April 24, 2023

The Democrats’ Assault on Our Free Press

House Democrat Stacey Plaskett’s threatening letter to independent journalist Matt Taibbi should be a cause of concern to us all.

“Censorship,” said journalist and author Nat Hentoff, “remains the strongest drive in human nature, with sex a weak second.”

We suspect he was kidding, but his point is well taken. Hentoff, who died in 2017 at age 91, was a classical liberal and an ardent civil libertarian, and he understood the importance of free speech and the First Amendment. So, it seems to us, does Elon Musk, and so do the three independent journalists — Matt Taibbi, Bari Weiss, and Michael Shellenberger — he chose to help him disseminate the Twitter Files, that devastating dump of internal documents, emails, and Slack messages revealing the lengths to which Twitter had been colluding with the Biden administration and its law enforcement and intelligence services to suppress all manner of speech they didn’t like.

That no one has been held criminally accountable for this gross violation of the First Amendment should concern all Americans — not just the conservatives whose rights were trampled. As Musk himself said back in December, shortly after the release of the files, “Twitter is both a social media company and a crime scene.”

How right he was.

Democrats, though, are still stinging from all this truth-telling, even if much of the general public and its low-information voters gave it a collective Meh. One of those Democrats, Stacey Plaskett, a non-voting House member from the Virgin Islands, is threatening Taibbi with jail time over testimony he gave about his Twitter Files reporting.

As Fox News reports, Plaskett, the ranking member of the House Judiciary Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government, “sent a letter to Taibbi regarding a comment he told lawmakers, which she alleged included an error that was previously propped up by MSNBC host Mehdi Hasan in a tense interview exchange regarding the name of one of the federal agencies swept up in the Twitter Files.”

The error that has Plaskett up in arms and attempting to stifle our nation’s First Amendment guarantee of a free press? Taibbi, during his testimony, made a reference to CISA, the government’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, when he meant to refer to CIS, the Center for Internet Security, which is a private organization.

As Taibbi explained on Fox News this morning: “In one screenshot and one tweet, I looked at the acronym CIS and just had a brain cramp and thought they meant CISA, the Homeland Security agency. … But the ironic thing is that all three of those groups, along with Stanford’s election integrity partnership, they actually are partners, so it was a very minor mistake.”

That’s some seriously down-in-the-weeds stuff there. And, as Taibbi said, “a very minor mistake,” which he later addressed and corrected in his reporting. But that clearly wasn’t good enough for Plaskett, who, as investigative journalist Lee Fang first reported, sent a five-page letter, dated April 13, which she used to threaten Taibbi with jail time. After demanding his “prompt response” to a litany of purely political questions, she hit him with this:

Prior to your appearance before the subcommittee on March 9, you signed the Judiciary Committee’s Truth in Testimony form, certifying that you understood that “knowingly providing material false information to this committee/subcommittee, or knowingly concealing material information from this committee/subcommittee, is a crime (18 U.S.C. § 1001).” In addition, at the beginning of the March 9 hearing, you swore “under penalty of perjury that the testimony you [were] about to give [was] true and correct to the best of your knowledge, information, and belief.” Under the federal perjury statute, 18 U.S.C. § 1621, providing false information is punishable by up to five years imprisonment.

By that time, Taibbi had already felt the heat from Big Brother. As our Brian Mark Weber wrote on Friday: “Let’s not forget that Joe Biden’s IRS sent agents to Taibbi’s home while he was exposing the pre-Musk Twitter. Or was it mere coincidence that these agents showed up on his doorstep on the very morning of his congressional testimony?”

Nice journalism ya got there. It’d be a shame if something happened to it.

As it turns out, Taibbi and his fellow Twitter Files journalists likely knew they were being marked by the Democrats. As Shellenberger tweeted on April 6: “Whistleblower tells me that the Censorship Industrial Complex is preparing ‘a full court press against the Twitter Files reporters….The press will be targeting each of you, your histories, and your personal and business connections.’ To which I say: Bring it on, fascists.”

Good for Shellenberger, who was just getting warmed up. “Sure is getting fashy around here,” he said in response to the threat leveled against Taibbi. And we think he’s spot on in dropping the “fascism” card on the Democrats for their naked attempts to intimidate members of an ostensibly free press.

Another tweet noted the self-incriminating change in tone among Democrats from March (“Ha ha, nobody’s ‘weaponizing’ the government”) to April (“Prison for journalists!”)

And finally, this tweet, which was aimed directly at Plaskett: “It is an honor to be invited to be an expert witness. Not only are we unpaid, we pay our own travel. What @StaceyPlaskett has done is a disgrace. Why would anyone choose to testify if they’re going to threatened with prison? Talk about a grotesque attack on norms. For shame.”

We’re not sure whether Plaskett is a true-believing speech suppressor or simply a political hack who’s stuck on a committee that’s digging into the abuses of Big Government and, as ranking member, feels it necessary to flex her muscles. This doesn’t excuse her totalitarian behavior, though. Not in any way.

As Reason’s Robby Soave notes: “There’s a profound irony here. Plaskett’s likely agenda was to undermine the work of the subcommittee on the weaponization of the federal government, and the manner in which she chose to do this was to threaten a journalist with jail time. Weaponization, indeed.”

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