BY DAVE PRICE
Daily Post Editor
We don’t need the government to decide what TV channels we watch, what newspapers we read or what websites we can visit. The First Amendment leaves that up to the citizens.
But Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, attempted last week to pressure the CEOs of 12 cable and tech companies to drop broadcasters such Fox News Channel, Newsmax and the One America News Network from their platforms.
She and Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton, held a House hearing titled “Fanning the Flames: Disinformation and Extremism in the Media.” Before the hearing, the two sent letters to 12 CEOs that contained pointed questions, such as:
• “What moral or ethical principles (including those related to journalistic integrity, violence, medical information and public health) do you apply in deciding which channels to carry or when to take adverse actions against a channel?”
• “Do you require, through contracts or otherwise, that the channels you carry abide by any content guidelines?”
• “What steps did you take prior to, on and following the Nov. 3, 2020 elections and the Jan. 6, 2021 attacks to monitor, respond to, and reduce the spread of disinformation, including encouragement or incitement of violence by channels your company disseminates to millions of Americans?”
In other words, she’s asking cable operators and internet companies like Google and Apple to censor the content of their channels.
At the hearing, Eshoo defended herself by saying she was only asking questions, not making any laws. But George Washington University Law School professor Jonathan Turley, one of the witnesses at Thursday’s hearing, told Eshoo that “Making a statement and putting a question mark at the end of it doesn’t change the import of the statement.”
It’s your choice
In writing this, I am in no way defending Fox News, CNN or any other TV channel. Whether you watch one channel or another is your business. You can decide if they’re biased or not.
It’s not the government’s job to decide what the truth is. That’s up to you.
You should be able to hear both sides and make up your own mind.
I’m sad to criticize Eshoo because I think she’s served the community well over the years and made residents proud. Just a few weeks ago, for instance, she jumped right on top of a problem at the Palo Alto Post Office with mail boxes that were too full, making it easy to steal mail. It sounds small but it shows that she’s responsive to constituents.
This attempt to strong-arm the companies that carry TV channels is a stark departure from her normal practices. And it’s angered her constituents, both Democrats and Republicans, as you’ve seen in the letters column.
If Eshoo is so concerned about misinformation, she might show more care in preparing her constituent newsletters.
In the Feb. 5 newsletter she wrote, “In the quiet and exquisite beauty of the Rotunda of the Capitol, the remains of Officer Brian Sicknick laid in honor for his colleagues and Congress to pay their respects for a fallen hero. Officer Sicknick was brutally beaten by insurrectionists on Jan. 6 and he died protecting the Capitol, the Congress and our democracy.”
It appears Eshoo was relying on information from a New York Times story, based on anonymous sources, that said Sicknick died after being bludgeoned with a fire extinguisher by supporters of former President Trump. The Times has since revised its story after medical examiners found no evidence of blunt trauma. Sicknick went to work the day after the riot, texting his brother Ken to say that aside from being pepper sprayed, he was “in good shape,” according to ProPublica. Investigators are looking into the possibility that he suffered a reaction to the pepper spray a day after the riot. His mother, however, thinks he died of a stroke, according to the Daily Mail.
At age 78, with 28 years in Congress, there’s been whispers that it’s time for Eshoo to retire. This unforced error is going to escalate that discussion.
If you ask people, most will say they support free speech. But the hardest kind of free speech to defend is the speech with which you disagree. So even if you don’t like the conservative TV channels she’s targeted, you should defend their right to broadcast because someday they might come after your favorite channel.
George Washington said, “If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”
Editor Dave Price’s column appears on Mondays. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.