Glenn Greenwald excoriates Dems for assailing free speech

February 25, 2021 • 12:30 pm

As I’ve said before, I find Glenn Greenwald a mixed bag, but it’s worth checking his Substack site to see what he has to say. This week’s column is a critique of the Democrats’ new drive to single out media venues as a possible way of suppressing conservative speech. The fight between government and social media/regular media is not something I follow regularly, but Greenwald does, and he’s angry about the use of government to intimidate those who provide news. He’s not particularly concerned about regulating news as being “fake” because, he says, authoritarians have always used the excuse of “fake and harmful news” to suppress their opponents.

Click on the screenshot to read: (it’s free, but you should consider subscribing if you read often):

Democratic intimidation, says Greenwald, has taken several forms: calling people like Zuckerberg before Congressional committees (three times in less than three months), a hearing that started yesterday before part of the House Energy and Commerce Committee called “Fanning the flames: disinformation and extremism in the media,” and the fact of House Democrats sending letters to the nation’s largest cable companies (Comcast, Verizon, etc.) and to distributors like Amazon, Apple, and Google, with a list of demands. I have to say, this list is pretty heavy-handed:

But you say that these companies are damaging the country by promulgating “fake news” (invariably conservative news)? Here’s Greenwald’s response:

The way Democrats justify this to themselves is important to consider. They do not, of course, explicitly acknowledge that they are engaged in authoritarian assaults on free speech and a free press. Not even the most despotic tyrants like to think of themselves in that way. All tyrants concoct theories and excuses to justify their censorship as noble and necessary.

Indeed, the justifying script Democrats are using here is the one most commonly employed by autocrats around the world to silence their critics. Those they seek to silence are not merely expressing a different view, but are dangerous. They are not merely advocating alternative ideologies but are destabilizing society with lies, fake news, and speech that deliberately incites violence, subversion and domestic terrorism.

In her boastful posting, Rep. Eshoo says her efforts targeting these cable outlets are necessary because “misinformation on TV has led to our current polluted information environment that radicalizes individuals to commit seditious acts and rejects public health best practices, among other issues in our public discourse.” This is the rationale invoked by virtually every repressive state to imprison journalists and ban media outlets.

The Democrats sound a great deal like the Egyptian regime of Gen. Abdel el-Sisi. Just two weeks ago, Sisi’s regime finally released an Al Jazeera journalist who had been imprisoned for four years based on accusations that he had “spread false news” and was guilty of “incitement against state institutions and broadcasting false news with the aim of spreading chaos.” Sound familiar? It should, since that is precisely what House Democrats are saying to ennoble their multi-pronged assault on free expression.

And, avers Greenwald, it’s not like liberals don’t pollute the waters with fake news:

Are there conspiracy theories and disinformation sometimes found on the conservative cable outlets which House Democrats want taken off the air? Of course there are: all media outlets disseminate conspiracy theories and fake news at times. MSNBC and CNN spent four years endorsing the most deranged conspiracy theory imaginable, one with very toxic roots in the Cold War: namely, the McCarthyite script that the Kremlin had taken over control of key U.S. institutions through sexual blackmail over the President, invasions into the nation’s heating system and electric grid, and criminal conspiracy between Moscow and the Trump campaign to hack into Democrats’ emails.

He shows a screenshot:

So what’s Greenwald’s solution? Let the companies say whatever they want? (This would be close to my solution, so long as what they say doesn’t transgress the First Amendment.) But he offers another palliative, and one that, if you’ll forgive me, doesn’t seem very workable:

. . . as much as I loathe so much of what those outlets do, it is not the role of the government to regulate let alone silence them. The corrective is for journalists to rebuild trust and faith with the public by exposing their misinformation and proving to the public that they will do accurate and reliable reporting regardless of which faction is aggrandized or angered.

He’s right about the government keeping its hands off the press, but do journalists really have any desire or incentive to rebuild public trust and faith by exposing information? I don’t see that happening with either the Right- or Left-Wing media (I’m not as familiar with the Right, as I don’t read them so much, but who at the New York Times is policing the paper? Not the executive editor, that’s for sure!)

