Failed Attempt to Squelch Broadcasting of Trump’s Coronavirus Press Briefings

Joseph Klein, Federal Communications Commission dismisses radical group’s censorship stratagem.

A radical left organization known as “Free Press” sought to censor the broadcasts of the White House Coronavirus Task Force press briefings. The misnamed “Free Press” had recently petitioned the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to investigate broadcasters showing President Donald Trump’s press conferences on the coronavirus outbreak. Citing the left wing, Trump-hating Media Matters, CNN and the New York Times among its sources for its accusations against President Trump, “Free Press” claimed that the president has told “dangerous lies about a public health emergency.” Broadcasters, the petition said, “have a choice: don’t air them, or put those lies in context with disclaimers noting that they may be untrue and are unverified.” The FCC, the petition added, has “a duty to rein in” those broadcasters that “seed confusion with lies and disinformation.”  Fortunately, for the sake of true freedom of the press under our Constitution, the FCC’s Office of General Counsel and Media Bureau rejected the petition, concluding that the petition “Free Press” filed “seeks remedies that would dangerously curtail the freedom of the press embodied in the First Amendment.” Amen!

As the FCC response to the petition further explained:

“At this moment, broadcasters face the challenge of covering a rapidly-evolving, national, and international health crisis, in which new information—much of it medical or technical in nature and therefore difficult to corroborate or refute in real time—is continually revealed, vetted, and verified or dismissed.  In addition, we note that the President and members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, including public-health professionals, have held daily press conferences in which they exhaustively answer critical questions from the press.  Under such circumstances, it is implausible, if not absurd, to suggest that broadcasters knowingly deceived the public by airing these press conferences or other statements by the President about COVID-19.”

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The FCC response sharply criticized the “Free Press” proposal that the FCC strongly recommend that broadcasters post prominent disclaimers when President Trump and others address the pandemic. “Requiring such disclosures would constitute compelled speech,” the FCC response stated, “and ‘recommending’ such disclosures through enforcement guidance or a policy statement would constitute government coercion by another name.”

The name “Free Press” used by this radical organization is a classic example of Orwellian doublespeak. It believes in censorship of the press for the so-called “common good.”  Robert W. McChesney, the co-founder of “Free Press,” has excoriated what he called “the evils of capitalism.” He wrote in a Marxist publication, “In the end, there is no real answer but to remove brick by brick the capitalist system itself, rebuilding the entire society on socialist principles.” As to the media specifically, McChesney wrote in the same Marxist publication that “Our job is to make media reform part of our broader struggle for democracy, social justice, and, dare we say it, socialism.” McChesney and another co-founder of “Free Press” also wrote that “Only government can implement policies and subsidies to provide an institutional framework for quality journalism.”

The “Free Press” left wingers were especially harsh in criticizing President Trump for expressing optimism that a combination of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, taken together, could be effective in treating patients with COVID-19. President Trump has made it clear repeatedly that the decision whether infected patients should try this treatment is one to be made solely between the patient and his or her doctor. The president is not playing doctor or scientist on TV when he expresses hope that the treatment will be effective for some patients. Some anecdotal evidence that the treatment has worked in some cases gives the president good reason to be hopeful. As the FCC’s response to the “Free Press” petition noted, the president’s “optimism has been shared by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, the Food and Drug Administration, and a number of medical professionals.”

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President Trump has not said that hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin will work in all cases, nor that patients should experiment with them on their own without medical professionals’ direct involvement. He agrees that thorough clinical trials to determine the full extent of the treatment’s efficacy should proceed. However, the president wants to remove bureaucratic barriers preventing coronavirus patients and their doctors from taking advantage of the opportunity to try a treatment right now in their time of need that has proven beneficial in some cases. On March 29, the Food and Drug Administration did just that when it issued an emergency authorization for hydroxychloroquine to be used to treat the coronavirus even before the clinical trials are completed. It’s called freedom to choose. The misnamed radical “Free Press” organization wanted the FCC to deploy the formal investigative power of the state against broadcasters daring to air President Trump’s presentation of his views without some sort of concocted disclaimer. The FCC wisely declined, concluding that “the antidote to the alleged harms raised by Free Press is—ironically enough—a free press.”