get approval from the transition’s general counsel to serve on the team…

In addition, the Journal identified 35 people who had registered as lobbyists prior to this year and who do not need special approval to work on the transition…

Political candidates of both parties have grappled with what role former lobbyists should play in their campaigns and administrations. 

The States

Jonathan Turley: Big League Censorship? Michigan Attorney General Threatens Criminal Prosecution Over Posting Of Video Alleging Voter Fraud

[T]his week…Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s Office of Public Information threatened a website, Big League Politics, with criminal prosecution if it did not take down a video of alleged voting fraud. The video may indeed be misleading or false. However, the threat of criminal prosecution by the Michigan Attorney General’s office is a chilling escalation of the crackdown on free speech in this country and the calls for censorship on the Internet…

The Cease and Desist letter instructs the site to remove all posts, links, and anything similar immediately which correspond with #LeakDetroit.” Assistant Attorney General Danielle Hagaman-Clark states that “failure to comply will result in criminal prosecution.” There is no citation for the penal code provision that makes such an allegation or posting a crime, a standard element in such notice letters.

The letter refers to  false information about how poll workers counted challenged votes prior to 2020 and whether challenged ballots could be taken out of the official count. Again, the claims could well be misleading or false, but I fail to see the ability of Nessel to criminalize such assertions. Political campaigns are often replete with exaggerated claims on both sides.

Local 10 News: Evidence suggests several state Senate candidates were plants funded by dark money

By Glenna Milberg

Why would candidates for Florida Senate seats do no campaigning, no fundraising, have no issue platforms, nor make any effort to get votes?

Local 10 News has found evidence to suggest three such candidates in three Florida Senate district races, two of them in Miami Dade County, were shill candidates whose presence in the races were meant to syphon votes from Democratic candidates.

Comparisons of the no-party candidates’ public campaign records show similarities and connections that suggest they are all linked by funding from the same dark money donors, and part of an elaborate scheme to upset voting patterns.

Tiffany Donnelly


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