Daily Media Links 3/18

March 18, 2020   •  By Tiffany Donnelly   •  
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The Courts

Courthouse News: Iowa State University Settles Free-Speech Lawsuit

By Rox Laird

A national advocate for free speech on college campuses dropped its lawsuit against Iowa State University’s sidewalk chalking ban and other limits on political expression after the university agreed to permanently change its policies regulating student speech on campus.

National Right to Work: UCSD Workers Hit Union with Federal Class-Action Lawsuit for Seizing Union Dues in Violation of First Amendment

By Staff

With free legal aid from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, two UC San Diego Health employees filed a federal class action lawsuit against the University Professional and Technical Employees (UPTE) union and the University of California for seizing dues from their paychecks in violation of their First Amendment rights. The lawsuit states the dues seizures are unconstitutional under the 2018 Foundation-won Janus v. AFSCME Supreme Court decision. 

FEC

Courthouse NewsJeb Bush

By Staff 

The Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21 brought a federal complaint over the Federal Election Commission’s failure to take action – for four years – on its complaint that Jeb Bush violated campaign finance law when he established and controlled the Right to Rise Super PAC.

Roll Call: Tuesday’s elections (mostly) continue amid coronavirus pandemic

By Bridget Bowman and Jessica Wehrman

In Ohio, campaigns were reeling after a chaotic Monday night.

While Republicans have a handful of contested state races, Democrats not only were ready to weigh in on the battle between Sanders and Biden but also had heavily contested primaries in two congressional districts. Now, they will have to wait for the results, after state officials moved to delay the election until June 2…

The uncertainty has caused campaigns to privately wonder if they should treat the extension period like a primary or like a runoff, and whether they can use money raised for the general election over the next few months – FEC rules don’t allow for it until after a candidate wins the primary.

The FEC said Tuesday it would be working to update deadlines, including for new pre-primary disclosures, and “affected campaigns may continue to accept primary contributions until the date of the rescheduled election.”

Washington Free Beacon: Ilhan Omar Is Her New Husband’s Biggest Client, Public Records Show

By Brent Scher

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D., Minn.) and new husband Tim Mynett-who is also her campaign consultant-are downplaying the campaign cash the freshman lawmaker funneled to his consulting firm. But campaign records show that Omar’s campaign has been by far the firm’s biggest client, funneling more than half-a-million dollars to the group in the 2018 and 2020 election cycles, almost half of all the money the company took in from federal candidates…

Now Omar’s campaign and Mynett’s firm, the E Street Group, are defending their professional relationship from critics who have charged that Omar broke the law by improperly using campaign money for personal travel-in particular, to reimburse Mynett’s travel from California to Washington, D.C., to visit Omar…

“My relationship with Tim began long after this work started,” Omar tweeted Monday. “We consulted with a top FEC campaign attorney to ensure there were no possible legal issues with our relationship. We were told this is not uncommon and that no, there weren’t.”

Following divorce filings by Mynett’s then-wife last August alleging that her husband was romantically involved with Omar, the National Legal and Policy Center filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission raising questions about the legality of the arrangement. 

Media

Wall Street JournalChina Banishes U.S. Journalists from Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Washington Post

By WSJ Staff

China said it would revoke the press credentials of Americans working for three major U.S. newspapers in the largest expulsion of foreign journalists in the post-Mao era, amid an escalating battle with the Trump administration over media operating in the two countries.

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Wednesday it was demanding that all U.S. nationals working for The Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and the Washington Post whose press credentials expire by the end of the year turn those credentials in within 10 calendar days.

The affected reporters won’t be allowed to report anywhere in China, including the semiautonomous territories of Hong Kong and Macau, the statement said.

It also ordered five outlets-the Journal, Times and Post as well as the Voice of America and Time-to submit information about staff, finances, operations and real estate in China.

First Amendment

Wall Street Journal: How Free Speech Dogma Failed Us in Charlottesville

By Michael Signer

As the mayor of Charlottesville, Va., during the violent riots of August 2017, I saw firsthand how legal interpretations of the First Amendment are failing to keep pace with today’s political disruptions. Our harrowing experience shows that we need to return to a path that gives less weight to abstract free-speech principles and more to the pragmatic needs of officials and residents on the ground…

After seeing the online frenzy among the far right and its foes about a “Unite the Right” rally to protest the city’s planned removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, I consulted with other mayors and security experts…

I entered an “Alice in Wonderland” world in which I was instructed not to talk about the neo-Nazis invading us or the expense and difficulty of providing for the safety of our citizens…

I was actually advised to avoid mentioning white nationalism entirely, lest I suggest that the city was concerned about the content of the rally’s speech…

But the ACLU of Virginia sued us anyway, arguing that the city had been motivated by the content of the speech at the rally, not the safety of the public. On the rally’s eve, we lost in federal court…

The rest is history. We were correct: The militia rally couldn’t be safely held in downtown Charlottesville…

None of this would have happened if we had won in court and relocated the rally. Things need to change.

