Who’s Behind the Push for Net Neutrality?

If “net neutrality” were a life form, it would be classified as a simple organism.  And that lack of complexity, as it happens, is its very appeal to certain “progressives,” garden-variety regulators, and large Internet companies, who see in government regulation of the Internet opportunities to cement and extend their franchises.

The brave and gifted Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner Ajit Pai, and former commissioner Robert McDowell, are doing all they can to point out the many already identifiable problems, as well as potential pitfalls, that line the path of this regulatory nightmare.  Among those problems are higher user fees to consumers, a slowdown in the rate of investment in broadband infrastructure, regulatory creep, and the wrong kind of example to set before foreign dictators and tyrants.

Alas, none of this is likely to deter the three Democratic FCC commissioners, as instructed by the White House, from passing this regulation.

What has not been much discussed in all of this is the role in the promotion of net neutrality played by some of the actors: activist groups like Free Press, Public Knowledge, and Media Matters; huge grant-giving foundations like the Ford, Soros, and Knight foundations; and companies like Google.   >>Read More

Orts and All

Facebook Buys the Oculus Rift.  As mentioned here a few months ago, the video game trade press has been wildly enthusiastic about the development of the VR headset called Oculus Rift.  And why not?  By all reports the OR headset is a significant leap forward in its immersive qualities, thereby providing a more life-like environment.

But there’s a difference between the creation of ever more realistic video games, on the one hand, and the kind of widespread societal change that VR’s enthusiasts predict.  Before VR can affect the way we live, work, and interact, many things will have to come together in addition to the perfection of the technology.

Things like price, availability, the regulatory environment, and widespread consumer interest in spending large amounts of time in the medium would all have to be successfully negotiated before VR could become profoundly life altering, and even then there might arise serious societal problems in consequence.

These caveats aside, however, there’s nothing more promising on the technological horizon than Virtual Reality, a fact that has gained immense corroboration by the news that Facebook has just paid $2 billion in cash and stock to acquire Oculus!

Time will tell whether VR, with or without an Oculus headset, can grow beyond the video game industry, but it’s a telling measure of Facebook’s futuristic thinking, and willingness to take risks, that it has made this investment.

David Brock Does Politico.  If, like millions, you’re unfamiliar with the person, or the even more bizarre life story, of one David Brock, founder of the malevolent outfit called Media Matters for America, you must not be reading Politico.  This, because Politico reporters fall all over themselves chronicling the gentleman’s every move.

Witness, for instance, Politico’s online reportage on March 25, featuring not one but two pieces.  From journalist Maggie Haberman comes an article breathlessly telling us about the “long journey” Brock has heroically taken from being a paid Hillary Clinton nemesis to an ally.

And on the same day, Politico reporter Katie Glueck penned an (unwittingly) hilarious piece in which she reports that Brock urged the end of “political smutmongers,” singling out by example Rand Paul for his criticism of Bill and Hillary Clinton.

David Brock’s Media Matters exists solely to try to silence, by whatever means necessary, conservative media outlets and individuals.  In an earlier age such as this might have earned Brock labels like “jackboot” or “book burner,” but not today, and certainly not in Politico.  So thanks a lot Maggie and Katie.

Sen. Cornyn Opposes Shield Law.  From Breitbart comes word that Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) plans to whip the Republican Caucus in opposition to the Free Flow of Information Act, aka the federal shield law.  Sen. Cornyn argues, as he did last fall, that passage of this legislation would amount to a “licensing” of journalism, and work against the interests of bloggers and conservatives.

Sen. Cornyn is wrong about this, but rather than rehash all the errors in his argument, better just to read the piece (Five Myths About the Federal Shield Law) written by communications lawyer Kurt Wimmer, and published here in October.

                                   

The opinions expressed above are those of the writer and not of The Media Institute, its Board, contributors, or advisory councils.

The Revolting Truth

Among the unhappier facts of life in America these days is that more than a few people support the suppression of speech.

The latest evidence of this is the formation earlier this month of a group called Truth Revolt.  Created by David Horowitz, a conservative activist (and erstwhile leftist), TR says its mission is to:

Unmask leftists in the media for who they are, destroy their credibility with the American public, and devastate their funding bases….

Truth Revolt works to make advertisers and funders aware of the leftist propaganda they sponsor – and bringing social consequences to bear to create pressure on such advertisers and funders.

True to their word, the group published a story last week asking advertisers to drop their support of Al Sharpton’s MSNBC program, Politics Nation. If this sounds familiar, that could be because it bears a striking resemblance to the actions of another group, Media Matters. Founded by liberal activist (and one-time conservative) David Brock, MM has targeted advertisers on shows like Rush Limbaugh and cable’s FOX News

Given their past ideological affinities, and their colorful take on things today, it would be amusing to see Horowitz and Brock duke it out in a debate.  But apart from the muckraking both of them relish, there’s a serious problem with campaigns that seek to silence the speech of those with whom they disagree.

Contrary to popular opinion, however, that problem is not that such campaigns violate the First Amendment.  In fact, the First Amendment doesn’t come into play at all here, except to the extent that these organizations’ right to engage in such behavior is protected against any governmental efforts as might seek to curtail them.

Indeed, when groups like Truth Revolt or Media Matters conjure up campaigns against their ideological enemies, and even when they attempt to silence individuals or media companies by attacking their commercial supporters, they are engaging in fully protected constitutional speech. But that doesn’t mean it’s right, or that it’s consistent with any decent regard for freedom of speech.

The First Amendment exists primarily to protect against governmental interference or control over speech, political speech especially, but the point of it is the protection of speech.  To put it another way, we don’t venerate the First Amendment because it protects the First Amendment; we venerate it because it recognizes the value in, and the basic human right of, the expression of one’s opinions.  Indeed, many countries practice a substantial degree of free speech without even having a First Amendment or its equivalent.

Campaigns mounted against the advertisers of disfavored programs or individuals cross the line between criticism and suppression.  The same could be said of certain attempts by third parties to use government agencies like the FCC to censor TV content they dislike.  Petitioning the FCC is legal, but calling for government censorship threatens the freedom of speech of the writers and copyright holders of those shows.

Because it’s been launched just this month, we don’t yet know what kind of reception or impact Truth Revolt will have.  But if the example of Media Matters is any guide, we can be fairly sure that it will scare away some advertisers, and that the media will cover its actions uncritically … or maybe not.

Founded in 2004, and financially supported by people like George Soros and the wealthy group of liberals that comprise the Democracy Alliance, Media Matters has the ear of many mainstream journalists and news organizations.  And given the liberal bent of much of the mainstream media, it may well be that Truth Revolt will have to depend more on the so-called conservative media for coverage of its campaigns, but probably not always, and not without effect.

Though it’s been reported that Democracy Alliance has moved in recent years more in the direction of a partisan organization favoring Democrats, rather than a progressive infrastructure-building group, the irony of its support of outfits like Media Matters can be seen in its description of itself as a group that “strives to foster an open, vibrant democracy.”

How that is consistent with funding an outfit that traffics in the 21st century’s version of book burning is something perhaps only a “progressive” can explain. And it’s something to ponder as the country celebrates Free Speech Week this month.

                                               

The opinions expressed above are those of the writer and not of The Media Institute, its Board, contributors, or advisory councils. A version of this article appeared in the online edition of USA Today on Oct. 17, 2013.