Did you know press freedom is actually authoritarianism?
Judge Laurence Silberman, a Reagan appointee on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, is very concerned that media outlets have a little too much protection from government suppression — the news organizations he considers to be liberal, that is.
His proposed solution? Get the Supreme Court to overturn New York Times v. Sullivan, the landmark ruling that enables the press to cover public officials critically without fear of reprisal through defamation suits. Aka the cornerstone of press freedom under the First Amendment.
In his jaw-dropping dissent in a defamation suit, Silberman argues that “new considerations have arisen over the last 50 years” that make the ruling “a threat to American Democracy.”
“It must go,” he writes.
And so begins an unhinged rant from a federal judge on the perils of allowing the press to keep the First Amendment protections he feels it has “abused.”
“The increased power of the press is so dangerous today because we are very close to one-party control of these institutions,” Silberman writes.
According to the judge, the New York Times and Washington Post “are virtually Democratic Party broadsheets,” with the Wall Street Journal news papers and the Associated Press following their lead, while “nearly all television” is “a Democratic Party trumpet.”
“The First Amendment guarantees a free press to foster a vibrant trade in ideas. But a biased press can distort the marketplace,” Silberman argues. “And when the media has proven its willingness—if not eagerness—to so distort, it is a profound mistake to stand by unjustified legal rules that serve only to enhance the press’ power.”
In his doomsday narrative of left-wing media authoritarianism, Silberman briefly concedes that Fox News, generally the most-watched cable channel in the country, is a “notable exception.” However, he fails to acknowledge that in addition to Fox News, conservative radio spawned the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, who saturated the airwaves for decades.
The fact that then-President Donald Trump regularly used Fox News as both a bullhorn and a policy adviser (Fox host Tucker Carlson was one of his top media consultants) for four years also went unmentioned in the judge’s tirade.
Silberman, you may recall, was the judge who got utterly whipped by a Black clerk last year when he tried to argue that the Civil War wasn’t about slavery as he was railing against the growing push to remove tributes to Confederate soldiers from government property.
“…As people considered to be property, my ancestors would not have been involved in the philosophical and political debates about Lincoln’s true intentions, or his view on racial equality,” the clerk wrote in an email to Silberman that was published by the Intercept. “For them, and myself, race is not an abstract topic to be debated, so in my view anything that was built to represent white racial superiority, or named after someone who fought to maintain white supremacy […] should be removed from high trafficked areas of prominence and placed in museums where they can be part of lessons that put them in context.