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Powerline Blog
Power Line
11 Mar 2023
Scott Johnson

NextImg:Notes on the Twitter Files (19)

Matt Taibbi and Michael Shellenberger are two of the journalists who have participated in the Twitter Files project. They testified at the Hearing on the Weaponization of the Federal Government on the Twitter Files conducted by the House Judiciary this week. I posted the text of Taibbi’s statement here yesterday.

The New York Post has adapted Shellenberger’s statement in “‘Censorship-industrial complex’ uses gov’t power to threaten democracy.” Shellenberger testified:

The Twitter Files, state attorneys general lawsuits and investigative reporters have revealed a large and growing network of government agencies, academic institutions and private groups that are actively censoring American citizens, often without their knowledge, on subjects including the origins of COVID, COVID vaccines, Hunter Biden’s business dealings, climate change and many other issues.

Shellenberger also elaborates on his use of the old Eisenhower trope to describe “the censorship industrial complex.” He identifies members of the new complex:

The brains of the complex reside in four organizations — the Stanford Internet Observatory, the University of Washington, the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab and Graphika, with murky ties to the Department of Defense, the CIA and other intelligence agencies.

They appear to be working with multiple US government agencies to institutionalize censorship research and advocacy within dozens of other universities and think tanks.

These groups aren’t publicly engaging with their opponents.

They aren’t asking for a national debate over the limits to the First Amendment.

Rather, they are creating blacklists of disfavored people and demanding that the social-media platforms censor, deamplify and even ban them.

The censors are a familiar type.

Overly confident in their ability to discern truth from falsity, good intention from bad intention, the instinct of these hall-monitor types is to complain to the teacher.

Such an approach might work in middle school, and a good number of elite universities, but it is anathema to freedom of expression, democracy and the American way.

These organizations and others are also running their own influence operations, which they often call “fact-checking” when they do it and “disinformation” when their opponents do it.

He counsels: “Congress should first take immediate action to cut off funding to the censors and investigate their activities.”

Speaking of Congress, Matt Taibbi recounts his Kafkaesque experience at the hands of Democratic members of the committee in a public post at his Racket News site. I urge interested readers to see Taibbi’s post (with videos) “Democrats have lost the plot.” He comments:

The Democrats made it clear they were not interested in talking about free speech except as it pertains to Chrissy Teigen, seemed to suggest a journalist should not make a living, and finally made the incredible claim that Michael and I represented a “direct threat to people who oppose them.” Of all that transpired yesterday, this was the most ominous development — perhaps not for me but for reporters generally, given our government’s recent history of dealing with people deemed “threats.”

Beyond that, much of the hubbub yesterday involved the many “When did Elon Musk start beating your wife?” questions, and the line about me being a “so-called journalist.”

What is wrong with these people? They are in control, drunk on power, and ardent to maintain the status quo. They combine real and calculated ignorance (“It was a bizarre collective display of a whole group of politicians not understanding some pretty basic things about how not to act around journalists”) with a passion to deepen the ignorance of others. Interested readers will not want to miss Taibbi’s account of his experience here. See also James Bovard’s New York Post column “Democrats champion censorship and smear Twitter files heroes” (“Taibbi and Shellenberger labored under the misconception that congressional hearings seek to reveal facts”).

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