Some readers won’t like Greenwald’s comparison in the last paragraph, but, like Rod Serling, I submit it for your approval:

But corporate media outlets and Democrats (excuse the redundancy) who spent the last four years posturing as virulent defenders of press freedoms never meant it. Like so much of what they claimed to believe, it was fraudulent. The proof is that they are now mute, if not supportive, as Democrats use their status as majority party to launch an assault against press freedoms far more egregious than anything Trump got close to doing.

As I said, this isn’t exactly an area I follow, so I’d be especially interested in readers’ comments. Are the Dems hypocrites in this respect?

46 thoughts on “Glenn Greenwald excoriates Dems for assailing free speech

  1. “Are the Dems hypocrites in this respect?”

    If they are not there yet, they are flying the flags.

    The Woke Left (or ) are authoritarian and very happy to censor views they don’t like. They will do it in a heartbeat, if given the chance. Certainly they are trying (and doing) in academia.

  2. There is a big difference between the press and so-called News shows on cable TV and the internet. The News shows are using bandwidth owned and paid for by the public. The use of those mediums – especially by organizations which purport to be reporting the news – comes with an inherent responsibility to act in the public interest. This goes back to the early days of broadcasting ethics. It is my understanding that entities that use the broadcasting media have Charters by which they must abide. The dissemination of disinformation is precisely against the interests of the public, and should, in a just world, result in the abrogation of the Charter, and loss of the privilege to operate.

    I see little reason why News broadcasters should not be held to strict standards of honesty. Fox News has actually argued in court that the 1st Amendment guarantees them the right to deliberately lie. This is how Democracy dies. The 1st Amendment should not be a suicide pact.

    1. Government censoring of the press is the first step in the authoritarian playbook. Are the mainstream press so weak that they are incapable of countering the nonsense from Fox News?

      1. “Are the mainstream press so weak that they are incapable of countering the nonsense from Fox News?”

        The answer would be an obvious “Yes”. The point also being that publicly-owned media is absolutely not obligated to offer a platform for propaganda and lies. Its ethical obligation, in fact, is exactly the opposite.

        1. The internet is the new “airwaves”.

          Do we really want Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey, and Sundar Pichai deciding what news outlets get to “broadcast”? Or what is truth? Are they willing to carry that burden and liability? (Currently, they are following only politics, as far as I can tell.)

          This has all developed quickly and without much oversight or planning at all (aside from: How can we make money off this?). There is a need for discussion and probably regulation in some form.

          My prediction: Preventing Faux News, etc. from getting to their consumers will energize the Voldemort Cult (and many others not nearly as crazy) in opposition.

          I don’t watch Faux News (ugh, that would be painful). I get my internet and TV, hence all the media in our house, aside from radio, via a Comcast cable. Comcast is a private company. Should they be able to censor what comes in over my cable? I don’t think so.

      2. How is “mainstream press” defined in a way that doesn’t include Faux News? If I understand correctly, it is one of the more popular channels in terms of viewership. And, y’know, the majority is right, by definition.

    2. The News shows are using bandwidth owned and paid for by the public.

      The government does not “own” the EM spectrum, nor any part of it. The government licenses it’s use (and we do pay for this oversight) because there are more people and corporations wanting to use it than there are distinct frequency ranges available. And it regulates EM use and technology to prevent things like one corporation jamming the transmissions of another.

      So they are there to prevent a ‘tragedy of the commons’ disaster from happening in telecommunications. But there is no ethical or enlightenment/liberal justification for them deciding that farmer Alice gets to graze her sheep on the commons because we like Alice, while farmer Bob doesn’t get to because we don’t like Bob. And any decent old school liberal should not want the government to have that power, because while you may be Alice today, we could all be Bob tomorrow.

      1. Add to that: content delivered over internet or bog-standard cable doesn’t use the licensed EM spectrum, so government doesn’t even have that lever to implement restrictions.

      2. The government does “own” the airwaves as a public good. The government assigns property rights. The government could assign legal title to a bandwidth to a private party but the government has assigned that property right to itself. The government can allow a private party to use its bandwidth subject to the terms of its revocable license.

