Daily Media Links 5/4

May 4, 2022   •  By Tiffany Donnelly   •  
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In the News

Hot Air: Jonathan Chait: IRS targeting of Tea Party groups was ‘imaginary’

By John Sexton

Yesterday, Jonathan Chait was set off by something published at National Review and went into a Twitter thread about how the IRS targeting of Tea Party groups was an “imaginary” abuse invented by conservatives…

Much of what he’s said here is wrong. It is true that evidence directly connecting President Obama to the targeting of Tea Party groups was never found. However, what Chait fails to acknowledge is that there wasn’t any need for a secret email from Obama. Obama was openly and repeatedly saying at the time that the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision was a blow to “our democracy itself.” …

As many of us pointed out at the time, this was Obama essentially saying “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?” And we know that Lois Lerner, former director of the Exempt Organizations Unit for the IRS, was very aware of the bitter complaints coming from the White House and elsewhere because she admitted it back in 2010. Here she is echoing Obama’s concerns about Citizens United and saying “everyone is up in arms because they don’t like it.” She added, “Federal Election Commission can’t do anything about it and they want the IRS to fix the problem.”

Lerner goes on to deny there’s anything the IRS can do. And yet, at an IRS office in Cincinnati, her subordinates were doing searches for applicants with “Tea Party” in their name. Here I’m going to hand it over to former FEC chairman Brad Smith.

Reason: The Disinformation Panic

By Tiffany Donnelly

New York Journal publisher William Randolph Hearst reportedly said, “You furnish the pictures, I’ll furnish the war!”

Hearst and his rival, Joseph Pulitzer, sensationalized, exaggerated, and outright lied to millions of Americans daily in the lead up to the Spanish-American War, spreading what many today would call “disinformation.” Yellow journalism famously fanned the flames of conflict, wrongly blaming the Spanish for sinking the U.S.S. Maine. But if political lies aren’t new, why are so many powerful institutions hyping fears about the internet and flirting with new restrictions on speech?


U.S. Senate Committee on Finance: Laws and Enforcement Governing the Political Activities of Tax Exempt Entities

Ed. note: Institute for Free Speech Founder and former FEC Chair Bradley A. Smith will testify before the Subcommittee on Taxation and IRS Oversight today, May 4, 2022. The hearing begins at 2:00pm.


Roll Call: Panel sends FEC nominee Dara Lindenbaum to Senate floor

By Kate Ackley

The Senate Rules and Administration panel approved the nomination of Dara Lindenbaum, a lawyer whose clients included the gubernatorial campaign of Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams, to the Federal Election Commission.

The Tuesday voice vote was bipartisan, with ranking Republican Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri among those in his party to support her…

Lindenbaum, an election lawyer with the firm Sandler Reiff Lamb Rosenstein & Birkenstock, would fill the seat of Steven Walther, an independent who was picked by Democrats. The agency is designed to have three Republican and three Democratic commissioners.

Blunt noted, just before the brief vote, that the committee had received a letter from 30 bipartisan political law practitioners supporting her nomination and said that he looked “forward to supporting her nomination today.”

The Hill: GOP lawmakers introduce bills to terminate DHS disinformation board

By Rebecca Beitsch

Republican lawmakers in both chambers have introduced legislation to block the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from rolling out its new Disinformation Governance Board less than a week after it was unveiled…

“The Department of Homeland Security should not be in the business of censoring free speech on Twitter and Facebook,” Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) said in a statement accompanying the bill, which she led on behalf of more than 60 of her GOP colleagues…

The legislation would terminate the Disinformation Governance Board and prohibit any funding from going to the board or anything substantially similar…

Even outside of GOP circles, the board has alarmed free speech advocates.

“Even in the hands of well-intentioned, good-faith actors, any government board ostensibly tasked with monitoring and “govern[ing]” disinformation is a frightening prospect; in the wrong hands, such a board would be a potent tool for government censorship and retaliation,” Protect Democracy, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Knight First Amendment Institute wrote in a letter to DHS.

