By: Mark Glennon*
National media and big tech companies now routinely distort facts and block viewpoints they don’t like, often through outright dishonesty. And sometimes there’s no rationale apparent for censorship.
A recent target was The Center Square here in Illinois, whose news stories we often link to.
According to Center Square Publisher Chris Krug, Twitter recently blocked dozens of its stories. Center Square was first in the country, he says, to report that the state-sanctioned committee looking into the bribery scandal for which energy producer ComEd has pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges had released new documents pertinent to the investigation.
The documents were dumped by the committee near the end of the business day on Thanksgiving eve. They included not-so-cryptic references from a close confidant of Speaker of the House Michael Madigan. Center Square’s Greg Bishop quickly wrote up the story and Center Square promptly shared it on Twitter.
But a moment later, the link was blocked by Twitter, Krug says. “In the ten days that followed the story, Twitter blocked dozens of stories from The Center Square. On some days, it blocked everything. On others, Twitter selectively blocked our reporting from across the country,” according to Krug.
To top it off, Krug’s own commentary on Sunday about the incident was itself blocked by Twitter on Monday! That block now appears to have been lifted, however, for unknown reasons.
Why were the initial stories blocked? Neither we nor Center Square can think of any justification. “I simply don’t know why, and couldn’t begin to guess why,” wrote Krug.
Center Square has become an important news resource about state and local government, both in Illinois and the other states in which it publishes. Along with other newcomers like Capitol News Illinois, it helps fill the void created by shrinking newsrooms at traditional media sources. We have been interviewed by Center Square reporters often and they are pros – accurate and fair – more so than some reporters we deal with in traditional media.
There is no excuse for suppressing news sources like Center Square and this is hardly an isolated incident. Americans should be terrified by what has become of most national media which, aided by big tech, often makes no effort to hide its hostility to free speech and objectivity.
I won’t burden you with examples of that because most of you already know. Sixty percent of Americans say they don’t trust the media, and that’s according to polls taken well before the election when much of the media so brazenly tossed standards aside. As for everybody else, their minds are probably closed and they aren’t reading here.
That majority that distrusts the press means it’s not just the right-of-center who see what’s happening. There are still some genuine liberals around. Solidly liberal journalist Glenn Greenwald, for example, recently said “there is no price to pay professionally or reputationally for publishing evidence-free …propaganda as long as it benefits the Party and advances the ideology which they all embrace — casually spread disinformation without the slightest evidentiary basis.”
Illinoisans who rely on their local sources for coverage of national issues are limited almost exclusively to syndicated stories by The New York Times, Washington Post and Associated Press, who are among the worst offenders – along with NPR for radio listeners.
But don’t think the problem is limited to national issues. Take state policies to address COVID-19, for example. Maybe you’ve wondered how other states with different policies to fight the virus have fared. You won’t get an honest answer, however, from the corporate media. The Federalist recently documented how national media hides the facts on Illinois and COVID, and a recent study indicating that masks are ineffective protection for users was mostly ignored.
Big tech platforms amplify the distortions. Twitter’s censorship of political viewpoints it doesn’t like has been widely documented and became particularly aggressive as the election approached.
Then there’s Facebook, from which over 40% of America get gets its news. It recently said openly it is promoting stories from CNN, The New York Times and NPR, and limiting links to sources that aren’t that far left. It was all gleefully reported by The New York Times.
Facebook says that’s part of its effort to build “a calmer, less divisive Facebook.”
Yes, things typically are calm where speech is suppressed. Authoritarianism has that going for it. Gulags are quite peaceful.
And all the attention to the presidency has distracted attention from hundreds of down-ballot races decided by margins so thin that they could easily have gone differently if media were objective and tech platforms weren’t rigged.
In November’s election, according to Ballotpedia, 37 congressional races were decided by margins of 5% or less. Illinois alone had two House seats decided by margins of 2% or less. In Georgia’s Senate race, had David Perdue won a mere three-tenths of one percent more than he did he would have avoided a runoff and control of the U.S. Senate would have been sealed. Countless state and local races further down-ballot undoubtedly also were decided by small margins and would have turned out differently if conduct of media and tech had played straight.
What makes the Center Square incident particularly troubling is that it came after the election. Maybe, we had hoped, the assault on the marketplace of ideas was just a temporary frenzy driven by extreme emotions in the November election. Instead, the press and tech platforms now seem emboldened.
If you add in growing opposition to freedom of speech then democracy no longer functions. Only 53% of college students support freedom of speech.
Democracy relies on the power of individuals. Their power in turn depends on a flow of facts and ideas free from distortion and censorship by those in control. Either Americans — right, left and center — stand up and reverse current trends or thousands of years of learning, hardship and war that ultimately delivered democracy will be lost.
*Mark Glennon is founder of Wirepoints.