How Would Senator James Lankford React If A Democratic Senator Demanded Fox News Explain Its Editorial Policies?

from the intimidation-through-stupidity dept

A month ago, we wrote about a bizarre, nonsensical, Twitter rant from Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma that followed a bizarre, nonsensical appearance at the CPAC conference in which he lashed out at “big tech” for supposedly “censoring conservatives.” This fact-free grievance has been an item of blind faith among the Trumpist set, that big tech is somehow out to get them. The smart ones know it’s not true, but it plays well to the base, so they play it up. The dumb ones truly believe it, even as the evidence shows that Twitter and Facebook both have actually bent over backwards to give Republican politicians more leeway to violate the rules and not face any enforcement actions.

Still, a few weeks back, YouTube removed some videos from CPAC, not because of any anti-conservative bias, but for violating YouTube’s election integrity policy. You know what that means. YouTube has a policy that says you can’t mislead people about the election, and a bunch of Trumpists at CPAC whipped up the base into a frenzy with baseless conspiracy theories about the election.

Personally, I think YouTube should leave that content up. At some point, in the future, it’s going to be important to study the collective madness that has taken over much of the Republican party, causing it to completely throw out any semblance of principles, and start coasting on purely fictitious grievance culture wars, in which they must always be portrayed as the aggrieved victim. It would be nice to have a clear record of that.

However, YouTube has chosen to go in another direction and to actually enforce its policies, meaning a few such videos were removed. And, of course, this played right into the nonsense, fictitious grievance politics of the principle-less Republican Party, which sent out its derpiest politicians to whine about being censored.

Lankford, apparently, not humiliated enough by the nonsense he said on stage, has decided to double down, sending Google CEO Sundar Pichai a hilariously stupid letter, demanding to know why CPAC videos have been removed. The letter is like a greatest hits of wrongness and “that’s not how any of this works.” It accuses Google of censorship of conservative voices, it confuses Section 230, and asks all sorts of detailed questions about YouTube’s process that resulted in the videos being removed.

I could go through it bit by bit explaining how ridiculous each part of the letter is, but you can just read it yourself below and see.

But, just to demonstrate how ridiculous this letter is, all you have to do is replace “YouTube” with “Fox News” and replace any concept of “censorship of conservatives” with “failure to present liberal perspectives” and you might see how unhinged this letter is. I think if a Democratic Senator, say Elizabeth Warren or Amy Klobuchar, for example, sent a letter to Fox News saying:

It has come to my attention that Fox News recently refused to allow any liberal or Democratic commentators comment on Joe Biden’s performance, and did not provide any details why it is only presenting one side of the story concerning the federal government

And then demanding details on how Fox News goes about choosing what viewpoints are allowed to air, Senator Lankford, and tons of Republicans would absolutely freak out. And rightly so. No politician should be demanding to know the editorial decision making process of private media companies. To demand such information is a clear intimidation technique and should be seen as a violation of the 1st Amendment.

Senator Lankford has every right to spread nonsense, whether he believes it or not. But he doesn’t have the right, as a government official, to demand to know the editorial process of a private media company. Just as Senator Warren or Klobuchar should not and would not have the right to do the same for Fox News.

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Comments on “How Would Senator James Lankford React If A Democratic Senator Demanded Fox News Explain Its Editorial Policies?”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Maybe take the gloves off?

Lankford, apparently, not humiliated enough by the nonsense he said on stage, has decided to double down, sending Google CEO Sundar Pichai a hilariously stupid letter, demanding to know why CPAC videos have been removed.

At this point everyone should really stop treating people like Lankford as honest individuals with valid points and just answer honestly.

‘We took the videos down because we have rules against lying about elections and no amount of delusions, lying and/or pandering to Trump will change the fact that the election was valid, he lost both the popular vote and the electoral college and all the dozens of cases arguing otherwise have been laughed out of court as unsubstantiated. If you want to argue otherwise you can do it on other platforms as we’ll not be allowing you to lie and attempt to undermine trust in the democratic system on ours.’

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Bobvious says:

Re: Re: Re:

Along with Exodus 23:1-3

You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with a wicked man to be a malicious witness. You shall not fall in with the many to do evil, nor shall you bear witness in a lawsuit, siding with the many, so as to pervert justice, nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his lawsuit.

sumgai (profile) says:

Re: Re: Quoting for effect

^^^ And what makes you think that he’d understand? Either 1A itself, or why it was used as a response. Current indications are that he’d simply blow a gasket, and call out the Whine Brigade.

