Daily Media Links 3/22

March 22, 2021   •  By Tiffany Donnelly   •  
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The Courts

Politico: Federal judge pens dissent slamming decades-old press protections

By Josh Gerstein

A federal appeals court judge issued an extraordinary opinion Friday attacking partisan bias in the news media, lamenting the treatment of conservatives in American society and calling for the Supreme Court to overturn a landmark legal precedent that protects news outlets from lawsuits over reports about public figures.

D.C. Circuit Senior Judge Laurence Silberman’s diatribe, contained in his dissent in a libel case, amounted to a withering, frontal assault on the 1964 Supreme Court decision that set the framework for modern defamation law — New York Times v. Sullivan.

Silberman said the decision, requiring public figures to show “actual malice” to recover against a news organization for libel, was a “policy-driven” result that the justices simply invented out of whole cloth.

“The holding has no relation to the text, history, or structure of the Constitution, and it baldly constitutionalized an area of law refined over centuries of common law adjudication,” the Ronald Reagan appointee wrote.

Silberman echoed and approvingly cited an opinion Justice Clarence Thomas issued two years ago, questioning the rationale of New York Times v. Sullivan and calling for the high court to revisit the decision. “Justice Thomas has already persuasively demonstrated that New York Times was a policy-driven decision masquerading as constitutional law,” the judge wrote.

Congress

Times Record News: Sen. Mike Lee: H.R. 1 is not ‘For the People’

By Mike Lee

Sponsors of H.R. 1 claim their bill is “For the People.” But it could not be more deceptively named. The real question is, which people is H.R. 1 intended to benefit? The answer, not surprisingly, is its authors.

The true purpose of H.R. 1 — better characterized as the “Illegal Voting Act” — is not to increase legal voting. It’s to increase illegal voting and crack down on criticism of the government. It’s an Alien and Sedition Act for the 21st century: partisan, unconstitutional and borderline tyrannical…

The “Illegal Voting Act” would overturn centuries of free-speech rights for everyone except politicians.

Politicians sometimes act as though the First Amendment exists for them, and so they write laws restricting the political speech of “outsiders.” But understand, when they say “outsider” they mean you.

The First Amendment isn’t there to protect politicians; it’s to protect everyone else.

Restricting political speech is always and everywhere designed for one purpose: to render hardworking Americans second-class citizens in their own country. The “Illegal Voting Act” has nothing to do with democracy and everything to do with liberal intolerance of conservative criticism…

The point of our Constitution is to empower the people to hold leaders accountable. This bill flips that principle on its head.

National Review: Exclusive: New GOP Bill Hits Back against Chinese Funding of U.S. Think Tanks

By Jimmy Quinn

In Washington, money talks. Long aware of this basic fact of life in the U.S. capital, many an authoritarian regime has sought to build support for its government through well-placed gifts to think tanks. Often, such influence operations are designed to get the U.S. to give preferential treatment to foreign dictatorships, such as the Chinese party-state, often to the detriment of national security.

The law has yet to catch up to these efforts, but a group of House Republicans hopes to push back against these regimes with a bill that subjects think tanks and research institutions to stricter disclosure requirements. If their proposal, set to be announced this morning by Representative Lance Gooden and the Republican Study Committee — which initially called for these reforms in June — becomes law, it stands a chance at complicating these foreign-influence operations.

“For too long, left-wing think tanks have influenced American politics while taking money under the table from the CCP and other foreign adversaries,” Gooden will say in a statement announcing the bill. “We must shed light on the unreported financing behind the research organizations and nonprofits shaping our foreign policy.”

SEC

Wall Street Journal: The Securities and Politics Commission

By The Editorial Board

The Securities and Exchange Commission has by and large maintained a reputation as an apolitical protector of investors. That may change as Democrats gear up to use even the SEC as a cudgel to impose their political and cultural agenda on corporate America…

[Acting Chair Allison Herren Lee] also wants to mandate that public companies report political spending. The Federal Election Commission already reports corporate donations to candidates and parties. But Democrats want businesses to disclose their contributions to trade groups, conservative think tanks and outfits like the American Legislative Exchange Council. The goal is to suppress corporate political advocacy by exposing companies to political and media harassment, but they haven’t been able to pass legislation. Now Democrats on the SEC seem poised to do so by fiat.

Why is a company’s political giving material? Ms. Lee says companies often state “they support climate-friendly initiatives” and make “noteworthy pledges to alter their political spending practices in response to racial justice protests” but then contribute to conservatives. Aha, they give to the opposition. Can’t have that.

“Without political spending disclosure requirements,” Ms. Lee explains, investors can’t “adequately test these claims.” Her innuendo is that companies are misleading investors—meaning companies could be sued as well as smeared if they donate to conservatives.

The Media

National Review: The Hand-Wringing Media Freak-Out over Substack

By Charles C.W. Cooke

The first rule of Monopoly Club is that nobody else is allowed to be in Monopoly Club.

