A Progressive Media Group Demanded Censorship of Trump's Coronavirus Press Briefings. The FCC Said No.

The group's petition "would dangerously curtail the freedom of the press embodied in the First Amendment."


The progressive media organization Free Press thinks President Donald Trump is spreading dangerous misinformation during his televised press briefings on the government's coronavirus response. So it petitioned federal regulators to make broadcasters either stop airing them or "put those lies in context with disclaimers noting that they may be untrue and are unverified."

It was an odd demand. If Free Press think the president is abusing his authority, the group probably shouldn't be asking his administration to police how people cover the president's pronouncements. Seems like the sort of request that could backfire.

Thankfully, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rejected the petition on Monday, sending a stern rebuke to anyone who thinks censorship is a valid response to problematic speech.

"The federal government will not—and never should—investigate broadcasters for their editorial judgments simply because a special interest group is angry at the views being expressed on the air as well as those expressing them," said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in a statement. "In short, we will not censor the news."

Free Press based its argument for FCC intervention on public health, reasoning that Trump—as well as certain right-wing media personalities, like Rush Limbaugh—had given false information that could lead people to make unsound medical decisions. The petition specifically cited the president's praise for the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine, which is unproven as a remedy for COVID-19.

It's true that the FCC has some power to prevent the dissemination of false information. But federal law wisely places important limits on the agency, and for obvious reasons. No one should want regulators to have broad discretionary power to suppress speech that they subjectively believe is contrary to the public interest. This would inevitably lead to politically motivated censorship of speech that criticizes government actors.

In rejecting the petition, FCC General Counsel Thomas Johnson Jr. cogently explained that the FCC can take action against broadcasters only if they knew the information being broadcast was false, if they knew it would cause substantial harm, and if the information actually did cause substantial harm. Johnson pointed out that Free Press's demand for censorship fails on all three counts:

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. Moreover, there is a strong argument that broadcasters are serving the public interest when they air live coverage of important news events, such as briefings by the President, the White House Coronavirus Task Force, and state governors, during this national emergency.

The impulse to punish broadcasters for letting people hear what their government officials have to say for themselves is bizarre, and it's a relief to see the FCC take the obvious position that the First Amendment prohibits such censorship. Media outlets can choose whether they want to air Trump's remarks on COVID-19—or anyone else's. The government doesn't get to make this decision for them.

NEXT: The CDC's Revised Face Mask Advice Is Based on Information That Was Available Months Ago

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  1. …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.

    And broadcasters have worked extremely hard to get out of these conferences the information our panicked public most need to know, which is of course that someone in the Executive Branch might have called it a Chinese flu.

    1. I don’t have the Chinese flu. But I had Chinese food for dinner last night.

      1. Many Men Eat but Fu Manchu

        I first heard Sammy Davis Jr saying that, but a google search implies that it’s a common saying, and it has been attributed to Confucius, but perhaps just jokingly.

  2. The irony of the name Free Press no doubt lost on the censorious members. Are they concerned w/ any other misinformation, or just the stuff from sociopolitical groups they don’t like?

    1. It is cognitive dissonance , at best. I will speculate that it is actually cynical propaganda.

    2. When I read the first paragraph I had to check the date to make sure I wasn’t have some sort of alarming vascular cerebral event that was causing me to confuse dates — but, to my surprise, it was NOT April 1st.

      Progressives love free speech — but only theirs.

  3. LMAO. “The bad orange man’s approval ratings are going up because of these daily press conferences! We need to make sure no one can listen to them anymore!”

    1. Nice take. I didn’t consider that angle, but I suspect you’re spot on.

  4. One of my favorite games right now is to watch a press conference and then guess the medias take away from it.

    1. So,etching needs to be done about these people. They are guilty of sedition at a minimum.

      1. I’m pretty sure sedition is protected by the first amendment too.

        A lot of people would call what goes on here every day “sedition”.

        1. someone has to be incited for sedition?

    2. OMG! I do the same damned thing. I thought for sure the MSM would go wild at the model projections coming down. I was wrong. Oh well, today brings another chance to guess what BS the MSM comes up with next. It pisses me off, the way they have behaved.

  5. I missed the news where they petitioned the FCC to censor every single socialist, every single statist, every single politician, and even themselves.

    Liars every single one.

  6. This Free Press group has the interesting idea that the FCC has oversight on the Chief Executive.

    It is, of course, bat guano crazy, but it is interesting. Did these people skip any education on American Civics?

    1. The people who deride the whole idea of a “deep state” also think that the federal bureaucracy can and should rein in the president. I think there’s a little contradiction in there somewhere.

      1. Schumer literally said that the president was damaging the “independence of the secret service”. You can’t make this shit up. In their world, the bureaucracy is already identical to the government, with elected representatives being mere figureheads.

