Original air date: Oct. 1, 2023
We begin with one of the most heated controversies of our time: the battle to control our information. Our government, federal agencies, and media have grown more heavy-handed than ever, going so far as to smear and cancel opponents, and censor true information they just don’t like. The battles have played out on social media and on the internet, and in presidential politics. For the first time ever, the courts have now determined that the White House and top American agencies violated free speech tenets at the very heart of the U.S. Constitution. Today, we’re off to Missouri to hear from the key figure in the landmark case.
The following is a transcript of a report from “Full Measure with Sharyl Attkisson.” Watch the video by clicking the link at the end of the page.
Sharyl: How important do you see this case in terms of a free speech case?
Andrew Bailey: This is the most important First Amendment case in a generation.
Andrew Bailey is attorney general for Missouri, which filed the landmark censorship lawsuit against the Biden administration.
In July of 2021, President Biden made an unprecedented accusation. He said social media companies were “killing people” if they allowed what the government deemed to be Covid “misinformation” — that often turned out to be true.
President Joe Biden (July 16, 2021): They’re killing people – I mean they’re really, look, the only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated. And they’re killing people.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki added that government officials were coordinating with social media companies to block certain content.
Jen Psaki/White House Press Secretary (July 15, 2021): We’re flagging problematic posts for Facebook that spread disinformation.
Sharyl: Can you kind of summarize the genesis of the challenge?
Bailey: Yeah. Absolutely. I mean, Jen Psaki, from the White House press secretary’s podium, established and committed to making sure that big tech social media were clamping down on misinformation, malinformation, information essentially that the White House didn’t like. And so that piqued everyone’s interest, and we began to realize very quickly that there was a coercive and collusive relationship between the White House across a spectrum of federal bureaucratic agencies with their cronies and woke Big Tech social media corporations.
Sharyl (on-camera): Here in Missouri, they’ve partnered with the state of Louisiana to not only challenge the past actions of the Biden Administration, but also to get an order to permanently block the government from similar censorship activities, along with a mechanism to monitor and enforce it.
Under the lawsuit process known as discovery, Missouri and Louisiana have been able to get tens of thousands of pages of previously-secret documents from the Biden administration.
Bailey: And we have specific emails where the White House is targeting conservative voices and silencing conservative voices on Big Tech social media in violation of the First Amendment.
Sharyl: There were also documents showing White House digital director Flaherty scolding Facebook, saying that he really couldn’t care less about products unless they’re having a measurable impact at suppressing speech. When you say “products,” he’s probably talking about tools being used by Facebook. Can you explain more about that email?
Bailey: Yeah. That might be one of the most frightening emails we’ve uncovered because what it’s saying is, Big Tech social media’s saying, “Well, the speech that the White House is targeting doesn’t actually violate Big Tech social media’s left-wing censorship priorities.” And the White House pushed them further. So, again, that just establishes the coercive and collusive relationship between the White House and unelected federal bureaucrats and their cronies, and woke Big Tech social media corporations.
Sharyl: Maybe one of the most alarming ones to people who believe in free speech and think that some of the censorship is off base, in an email, Facebook assured the White House’s Flaherty that, in addition to removing what they considered vaccine misinformation, “we have been focused on reducing the virality of content discouraging vaccines that does not contain actionable misinformation,” including “often-true content.” That seems to be admission that they were purposefully censoring true, truthful information.
Bailey: That’s absolutely right. They’re trying to achieve a policy objective, a social objective, and they’re gonna coerce Big Tech social media, and to go further than the corporations’ natural left-leaning censorship policies. And it’s the White House doing it.
Other startling evidence of government censorship has emerged. After Elon Musk bought Twitter, he released internal documents revealing the FBI and other agencies pressuring Twitter to ban and censor accounts.
The Biden administration also created an Orwellian-titled “Disinformation Governance Board” to crack down further on speech it didn’t like. Appointed to head the agency was Nina Jankowicz, the Ukrainian government adviser who falsely claimed that reporting on Hunter Biden’s laptop was Russian disinformation. And she made a quirky video that raised eyebrows.
Nina Jankowicz (TikTok video): When Rudy Giuliani shared bad intel from Ukraine. Or when TikTok influencers say Covid can’t cause pain. They’re laundering disinfo and we really should take note. And not support their lies with our wallet, voice, or vote.
Jankowicz and her Disinformation Governance Board were abandoned after criticism from both parties.
This year, on the Fourth of July, the judge in the Missouri lawsuit temporarily banned certain federal officials from colluding with social media while the full case was being decided.
Judge Terry Doughty wrote, “The evidence produced thus far depicts an almost dystopian scenario. During the COVID-19 pandemicthe United States Government seems to have assumed a role similar to an Orwellian ‘Ministry of Truth,’” and, “Although the censorship alleged in this case almost exclusively targeted conservative speech, the issues raised herein go beyond party lines, the right to free speech is not a member of any political party and does not hold any political ideology.”
A three-judge federal appeals court recently agreed the Biden administration “ran afoul of the First Amendment” and blocked the White House, Surgeon General, CDC, and FBI from violating free speech rights by coercing social media companies to take down posts the government doesn’t like.
“Defendants, and their employees and agents, shall take no actions to coerce or significantly encourage social-media companies to remove, delete, suppress, or reduce, including through altering their algorithms, posted social-media content containing protected free speech,” reads the decision.
Sharyl: There is an argument where people say, “Social media — they’re private companies. They can do what they like. It doesn’t amount to censorship.”
Sharyl: What’s your response to that?
Bailey: Well, we reject that, and certainly the courts have rejected that as well. Let’s puts it into perspective here. If you picked up your cell phone and made a call and were talking to somebody about a political issue, and the cell phone company didn’t like it, and they started muting you when you were saying things they didn’t like, would anyone stand for that? Would anyone accept that? Certainly not. That’s what Big Tech social media does when they censor. But what I’m talking about here and what this case has exposed is infinitely worse, because the censorship is — the muting, essentially — is being done at the behest of the federal government.
Sharyl (on-camera): The Missouri v. the Biden administration lawsuit continues, with the state seeking a permanent ban of government collusion with social media to censor.
Watch cover story here.