Daily Media Links 8/31

August 31, 2020   •  By Tiffany Donnelly   •  
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The Courts

Associated Press: Judge urged to keep Montana political spending rule

By Amy Beth Hanson

Attorneys for Montana’s governor urged a federal judge Thursday to uphold an executive order that requires companies to report political contributions if they want to bid on large state contracts, in a case that could test whether so-called dark money groups can avoid public disclosure of spending.

A conservative advocacy group, the Illinois Opportunity Project, is challenging Gov. Steve Bullock’s 2018 executive order that requires companies to report political contributions, including to dark money groups, if they want to bid on large state contracts…

The Illinois Opportunity Project says its donors could face retaliation if their names became public, and the order could limit contributions to the group from companies that want to do business with Montana…

Under Bullock’s order, companies submitting bids for contracts valued at more than $25,000 for services or $50,000 for goods must disclose two years’ worth of political spending if the spending exceeds $2,500.

The government must prove why its interests outweigh the First Amendment rights of donors, attorney Daniel Suhr argued on behalf of the Illinois Opportunity Project, a nonprofit group that says it advocates for policies driven by the principles of liberty and free enterprise.

Montana’s government is just curious and has no valid reason to know who is giving money to organizations that are engaged in issue advocacy, Suhr told U.S. District Judge Charles Lovell.

New York Times: Sarah Palin’s Suit Against New York Times Will Go to Trial, Judge Rules

By Niraj Chokshi

A federal judge said on Friday that there was enough evidence in Sarah Palin’s defamation lawsuit against The New York Times Company to send it to a jury trial, a victory for the former vice-presidential candidate and governor.

The suit, filed in June 2017, is centered on a Times editorial published that month under the headline “America’s Lethal Politics.”

In her complaint, Ms. Palin said the newspaper’s editorial board had wrongly and intentionally linked her to a 2011 mass shooting in which Gabrielle Giffords, a congresswoman from Arizona, was severely wounded and six people were killed. The Times issued a correction for the editorial two days after it was published.

The judge, Jed S. Rakoff of Federal District Court in Manhattan, dismissed Ms. Palin’s suit two months after it was filed, saying of the mistaken editorial: “Negligence this may be; but defamation of a public figure it plainly is not.” Last year, a three-judge panel overturned that decision and reinstated the case.

On Friday, weeks after lawyers for Ms. Palin and The Times made arguments at a hearing, Judge Rakoff denied a Times motion for summary judgment. In ordering the case to proceed, he said there was “sufficient evidence to allow a rational finder of fact to find actual malice by clear and convincing evidence.” He set a Feb. 1 trial date.

Boston Globe: The Christian flag and the Boston flagpole

By Jeff Jacoby

“We commemorate flags from many countries and communities at Boston City Hall Plaza,” the city says on its website. “We want to create an environment in the City where everyone feels included.” … The city’s Property Management Department received 284 flag-raising applications between 2005 and 2017. It approved them all…

Did City Hall have a right to say no to Camp Constitution? The answer to that question turns on a dispute over what the First Amendment mandates. A lawsuit to settle that dispute has been wending its way through the federal courts and is now before the First Circuit Court of Appeals.

Boston’s argument is that the three flagpoles are a government forum, that any flag they display amounts to government speech, and that no private party can compel the government to express a message it doesn’t choose to express. It relies on two important Supreme Court cases. In the 2009 case of Pleasant Grove v. Summum, the high court ruled that a town in Utah could reject an organization’s request to place a monument in a city park, despite the fact that another group’s monument had been accepted. In Walker v. Texas Division, the court held that license plates are tantamount to government speech, so Texas could refuse to produce a specialty plate honoring the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

By the same reasoning, Boston contends, it is allowed to restrict the flagpoles outside City Hall to flags the city wishes to be associated with – and it doesn’t wish to be associated with a message promoting a specific religion. 

Breitbart: Suit Seeks to Lift Gretchen Whitmer Restrictions on Campaigning

By Kyle Olson

A lawsuit by the Thomas More Society seeks to end Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s effective ban on in-person campaigning.

