Red Alert: Democrats take first steps to censor conservative TV channels OANN, Newsmax, and Fox News

In a shocking development in the ongoing censorship debate, two influential Democrat members of the House of Representatives have taken the first steps to challenge the continued availability of conservative channels Newsmax, OANN, and Fox News on mainstream cable, satellite, and streaming television platforms.  Multichannel News reported on the story yesterday in an article titled "House Dems Pressure Distributors to Justify Carrying Fox News, Others."

California Democrats Reps. Anna Eshoo and Jerry McNerney have written to a dozen cable, satellite and streaming companies calling on them to better combat disinformation — which they principally identify as Fox, Newsmax and One America News Network (OANN) — and grilling them on what they plan to do about it.

Among other things, the letter to the companies by Eshoo and McNerney attacked the three conservative news channels as "misinformation rumor mills and conspiracy theory hotbeds that produce content that leads to real harm."

The Democrats' February 22 letter to Comcast, AT&T, Dish, Verizon, Roku, and the seven other companies demanded that they respond to a laundry list of seven intrusive and intimidating questions:

1. 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?

2. Do you require, through contracts or otherwise, that the channels you carry abide by any content guidelines? If so, please provide a copy of the guidelines.

3. How many of your subscribers tuned in to Fox News, Newsmax, and OANN on [Fill in the company's distribution platforms] for each of the four weeks preceding the Nov. 3, 2020 elections and the Jan. 6, 2021 attacks on the Capitol? Please specify the number of subscribers that tuned in to each channel.

4. 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? Please describe each step that you took and when it was taken.

5. Have you taken any adverse actions against a channel, including Fox News, Newsmax, and OANN, for using your platform to disseminate disinformation related directly or indirectly to the Nov. 3, 2020 elections, the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol insurrection, or COVID-19 misinformation? If yes, please describe each action, when it was taken, and the parties involved.

6. Have you ever taken any actions against a channel for using your platform to disseminate any disinformation? If yes, please describe each action and when it was taken.

7. Are you planning to continue carrying Fox News, Newsmax, and OANN [fill in the platform] on TV both now and beyond any contract renewal date? If so, why?

The questions came two days before a hearing on Wednesday before the powerful House Committee on Energy & Commerce, chaired by Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), titled "Fanning the Flames: Disinformation and Extremism in the Media."  Pallone has represented his New Jersey district in the House since 1993.  Reps. Eshoo (who, like Pallone, was also first elected to Congress in 1992) and McNerney (who was re-elected to his eighth term in the House in 2020) are both members of the House committee and will be participating in the hearing.

The hearing, scheduled to start at 12:30 P.M. E.T., will be virtual, using Cisco WebEx video technology, and it will be live-streamed at the committee's site.  Previous congressional inquiries have targeted social media, but this is the first time that major television outlets, including Fox News (which is considered mainstream media and is available to 100% of television viewers around the country), have found themselves directly in the cross hairs of politicians on Capitol Hill.


Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) at an event in Perth Amboy, N.J., January 28, 2021.
Source: Public Domain: Rep. Pallone's official House website.

The witnesses who are scheduled to participate in the House hearing tomorrow are:

Soledad O'Brien
Anchor, Matter of Fact
CEO, Soledad O'Brien Productions

Emily Bell
Director
The Tow Center for Digital Media, Columbia University

Kristin Danielle Urquiza
Co-Founder
Marked by COVID

Jonathan Turley
Professor
The George Washington University Law School

O'Brien is a veteran progressive television host and reporter who has worked at NBC, MSNBC, CNN, and Al Jazeera America; Bell, from the U.K., "spent much of her career at [über-left-wing] Guardian News and Media in London"; Urquiza's Twitter identifies her as "Latinx. Queer"; and Turley is a Democrat legal scholar who was recently hired as a Fox News contributor.

This effort to essentially shred the First Amendment to the Constitution and shut down major news media that Democrats don't like began with radical activists, including ones ensconced at the well funded leftist 501(c)(3) non-profit organization Media Matters for America.  From there, the talking points were quickly echoed repeatedly on CNN.  Before long, the anti–conservative media meme was picked up by influential swamp columnists at the New York Times and the Washington Post.  Now it has been embraced by radical members of Congress who have the power to propose legislation that, if enacted, can be enforced under the color of law.  A corresponding step — one already taken on the eve of Wednesday's congressional hearing — is to intimidate the nation's cable, satellite, and streaming television companies by challenging them to justify their decisions to continue carrying the conservative channels.

In its analysis, Multichannel News noted, "The legislators [Democrat reps. Eshoo and McNerney] came just short of calling on the distributors to drop those [conservatives] channels, but not by much."

Earlier this month, New York Times op-ed contributor Nicholas Kristof, in an article titled "Can we put Fox News on trial with Donald Trump?," wrote:

We can't impeach Fox or put Carlson or Sean Hannity on trial in the Senate, but there are steps we can take — imperfect, inadequate ones, resting on slippery slopes — to create accountability not only for Trump but also for fellow travelers at Fox, OANN, Newsmax and so on.

Kristof advocated pressuring advertisers to stop placing ads on Fox News.  "A second step," he added, "is to call on cable companies to drop Fox News from basic cable TV packages." 

On Monday afternoon, in response to the Eshoo-McNerney letter, Fox News issued a statement that was emailed to this reporter:

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.

In response to these developments, Brendan Carr, a Republican commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission, weighed in on the matter in a statement on Monday:

To the House Democrats that used their official letterhead to launch this inquiry, I would say this: Your demand to know the 'moral principles' that guide a private entity's decision about what news to carry cannot be reconciled with bedrock principles of free speech and journalistic freedom.

The FCC does not currently have regulatory authority of cable and satellite television providers — only channels that broadcast on publicly owned and federally-licensed over-the-air frequencies.  Democrats have said they would like that to change.  Many would also like to see the return of the Fairness Doctrine, which — from 1949 until it was repealed in 1987 — required broadcasters to present equal time to both (sic) sides of controversial issues.  That latter issue was touched on this past week in the wake of conservative icon Rush Limbaugh's death.  Limbaugh's national talk radio success was made possible, among other things, by the freer, less regulated climate of public discourse that accompanied the end of the Fairness Doctrine a year before The Rush Limbaugh Show went into syndication.

Alarming developments in this critical area of media freedom, for the first time touching the highest levels of cable television news, are now moving ahead with great rapidity.

In a blog at American Thinker on February 14, about YouTube banning links to AT, I concluded with these words, which now seem more relevant than ever:

Am I the only one (I don't think so) who is concerned that the First Amendment is now hanging by a thread?

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.