Less than two months after a seat on Capitol Hill prompted by false claims that Donald Trump had his election stolen, a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee tackles question of the role of the big media public in the spread of disinformation and even extremism.
One of the main themes of Wednesday’s hearing will likely be a letter sent by two Democrats, Anna Eshoo and Jerry McEnerney of California, to a dozen cable, satellite and streaming distributors. They ask them a series of questions about Fox News, Newsmax, One America News Network and other outlets, and if they plan to continue broadcasting them, in light of the misinformation that guests and personalities on air are spreading on their platforms, especially on Election and Covid-19.
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This quickly drew cries of First Amendment misconduct by some in the media, as well as by FCC commissioner Brendan Carr, the industry group The Media Institute and reporters like Glenn Greenwald. Jonathan Turley, professor at George Washington University Law School and witness at the hearing, wrote in his prepared remarks, “From a free speech and free press perspective, the letter is not just scary; it is frankly glacial. “
Republicans, led by ranking subcommittee member Bob Latta (R-OH), are likely to criticize the letter as well and, as they did when the topic was disinformation on tech platforms, argue that the problem is the growing “culture of cancellation” of the left. Of course, puzzling as Eshoo-McEnerney’s letter to distributors may be, over the past four years, a president has consistently called the press the enemy of the people, threatened to take antitrust action against outlets and suggested that regulators should review NBC’s license due to unfavorable reporting. Most of the GOPs, as well as Republicans in the FCC, avoided commenting on Donald Trump’s tweets as best they could.
This is not to say that there is no real problem with government officials lobbying the media. In his prepared testimony, Soledad O’Brien, a cable news veteran who now hosts syndicated Matter of Fact, wrote, “Let me be clear. Congress cannot and should not regulate journalism in defiance of the First Amendment.” But she is also scathing in her assessment of the cable news landscape in particular, starting with Lou Dobbs and his debut of “demonization” of undocumented migrants while at CNN.
“Media disguised as journalism has been spreading lies for years, raising liars, and using the ensuing slugfest to chase ratings, hits, subscriptions and advertisers,” O’Brien wrote. “Full stop.”
She added that “the rise of liars has accelerated, with radio, broadcasting and cable TV in particular repeating and re-energizing the lies that harm us all. The bombing that accompanies these lies has also paved the way for an alarming xenophobic and racist narrative that has taken hold in this country.