“For the past several months, the governor has essentially, at the threat of arrest, made retail politicking illegal,” Phill Kline, director of the Amistad Project of the Thomas More Society, told Breitbart News.

Kline said meeting people face-to-face in the community is “the bread and butter of those out of power. Those in power can buy media, they have access to greater financial resources and they can earn media.”

He argued Whitmer’s crowd limitations and other restrictions put challengers at a disadvantage, and are thus silencing political speech.

“The Bill of Rights does not take a vacation during a pandemic,” Kline said.

Free Speech

The Hill: How ‘silence is violence’ threatens true free speech and public civility

By Jonathan Turley

A line between punishing and compelling speech is easily crossed if free speech itself is viewed as a threat.

This goes beyond the cases of journalists, academics, and others fired for voicing their dissenting views. Even expressing support in the wrong way can be a terminal offense, such as declaring “all lives matter” rather than “black lives matter,” which led to the firing of Massachusetts dean Leslie Neal Boylan or Vermont principal Tiffany Riley. While most of us support the movement, it has become the official position of many colleges, and variations are not tolerated. The concern is not only an establishment of the orthodox values but also the forced recitation of the values.

We are now watching the fear realized. A mob surrounded diners outside several Washington restaurants, shouting “white silence is violence” and demanding that diners raise a fist to support the movement. Some diners dutifully complied as protesters screamed inches from their faces…

It is the very mantra of orthodoxy. Failing to utter certain words, prayers, or pledges is a confession of complicity or guilt…

It is the ultimate expression of entitlement. People either must conform to your values or face the public condemnation and threats…In a world where silence is violence and civility is complicity, there is little room for true free speech.

Wall Street Journal: Free Speech Absolutism Killed Free Speech

By Tony Woodlief

Conservatives calling for more free speech as a way to push back against campus cancel culture are trying to repair the stable when the horses bolted long ago. It may seem reasonable to think academic diversity and open debate can counter progressive groupthink, but the intolerance prevailing on college campuses isn’t the result of too little speech. It’s a consequence of too much speech…

[John Stuart] Mill’s free-speech absolutism has been a guiding light for universities for many decades. But in imagining we could cultivate thoughtful citizens by exposing them to a bazaar of competing ideas and ideologies, we ironically encouraged the decline of truth-seeking itself. As the political theorist Willmoore Kendall predicted in the 1950s, a community that treats every idea as ultimately refutable will eventually conclude that no real truth exists…

Our commitment to granting every idea space to bloom has ironically yielded speech codes, safe zones and purges of independent-minded scholars. Now this illiberalism is boiling over from campuses into the streets of Portland and other university-heavy cities.

Right to Protest

The Intercept: Protesters In Multiple States Are Facing Felony Charges, Including Terrorism

By Akela Lacy

Prosecutors and lawmakers in several states have responded to mass protests against police brutality by charging demonstrators with committing felonies, including terrorism charges. The trend of criminalizing protest has been on the uptick since the 2016 protests against the Dakota Access pipeline at Standing Rock, during and after which numerous states upped charges for protests “near critical infrastructure” as felonies. 

Since 2016, 14 states have enacted new laws to restrict the right to peaceful assembly, according to the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, which tracks related state and federal legislation. But in the wake of the nationwide movement in support of Black lives, numerous states have increased the severity of criminal penalties for protesters along political lines and are prosecuting them more aggressively, as demonstrations continue with no sign of slowing down. 

Washington Times: Trump to consider invoking ‘insurrection’ law after demonstrators attack Rand Paul outside W.H.

By Dave Boyer

President Trump said Friday night he’s considering invoking the Insurrection Act of 1807 to deal with violent street protesters after Black Lives Matter activists attacked and harassed his supporters leaving the White House after the Republican National Convention.

Memphis Commercial Appeal: Tennessee’s anti-protest law is a step in the direction of authoritarianism

By Joe Hayden

Oh, the radical terrorism of tents. Apparently, a dire threat to the state of Tennessee is now…camping? 