        Similarly no private party owns the 12-mile limit coastal sea. The government has not granted titles to private parties to own stretches of the Atlantic Ocean, for example. It can allow persons to use the sea for certain purposes, say by obtaining a commercial fishing license.

        FCC: “Because the broadcast airwaves are a publicly owned resource — just as the national parks, the interstate highway system, and naval aircraft carriers are — I expect that the FCC will fulfill its obligations to the public by using this valuable resource to serve the greatest number of American citizens.”

        1. No, it doesn’t. If the government owned it, other countries couldn’t assign frequencies differently…but they do. ‘Regulate’ is the correct term; they dictate who can use what part of it within their sphere of influence. But they have neither legal nor practical ability to exercise ownership over it in a global sense.

          1. You do not understand the basic concept of “property rights” in relation to the government and its enforcement and granting of such. I am sorry but you just don’t. “Regulation” is just a semantic term.

            Your reply, to be blunt, is sort of stupid. The US government “owns” territorial waters but no government owns the “high seas” outside the coastal limits and thus no government can grant “property rights” to a private party to owning a slice of the Indian Ocean 300 miles off of a coast.

            I gave you an ACTUAL FCC CITATION as to the legal status under US law as to band with under the US government’s ability to ENFORCE IT (the property rights).

            I am sorry, but you just seem dense.

  3. And this: Nothing the Dems could do would convince the Voldemort Cult more effectively that:

    – Their conspiracy theories are true
    – The mainstream media are biased and aren’t telling the truth
    – The outlets they are trying to censor are telling the truth

  4. The internet changed how we communicate. Beyond that, targeting algorithms that tune your feeds rather than giving everyone common access to the same information created another new change. Beyond that, the last couple decades have transformed our “meeting places” from public to private, and now those private corporations have the power to practically censor our speech for the majority of listeners, even if in principle we can always go down onto the street corner, or stand in front of our local government center, and say what we want to whomever passes by.

    It’s worth thinking about these things. I’m a free speech advocate and support the US’s expansive views of it more than any other countries’ notions. I don’t think the private parties (including corporations) should necessarily be punished or censored by government even for telling lies, beyond the standard ‘when under oath’ and libel and slander situations. At the same time, it’s worth thinking about what structural and regulatory changes we can make to help protect the free exchange of ideas without limiting what people can say…and the same internet that blew up the problem of disinformation, can help fix it. For instance, lies can be fought not with censorship, but with traceability and transparency – who put out that info? What if your feed told you whether it came from or RussiaBot 2000’s facebook feed, and the person forwarding the article to you couldn’t hide that? We already have the legal idea of a ‘limited public forum’; how do we apply it to private spaces such as Facebook to ensure they can prevent the spaces they sink their investment dollars into from becoming cesspits, yet also prevent them from censoring users who have views Fb doesn’t like?

    So, I sort of agree with Greenwald. Absolutely some of the things he talks about are heavy-handed and authoritarian, and we should fight such measures. But I suspect conservatives like Greenwald would like to stick their heads in the sand and pretend like the issues surrounding freedom of speech and the press are the same today as they were in the 1950s, and we need do nothing different to ensure robust conservation and freedom. And I just don’t agree with that “do nothing” approach.

  5. If this surprises you, you have not been paying attention. Both parties (and most unfortunately the ACLU) have made it clear that they believe in free speech “for me but not for thee.” There should be grownups in the parties telling them to shut up.

  6. Why not bring back the fairness doctrine? This would force both left and right to present both sides, and both sides would probably hate it. Not much different from today, but it would force everyone to listen to both left and right.

    1. This is just my opinion, but the fairness doctrine made sense at the time because channels were limited, and so it was a protection against monopoly (i.e. some media mogul’s ability to monopolize all channels for their own personal political views). But now, no single owner or voice can monopolize all channels; there’s too many. Cable, satellite, internet, now also private channels like Disney+. So there’s no need for it.

      It’s also arguable that, as much as the two-side model of politics was an okay approximation then, it’s less of a good approximation now.

