Wednesday, July 24, 2024

The FBI Has No Business Trying To Suppress Free Speech

We are beginning to find out just how bad it was. The FBI and other government agencies worked hand in glove with Twitter’s old management to suppress legitimate speech they didn’t like and shape a narrative they did. They did so repeatedly and secretly. So did the Biden presidential campaign and the Democratic National Campaign Committee. They institutionalized their close relations and communicated so often that Twitter executives could reply to their complaints with a single word: “handled.” We only learned how extensive this collusion was after Elon Musk bought the company.

The attacks on Musk for exposing the connections tell us just how much those on the left side of the political spectrum hate open discourse and transparency when it includes views they dislike. They regularly smear those views with hyperbolic terms such as white supremacist, transphobic, racist, fascist, or whatever comes to mind. They substitute name-calling for rational argument.

Today, sadly, the label “progressive” not only encompasses almost all universities and many woke corporations, it also includes much of the media, which is spewing vitriol at Musk instead of investigating the now-obvious malfeasance by Twitter’s previous management and the government agencies that worked so closely with the social media giant.

Why would an honest media be interested in this growing scandal? How about because it includes the following:

  • A vast overreach by federal law enforcement,
  • Improper interference in domestic politics by multiple federal agencies, which they naturally kept secret to protect their meddling, and
  • A concerted effort by government agents and retired CIA officials to stop the spread of inconvenient information under the phony guise of “national security.” That included damaging information about Joe Biden’s family, which they suppressed just before the 2020 election. We now know that story, published by the New York Post, was true, and efforts to discredit it as “Russian disinformation” were false, perhaps knowingly so.

In the old days, when the American left was liberal instead of progressive, it would have been outraged by every aspect of this scandal. No more. The left’s tectonic shift shows us just how far progressive values have departed from older liberal ones.

The media, so proud of its progressive credentials, was happy to skip these stories when they first appeared, and they are happy to skip them now, even as the evidence accumulates. The media’s reticence is revealing. It underscores how they are willing to override their journalistic responsibilities when they conflict with their political preferences and ideology. That’s a scandal in its own right, and it’s why Musk had to turn to outsiders like Bari Weiss, Matt Taibbi, and Michael Shellenberger, not the New York Times or Washington Post, to review Twitter’s documents. After Shellenberger reviewed them, he tweeted, “The FBI & intelligence community discredited factual information about Hunter Biden’s foreign business dealings both after and *before* The New York Post revealed the contents of his laptop on October 14, 2020.” It would be interesting to know how they knew the NY Post was about to publish that material before it did so.

The key here is the role of government agencies. The DNC and the Biden campaign are perfectly free to promote whatever narrative they want. They are private entities, and they are free to work behind the scenes with private companies like Twitter. Likewise, Twitter is free to publish what it wants, though lying about it for years was dishonorable. But that freedom does not extend to the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Centers for Disease Control. As government agencies, they have absolutely no business trying to suppress public discussion that is permitted under the First Amendment or hide evidence they have done so. The CIA has no business at all – and no legal authority – to interfere in domestic American politics. If the agency did so by working through their former leaders, we need to know.

These government bureaucrats were clever enough to hide their role, at least until Twitter’s ownership changed. The mandarins of the administrative state managed to (1) salt Twitter and other social media sites with friendly, ex-FBI agents; (2) pay social media giants millions for their “staff work” to deal with agency requests; and (3) pressure rather than specifically order Twitter and others to suppress specific information on their sites. The Twitter files show the FBI did all of those. We need to know if other government agencies did the same thing and if their efforts were directed at other Internet behemoths besides Twitter. So far, both the bureaucrats and behemoths have been meta-silent.

Even if the FBI never said flatly “Kill this story,” their suggestions and intent were perfectly clear to Twitter executives – and they were a direct assault on the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech. That amendment not only guarantees citizens a right to speak, it guarantees them a right to hear, read, and view various perspectives, without the strong-arm of government interference.

That freedom to speak, hear, view, and read is engraved in the Constitution and grounded in the bedrock assumption that truth is most likely to emerge from free discourse, not from authoritarian diktats or “expert” control. After all, the bureaucrats and experts could be wrong, as we have learned at great cost over the past three years. Their errors remind us why it is so important to have robust public discourse. That discourse should not be crushed by a “public health emergency” or exaggerated claims of “national security.”

Thanks to the Twitter Files, we are beginning to see just how extensive these governmental attacks on the First Amendment were. But we are only beginning because the FBI and other federal agencies are stonewalling. That’s what bureaucracies do. They refuse to release their communications with social media platforms or their internal communications about those contacts. The new Congress needs to ask about them under oath.

Congress also needs to probe whether this collaboration extended beyond Twitter to other social media sites and search engines such as Google. So far, those sites are refusing to say. But it is hard to imagine that the ties forged with Twitter, so fruitful for government agencies, weren’t also cultivated with Facebook, YouTube, Apple, Google, and others. If Twitter was such a willing suppliant, why not the rest of Silicon Valley?

We also need to know which other government agencies were involved in this pervasive, secret campaign to control public discourse. Aside from the FBI, which issued a bland dismissal that it did anything wrong, other agencies have remained mute. They have a duty to explain their conduct to American citizens, which fund them and authorize their activities. Congress has a responsibility to find out. It is very likely, for instance, that our public health bureaucracies worked to suppress an open discussion of the Wuhan lab’s role in originating the virus, or their own catastrophic error in closing public schools and masking small children. Government agencies need to disclose their role in secretly “shaping the narrative” on these issues. After all, they were created to act for our benefit, not for their own and not for their leaders’ protection. Their most basic remit is to guard our rights, not to extend their own power – and certainly not to extend that power at the expense of our constitutional rights. Violating that fundamental remit is the gravest scandal here.

Government agencies are welcome to put out their own information, but they should almost always do so publicly, in their own name. That’s the only way for skeptics to contest their views and for the public to reach informed decisions. If those agencies have solid evidence that malign foreign actors are interfering in our elections, they should share that information and take full responsibility if they are wrong. If the information is too sensitive to be shared publicly (perhaps because it would reveal classified sources and methods), then it should be briefed promptly to Congress’ bipartisan, bicameral “Gang of Eight,” whose members have high-level security clearances.

If those agencies know they have only flimsy grounds for suppressing information, they should stand aside and do nothing. Err on the side of openness, and let the public debate the issues freely. Most important of all, the powerful machinery of the administrative state should never try to suppress the legally protected discourse of American citizens. The government’s role is to protect those First Amendment rights, not quash them.

This burgeoning scandal should be intensively covered by major newspapers and network news broadcasts. It isn’t, which only deepens the outrage. They ought to be pressing forward with their own investigations, pushing as hard as they did to uncover Richard Nixon’s illegal acts. Instead, they remain silent, award themselves prizes, and trumpet slogans like “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” Then, they turn off the lights themselves. In the process, they have forfeited the public’s trust.

This article was originally published by RealClearPolitics and made available via RealClearWire.