A Republican-backed bill, now signed into law by Gov. Bill Lee, passed in the General Assembly in August, which makes setting up an overnight tent outside the Capitol a felony worth up to six years in prison.

It had been a misdemeanor, passed nearly a decade ago, in the days following the Occupy Nashville protests. 

But a felony for camping? What’s next? The gallows for loitering?

In George Orwell’s novel “1984” the state transforms all manner of innocuous activities into the most serious crimes. That’s because in totalitarian societies, any deviation from even the smallest part of the system is perceived as a threat to the system as a whole. We don’t live in a totalitarian society, not at the moment anyway, but the signs of authoritarian overreach are everywhere. 

And it gets worse. Governor Lee, House Majority Leader William Lamberth, R-Portland, and Sen. John Stevens, R-Huntingdon all have the nerve to call this shocking measure “criminal justice reform,” even though it patently does the opposite – doubles down on mass incarceration by politicizing policing and criminalizing dissent.  

NJ.com: N.J. teen who held Black Lives Matter protest gets hit with $2,500 bill for police overtime

By Anthony G. Attrino

18-year-old [Emily Gil]…organized a small, peaceful Black Lives Matter protest last month…

Four days after the July 25 rally, Gil received a hefty bill for police overtime.

“Please promptly forward your payment to the borough in the amount of $2,499.26 for the police overtime caused by your protest,” Englewood Cliffs Mayor Mario M. Kranjac wrote in a letter.

The letter provided to NJ Advance Media states that since Gil had refused to meet with officials ahead of the protest, the borough was left scrambling to provide security…

Gil explained that borough officials had requested she meet with them in person but she declined due to concerns over the coronavirus. She offered to meet with them on Zoom instead but they didn’t accept, she said…

Gil said only 30 to 40 people attended the rally, caused no disturbances and picked up their own trash.

Independent Groups

Washington Free Beacon: Pro-Biden Super PAC Sends Half a Million to Its Chairman’s Unlicensed Company

By Joe Schoffstall

A top Democratic super PAC has funneled nearly half a million dollars this cycle to its own chairman through a company that has for the past three years operated without a business license.

Priorities USA Action has paid nearly a million dollars, including $450,000 thiselection cycle, to Miles Strategies, a company owned by its chairman Guy Cecil, according to Federal Election Commission records. Cecil, who served as the political director for Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign, receives a $263,000 salary from Priorities USA Action’s nonprofit arm. 

Online Speech Platforms

Buzzfeed News: A Kenosha Militia Facebook Event Asking Attendees To Bring Weapons Was Reported 455 Times. Moderators Said It Didn’t Violate Any Rules.

By Ryan Mac

In a companywide meeting on Thursday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that a militia page advocating for followers to bring weapons to an upcoming protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, remained on the platform because of “an operational mistake.” The page and an associated event inspired widespread criticism of the company after a 17-year-old suspect allegedly shot and killed two protesters Tuesday night.

The event associated with the Kenosha Guard page, however, was flagged to Facebook at least 455 times after its creation, according to an internal report viewed by BuzzFeed News, and had been cleared by four moderators, all of whom deemed it “non-violating.” The page and event were eventually removed from the platform on Wednesday – several hours after the shooting.

“To put that number into perspective, it made up 66% of all event reports that day,” one Facebook worker wrote in the internal “Violence and Incitement Working Group” to illustrate the number of complaints the company had received about the event.

New York Times: What if Facebook Is the Real ‘Silent Majority’?

By Kevin Roose

Since the 2016 election, I’ve been obsessively tracking how partisan political content is performing on Facebook, the world’s largest and arguably most influential media platform. Every morning, one of the first browser tabs I open is CrowdTangle – a handy Facebook-owned data tool that offers a bird’s-eye view of what’s popular on the platform. I check which politicians and pundits are going viral. I geek out on trending topics. I browse the previous day’s stories to see which got the most reactions, shares and comments.