Free Speech

FIRECoronavirus and the failure of the ‘Marketplace of Ideas’

By Greg Lukianoff

As the United States deals with the coronavirus pandemic, many of us look back and wonder if there were things that could have been done to stop the virus from going global. The most obvious place to start is in Hubei province and Wuhan itself, the epicenter of the disease…

But what now seems equally clear is that Chinese attempts to clamp down on the free flow of information and freedom of speech played a disastrous role, as well. The arrest and death of doctor Li Wenliang helped alert the rest of the world to the censorship coronavirus whistleblowers faced in China…

Since at least Jan. 1, China enforced severe social media censorship of hundreds of terms relating to the virus, many of which concerned the failures of China’s leadership in controlling the outbreak. Because people in China didn’t have access to information about the virus, they didn’t know to take extra precautions, allowing it to spread faster, all the while preventing the world from preparing its response during the crucial first weeks of the outbreak.

New York Times: Coronavirus Outrage Spurs China’s Internet Police to Action

By Paul Mozur

As China tries to reshape the narrative of its fumbled response to the coronavirus outbreak, it is turning to a new breed of police that carry out real-world reprisals for digital misdeeds.

The internet police, as they are known here, have gained power as the Communist Party has worked to seize greater control over the thoughts, words, and even memories of China’s 800 million web users. Now, they are emerging as a bulwark against the groundswell of anger over governance breakdowns that exacerbated the epidemic.

Officers arrive with an unexpected rap at the door of online critics. They drag off offenders for hours of interrogation. They force their targets to sign loyalty pledges and recant remarks deemed politically unacceptable, even if those words were made in the relative privacy of a group chat.

Washington Post: Singapore introduced tough laws against fake news. Coronavirus has put them to the test.

By Shibani Mahtani

Governments are struggling to keep up with coronavirus disinformation flooding the Internet: bogus cures, false reports and a conspiracy theory that the virus was cooked up in a Chinese lab. New York’s attorney general served a cease-and-desist letter to radio host Alex Jones for peddling a fake cure that can turn skin blue, and Britain is paying social media influencers to disseminate accurate information.
Others are turning to a new weapon: laws criminalizing fake news.

Born out of concern about the spread of online falsehoods, these laws are powerful tools that come with hefty fines and jail sentences. But free-speech advocates worry about the potential for authoritarian regimes to use the rules to target their critics and threaten technology companies.

Online Speech Platforms

Wall Street JournalTwitter Suppresses Speech by Calling It ‘Manipulated Media’

By Brendan Carr

Political satire works because it challenges those in power while using humor to draw people into the discussion. Internet speech, viral videos and memes threaten those seeking to control the political narrative. By bypassing self-appointed gatekeepers, an outsider can now carry a message directly to the public. The media must often play catch-up-covering the messages and story lines that are already resonating with people.

This explains efforts to equate political speech with the entirely separate categories of doctored deep fakes, illegal content and deceptive cheap fakes. These attempts to curtail lawful political speech confuse the public, making it harder to identify and build consensus around media that has truly been doctored or manipulated. Many of the latter sort of videos are on their way-whether aimed at influencing elections or otherwise swaying public debate…

Limiting political speech tilts the playing field toward incumbent politicians with large followings and media darlings with easy access to interviews. The answer to all this is obvious: Social-media companies should get out of the speech-police business.

TechCrunch: Facebook, Reddit, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter and YouTube issue joint statement on misinformation

By Catherine Shu and Jonathan Shieber

In an unprecedented move to reassure customers and flag the potential for misinformation about COVID-19 on their platforms, all of the major social media companies and their parent corporations issued a joint statement on their efforts.

“We invite other companies to join us as we work to keep our communities healthy and safe,” the statement read.

Last week, U.S Chief Technology Officer Michael Michael Kratsios held a remote meeting with representatives from major tech companies on how to coordinate various efforts related to COVID-19, including fighting disinformation. The Washington Post and Politico reported that the White House asked Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, Apple, IBM, Cisco and Twitter for help.

The World Health Organization’s director-general said last month that disinformation is as dangerous as COVID-19. During an address at the Munich Security conference on Feb. 15, almost a month before the WHO officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said “We’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an infodemic. Fake news spreads faster and more easily than this virus, and is just as dangerous.”

The Verge: Twitter takes down coronavirus tweets from John McAfee, David Clarke, and others

By Kim Lyons

Twitter has removed several tweets by prominent accounts that made misleading claims about the novel coronavirus pandemic, as the company says it’s following a “zero-tolerance approach to platform manipulation and any other attempts to abuse our service at this critical juncture.” …

Twitter says it has not seen a significant coordinated platform manipulation around novel coronavirus issues, but plenty of individual Twitter accounts with high follower counts have been criticized for adding to the confusion.

Wall Street Journal: TikTok to Stop Using China-Based Moderators to Monitor Overseas Content

By Yoko Kubota, Raffaele Huang and Shan Li

Popular short-video app TikTok said it would halt using China-based moderators to monitor overseas content and shift that work to those outside of China.

