Most Americans learn in school about political excesses in US history such as Joe McCarthy’s Inquisitions of the 1950s, the Red Scare after World War I, and the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798. Still, a recent Washington Post statement gives it in front to explain “What the Sedition Act of 1798 got right.”
The law banned a wide range of political speeches and publications. It was passed by the ruling federalists to suppress the rival Democratic Republicans whom they viewed as seditious. The Post-piece argues that while the federalists’ solution was “flawed”, they had reason to be concerned about “unregulated freedom of the press”.
We highlight this as an example of many of the emerging appetites for suppression of viewpoints among journalists, intellectuals and Democrats after the Trump presidency. They see increasingly domestic enemies wherever they look and develop ways of leveraging power to restrict, regulate and boycott the opposition. It is an extraordinary and threatening turn in a democracy.
Many calls to sanction opposition media have come from those who are believed to be the most concerned
Donald TrumpAttacks on the free press. Margaret Sullivan, Post media columnist, wrote this week “Companies that advertise on Fox News should walk away” declaring that the outlet’s “role in the 400,000 US lives lost in the January 6 pandemic and catastrophic attack” was “fatal.”
Nicholas Kristof from the
called for “pressure on advertisers to withdraw from Fox News while it functions as an extremist madrasa”. He added that “cable providers should be asked why they have channels that sell lies.” A CNN writer asserts that providers like
“Passed the test and avoided this conversation completely.” By conversation he means political bullying from the left.
Thomas Friedman also in the Times required a business boycott of and announced some Fox News shows
must “surprise us once and for all to stop the collection – for profit – of news that split and anger over more authoritative, more balanced news sources”. (Fox and the Journal share common property.)
Only non-divisive sources are allowed, for example those comparing popular media to an “extremist madrasa”. A former Facebook executive was more straightforward when he said on CNN, “We have to reject the ability of these conservative influencers to reach this huge audience.”
Much of American journalism, which was to return to its historic role in controlling those in power after Donald Trump left the city, is now devoted to closing the commercial lifeline of other media. Think of the precedent for the next populist Republican president who could declare pro-choice publications “deadly”.
The trend kicks in when a party rules most of Washington and is vocally supported by nearly every elite cultural institution and many of the largest corporations. Social media companies are increasingly responding to government pressure on content decisions. Expect politicians and regulators to find new ways to get their thumbs on the scales as the administrative state continues to expand.
There are already calls for the Federal Communications Commission to revive the Fairness Doctrine that enforced the rules of language when there were three dominant television networks. It died in the 1980s. The Axios website complained “The US government has done next to nothing to regulate misinformation on major technology platforms,” and the founder of the liberal fact-checker Politifact floated “Regulations and New Laws” to marginalize the right-wing media.
Deplatforming pressure is spreading across social media – with the destruction of
Competitor Parler as the most prominent current example – for other forms of communication. A petition now urges Publishers are turning down book proposals from anyone who has worked in the Trump administration, and the Associated Press calls podcasts a “loophole” in social media moderation.
“Misinformation” is the general purpose excuse to justify new and aggressive censorship, as if disagreement and falsehood are a never-before-seen phenomenon in politics. “If we can protect ourselves from fake dollar bills, we should be able to protect ourselves from fake messages that we now know have the potential to kill people,” said MSNBC host Nicolle Wallace.
That brings us back to the federalists’ insurrectionary law of the 18th century against “false” political statements they felt were necessary to save the country from native enemies. Well-known American historian Gordon Wood told the Journal in a 2018 interview that “the federalists never thought they were a party. You were the government. “The opposition to the government was naturally inflammatory.
Today’s liberal elite is powerless [Alexander] “Hamilton” who supported the Sedition Act, and perhaps they will become the arch-federalists of the current political era. Today, the press, prominent CEOs and all elected branches of government are also in closer political alignment than ever before in decades. The liberal temptation to define their position as the only legitimate one – to see themselves as “government” rather than one of two parties – is growing.
Amidst the protests from Black Lives Matter in the summer, prominent media, universities and corporations underwent internal cleansing when leftists made demands on liberals. Now conservative personalities and institutions from social heights are under attack.
The problems of polarization, lies and political violence are real on both sides. America’s leaders should reach for the best traditions in the country, not the worst, for a better civil society.
Wunderland: Public and political condemnation of the Capitol uprising is rightly practically universal. But why does condemnation of the violence committed during the Black Lives Matter protests last summer remain selective at best? Images: Getty Images Composite: Mark Kelly
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