Most days, the leader board looks roughly the same: conservative post after conservative post, with the occasional liberal interloper…

[W]hat sticks out, when you dig in to the data, is just how dominant the Facebook right truly is. Pro-Trump political influencers have spent years building a well-oiled media machine that swarms around every major news story, creating a torrent of viral commentary that reliably drowns out both the mainstream media and the liberal opposition.

The result is a kind of parallel media universe that left-of-center Facebook users may never encounter, but that has been stunningly effective in shaping its own version of reality. 

The Hill: Twitter slaps ‘manipulated media’ tag on video shared by Scalise that alters activist’s question to Biden

By Zack Budryk

Twitter on Sunday flagged a manipulated clip posted by House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) that alters a question from activist Ady Barkan to Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden…

In the initial interview, Barkan, who uses a computerized artificial voice due to his amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, asks Biden if “we agree that we can redirect some of the funding” for police departments toward public safety and mental health services. “Yes,” Biden responds.

The clip Scalise tweeted, however, inserts the words “for police” into Barkan’s question using the same computer-generated voice.

Biden has repeatedly come out against the movement to defund the police…

Barkan called on Scalise to remove the video, tweeting, “I have lost my ability to speak, but not my agency or my thoughts. You and your team have doctored my words for your own political gain. Please remove this video immediately. You owe the entire disability community an apology.”

Candidates and Campaigns

Bloomberg Businessweek: New Study Suggests Polls Are Missing Shy Trump Voters

By Peter Coy

A new online study finds that Republicans and independents are twice as likely as Democrats to say they would not give their true opinion in a telephone poll question about their preference for president in the 2020 election. That raises the possibility that polls understate support for President Donald Trump.

Some 11.7% of Republicans and 10.5% independents said they would not give their true opinion, vs. 5.4% of Democrats, according to the study by CloudResearch LLC, a Queens, N.Y.-based company that conducts online market research and data collection for clients. Among the reasons they gave was that “it’s dangerous to express an opinion outside of the current liberal viewpoint,” according to Leib Litman, the co-chief executive officer and chief research officer.

New York Times: Shift on Election Briefings Could Create an Information Gap for Voters

By David E. Sanger and Julian E. Barnes

The decision by the nation’s top intelligence official to halt classified, in-person briefings to Congress about foreign interference in a presidential election that is just nine weeks away exposes the fundamental tension about who needs to know this information: just the president, or the voters whose election infrastructure, and minds, are the target of the hacking? …

One of the bitter lessons of the last election is that intelligence about hacking into voter registration systems and the spreading of disinformation must be handled in a very different way. Those defending against misinformation include state and city election officials; Facebook, Twitter and Google; and voters themselves, who need to know who is generating or amplifying the messages they see running across their screens.

And if they do not understand the threat assessments, they will enter the most critical phase of the election – those vulnerable weeks when everything counts and adversaries have a brief window to take their best shot – without understanding the battle space.

The States

Sludge: Oregon Voters To Decide on Limitless Corporate Political Donations

By David Moore

Heading into the November 3 election, a coalition of state groups calling itself YES for Fair and Honest Elections is putting the issue of unlimited corporate money in [Oregon] politics before voters in a ballot initiative that would amend the state constitution. Their proposal, Ballot Measure 107, would authorize the state legislature and local governments to set limits on campaign contributions and spending, require greater disclosure of political spending, and require that political ads identify the people paying for them. To appear on this year’s ballot, the measure was certified by both the Oregon House of Representatives and Senate, where it passed with nearly three-quarters majorities and bipartisan support in late June 2019…

One notable aspect of this year’s Yes for Fair and Honest Elections coalition is the number of state groups behind the initiative, Kate Titus, executive director of the nonpartisan group Common Cause Oregon, told Sludge. “Grassroots advocates are championing Ballot Measure 107, with some 50 organizations and rapidly growing, from democracy groups like Honest Elections Oregon and Portland Forward, to civil rights and community groups like Unite Oregon, the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO), and Oregon’s Farmworker Union.” 


Tiffany Donnelly

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