Remember: The current voguish call for unity isn’t about national unity, it’s about intellectual unity.
If you didn’t get this message from Twitter’s permanent silencing of President Donald Trump — done late on a Friday, a move usually meant to dampen the harsh blow of criticism from the media and people disengaging from social media for the weekend, and over two of his tamer tweets at that — let Oliver Darcy illustrate it for you by saying cable companies “should not escape scrutiny for distributing disinformation” like Fox News during the Trump administration in an analysis piece for CNN published Friday morning.
First, before I address the piece itself, we ought to chop through some thickets of dishonest language that inform it. If you’ve consumed any media over the past 72 hours, you’ve probably heard the phrases “should not escape scrutiny,” or its close cousins like “need to be held accountable” and “cannot escape the consequences,” repeated ad nauseam.
This is a nice way to say anyone who supported Trump or anything he stood for, particularly in regard to the election, needs to undergo self-mortification before they’re let out into the public intellectual square again. The justification for this is that violent thugs, acting on insane worldviews completely disconnected from either reality or the vast majority of those who cast their vote for the president, rioted and created the most destructive incursion into the U.S. Capitol since the British in the War of 1812.
The British were spurred on by what they saw as American expansionism and represented an existential threat to the United States. The mob at the Capitol created one of the most dispiriting days in American democracy and was acting upon unpardonable impulses, but they didn’t represent an existential threat to the United States of America.
Nor, in fact, would there have been any subsequent mobs spurred on by any politician’s words; witness the revulsion of a near-unanimity of Americans, or the felicitously timed realization mobs espousing violent ideologies must be met with commensurate force.
They also weren’t spurred on by Fox News or Newsmax. I’m not sure who New Jersey Assemblyman Paul Moriarty is, but his text messages to Comcast accusing them of complicity by carrying those two networks were apparently important enough to be quoted (superfluous question marks and all) as the opening paragraphs to Darcy’s opinion piece on CNN’s website.
“Fox and Newsmax, both delivered to my home by your company, are complicit,” he texted a Comcast executive Thursday. “What are you going to do???”
“You feed this garbage, lies and all.”
The importance of this is apparently that Moriarity provided screen grabs of the texts he sent the executive to Darcy. They don’t evince any particular insight into why Comcast, Fox News or Newsmax is complicit — and I’m not even talking about new insight, but any insight — but Darcy avouches to us that “Moriarty was referring to the fact that Comcast’s cable brand, Xfinity, provides a platform to right-wing cable networks that have for weeks been disseminating disinformation about the November election results to audiences of millions.”
“Moriarty has a point. We regularly discuss what the Big Tech companies have done to poison the public conversation by providing large platforms to bad-faith actors who lie, mislead, and promote conspiracy theories,” Darcy wrote.
“But what about TV companies that provide platforms to networks such as Newsmax, One America News — and, yes, Fox News?
Tech companies have rules over the content posted on their platforms. Do TV carriers have similar guidelines for the content they distribute? If so, what are they? If not, why not? I asked AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, Charter, and Dish. I didn’t hear back. 😞 https://t.co/HsDyQBmREU
— Oliver Darcy (@oliverdarcy) January 8, 2021
“Somehow, these companies have escaped scrutiny and entirely dodged this conversation. That should not be the case anymore. After Wednesday’s incident of domestic terrorism on Capitol Hill, it is time TV carriers face questions for lending their platforms to dishonest companies that profit off of disinformation and conspiracy theories. After all, it was the very lies that Fox, Newsmax, and OAN spread that helped prime President Trump’s supporters into not believing the truth: that he lost an honest and fair election.”
Neither Moriarity or Darcy apparently watched these networks, since all three had harsh words for anyone using violence and mayhem to achieve political ends beginning earlier this year; it’s still worth noting that for many other networks, including Darcy’s own, the first realization that the inflamed social atmosphere of 2020 combined with apologies for property destruction and intimidation might lend itself to problematic behavior began with the plot to kidnap Democratic Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Even then, they still didn’t get the point.
But then, that’s not really the point about the Capitol incursion, either. This, to voices calling for media censorship, had nothing to do with violent ideologies outside the mainstream and everything to do with those who questioned any aspect of the 2020 electoral process — one which was neither uniform nor transparent and was cobbled together in a hurry because of pandemic exigencies.
Questioning the process is different from questioning the result; consider that Fox News called the election on the same day every other network did.
You have to hand it to Darcy, though, because most of these voices focused on Big Tech and social media, where L. Lin Wood can rave about Vice President Mike Pence and Chief Justice John Roberts having rigged the election, and QAnon can sometimes fester like a wound in a small corner.
It takes a surprising level of candor to effectively imply that cable and TV providers should drop Fox.
“Surely, these companies — many of which boast about their social and civic responsibilities — have limits to the content they disseminate. It’s hard, for instance, to imagine they’d carry a fringe and conspiratorial network like InfoWars,” he said.
“So why do AT&T (which I should note is CNN’s parent company), CenturyLink, and Verizon carry OAN? Why do AT&T, CenturyLink, Verizon, Comcast, Charter, and Dish carry Newsmax? And why do they all carry Fox — which is, frankly, at times just as irresponsible and dangerous with its platform as its smaller competitor networks?”
“I asked all of these companies for comment on Thursday. I asked them if they have any guidelines governing the content that they carry on their platforms. I asked them if they have any regret over carrying right-wing channels that were in many ways partly responsible for what took place in our nation’s capital this week.”
The idea that conservative media outlets were somehow both responsible for a) InfoWars-like statements about stolen elections and b) incitements to and enabling of violence were hardly unique.
Columnist Max Boot, in one of his hardly uncommon fulminations about how the Republican Party he left had turned evil, wrote Wednesday in The Washington Post that “whatever happens with the president, we must never forget the responsibility of his enablers for the ugly events of Wednesday. This would never have happened if Fox ‘News,’ OAN, Newsmax, Mark Levin, the Daily Wire and all the rest had not been spreading poisonous lies to allege that the election was stolen.”
Even Boot, gnasher of teeth and render of clothes that he is, would likely bristle at implications that TV companies that continue to carry Fox “should not escape scrutiny for distributing disinformation.” He, like everyone else, would know what that “scrutiny” would entail: efforts by the mainstream media and politicians to chase Fox News off TV providers’ lineups.
As long as Darcy wants to ditch networks that tolerate conspiracy theories and condoning of violence, however, I can think of one that a) allowed a guest to say, unchallenged, that Mitch McConnell may have won his race through electoral fraud, b) claimed the Trump administration was giving a disproportionate number of COVID-19 vaccines to Florida without any proof, c) refused to report on stories having to do with Hunter Biden’s laptop by orders of the network head and d) immortalized the phrase “Fiery But Mostly Peaceful Protests.” That, of course, would be Darcy’s own.
Fox News, in the meanwhile, condemned violence and property destruction all summer (and continued to do so Wednesday). It was also the venue for a tense exchange with GOP Sen. Josh Hawley over his intention to challenge the results before the protest.
Is this selective? Sure. So is Darcy’s outrage — and his prescription would be preposterous if it weren’t so scary.
If there’s one way to get conservatives angry, though, it’s talk of more censorship like this.
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