        1. And yet the left bristles when we call them post-democratic.

          1. Much as clingers bristle when their betters point out that clingesr are slack-jawed bigots?

            1. That the best you can do? Go back to sleep.

              1. That is in fact the best that sad sack can do.

            2. You mean how your jaw clings to my hog and your beard bristles my testicles?

    2. Uh, no. They’re not trying to get the FCC to stop Trump from talking. They’re trying to stop media organizations from reporting. Nothing to do with oversight over anything the president does

  7. The big problem with their request, other than the obvious partisan motivation, is the assumption that there be a Ministry of Truth to decide on what is Truth. While I do despair on the falsities of much of the media, the danger of erecting a Ministry of Truth is far far greater.

  8. So the FCC failed Parenting 101 where you don’t argue with kids making unreasonable demands because that leads to you being caught up in the issue of defending your arguments rather than simply dismissing their demands? The FCC should have limited their reply to “LOL. No. Fuck off.”

    1. It seems to me that the FCC response is a more politely worded version of exactly that. And only very slightly more politely worded, at that.

  9. The same group of ‘journalists’ probably want to be useful idiots to Chinese propaganda.

    Always the progressive left looking to destroy liberty. They’re having a field day with this hysteria.

    Enemies of the people. Without a doubt.

  10. This is their opening:

    “In this extraordinary moment, as our country faces a deadly global pandemic, Free Press submits this Emergency Petition for Inquiry, pursuant to 47 C.F.R. § 1.41, to request an urgent investigation into the broadcast of:

    ● False information about COVID-19;
    ● Disinformation about public health measures, guidance and warnings; and
    ● Deadly false assertions about untested “cures” and home remedies that are endangering public health, and that have already led to the death of at least one person in Arizona.1
    The Federal Communications Commission (“FCC” or “Commission”) possesses both the authority and the responsibility to ensure the public airwaves are utilized in the public interest.2 This duty is heightened in times of crisis.”

    Karma dictates they get the Wuhan (aka Tom Hanks disease) treatment.

    1. You knew theyd push the fish tank cleaner story.

      Rumor was the wife was actually being investigated for murdering her husband now, and they think that was all a setup. Any more news on that?

      1. Both were heavy Democrat donors, and she had apparently tried to kill him once before, I’ve read.

  11. From their website:

    “It is unlawful for broadcasters to air misinformation that threatens public health and safety. But right now Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh are using their radio shows on the public airwaves to spread false information about the COVID-19 crisis. And television broadcasters are airing President Trump’s dangerous misinformation without providing a disclaimer. This has arguably cost people their lives.

    The FCC must remind broadcasters of their duty to prevent the spread of misinformation and it must investigate outlets that spread false information without issuing disclaimers. In the case of the president, the FCC should urge broadcasters to provide disclaimers when he utters false — and potentially dangerous — information about coronavirus.”

    These are not journalists. They’re activists.

    I would like to know how many signatures they got out of curiosity.

    Glad the FCC said no.

  12. So here’s the thing….Leftist Progressives really think this way (I don’t agree with it and therefore should drive views I don’t like out of the public square) and rationalize their behavior (seriously, filing this legal horseshit in the middle of the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic, the biggest national emergency in at least 75 years).

  13. For anyone stupid enough to believe Trump or Limbaugh, I say let Darwinism take its course.

    1. For anyone so afflicted with TDS, we can but wish you a very slow and very painful death.

  14. Imagine what happens when they’re in power.

    1. No shit.

      These people must never know where the guns are.

  15. Come on Robbie, here was your chance to correctly say someone has TDS!

  16. and Reason wanted them to say yes

  17. And on another note, a state representative from Ohio wants to refer Trump to the UN for crimes against humanity because he refers to chloro-quine a possible COVID-19 treatment.

  18. I think you are missing the larger picture here. Trump says things like, “very promising”, “we’re looking very closely at it”. But broadcasters like NBC Nightly News rehash it to, “He said drink fish tank cleaner to cure China Flu”. Anyone that actually watches the press briefings can see in plain sight MSM outright lying.

    If they can get his press briefings banned from live broadcast, then there is no way for you too see the blatant lying from your favorite MSM outlet.


    2. “But broadcasters like NBC Nightly News rehash it” — Isn’t that the truth!!! 🙂

    3. I’ve been doing the same thing since Mueller hearing. I sit and watch the actual horses mouth moving. Check out the news later and it’s not even remotely what actually went down in reality. Why would you want to hear something second hand when you can get it straight from the source? Further, why would you want to hear something second hand from proven liars and propagandists?

      1. It goes back a long, long way. When William F. Buckley Jr. was running for mayor of New York City in 1965, he regularly recorded what he said at his press conferences and rallies.
        Then he would compare them with what the press said he said.
        Then he would complain to the press about the frequent and gross distortions they printed.
        Then they ignored him.

        Now we have the internet.

  19. “The progressive media organization Free Press…”

    See “Oxymoron” in your dictionary.

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  21. The progressive media organization Free Press

    The progressives sure love their newspeak. Like the so-called “Rational” Wiki and their joke page on Objectivism.

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