The decision will result in the transfer of more than 100 China-based moderators to other positions within the company, according to people familiar with the matter.

The move is the latest effort by TikTok’s owner Bytedance Inc. to distance itself from concerns about it being a Chinese-operated company. The soaring popularity of TikTok has attracted the attention of some American lawmakers worried about its Chinese roots.

Candidates and Campaigns

New York TimesAt Party for Donald Trump Jr.’s Girlfriend, Donors Helped Pick Up the Tab

By Kenneth P. Vogel, Steve Eder and Nicholas Confessore

It was a lavish birthday party for Donald Trump Jr.’s girlfriend, Kimberly Guilfoyle. The setting was Mar-a-Lago, President Trump’s private club in Palm Beach, Fla. The guest list included dozens of Trump family members and friends.

But when it came to picking up the tab, hands went out to other attendees. Among them were at least four whose families are financial supporters of the president’s re-election campaign, for which Ms. Guilfoyle helps lead the fund-raising. They ended up pitching in tens of thousands of dollars, passed along to Mar-a-Lago, to help pay for what two people familiar with the planning said was a $50,000 celebration of Ms. Guilfoyle’s 51st birthday…

Brendan Fischer, of the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan watchdog group, called the party “an illustration of the blurred lines between Trump’s presidency, his campaign, and his family’s personal and financial interests.”

At the very least, he said, the party created the appearance of supporters of the president currying favor with his family by steering money into his private business, which he continues to profit from.

“This may not be illegal, but it is incredibly unethical,” he said.

The States

Detroit NewsMystery donor money quietly funded Michigan Senate leader Arlan Meekhof’s nonprofit

By Craig Mauger

As then-Michigan Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof was deciding which bills would advance and possibly become law in 2018, an organization led by his allies raked in hundreds of thousands of dollars from secret donors.

The American Jobs Council then spent nearly $1 million in 2018, including a $500,000 contribution to another nonprofit tied to Meekhof and $19,448 to reimburse “charity auction purchases” and “other expenses” that involved Meekhof, according to a tax filing obtained by The Detroit News.

While Meekhof and his associates said their actions complied with the law, one tax expert labeled the reimbursements “odd.” Another said he would expect a nonprofit to be more forthcoming about efforts that are supposed to benefit “social welfare.”

The situation with the Meekhof-related nonprofits could have led to “improper influence,” said two other legal experts who study money in politics.

The American Jobs Council is part of a larger national trend of officeholders’ supporters using nonprofit accounts to raise money from undisclosed sources and then help causes tied to the elected officials. The trend has gained steam since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which limited governments’ ability to bar corporate and union spending in politics.

“You have one of the most powerful people in government raising funds from secret donors who may or may not have business before government,” said Brendan Fischer, director of the federal reform program at the Campaign Legal Center in Washington, D.C., about Meekhof’s situation.

AZ Central: Coronavirus could kill Arizona initiatives to ban dark money and raise taxes for schools

By Laurie Roberts, Arizona Republic

A week ago, it seemed a foregone conclusion that Arizona voters would have the opportunity this fall to get “dark money” out of the state’s elections…

Right along with the foregone conclusion that we will be voting this fall on proposals to require campaign finance disclosure…

Turns out the novel coronavirus is hazardous not only to our health but to our ability to make laws at the ballot box…

Outlaw Dirty Money has until July 2 to collect 356,467 signatures of registered Arizona voters to make the November ballot.

That doesn’t count the tens of thousands of extra signatures needed to ensure a cushion against the inevitable legal attacks from dark money groups determined keep this off the ballot.

Terry Goddard, campaign chairman of Outlaw Dirty Money, says the group was on track with 275,000 signatures…

He wasn’t, however, factoring in a global pandemic.

Ad Law Access: Facial Recognition Tech Enforced by Vermont AG Under State Privacy & Data Broker Laws

By Aaron Burstein and Alysa Zeltzer Hutnik

Vermont Attorney General Thomas Donovan Jr. has ratcheted up ongoing scrutiny of facial recognition technology. On March 10, the Vermont AG sued facial recognition technology provider Clearview AI and moved for a preliminary injunction against the company. Clearview drew wide attention in January following the publication of a New York Times story that detailed how the company reportedly collected approximately three billion digital photographs, primarily by scraping them from social networks and websites. The Times also reported that Clearview’s customers include more than 600 law enforcement agencies, which apparently may use the service to connect facial images with individuals’ names…

The complaint goes on to portray Clearview as rushing headlong into an area that policymakers and other companies have treated with great caution. Asserting that “[o]nce entered into a facial recognition database, the individual loses an enormous amount of anonymity, privacy, and freedom,” the complaint states that “businesses and policymakers have been particularly cautious regarding the implementation of facial recognition technology because the potential for misuse and the consequences of such misuse are so dire.” …

The complaint alleges that the following practices are “immoral, unethical, and unscrupulous”:

Violating consumers’ civil rights and chilling First Amendment interests in assembly and political expression.

Tiffany Donnelly

Tiffany Donnelly