The Courts

Reason: Cops Who Arrested Man Over Fake Facebook Page Get Qualified Immunity

By Billy Binion

In March 2016, Anthony Novak found himself in a jail cell for several days, his phone and computer seized by police. His offense: For 12 hours, he operated a parody Facebook page mocking the police department in Parma, Ohio, advertising fake community-outreach events like a “Pedophile Reform” meeting and a gathering with free abortions out of a police van…

He was prosecuted under an obscure Ohio law that prohibits using a computer to hinder police duties.

A jury wasn’t convinced. Novak was acquitted, his peers unswayed by the claim that the approximately 10 phone calls the page elicited to the department caused a disruption in operations…

Yet a federal court was similarly not persuaded by a civil suit filed by Novak, who argued that the officers violated his constitutional rights, setting up a debate around overcriminalization and free speech…

“The 6th Circuit’s decision is just the latest exemplar of the absurdity that qualified immunity has wrought, with its unwarranted deference to police who violate constitutional rights,” adds Cohn. “The parodical Facebook page is very clearly protected by the First Amendment, and the court’s weaseling its way into finding a question about that beggars belief. The power of parody and satire draws in large part from its ability to closely mimic its target while adding absurdist exaggeration.”

RealClearEducation: Bias Reporting Systems Are a Growing Threat to Campus Free Speech

By Cherise Trump

Today, students are also likely to encounter Bias Reporting Systems (BRSs) – a more covert threat often created under the guise of “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” initiatives.

If the name Bias Reporting System strikes you as creepy, even Stalinesque, your intuition is spot on. BRSs are teams and/or procedures that solicit, receive, investigate, and respond to reports of “bias incidents” that can include “bias speech.” The campus community becomes a breeding ground for policing speech, where fearful students look over their shoulders to see who might be listening to their conversations.

BRSs can be so oppressive that Speech First, a nonprofit membership organization, has supported students in lawsuits against their universities to dismantle these systems. Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit handed Speech First a victory against the University of Central Florida, in a unanimous ruling.

Independent Groups

Insider NJ: As Independent Groups Take Over the “Game” of American Elections, They Need More Accountability

By Jeffrey Brindle

Unlike other participants in New Jersey’s many elections, independent groups operate with few constraints, particularly the ‘dark money’ groups that refuse to name their contributors, focus on key swing districts and often subject candidates to vicious attacks. So why this disparity in treatment between independent groups and other actors involved in the same election-related activities? Because federal courts have issued many favorable rulings on behalf of these groups, granting them First Amendment protections not accorded to other participants. It is time to end the unfair edge enjoyed by independent groups by adopting legislation that provides appropriate levels of disclosure and accountability without being unconstitutional. The public deserves to know who is behind independent groups in the same way that disclosure educates the public with information on who is financially backing candidates, PACs and political parties.

The Media

TK News by Matt Taibbi: PayPal’s IndyMedia Wipeout

In the last week or so, the online payment platform PayPal without explanation suspended the accounts of a series of individual journalists and media outlets, including the well-known alt sites Consortium News and MintPress…

The site has had content disrupted by platforms like Facebook before, but now its pockets are being picked in addition.

The States

Star Tribune: Wright County man can resume flying huge Trump flag, Appeals Court rules

By Paul Walsh

The Minnesota Court of Appeals said Monday that a Wright County man was denied his free speech rights when he was fined for flying a huge Donald Trump flag from atop a 150-foot-tall crane.

The court reversed a finding by the Buffalo City Council, which had said in spring 2021 that Jay A. Johnson’s 30- by 50-foot flag that read “TRUMP 2020 Keep America Great” violated the sign ordinance for its excessive size and being installed on property without a permit.

Johnson, whose property in Wright County provides storage for his Johnsonville LLC construction business, should have been allowed to fly his flag because the city ordinance does not apply to noncommercial speech, the court said in its ruling for reversal of the council’s actions.

Further, the court ruling continued, “we conclude that the ordinance impermissibly creates a content-based regulation of speech, and [we] reverse the city’s decision to impose administrative penalties against Johnsonville. [The] penalties imposed by the city are based on an erroneous theory of law and must be reversed.”

Tiffany Donnelly

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