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Thomas Gallatin / October 19, 2020

The Dispatch Compromises Free Speech

The conservative anti-Trump media outfit erroneously “fact-checks” an anti-Biden pro-life ad.

Giant social media companies grew into what they are today precisely because they created platforms allowing users to easily, freely, and widely express their opinions, thoughts, and views. Thus, it’s more than ironic that they are now squelching and controlling the very thing that gave them their existence: free speech.

One of Big Tech’s primary means of speech control is the “fact-checker,” which in practice serves only as an opinion monitor. Even the concept of a “fact-checker” is dubious on its face. It presumes as not only plausible but common that which our nation’s Founders recognized as impossible — a wholly unbiased arbiter of truth. Wisely, our Founders recognized the folly of those who would in the name of “truth” seek to control and limit unwanted speech, hence the existence of the First Amendment and its protection of our God-given right to freedom of speech.

The First Amendment’s speech protection makes no caveats or evaluations of what type of speech is to be protected. Indeed, all speech, regardless of its factuality or “truthfulness,” is to be not only allowed but protected. The rise of social media and mainstream media “fact-checkers” is therefore a direct assault on this fundamental freedom, not because it challenges the views and opinions of others but because the “fact-checker” is being used as a tool by the powerful to justify silencing views and opinions they reject. And the examples of Big Tech’s abuse of Americans free speech via “fact-checkers” are pilling up.

One of the latest incidents comes from Facebook, which censored an ad from the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List this past Friday over the claim that the ad had been fact-checked as false by “independent fact-checkers.” The trouble is that the ad, which claimed that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris support abortion “up to the moment of birth” as well as support taxpayer funding of abortion, was in fact true.

More troubling still was who the “independent fact-checker” was that erroneously labeled the ad “partly false,” giving Facebook the cover for censorship. The culprit was the relatively new media outlet The Dispatch. Created just last year by long-time Beltway political pundits Jonah Goldberg and Steve Hayes, the media site is little other than a bastion for Beltway establishment never-Trumpers to ply their trade under the “conservative” banner. The question is, no matter how anti-Trump one may be, if “principled conservative” is what one claims, how can one make a mistake of this magnitude on such a foundational conservative policy position like being pro-life?

After three days of blowback, Hayes finally ran damage control by admitting the fact-check was “not justified,” dubiously blaming it on a publishing and editing error. Too late; the damage was done. However, what was most disconcerting to those who didn’t know was Hayes’s acknowledgement that The Dispatch is one of Facebook’s cadre of “independent fact-checkers.” That a media organization would have internal fact-checkers is not the problem; in fact, that’s good business practice. That a media organization touting itself as conservative and committed to preserving American values and principles would be party to an organization that works to actively silence Americans’ speech is outrageous. But it shows the extent to which Trump Derangement Syndrome can affect people.

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