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Democrat calls misinformation hearing an election distraction

The US funded an organisation that blacklisted American journalists. Screenshot: YouTube

June 26, 2024 - 8:00pm

A Democratic politician said the investigation into the State Department’s funding of censorship projects was an election season distraction aimed at benefiting Republicans.

The House Committee on Small Business held a hearing Wednesday on the “Censorship Industrial Complex”, a reference to the US government’s funding of organisations which purport to fight disinformation, but which Republicans accuse of stifling conservative speech, including that of American journalists.

According to New York Representative Nydia M. Velázquez, the idea that the government is partnering with universities and NGOs to censor Americans’ speech “is fiction, cynically created by the Right-wing outrage machine to drum up fear during election season.” Further, she argued, “there’s simply no evidence that anyone in the small business community is being censored by the government for legitimate political speech.”

The hearing featured testimony from Ben Weingarten, an investigative journalist at RealClear, which itself has been blacklisted by the GDI, along with Carrie Sheffield, a policy analyst who previously ran a small business that was heavily reliant on digital ad revenue. “Commercial freedom and freedom of expression go hand in hand,” Sheffield said. “The Supreme Court has noted for more than a century, businesses are voices for the people.”

The State Department helped fund the Global Disinformation Index, which creates a blacklist of disfavoured organisations and attempts to starve them of ad revenue by discouraging brands from partnering with them, as previously reported by the Washington Examiner and UnHerd. News of the grant triggered a lawsuit against the federal government from two conservative media outlets alleging violations of the First Amendment, as well as a Congressional investigation.

The grant in question, $100,000 to GDI, was used to translate existing technology into foreign languages to be used in eastern Europe and Asia, according to Velázquez. Thus, she argued, Republicans are attacking American efforts to combat foreign propaganda during “a crucial moment in history for our national security”. However, according to Washington Examiner reporter Gabe Kaminsky, the State Department has refused to turn over its funding records to Congress, so its claims that the funding went toward foreign language translations can’t be verified.

“Even the State Department-funded National Endowment for Democracy, which also funded GDI, acknowledged its prior support of the British group posed an issue based on the NED’s ‘strict policies and practices in place’ ensuring it only funds groups working on international issues,” he told UnHerd.

The New York representative also suggested that Republicans were abandoning their free market principles by cracking down on disinformation software, an innovation she says fills a key market demand: to avoid having one’s products advertised alongside misleading content. These comments were echoed by Dr. Mary Anne Franks, a legal scholar who spoke in defence of the GDI Wednesday. Franks argued that, by attempting to block funding to the GDI and opening investigations into the project, Republicans were themselves engaging in censorship, in this case by preventing disinformation researchers from sharing their findings with private businesses.

Civil liberties attorney Jenin Younes made the opposite case, laying out legal precedents which forbid the government from using third parties to engage in exactly the type of censorship they’re constitutionally barred from engaging in directly. “Those who think there’s nothing wrong with the government censorship regime exposed through this case should think long and hard about what this means when power changes hands,” she said. “Do you want President Trump’s administration funding tools and technologies designed to censor speech he disfavours?”

“This lawmaker is delivering a straw-man argument,” Kaminsky said of Velázquez. “Conservatives are raising concerns over the fact that the U.S. government would at all support or be affiliated with an organisation taking steps to impact the ability of American companies to function… GDI is very much involved in domestic politics.”


is UnHerd’s US correspondent.

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Warren Trees
Warren Trees
22 days ago

That same NY congressperson will be shouting from the rooftops about how evil the Trump administration is when the shoe is on the other foot next year.

Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
22 days ago

Anything that threatens a Democratic victory is a distraction.

Ian_S
Ian_S
22 days ago

Oh look, a sanctimonious white liberal woman. The four D’s of the Democrats when anything impedes their march to absolute power: distort, dismiss, distract and deny.

Aldo Maccione
Aldo Maccione
22 days ago

Legal warfare : good when we do it, bad when they do it.

Samuel Ross
Samuel Ross
22 days ago

To test whether something is good or not good, step behind the Curtain of Anonymity. Now you have no idea who is on the other side of the curtain. It might be you. It might be your mother or father. It might be your closest friend or a foe. You don’t know.

Now, enact a policy. It should not harm the innocent, nor give succor to the guilty. Because you can’t predict who will be impacted by your policy, assuredly you will work hard to make it fair for all. Even a selfish individual will not want to be harmed by his own policy!

So should our actions be chosen. Without knowing or predicting, they come back to us, sometimes in strange guises or unfamiliar forms, sometimes the patterns are clear or unclear. But return they do

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
21 days ago

In the US, now more than at any time in the past, political allegiance is a status signifier. That’s why so many once perfectly reasonable Democrats have started spouting these ludicrous things. They’re hanging on for dear life to a party and a social network that left them behind years ago.

Mark Kennedy
Mark Kennedy
21 days ago

Further proof (as if any were needed) that partisans’ otherwise keen ability to detect threats and wrongdoing evaporates completely whenever they look in a mirror.

Dear Ms. Velázquez, I’ve always voted left; but I’m quite sure I’m as invisible in your mirror as I am in your “Right wing outrage machine” narrative. Please awaken from your dogmatic slumber and begin to educate yourself. The concept of impartial “evidence” is clearly something you’re acquainted with only by hearsay, and government censorship of the information commons is in no one’s interest, not even the deeply confused officials who labour on this perversely self-undermining project.

Arthur King
Arthur King
21 days ago

The Democrats have abandoned civil discourse and in doing so doomed democracy. The 2020 federal election was “fortified” such that people did not have the information needed. Hunter Biden laptop was suppressed.