Best to ignore him directly, and instead send a short missive to his people – they’re the ones getting paid to take his shit, no matter what he says.

Or my favorite: Offer to buy him for what he thinks he’s worth, and then sell him for what he’s actually worth. Then write off the humongous loss on my taxes.

Thereby reducing the Federal incoming tax revenues by no small amount.

paulalanlevy (profile) says:

Where we disagree

YOU SAY: “But he doesn’t have the right, as a government official, to demand to know the editorial process of a private media company. Just as Senator Warren or Klobuchar should not and would not have the right to do the same for Fox News.”

Lankford is a member of a 100 member legislative body. He has no ability to do anything on his own. And he has every “right” under the First Amendment to demand anything he damn well pleases, writing as an individual and even on his Senate letterhead, as a way of expressing his displeasure. So do Warren and Klobuchar.

Now, if he were a committee chair, issuing a subpoena (that is to say, employing government power) that would be a different matter.

No wonder the First Amendment won your “misunderstood legal ideas” bracket.

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That One Guy (profile) says:


The position of government office carries weight and to have them applying pressure directly(‘Do this’) or indirectly(‘Since you did something I don’t like I’m going to drag you over the coals for it’) carries a much bigger impact than a non-government agent doing the same and when that impacts speech related issues the first amendment comes into play.

Unless you want to argue that a company will feel no more pressure from a letter sent by a current senator than your average citizen who sends a letter of demands to a company very much matters.

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Rocky says:


The letter he sent was unambiguously giving the impressions that he was writing as a sitting senator which means that his free speech rights are indeed limited (see Garcetti vs Ceballos).

If he was speaking as a private citizen he shouldn’t have used the senate stationary and signing it with “United States Senator”.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Ethically, any sitting Senator should NOT be doing this. Regardless of whether they are speaking in a private capacity or not.

The most that our hypothetical Senator is allowed to say is that he is not happy with how a private entity is running things.

Sorry, but I see this all the time in Singapore and the political court cases are overwhelmingly in favor of the sitting minister abusing that conveniently written loophole in Singapore law. Yes, there’s MORE context to this I don’t care to go into.

That’s how you get SLAPP on a Federal level.

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Mike Masnick (profile) says:


I understand where you’re coming from, but I think that a Senator sending a letter creates an implicit threat, saying (1) if you don’t do as I say, we may take other, gov’t backed actions against you and (2) with the chilling effects of scaring others from doing things in the future, would trip the Bantam Books line of government intimidation, even absent any specific legal action.

This is similar to the Dart v. Backpage case, where I think Posner was correct, that the 1st Amendment speech rights of gov’t officials take a back seat when they use those to silence private actors, or to imply potential punishment for private actors over their speech choices. As Posner wrote there:

A government entity, including therefore the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, is entitled to say what it wants to say—but only within limits. It is not permitted to employ threats to squelch the free speech of private citizens. “[A] government’s ability to express itself is [not] without restriction. … [T]he Free Speech Clause itself may constrain the government’s speech.” Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans, Inc., supra, 135 S. Ct. at 2246; see also Rosenberger v. Rector & Visitors of the University of Virginia, supra, 515 U.S. at 833–34.

In his public capacity as a sheriff of a major county (Cook County has a population of more than 5.2 million), Sheriff Dart is not permitted to issue and publicize dire threats against credit card companies that process payments made through Backpage’s website, including threats of prosecution (albeit not by him, but by other enforcement agencies that he urges to proceed against them), in an effort to throttle Backpage. See Bantam Books, Inc. v. Sullivan, supra, 372 U.S. at 67. For where would such official bullying end, were it permitted to begin? Some public officials doubtless disapprove
of bars, or pets and therefore pet supplies, or yard sales, or lawyers, or “plug the band” (a listing of music performances that includes such dubious offerings as “SUPERCELL Rocks Halloween at The Matchbox Bar & Grill”), or men dating men or women dating women—but ads for all these things can be found in non-adult sections of Backpage and it would be a clear abuse of power for public officials to try to eliminate them not by expressing an opinion but by threatening credit card companies or other suppliers of payment services utilized by customers of Backpage, or other third parties, with legal or other coercive governmental action.

Arijirija says:

Re: Re: state self-restraint

It’s part of democracy’s essence, that the state (and its agencies) restrains itself. The British expression, “An Englishman’s house is his castle” means that the state is not permitted to breach that without giving good reason to an independent authority with the power to turn down such requests. The problem with gun-happy cops is precisely that – the power of life and death is supposed to be rationed, not splurged. And so the power of an official, even if said official is supposed to be proving oversight to the state’s operations, is not without limit.