      1. Pretty much everyone (in the USA) gets their media now via a wire of some sort, owned by a private company, aside from radio, which is pretty small potatoes.

        There is some minor competition; but even where I live, just outside a major metro area (I can be in downtown Minneapolis or downtown St. Paul in less than 20 min.), we only got Comcast cable in our area about ten years ago. Before that, DSL was the limit. So though in theory there’s competition, in practice, it’s very limited.

        So, my point is that bandwidth (or access) is limited, for most people (or perhaps many people, especially rural residents who make up much of Voldemort’s cult).

        I am opposed to having channels, ideas, programs, etc., blocked for political reasons. Aside from the current limitations on free speech as defined by the SCOTUS decisions. (I would like to modify Citizens United to stipulate that donors have to be identified if unlimited money is in play. As I always say, behave as if your mother, your spouse, and your boss are looking over your shoulder.)

        I detest Faux News; but I think blocking their distribution is neither good politics nor constitutional.

    2. I think that could be a good thing, but I’m not sure how it would work out in real life given the changes that have occurred since. From what I understand broadcasters largely complied voluntarily with The Fairness Doctrine. I don’t recall any instances of the FCC enforcing it. The only legal issues I recall were court cases in which individuals or companies sued other individuals or companies because of alleged non-compliance with the fairness doctrine.

      If it were reinstated today I’m not sure we could count on the majority of even major broadcasters to comply. Then there’s the huge amount of smaller “broadcasters” enabled by the internet these days, a much bigger mess to figure out how to regulate / enforce. And I am not sure if the courts these days would be as supportive of the FD.

  7. I engaged with Greenwald when he was a Guardian columnist. He was big on root causation even then. He unfailingly replied, to his credit. But he looks for devils in every nook and cranny. His demented leftism is so metastasised he’s incapable of objective enquiry.

  8. “Are the Dems hypocrites in this respect?”

    Yes. Trump was not a pleasant man but he was a disruptor. As far as I can tell from over here he did not interfere with the press in any significant way, other to call out what he saw as ‘Fake News’. And sometimes it was. But the senior Democrats have been very relaxed over social media streams cancelling alternate political views and prettifying the misdeeds of their client political groups.

    1. Did not interfere with the press? WTF?

      Just called out what he saw as Fake News? Nearly everything he called out as Fake News was accurate.

      1. Trump condemning something as “Fake News” is a pretty workable barometer of truth. The louder his protests of “Fake news”, the more likely it is to be true.

      2. We are discussing whether networks and ISPs should be forced or pressured to eliminate news sources that do not conform to particular political views.
        Comparing that to Trump making coarse remarks about certain networks or reporters does not seem equitable.
        We just went through four years of the major networks more or less continuously engaging in personal attacks against him and his family. The relationship between the DNC and those networks is almost incestuous. Often, they are the same people.
        Stephen Colbert, in 2017, addressed Trump directly on broadcast TV with the remark ““The only thing your mouth is good for is being Vladimir Putin’s cock holster.”
        Trump responded not by sending armed thugs after Colbert, or even having the FCC fine him, but by saying that Colbert lacked talent.
        I disagree with Trump on that point, but do not think Colbert’s remarks were decorous.

        1. Your view of reality is quite different from mine. Comparing a comedian saying Trump sucks Putin’s cock, which figuratively speaking is reasonably supported by the evidence, with what Trump as POTUS has done to the media and it’s relationship with the public is ludicrous.

          1. Trump frequently made coarse remarks. I don’t approve of such language, but vulgar words are still just words. To my knowledge, he never used to power of the office to suppress the speech of his opponents. He did not have them surveilled or harassed by federal agencies.

            The point I was trying to make, but did so poorly, was that Colbert, just as an example, could make that statement with absolutely no fear of repercussions. There was lots of hyperbolic talk about him being a Nazi dictator, but nobody had any reason to fear him.