How else to understand the growing resistance to Substack — an online service that permits writers to bypass the traditional media and distribute newsletters and articles directly to subscribers — than as white-hot antipathy toward an upstart rival? Over the last few weeks, the eyes of the establishment have been focused on the platform and its renegade users, and, boy, have those eyes found it wanting. Summing up the opprobrium, Dr. Sarah Roberts of UCLA described Substack as “a dangerous threat to traditional news media,” “a threat to journalism,” and “incredibly dangerous and damaging to the fourth estate (journalism),” which she suggested is “one of the few failsafes against anti-democratic maneuvers.” “Please,” Roberts demanded, “do not write for or pay for Substack. I have to say it. I believe it’s dangerous.”

And why is it dangerous? That depends. In Brian Stelter’s “Reliable Sources” newsletter, CNN’s Kerry Flynn proposed recently that Substack is a problem because it provides a living for figures who “attack journalists, or stoke fears about transgender people,” and do so without the type of editorial oversight she’d prefer…And, in a piece published on Substack itself, the baseball writer Craig Calcaterra groused that some of the site’s other users — but not him, of course — are “engaged in some pretty objectionable discourse.”

Which, of course, is the real issue here.

Judging by the panicked language that they so often use to describe the industry’s parvenus, traditional media figures seem to be horrified by the mere existence of venues over which they are unable to exert control. Tali Arbel, an AP tech writer, worried earlier this year that “Apple and Google” had “left open a major loophole” for unapproved speech: “Podcasts.” (Just wait until Arbel finds out about bars!) 

Free Speech

The Guardian: Liberals want to blame rightwing ‘misinformation’ for our problems. Get real

By Thomas Frank

In liberal circles these days there is a palpable horror of the uncurated world, of thought spaces flourishing outside the consensus, of unauthorized voices blabbing freely in some arena where there is no moderator to whom someone might be turned in. The remedy for bad speech, we now believe, is not more speech, as per Justice Brandeis’s famous formula, but an “extremism expert” shushing the world.

Independent Groups

Axios: Exclusive: Pro-Biden group won’t disclose donors

By Hans Nichols

A Pro-Biden group, operating with the White House’s blessing, plans to raise unlimited funds — and grant donors anonymity — as it prepares to promote and protect the president’s agenda from the outside.

By not capping anonymous contributions, the group, called Building Back Together, will have an easier time raising money, ahead of its anticipated launch next month to defend Biden’s policies, including his $1.9 trillion relief package.

“We will work collaboratively with existing groups who are working toward those same goals,” read a statement from the organization.

“We will also leave it up to individual donors on whether to publicly release their donations.”

The group, which will be organized as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, will impose some fundraising limits: It will not accept contributions from corporations, registered lobbyists, or the oil and gas industry…

“We are playing by the rules of today’s system, and will hold ourselves to the same standard as many other outside groups working to impact the direction of this country,” according to the statement.

The White House won’t have operational control over the new group…

“It has a very specific lane and a very specific role and cannot do the work that the state parties do and can’t coordinate with the state parties,” White House deputy chief of staff Jen O’Malley Dillon told the Wall Street Journal last month, which first reported on the group.

Scam Pacs

Daily Beast: The Golden Era for Political ‘Con Artists’ Posing as Charities

By Roger Sollenberger

But one smaller consequence of [Donald Trump’s] presidency has proven a true parasite for conservatives: the rise of scam Political Action Committees posing as charities.

Legal and campaign finance experts say these groups—many of which have chosen causes championed by former President Trump to prey on his supporters—stand out precisely because they mislead donors into thinking their contributions aren’t political and will benefit a legitimate charitable cause. But the reality is these cleverly named PACs are exploiting loose election laws to funnel contributions back to the scammers…

Scam PACs, of course, aren’t new. They’ve been around since the Citizens United decision opened the door for super PACs in 2010—just in time for the rise of the Tea Party. But what is an innovation over the last four years is PACs seeming to disguise themselves as charities…

Adav Noti, former general counsel for the Federal Election Commission and now chief of staff at campaign finance watchdog, Campaign Legal Center, says these groups were “very much on the radar” while he was at the FEC…

And Robert Maguire, a political nonprofit investigator for transparency watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, explained that, while charity telemarketing is regulated by the Federal Trade Commission, that agency has no jurisdiction over political fundraising. And the FEC, he said, appears to lack the willpower to take action.

“The problem is the first line of defense is the FEC. But the FEC is asleep at the switch a lot of the time and can’t muster the will to hold these groups accountable,” Maguire said. “The main agency that’s receiving all this data is not acting as the first line of defense, and many scammers get away with it entirely, or for a very long time.”

Online Speech Platforms

New York Times: For Political Cartoonists, the Irony Was That Facebook Didn’t Recognize Irony

By Mike Isaac

Since 2013, Matt Bors has made a living as a left-leaning cartoonist on the internet. His site, The Nib, runs cartoons from him and other contributors that regularly skewer right-wing movements and conservatives with political commentary steeped in irony.