It’s elementary civics. I learned that in primary school.

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Anonymous Coward says:


And tons of other stuff. It isn’t about just anything that is misleading or outright lies. Sure, they could give it a “context” blurb, but they aren’t going to bother for everything. They bother for highly consequential bullshit, +/- takedowns and stayups which aare the result of trying to moderate at the gigascale.

bhull242 (profile) says:


It doesn’t even try to remove all or even most misleading content and misinformation; only ones on things that are on the extreme end and actually matter. Stuff like the election, the pandemic, MMS, advice to take something dangerous like turpentine, or vaccines.

Generally, YouTube doesn’t like to be in the position where it decides what is or isn’t true. It only does so where the truth is exceptionally clear and where the falsehoods are actually dangerous and/or extreme, and even then, it prefers to put a blurb for more information (like with the Flat Earth, evolution, etc.) rather than take the video down completely.

At any rate, TYT has its videos restricted more than any other significant political or journalistic YouTube channel, so it’s not like it’s being left alone. However, it doesn’t do anything like promote vast conspiracies, advocate killing anyone, try to subvert the results of an election, or condone people who participate in an insurrection. Is it biased? Absolutely. Does it get things wrong? Certainly. Does it present a potentially misleading perspective on things? Undoubtedly. I’m pretty sure that even they’d admit the first two things. However, it doesn’t go as far as what people pushing conspiracies about the 2020 election have done, so YouTube (to my knowledge) doesn’t completely remove their videos.

This is a false equivalence and is based on a flawed premise at that.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Sadly it won’t matter to the faithful.
To submit the exact same demand to Faux News would then be held out as an over reach by the woke left to do something horrible.

“It’s only bad when THEY do it.” is amazing cognitive dissonance that has been accepted by far to many people.

They no longer have to play fair & the democrats are STILL trying to pretend that the republicans will somehow get decorum to win the day.
And before you harp on that, yes both sides are guilty of bullshit like this & its unacceptable. The founders spinning in their graves could power the entire nation at this point.

Abuse of office should be punished.
Failing their oath to protect & uphold the Constitution should be punished.
Wheelchair Hitler Youth should be called out on his cocaine orgy comments.
MTG who claims her comments are jokes about killing other members, then calls the capitol police on Jimmy Kimmel… false reports should be punished.

If it is unacceptable that the other side does it, it should be unacceptable period.

But then CPAC is hosting a White Christian Nationalist conference to celebrate a ‘strongman’ who screwed with the election & wants to get rid of everyone who isn’t white & christian from his country… I wish they would just all move there instead of trying to remake ‘Merica into Whitepeoplestan.

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sumgai (profile) says:

Re: OK, I'll bite....

…. what do you call the members of a cult who slavishly follow someone so deadly towards his own followers as to make Jim Jones look like a Choir Boy? Personally, I favor ‘Trumpistas’, but that’s likely to be taken as an insult by those of the Central American persuasion.

sumgai (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I like your term, it certainly leaves no doubt, but… I’m thinking that being able to drag his name directly into the ground has some cache, no?

I also think that it won’t be another generation, and the very word ‘trump’ will be frowned upon, even insofar as playing games such as Hearts, Spades, etc. IOW, I’m predicting that it may well come to the point where we don’t ‘trump’ someone’s hand and win, we suffer a ‘trump’, and lose the hand, or the game.

But I’m looking at the long game… I probably won’t be around long enough to see that happen. Schade.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2

I’m afraid waving a crucifix, reciting Bible verses and avoiding ruined castles or abandoned military areas won’t banish these clear and present threats to America and the world.

A murderous fairy is dangerous, but at least we know how to deal with them or avoid them. We can’t ignore the NeoNazis forever, not while their toxic ideology is out in the wild poisoning countries outside of America.

jimb (profile) says:

you are under the mistaken impression...

that a Republican Senator would care about being a blatant hypocrite. Sen. Lankford, should a Democratic Senator criticize Fox “News” in the same way his letter attacks Youtube and Google, would condemn that Democratic senator wholeheartedly and vigorously. Being a hypocrite is not a ‘bug’ for Republicans, it is a proud ‘feature’. They are not only hypocrites – the are loud and proud about it.

Trails (profile) says:

Aim Higher

For example, big-tech pushes its liberal ideology in America while submitting to authoritarian regimes and censoring that same ideology in other countries. Further, those same regimes are provided a platform and rarely face the same censorship shown toward conservatives in the United States.

Pretty black and white: “We aspire to be like those regimes!”

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