Way back during the McCarthy era, the Supreme Court of the United States started recognizing that certain laws, regulations and practices could discourage individuals from availing themselves of their First Amendment rights. Even if these rules did not specifically target free speech, the Court recognized that they could have a “chilling effect” that effectively negated a person’s ability to speak out, despite technically having the right to do so.
In other words, the First Amendment didn’t mean much if other rules made it impossible for you to exercise your rights. In Second Amendment parlance, it would be like the government saying you can have as many firearms as you want, but that owning ammunition is illegal. Clever as politicians think they may be for attempting an end-run around the Constitution, the Supreme Court has maintained that placing an undue burden on on the free exercise of guaranteed rights amounts to the same thing as taking them away—and they’ve repeatedly slammed the door on such attempts.
But we now live in a time when creeping censorship is no longer driven primarily by government busybodies trying to make us all shut up and get with the approved narrative. Private corporations have placed themselves at the forefront of such efforts—particularly in the area of social media, which is dominated by a handful of giants who effectively have veto power over what we get to see, hear and say. Given that technology companies operate under the Silicon Valley ethos—which leans heavily toward the Left—most of that censorship tends to target conservatives, who have tried to make this issue a centerpiece of their fight.
However, it’s also interesting to note that even so-called “mainstream” media outlets have jumped into the game. To be sure, they’ve been at it for a long time—but up until recently, their shenanigans have mostly involved narrative shaping through selective reporting: giving audiences the facts that advance the preferred (i.e., liberal) storyline while burying any details that might contradict it. That’s why every malapropism made by George W. Bush was meticulously documented and used as proof of his vacuousness, while most people never found out that Barack Obama once said that the U.S. had fifty-seven states.
On the other hand, these days the media have resorted to an even more insidious practice: going after private citizens who dare to disrupt the official narrative, or make their preferred politicians appear silly. An early example was Joe the Plumber—remember him?—when he gained instant fame for prompting Obama to accidentally admit that he favored policies that sounded an awful lot like socialism. For that sin, the news networks picked apart every last detail of his life, trying to search for dirt they could use to discredit him. Never mind Barack Obama was a public figure and Joe the Plumber wasn’t. The media wanted to protect their guy, so they completely upended their own standards and practices to do so.
Now that social media is on the scene, though, things have gotten even worse. People who post content that somehow goes viral can find themselves with a target on their backs—especially if they happen to disparage one of the media’s darlings. Not so long ago, the venerable CNN accosted some old lady who ran a pro-Trump Facebook group targeted by Russian trolls, as if she somehow had single-handedly engineered Hillary Clinton’s defeat. What news value could there have possibly been in outing a woman nobody had ever heard of for unwittingly sharing Russian disinformation, especially when there isn’t any evidence that it changed the election result anyway? The answer, of course, is that there wasn’t. The message delivered, however, was clear: If you do something we don’t like, we can and will ruin you.
Think that might have had a chilling effect on her exercise of free speech?
The Daily Beast apparently thinks so. Just this last weekend, they ran a story (which I will not link to here, as I don’t want to refer them any more clicks) in which they purported to out the guy who created a viral video that was altered to portray Nancy Pelosi as slurring her words and appearing either drunk or senile. Moreover, the Daily Beast reporter stated in his story that Facebook helped identify the guy who did it. The man, while admitting that he shared the video on a Facebook page he administers, denies that he created it—and also cites what he calls a number of errors in the story. He is now considering legal action against the Daily Beast, and has started a GoFundMe page to raise money for that purpose.
But again, honestly—what is the news value in running a story on some internet rando who posted a video that the left-leaning Daily Beast doesn’t like? It’s not as if they’re concerned about the spreading of videos edited to make politicians look snockered. If that were the case, they would have tracked down the person who did the same thing to a video of Donald Trump—and as far as I know, that hasn’t happened.
No, the only possible reason is that the Daily Beast knew that outing this guy would make his life a living hell. They knew it would open him up to all kinds of online harassment, including threats to his actual safety. They knew it would probably lead to him losing his job, because no employer would want the notoriety that comes with having him on staff—especially after the social justice warriors start to mount a boycott campaign. In other words, the Daily Beast knew that this man would essentially be canceled out of existence—all because he dared to exercise his First Amendment rights in a way in which they disapprove.
And that’s the crux of it: We now have media outlets, who depend on the First Amendment for their very existence, attempting to deny that very same right to others. The Daily Beast, for all intents and purposes, is chilling free speech by saying, “Nice identity you got there. Be a shame if we had to doxx it.”
I used to think that Donald Trump’s rhetoric about the media being enemies of the people was overblown. Now I’m not so sure.