            I understand the point about him being a pawn of Russia, but I am fairly confident that claim is just a strategic DNC talking point. A pawn of Russia would not arm it’s enemies. Most importantly, they would not impede Russia’s efforts to construct pipelines and slow it’s efforts to expand petroleum exports.
            Biden seems to be backing away from enforcing sanctions that had halted the Nord stream 2 pipeline. They have resumed construction since the inauguration. That is a huge step towards giving Russia much more control over Europe.

            1. I have to agree. (However, I think it was just the fact that Voldemort was too narcissistic and incompetent that drove that result. The next one to pick up Voldemort’s mantle is going to be more politically savvy and more effective, that’s my worry!)

              I am fairly confident that:
              – Voldemort’s “empire” is built on other people’s money (loans)
              – The US banks stopped lending to Mr. Bankrupcty quite a while ago
              – His loans are now held (maybe laundered through Deutsche Bank) by Russians
              – Russians either bend to Putin’s will or are rubbed out (sometimes literally)
              – Putin is a much smarter and more effective politician and autocrat than Voldemort could ever dream of being. Putin plays a long game.
              – Voldemort would happily sell US secrets to Russia and probably already has. I sincerely hope he gets nothing classified anymore.

              I await the playing of Putin’s trump cards (pun intended). Because he has them. The Helsinki secret tete-a-tete was proof of that as far as I’m concerned.

    2. As far as you can tell from over here? Apparently you had no or little access to our TV. Trump started out 4 years ago bashing most news outlets accept Fox and continued this assault every day for the entire time he was in office. This guy was the president, not just the reality dumb ass he use to be and he went after individual journalist on a regular bases. He kicked some of them he did not like out of the white house. He ran down all actually journalist media in the country and he did this live on TV and on Twitter for 4 solid years. Are you kidding?

  9. I tend to believe that most of what Greenwaldt says is crap. Any subject is always highlighted as a conservative verses liberal battle. So now the democrats are at war against the media? Or certain pieces of media. In some ways he is correct in seeing a push by responsible govt. politicians to do something about the wild west of current internet platforms and media. What Greenwaldt wants is wide open and unlimited BS spread round the world. Apparently this is what many people want. Just throw whatever you want out there and see what happens. Maybe some countries will be overthrown but so what, that is much better than stopping this freedom to spread BS far and wide. It’s just what the founders wanted right? Guess what, they did not like it either, particularly when they were getting it from both barrels. If one side is lying and gaslighting you 24 hours a day with nothing but totally made up stuff, how is that good for the society. Stop pretending they are news and shut them off. How do we think the reality of Jan. 6 actually happened. Do you think it would be possible without social meadia’s wide open “free speech” to organize and manage the overthrow of government in broad daylight. It would not. Would we be in the 500,000 dead range without the BS of the media platforms? Keep going for this unlimited free speech and soon you will have nothing.

  10. As a free-expression fundamentalist, I oppose any type of viewpoint discrimination or censorship by the government.

    Disinformation in the news has become a growing problem, nevertheless, as has been demonstrated in particular during our last two US presidential campaign cycles. But the universal antidote for such lies is to produce a plethora of countervailing truthful and accurate news. And, in extreme cases, our civil justice system can be of assistance. I note in this regard that right-wing outlets like Newsmax, OANN, and Fox have been seeking shelter in caves higher up the cliffsides as the flood waters rise from the multibillion dollar defamation lawsuits brought by voting machine and voting software companies Dominion Voting Systems and Smartmatic Corporation over the multitudinous and nefarious lies told about them on these channels.

    1. Good luck to you in your wishful thinking. The gaslighting and lies go on by various people in the congress everyday. They still will not believe that Biden won the election. Grown up people in congress still throwing out the BS. Take a look at what is on the fox channel – there is no truth, nothing indicating any change I can see. There have been dozens of actions taken by states republicans to interrupt the next voting cycle and they are well on their way to getting it done. Voter surpression is the call word.

      How would the action of Jan. 6 have taken place without the internet platforms providing wide open and free access? And also ask this question. If the people attacking the capital building had been black or worse yet, Islamic, how much fire power would have been there to stop it? They would never have made it close to the building.

