Limbaugh distorts Sunstein's and Kagan's views on control of the Internet

››› ››› TOM ALLISON & TODD GREGORY

Referring to remarks Cass Sunstein made in a 2001 interview, Rush Limbaugh stated that Sunstein "want[s] to control the Internet" and that "[Elena] Kagan agrees" with Sunstein. In fact, Sunstein has called the policy he described in the 2001 interview a "bad idea," and Limbaugh offered no evidence to support his claim that Kagan agrees with such a policy.

Limbaugh claims that Sunstein wants to require websites to link to opposing views and that Kagan agrees

Limbaugh: "[G]uys like Sunstein, Kagan, Obama, the rest want to control the Internet." On his May 18 radio show, Limbaugh said, "[T]he reason guys like Sunstein and Kagan and Obama and the rest want to control the Internet is because sometimes people just don't know what's best for our society." Limbaugh then played a clip of a 2001 WBEZ radio interview of Sunstein that was highlighted in a Naked Emperor News video and promoted by Breitbart.tv and Fox Nation:

SUNSTEIN: Sites of one point of view agree to provide links to other sites, so that if you're reading a conservative magazine, they would provide a link to a liberal site and vice versa, just to make it easy for people to get access to competing views. Or maybe a pop-up on your screen that would show an advertisement or maybe even a quick argument for a competing view. [break] The best would be for this to be done voluntarily, but the word "voluntary" is a little complicated, and sometimes people don't do what's best for our society unless Congress holds hearings or unless the public demands it. And the idea would be to have a legal mandate as the last resort, and to make sure it's as neutral as possible if we have to get there, but to have that as, you know, an ultimate weapon designed to encourage people to do better.

After the clip, Limbaugh said, "That's nine years ago. That's Cass Sunstein, who's now an Obama czar, essentially talking about net neutrality. And Kagan agrees."

Reality: Sunstein called such a policy a "bad idea." PolitiFact.com reported that in his 2002 book Republic.com, "Sunstein talks about the idea of the government requiring sites to link to opposing views." However, PolitiFact further reported:

In a later edition of the book released in 2007, Republic.com 2.0 , Sunstein tempers that position, advocating instead for the creation of public spaces on the Internet where people with differing viewpoints could share their ideas with one another.

But in a video interview on the Web site Bloggerheads.tv on Feb. 29, 2008, Sunstein actually goes a little bit farther than that, calling it a "bad idea" he should never have ventured.

Asked to explain some of the differences between the first book, what Sunstein called "the initial inadequate edition," and its successor, Sunstein said, "To me, the most important (difference) is that the first Republic.com was full of some bad policy recommendations and I was able to get rid of those. So I feel the book has been corrected."

"The initial book was interested in at least considering some government mandates that would require people to link to opposing views, that would require some attention to arguments that maybe had been neglected," Sunstein said. "And while the book Republic.com was pretty tentative about that, to be tentative about a bad idea, it's probably better not to even venture a bad idea. Some of the bad ideas I ventured tentatively as worth considering in Republic.com , in 2.0 I say they'd be bad ideas and they'd be unconstitutional." [PolitiFact.com, 5/5/09]

Limbaugh baselessly claimed that Kagan supports policy discussed in Sunstein interview. While falsely characterizing Sunstein's position and asserting that "Kagan agrees," Limbaugh offered no evidence to support his suggestion that Kagan holds such a position.

Limbaugh's faulty definition: "Net neutrality would force Internet providers to provide an equal percentage" of liberal and conservative views

Limbaugh: "Net neutrality is the term for this now." In addition to falsely claiming that Sunstein favored the government mandating that websites provide links to opposing views, Limbaugh conflated Sunstein's comments with net neutrality proposals, claiming: "This is net neutrality. ... Net neutrality would force Internet providers to provide an equal percentage of, as he's saying here, conservative versus liberal links in a search engine or what have you. There's also some financial aspects to it, too. But you can see, this goes back to 2001. Net neutrality is the term for this now."

Net neutrality would actually prohibit Internet service providers from controlling access to Internet content. Contrary to Limbaugh's claims that net neutrality "would force Internet providers to provide an equal percentage of ... conservative versus liberal links," the Congressional Research Service stated that net neutrality is the principle that "owners of the networks that compose and provide access to the Internet should not control how consumers lawfully use that network; and should not be able to discriminate against content provider access to that network."

Open Internet Coalition: "Net neutrality was a founding principle of the Internet, and was the law of the land until 2005." The Open Internet Coalition -- a group that includes Amazon, eBay, Google, Sony, and YouTube -- explains of net neutrality:

The principle of net neutrality is about keeping the hands of several powerful network operators -- AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast -- off the Internet, preventing them from taking steps to change the basic open nature of the Net that has led to its success. Net neutrality keeps the Internet as a free and open marketplace, so that a small number of telephone and cable monopolies can't choke off competition and innovation.

Net neutrality was a founding principle of the Internet, and was the law of the land until 2005. The courts and the regulators changed the rules in 2005 when they eliminated the nondiscrimination requirements that had applied for decades to phone service and, up to that point, to most residential Internet access. Implementing net neutrality is a return to the basic principles that make the Internet work for consumers and innovators.

Groups from Internet pioneers to conservative organizations support net neutrality. Media Matters for America has documented that a wide range of groups and individuals support net neutrality proposals, including the "father of the internet" Vinton Cerf; the CEOs of Amazon.com, Craigslist, Digg, eBay, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter; Internet pioneer Tim Berners-Lee; Google; the Christian Coalition; the Parents Television Council; and Gun Owners of America.

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