from the petty-shit dept
Earlier today we wrote about how Ajit Pai was pushing ahead with the Commerce Department’s silly FCC petition regarding a re-interpretation of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. We noted that it wouldn’t actually be that hard to just say that the whole thing is unconstitutional and outside of the FCC’s authority (which it is). Some people have pushed back on us saying that if Pai didn’t do this, Trump would fire him and promote some Trump stan to push through whatever unconstitutional nonsense is wanted.
Well, now at least there’s some evidence to suggest that Trump also views the FCC — a supposedly “independent” agency — as his personal speech police. Of the Republican Commissioners, Brendan Carr has been quite vocal in his Trump boot-licking, especially with regards to Section 230. He’s been almost gleeful in his pronouncements about how evil “big tech” is for “censoring conservatives,” and how much he wants to chip away at Section 230. Pai has been pretty much silent on the issue until the announcement today. But the other Republican Commissioner, Mike O’Rielly, has at least suggested that he recognizes the Trump executive order is garbage. Six weeks ago he said he hadn’t done his homework yet, but suggested he didn’t think Congress had given the FCC any authority on this matter (he’s right).
Just last week, during a speech, he made it pretty clear where he stood on this issue. While first saying he wasn’t necessarily referencing the Trump executive order, he said the following:
Today, I would like to address a particularly ominous development in this space. To be clear, the
following critique is not in any way directed toward President Trump or those in the White House, who
are fully within their rights to call for the review of any federal statute’s application, the result of which
would be subject to applicable statutory and constitutional guardrails. Rather, I am very troubled by
certain opportunists elsewhere who claim to be the First Amendment’s biggest heroes but only come to
its defense when convenient and constantly shift its meaning to fit their current political objectives. The
inconsistencies and contradictions presented by such false prophets would make James Madison’s head
spin, were he alive to witness them.
The First Amendment protects us from limits on speech imposed by the government—not private
actors—and we should all reject demands, in the name of the First Amendment, for private actors to
curate or publish speech in a certain way. Like it or not, the First Amendment’s protections apply to
corporate entities, especially when they engage in editorial decision making. I shudder to think of a day
in which the Fairness Doctrine could be reincarnated for the Internet, especially at the ironic behest of
so-called free speech “defenders.” It is time to stop allowing purveyors of First Amendment gibberish to
claim they support more speech, when their actions make clear that they would actually curtail it
through government action. These individuals demean and denigrate the values of our Constitution and
must be held accountable for their doublespeak and dishonesty. This institution and its members have
long been unwavering in defending the First Amendment, and it is the duty of each of us to continue to
uphold this precious protection.
To be clear: I agree 100% with that statement, and am glad that O’Rielly was willing to stand up on principle to defend it.
And then, today, it was announced that the White House is pulling his renomination to the FCC. In other words, the White House is being a petty asshole, again, and firing anyone for not being in lockstep with the President’s ridiculous unconstitutional whims.
There was some talk last week about how Senator James Inhofe’s office was blocking O’Rielly’s renomination over a different issue: the approval of L-Band spectrum for use by Ligado (formerly LightSquared). A variety of government organizations had opposed the use of this spectrum, fearing that it might interfere with GPS systems. However, the Ligado deal was unanimously approved by all five commissioners, so it’s difficult to see why O’Rielly would be singled out, other than his nomination was up. The Inhofe/Ligado thing feels like a smokescreen for the 230 issue.
The question now is whether or not O’Rielly will serve out his term, or if he’ll leave now that his renomination is not being considered. One hopes that he’ll at least stick it out long enough to vote down the Petition on 230. Even if he did leave, it’s unclear if a new Commissioner would get through any confirmation process prior to the election. Either way, at least it’s nice to see one Republican Commissioner willing to stand up to Trump. We’ve criticized O’Rielly plenty of times in the past, but at least he’s not taking the path of Carr (and even Pai) in dealing with this nonsense.