Cathy McMorris Rodgers blasted her subcommittee’s leadership for targeting right-leaning news outlets, arguing that it “sounds like actions from the Chinese Communist Party.”
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) said Wednesday that pressure from Democratic lawmakers on cable providers to drop right-leaning news outlets is “deeply” troubling and asked if MSNBC should be “carried after years of pushing the false Russia collusion narrative.”
Rodgers, ranking member of the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, blasted her committee’s leadership for holding a virtual hearing titled “Fanning the Flames: Disinformation and Extremism in the Media” after Democratic lawmakers wrote a letter to cable providers and streamers about conservative news outlets, specifically.
“On this committee, there’s never been a more obvious direct attack on the First Amendment,” said Rodgers, decrying what she called a “hyperpartisan hearing to shame and blame.”
“I’m not only disappointed in this hearing, I’m deeply troubled by it,” said Rodgers. “Every journalist from MSNBC and CNN to The New York Times should be concerned by the majority’s action, and anyone who values free speech and a free press should be worried. Elected officials using their platform to pressure private companies to censor media outlets they disagree with — that sounds like actions from the Chinese Communist Party, not duly elected representatives of the United States Congress. Here we cherish free speech and a free independent press.”
Citing what they termed “acts of insurrection on January 6,” California Democratic Reps. Anna Eshoo and Jerry McNerney wrote in their Feb. 22 letter: “Misinformation on TV has led to our current polluted information environment that radicalizes individuals to commit seditious acts.” The letter mentions Newsmax, One America News Network (OANN) and Fox News.
Rodgers questioned why Democratic lawmakers are not directing their criticism about “misinformation” on the airwaves to left-leaning media outlets too.
“Under your new approach, a lot of media would cease to exist,” said Rodgers. “Should CNN still be carried after hosting Governor Cuomo? For months, media wanted him, and we legitimized his lethal response to COVID-19. He even won an Emmy for his use of TV to spread misinformation. How do we know it was misinformation? Because of a balance of networks that pursued investigative journalism.
“Should MSNBC be carried after years of pushing the false Russia collusion narrative? Thanks to independent journalists and a robust free press, we’ve learned their reporting was false. Does your new standard stop with cable news, or should it be applied to social media?
“It’s un-American when you’re setting control for you to redefine for yourselves what is true. You think Republican members of Congress agree with all the content on media? No. Have we sent TV companies threatening letters to stop carrying certain channels? No. Now more than ever, we must uphold the First Amendment.”
Left-leaning broadcast journalist Soledad O’Brien, CEO of Soledad O’Brien Productions, was among the witnesses at the hearing. O’Brien, a former CNN anchor, said cable networks should stop booking guests known to spread disinformation about certain topics.
“Let me be clear that Congress cannot and should not regulate journalism in defiance of the First Amendment, but here’s what we can do,” said O’Brien. “Don’t book liars or advance lies. Cover the fact that lies and propaganda are being disseminated, but do not book people to lie on your show, because it elevates them and presents a lie as another side. Stop posing every story as having two sides. Some stories, in fact, have many, many sides that are more complicated, and also lies don’t have a side. Take the time to unravel and report and give history and context. We as reporters are verifiers.”
Jonathan Turley, professor of the George Washington University Law School, was critical of the letter the Democratic lawmakers wrote to cable providers. Turley also noted that the California lawmakers’ letter left out channels such as MSNBC.
“From the perspectives of free speech and the free press, the letter is not just chilling, it’s positively glacial,” said Turley. “I admit that I may be a relic in my views, but I continue to believe that the greatest protection against bad speech is better speech. Those seeking limits often speak of free speech like it’s a swimming pool that must be monitored and carefully controlled for purity and safety. I view it more as a rolling ocean. It is indeed dangerous, but it’s also majestic and inspiring. Its immense size allows for a natural balance.”
New Jersey Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone, chairman of the full committee, said Democratic members of the committee are “all staunch defenders of the First Amendment and its mandate that Congress make no law abridging the freedom of speech or of the press,” but “that doesn’t mean we should ignore the spread of misinformation that causes public harm.”
Pallone also said putting a “spotlight on the issue” of misinformation in the media and “having an open dialogue is exactly what the Founding Fathers envisioned because it may help us solve a very dangerous problem.”