One cartoon in December took aim at the Proud Boys, a far-right extremist group. With tongue planted firmly in cheek, Mr. Bors titled it “Boys Will Be Boys” and depicted a recruitment where new Proud Boys were trained to be “stabby guys” and to “yell slurs at teenagers” while playing video games.

Days later, Facebook sent Mr. Bors a message saying that it had removed “Boys Will Be Boys” from his Facebook page for “advocating violence” and that he was on probation for violating its content policies.

It wasn’t the first time that Facebook had dinged him. Last year, the company briefly took down another Nib cartoon — an ironic critique of former President Donald J. Trump’s pandemic response, the substance of which supported wearing masks in public — for “spreading misinformation” about the coronavirus. Instagram, which Facebook owns, removed one of his sardonic antiviolence cartoons in 2019 because, the photo-sharing app said, it promoted violence.

Associated Press: Twitter says it suspended Rep. Taylor Greene by mistake

Twitter briefly suspended the account of U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene on Friday, but later said the move was a mistake.

The Georgia Republican, who has in the past promoted violence against Democrats and conspiracy theories about QAnon and the 9/11 attacks, was unable to post to her account for 12 hours.

San Francisco-based Twitter later said one of the platform’s automated systems suspended Greene by mistake. “This action has been reversed, and access to the account has been reinstated,” the company said in a statement.

The freshman lawmaker then used her account to express her skepticism about Twitter’s explanation to her more than 380,000 followers.

“I was just told @Twitter suspended me for 12 hrs in ‘error,’ on the same day Dems introduced a resolution to expel me from Congress,” she posted. “What a coincidence?”

The expulsion resolution pushed by Democrats comes after the House voted in February to remove Greene from both of her committees, citing her history of incendiary social media posts.

The States

Reason: Government Censorship Is the Worst Cancel Culture of All

By Nick Gillespie

Almost a year to the day that Louisville police officers killed Breonna Taylor during a no-knock raid, the Kentucky Senate passed a bill which makes it a crime to insult and taunt cops. If S.B. 211 becomes law, you could get up to three months in jail and a $250 fine if you flip off the fuzz in a way “that would have a direct tendency to provoke a violent response from the perspective of a reasonable and prudent person.”

It’s just one example of a slew of proposed new laws that are chilling free speech. While freethinkers are rightly worried that private online platforms such as Amazon, Twitter, and Facebook are increasingly—and often arbitrarily—cracking down on speech for political reasons, the much graver threat comes from governments at all levels seeking to ban or compel speech…

Earlier this year, lawmakers in Kentucky also introduced legislation that “would make a user entitled to damages if a social media platform deletes or ‘censors’ religious or political posts.” Conservatives who rightly yelled bloody murder when Christian bakers were forced to make cakes for same-sex weddings are now trying to stop social media platforms from running their businesses the way they see fit.

In Florida, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has proposed legislation that would ban Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms from suspending the accounts of political candidates. They would face fines of up to $100,000 a day and the new law would also allow regular users to sue platforms for damages if they feel they’ve been treated unfairly.

Similar legislation has been proposed in Oklahoma, North Dakota, and Texas, where Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has said, without citing actual evidence, that conservative viewpoints are being systematically silenced. “Pretty soon,” he promises, such supposed censorship is “going to be against the law in the state of Texas.” That law, S.B. 12, is poised to pass the state Senate.

New York Times: How a Sham Candidate Helped Flip a Florida Election

By Patricia Mazzei

The story of how Mr. Artiles plotted the [sham candidate] scheme, according to the arrest documents, is a classic South Florida racket complete with the sale of a nonexistent Range Rover and wads of cash stored in a home safe.

But it leaves unanswered the questions of where the money for the scheme came from — the Republican Senate president said the party had nothing to do with it — and whether the funds were tied to secretive dark money that oozed through two other State Senate races last year. Republicans have controlled the state government for more than two decades.

On Friday, Democrats called for campaign finance reform — and for the resignation of Ms. Garcia so that a new election could be held. “Her victory is clearly tainted,” said Manny Diaz, chairman of the Florida Democratic Party.

CT News Junkie: FEC Commissioner: Child Care Should be a Clean Election Campaign Expense

By Hugh McQuaid

Federal Elections Commissioner Ellen Weintraub weighed in Friday to support a Connecticut bill to allow candidates participating in the state’s public campaign finance program to use those funds to cover the cost of child care while campaigning. 

The legislature’s Government Administration and Elections Committee held a public hearing on the bill Friday…

“At a time when a lot people are concerned about political power being concentrated in the hands of a smaller and smaller segment of society, a law like this may help to open the door to political participation for more younger candidates, more female candidates, people of limited means and generally may help to advance a more diverse group of candidates,” Weintraub said.

Tiffany Donnelly

https://www.ifs.org/author/tdonnelly/

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