Two Democratic members of Congress penned letters Monday to a dozen cable providers demanding they account for "misinformation, disinformation, conspiracy theories, and lies" from "right-wing media outlets" they carry — and the networks specifically named were Fox News, Newsmax, and One America News Network.
What are the details?
The letters from U.S. Reps. Anna Eshoo and Jerry McNerney, both of California, were addressed to AT&T, Verizon, Roku, Amazon, Apple, Comcast, Charter, Dish, Cox, Altice, Alphabet, and Hulu. The letters leveled numerous accusations against the aforementioned news networks, including that their coverage helped the "radicalization of seditious individuals who committed acts of insurrection on January 6" at the U.S. Capitol.
"Some purported news outlets have long been misinformation rumor mills and conspiracy theory hotbeds that produce content that leads to real harm," the letters said. "Misinformation on TV has led to our current polluted information environment that radicalizes individuals to commit seditious acts and rejects public health best practices, among other issues in our public discourse."
Citing "experts" who claim "the right-wing media ecosystem is 'much more susceptible...to disinformation, lies, and half-truths,'" the letters said "right-wing media outlets" like Fox News, Newsmax, and OANN "all aired misinformation about the November 2020 elections." The letters also accused the networks of "spreading misinformation related to the pandemic."
What do the Democrats want?
Eshoo and McNerney demanded in their letters that cable providers explain "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?"
The letters also asked the cable providers to detail what steps they've taken to "monitor, respond to, and reduce the spread of disinformation" from news networks they carry, as well as any punitive measures they've taken against such channels — and if they plan to carry networks like Fox News, Newsmax, and OANN once contracts expire.
The letters were penned ahead of a hearing set Wednesday — "Fanning the Flames: Disinformation and Extremism in the Media" — to be hosted by a subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, on which Eshoo and McNerney sit, CNBC reported.
What was the reaction?
Fox News told CNBC in a statement that "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."
CNBC said Comcast declined to comment, and representatives for the other cable providers to which letters were addressed didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.
Republican Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr called the letters a "chilling transgression of the free speech rights that every media outlet in this country enjoys," CBNC said, adding that Carr's fellow Republican Commissioner Nathan Simington reacted similarly.
"The Majority is flirting with violating the First Amendment," a GOP aide for the House Energy and Commerce Committee told CNBC in a statement. "Should the government be pressuring private industries to censor legally protected content and suppress the freedom of the press? No. If a free and independent press is still valued and mainstream in America, this censorship campaign should alarm every single journalist and member of the media."
Haven't we seen this movie before?
The Democrats' letters mirror CNN's assertion last month that cable providers should "face questions for lending their platforms to dishonest companies that profit off of disinformation and conspiracy theories" — and again the three named were Fox News, Newsmax, and OANN.
CNN's Brian Stelter has been on the aforementioned warpath of late, specifically saying a few weeks back that "liar" Fox News' influence must be reduced through a "harm reduction model" — which he said isn't censorship. Later Stelter interviewed a Democratic congresswoman who called for a "truth commission" to root out "extremist ideology" so Americans can mouth a "common narrative."
In his chat with freshman U.S. Rep. Sara Jacobs of California, Stelter decried the "impact of cellphones and this constant connectivity, social networks and far-right television networks" — all of which he said are "fueling a fire" of extremism.