Two California Democratic Congressmen sent letters to a dozen cable news broadcaster earlier this week claiming traditionally right-leaning news networks peddle “misinformation,” and demanded to know what actions the providers intended to take to mitigate their spread.
Congresswoman Anna Eshoo and Congressman Jerry McNerney sent two-page letters to the CEOs of Verizon, AT&T, Apple, Roku, Amazon, Comcast, Charter Communications, Dish, Cox Communications, Altice USA, Alphabet (Google), and Hulu with overt pressuring overtones, suggesting they take punitive actions against networks who have shared what they dubbed “misinformation, disinformation, conspiracy theories, and lies” around the ongoing pandemic, and 2020 election.
“Our country’s public discourse is plagued by misinformation, disinformation, conspiracy theories, and lies,” the dually signed letter reads. “These phenomena undergird the radicalization of seditious individuals who committed acts of insurrection on January 6th, and it contributes to a growing distrust of public health measures necessary to crush the pandemic.” The House Members then frame this under a request for each company to send more information on steps they’re taking to regulate speech.
“Not all TV news sources are the same,” they wrote. “Some purported news outlets have long been misinformation rumor mills and conspiracy theory hotbeds that produce content that leads to real harm.” They go on to blame the three networking in question – Fox News, NewsMax, One America News Network (OANN) – for the January 6th violent attack on the U.S. Capitol. These networks have “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.”
Experts have noted that the right-wing media ecosystem is “much more susceptible…to disinformation, lies, and half-truths.” Right-wing media outlets, like Newsmax, One America News Network (OANN), and Fox News all aired misinformation about the November 2020 elections. For example, both Newsmax and OANN “ran incendiary reports” of false information following the elections and continue to support “an angry and dangerous subculture [that] will continue to operate semi-openly.” As a violent mob was breaching the doors of the Capitol, Newsmax’s coverage called the scene a “sort of a romantic idea.” Fox News, meanwhile, has spent years spewing misinformation about American politics.
These same networks also have been key vectors of spreading misinformation related to the pandemic. A media watchdog found over 250 cases of COVID-19 misinformation on Fox News in just one five-day period, and economists demonstrated that Fox News had a demonstrable impact on non-compliance with public health guidelines. One online platform suspended and demonetized OANN’s channel online because it was spreading COVID-19 misinformation. Newsmax has amplified allegations that members of the Chinese Communist Party helped to develop the COVID-19 vaccine.
Over the course of the year, nonpolitical health officials have yo-yoed between all possible stances on COVID questions. Dr. Fauci famously went on record as both being anti-mask and pro-mask, stated vaccinations will lead to normalcy to asking vaccinated people to remain masked and socially distant after both doses, and has given multiple answers on whether to reopen schools and end lockdowns. Medical experts aren’t even giving a unified message on COVID. Most information is still subjective based on an ever changing set of available data.
More than half of the “misinformation” claims in the letter cited by Media Matter in, a left wing WatchGuard group used by Eshoo and McNerney were either ‘politicization’ of the pandemic or “emphasizing economics.” Both are heavily subjective standards.
Making an open call for stations to limit these network’s reach, the House members said, “to our knowledge, the cable, satellite, and over-the-top companies that disseminate these media outlets to American viewers have done nothing in response to the misinformation aired by these outlets.” They go on to claim the 12 targeted broadcasters played “a major role in the spread of dangerous misinformation that enabled the insurrection of January 6th and hinders our public health response to the current pandemic.”
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?
Do you require, through contracts or otherwise, that the channels you carry abide by any content guidelines? If so, please provide a copy of the guidelines.
How many of your subscribers tuned in to Fox News, Newsmax, and OANN on U-verse, DirecTV, and AT&T TV for each of the four weeks preceding the November 3, 2020 elections and the January 6, 2021 attacks on the Capitol? Please specify the number of subscribers that tuned in to each channel.
What steps did you take prior to, on, and following the November 3, 2020 elections and the January 6, 2021 attacks to monitor, respond to, and reduce the spread of disinformation, including encouragement or incitement of violence by channels your company disseminates to millions of Americans? Please describe each step that you took and when it was taken.
Have you taken any adverse actions against a channel, including Fox News, Newsmax, and OANN, for using your platform to disseminate disinformation related directly or indirectly to the November 3, 2020 elections, the January 6, 2021 Capitol insurrection, orCOVID-19 misinformation? If yes, please describe each action, when it was taken, and the parties involved.
Have you ever taken any actions against a channel for using your platform to disseminate any disinformation? If yes, please describe each action and when it was taken.
Are you planning to continue carrying Fox News, Newsmax, and OANN on U-verse, DirecTV, and AT&T TV both now and beyond any contract renewal date? If so, why?
The Congressmen asked for broadcasters to disclose the “moral or ethic principles” used to gauge whether to air a network, implying the mere presence of these channels directly cause views to commit acts of evil.
The also asked whether the broadcasters police the speech on each channel, nudging AT&T, Comcast, and others to act more as publishers rather than the traditional non-endorsing platform cable providers are expected to be. They want to know what actions the broadcasters took after November 6th “to monitor, respond to, and reduce the spread of disinformation, including encouragement or incitement of violence by channels your company disseminates to millions of Americans,” and what actions they’ve “taken any adverse actions against a channel, including Fox News, Newsmax, and OANN, for using your platform to disseminate disinformation.”
After framing Fox, NewsMax, and OANN as the root cause of misinformation and the tragic violence of January 6th, they ask whether the broadcasters will continue to air these channels for viewers after the network’s contracts expire.
Fox fired back at the California Congressmen, saying “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.”
Newsmax also responded to letter, adding, “the House Democrats’ attack on free speech and basic First Amendment rights should send chills down the spines of all Americans. Newsmax reported fairly and accurately on allegations and claims made by both sides during the recent election contest. We did not see that same balanced coverage when CNN and MSNBC pushed for years the Russian collusion hoax, airing numerous claims and interviews with Democrat leaders that turned out to be patently false.”