Capitol Hill hearing targets Fox News and lays the groundwork for government censorship

One of the most chilling examples in modern times of the accelerating full-spectrum assault on free speech and the First Amendment took place yesterday on Capitol Hill, courtesy of a subcommittee of the Democrat-controlled House Committee on Energy and Commerce.  For over three hours on Wednesday afternoon, the subcommittee held a virtual hearing titled "Fanning the Flames: Disinformation and Extremism in the Media."  The target was conservative media in general and Fox News in particular.

Conservatives who have bought into the fake meme that Fox News has "gone left" might want to take note of how the authoritarian leftists who have taken control of the Democrat party and their allies in big media have now openly embarked on a carefully crafted and well orchestrated propaganda campaign to destroy Fox News.  The Democrats are also targeting FNC's two competitors, Newsmax TV and OANN.

Indications of where the hearing would go were provided on Monday, when two of the subcommittee's  members, California Democrat reps. Anna Eshoo and Jerry McNerney, sent a letter demanding answers to seven extensive and intrusive questions to twelve of the biggest cable and satellite television providers and streaming services that carry Fox News.  The letter challenged the providers to defend their policies that make the Fox News Channel and its two conservative competitors available to Americans.

On Monday, Fox News released a brief statement that to date is the channel's only-on-the record comment about these goings on.

As the most watched cable news channel throughout 2020, FOX News Media provided millions of Americans with in-depth reporting, breaking news coverage and clear opinion. For individual members of Congress to highlight political speech they do not like and demand cable distributors engage in viewpoint discrimination sets a terrible precedent.

The Democrat who ran the hearing on Wednesday, Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.), chairman of the committee's communications and technology subcommittee, echoed the opinions of Eshoo and McNerney early on in his opening statement.

So did his fellow Democrats and three of the four witnesses in this kangaroo court.  The only dissenter was George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley, a Democrat who sounds like no other Democrat in public life these days.  Turley remains an extremely knowledgeable and articulate advocate of free speech and the First Amendment despite receiving what he said were death threats.


Screen shot — Kristin Urquiza testifies at the House hearing on February 24, 2021.

The tone of the hearing was set early on by one of the witnesses, the self-identified "Latinx. Queer" Kristin Danielle Urquiza, who started a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization last year called Marked by COVID.  At the hearing, Urquiza blamed her father's death on alleged and unspecified misinformation about COVID-19 that — visibly on the verge of tears — she insisted was spread by President Donald Trump and his "accomplices, enablers, and complicit parties," mainly Fox News.

Let me start by stating the obvious. The primary purpose and entity responsible for my father's death and hundreds of thousands of people in the United States is Donald Trump and his administration.

Like everyone I know, my dad received his information through an intermediary. And his media of choice was Fox cable news.

I did my best to fight back. But there is no way that one person can compete with the microphone of the office of the president nor the propaganda machine that has become Fox cable news.

During the hearing, which lasted almost three and one half hours, almost every Democrat committee member at some point took time out to praise Urquiza.  And why not?  Last summer, Urquiza spoke at the virtual Democrat Convention in support of Joe Biden — a two-minute address that earned her several fawning New York Times profiles.

A press release on February 17 announcing the hearing, authored by Doyle and Commerce Committee chairman Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), spelled out the hearing's purpose and its broad agenda:

The prolonged severity of the COVID-19 pandemic and the attack on our Capitol on January 6 have driven home a frightening reality: the spread of disinformation and extremism by traditional news media presents a tangible and destabilizing threat. Some broadcasters' and cable networks' increasing reliance on conspiracy theories and misleading or patently false information raises questions about their devotion to journalistic integrity. We look forward to hearing from media experts about what is being done and what more can be done to address this growing problem moving forward.

The two other "media experts" on the witness list were Black Latina leftist feminist TV reporter and program host Soledad O'Brien and British leftist Emily Bell, director of something called the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at the Columbia School of Journalism.  Bell, whose native country lacks anything close to a First Amendment protecting freedom of speech, was constantly pitching an expanded but nebulous role for the U.S. government to rein in media she and her fellow travelers don't approve of.

For her part, O'Brien, a sanctimonious propagandist who wears her various "minority" identities as badges of qualification and honor, began her statement with a vicious attack on Lou Dobbs for what she alleged was an egregious on-air "lie" going back to 2007, when he hosted a program on CNN.

The Republicans on the committee, including Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), who survived an assassination attempt by a Bernie Sanders acolyte in 2017, were unified in their opposition to the entire undertaking.  The most passionate and articulate of the group was Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who represents a largely rural district in Eastern Washington State.


Screen shot — Rep. McMorris Rodgers testifies at the House hearing on February 24, 2021.

Reading her opening statement via a Cisco WebEx video interface that connected everyone who participated in the virtual hearing, McMorris Rodgers said:

In all my time on this committee, there has never been a more obvious direct attack on the First Amendment. Elected officials using their platform to pressure private companies to censor media outlets they disagree with — that sounds a lot 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. We believe in dialogue and in the battle of ideas. Rather than censor and silence constitutionally protected speech, the answer is more speech. That's the American way. 

Now more than ever, we need to uphold the First Amendment. It states, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press." This is unique to us as Americans. It's been fought for and defended all through our history for free expression without censorship from the government. 

It's foundational to our personal rights and liberties. So, we should all be troubled today on what appears to be an attack on the First Amendment by elected officials to coerce private companies to censor political speech.

It's a long, frustrating, and aggravating slog to take in the whole hearing.  But for people with some time on their hands and a strong stomach, I highly recommend accessing the complete hearing video archived at YouTube.  It represents an early warning and a chilling indication of what the Democrats have up their sleeves as they take a more focused and active aim at their enemies.  And while earlier criticisms of the rampant censorship of conservatives by social media as potential violations of the First Amendment have been met with objections that "Big Tech is private industry and it's not the government doing the censoring," yesterday's hearing — and what it may portend — is different.  It's the government taking direct aim at the only examples in the mainstream media that are not a part of the Democrat-MSM authoritarian groupthink alliance.

As I emailed a friend while I was watching the hearing live online, "It's must-see TV.  But I have a barf bag close at hand."

Peter Barry Chowka is a veteran journalist who writes about politics, media, popular culture, and health care for American Thinker and other publications.  He also appears in the media, including recently as a contributor to OANNBBC World NewsThe Glazov Gang, and Fox News.  Peter's website is http://peter.media.  His YouTube channel is here.  For updates on his work, follow Peter on Twitter at @pchowka.