      1. This has never really been any different in US politics. It’s interesting to read the political speech from the early 1800s, etc. Except for the style of writing, it wouldn’t be out of place on Parler and Qanon’s postings. The lies and scurrilous nonsense have always been there.

  11. I am not for censorship, but gee, remember the days when one could actually believe what they heard on TV news? Well, actually, today people still believe it but that is only because they watch stations whose views agree with their own. I guess what I miss is the day that everyone believed the news on any particular station. Sigh.

  12. “Mixed bag” is a rather generous description of Greenwald.

    Soz, I don’t buy his passion for freedom of speech. He spewed venom at genuine liberals, moderate Muslims, and ex-Muslims for years, especially those associated with “new atheism”. Oh, and don’t ever forget his awful behaviour around the Charlie Hebdo killings.

    The way GG is going these days, it’s only a matter of time before he’s fully on board with his Crayzone comrades and Kremlin stooges, suggesting Assad’s war crimes were “staged” by rescue workers, and that the “re-education camps” in Xinjiang are CIA propaganda.

  13. “But you say that these companies are damaging the country by promulgating “fake news” (invariably conservative news)? ” No – it’s not fake, it’s factually incorrect, i.e., a lie (Stop the Steal!). This is not a matter of opinion or political persuasion, and needs a different treatment under free speech laws.

  14. The Greenwald comments being shared call to mind the old saw about “just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean someone isn’t really out to get you.”

    In principle I oppose government censorship of journalists, full stop. What appears to be getting targeted for investigation is not the journalism aspect of these media outlets, but the business/opinion/whatever aspects, which – as another commenter pointed out – explicitly acknowledge piggybacking on their journalistic credibility to spread lies and disinformation. The solution might still not be a form of government censorship (though I think some form of regulation could at least be explored); I frankly don’t know what the right response would look like. But there must be some consequence, or some effective preventative measure that we can take to stem the tide of destabilizing propaganda (on both ends of the political spectrum, sure).

    Finally, excuse me for rolling my eyes, but Greenwald’s protestation that the Democrats’ efforts to address the issue are disingenuous acts of autocracy is obnoxiously tone deaf coming on the heels of a literal, fatal insurrection incited by a sitting president. The most charitable thing I could say is that his view is blinkered; I’ll spare you the less charitable things.

    1. The corporate-controlled US Empire is lurching farther rightward, increasingly dictatorial and authoritarian in the reign of Emperor Biden. It’s tech giant monopolies’ increasing censorship, banning narratives which don’t comply with the official narrative. The Democrats opposed Trump withdrawing US troops from Afghanistan, Syria etc. Humanity urgently needs real democracy in the corporate-controlled U.S. fraudulently disguised as ‘democracy’. Driven by insatiable greed and with 800+ military installations in 140+ countries so far, the corporate-controlled US Empire’s relentless agenda is total ownership and control of the world’s natural, financial and human resources. This makes it the main instigator of wars and terrorism worldwide. This makes it everyone’s problem. The world must fight back against The Empire!

  15. There is a necessity for truth in the discourse of our nation. The evidence from the past several months should make it clear how important this is. The question is how to achieve at least a much higher level of honesty in public discussions.

    I don’t know what the solution is, but I do think the constraints don’t necessarily have to be draconian to result in much better outcomes. Some way of more effectively discouraging outright lies and perhaps corporations dedicated to lies might make the difference. Certainly the Dominion lawsuits seem to be having some effect.

    Perhaps more strict libel laws or something similar might have a salutary effect.

    Perhaps requiring broadcasters to provide time for opposing viewpoints (something like the fairness doctrine) would help.

  16. Democrats should (ahem) eschew any interference in First Amendment freedoms. Greenwald is right (again). If this were truly a content-neutral attempt to discourage disinformation and encourage, say, investigative reporting, the response would be very different. Something that did for investigative reporting what the National Science Foundation does for basic scientific research, for example.

  17. I don’t see where you asked me to apologize at this link. If I said anything particularly rude then I do apologize. But, in looking back at my reply it was somewhat rude. Being rude out of frustration is no excuse so I do apologize for that.

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