In response to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) statements in which she warned U.S. Olympians of the risk posed by the Chinese government on the issue of free speech while they were in the country, right-wing commentators mischaracterized Pelosi as being soft on the regime and its history of human rights abuses while hypocritically accusing her of censoring athletes.
During a February 3 meeting of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, Pelosi roundly criticized the extensive human rights abuses perpetrated by the Chinese government and called out the International Olympic Committee for “[turning] a blind eye … just to bolster their bottom lines.” She said, “If we do not speak out against human rights violations in China because of commercial interest, we lose all moral authority to speak out against human rights violations anywhere.” Later, Pelosi warned U.S. athletes to “not risk incurring the anger of the Chinese government, because they are ruthless.”
The next morning, Pelosi further reiterated the intent of her comments, saying at a press conference that she does “not encourage [athletes] to speak out against the Chinese government there because I fear for their safety if they do. I want to remove all doubt about why I said they shouldn’t speak out.” The Chinese government has explicitly threatened foreign athletes with repercussions if they speak out against its “laws and regulations,” and Human Rights Watch has also warned about the risks athletes face if they speak out against the government's abuses.
Even though Pelosi’s statements came with lengthy and strong criticism of the Chinese government’s violations, right-wing media figures, particularly on Fox News and Fox Business, sought to characterize them as intended to limit the speech of athletes and cater to the Chinese government. This insincere coverage is also ironic as Fox News and conservative media have a track record of insisting athletes remain removed from political debates. Right-wing personalities have consistently and sharply condemned athletes who spoke out on issues of racial justice, police brutality, and LGBTQ+ rights. They've concocted lies about, celebrated the defeat of, and even called for censorship of such athletes. Here are some examples of right-wing media's reactions to Pelosi's comments:
- On the February 4 edition of Fox Business’ Varney & Co., host Stuart Varney claimed Pelosi was “running interference for the Chinese Communist Party.”
- On the February 7 edition of Varney’s show, Fox Business reporter Lauren Simonetti compared Pelosi's comments to statements that she described as “propaganda” and “exactly what [Chinese President] Xi Jinping wants to hear.” Varney again said, “The speaker was running interference for the Chinese Communist Party. That’s what she was doing.”
- On Fox Business’ Mornings With Maria Bartiromo, guest and former member of Congress Doug Collins said Pelosi was “scared of offending a genocidal, authoritarian Communist government” and accused her of “ignoring everything that China’s doing.”
- Conservative commentator Brooke Goldstein tweeted that Pelosi “just told American athletes to shut up and bow down to the Chinese government,” claiming, “China releases Covid and we reward them with subservience.”
- Former Trump attorney and Newsmax contributor Jenna Ellis tweeted out a link to an article on Pelosi’s comments and rhetorically asked, “Are Chinese donors working Pelosi’s mouth like a puppet?”
- The Daily Wire’s Ryan Saavedra tweeted that she was “doubling down on telling U.S. athletes to not ‘speak out’ against communist China's genocide against Muslims and human rights abuses.”
- Right-wing radio host Todd Starnes tweeted that Pelosi’s “warning to Olympic athletes was not meant to protect the athletes as much as it was to protect her husband's investments.”
- On The Faulkner Focus, Fox’s Pete Hegseth said, “Nancy Pelosi and her ilk are more afraid of, say, Trump supporters than they are of the communist Chinese. I mean look what she said to our athletes over in these games, which our athletes shouldn't even be participating in. ‘Don't speak out. Don’t speak out. The Chinese are like real hardcore, and they might' -- why are we there and why are you talking in that way and why are all your policies willing to be complicit to them?”
- On Fox News’ Sunday Morning Futures, Fox News contributor Mike Pompeo said Pelosi “told our young American kids, ‘You travel abroad and give up all your American rights. Just shut up and don't say a word because it's too dangerous.’”
- Fox News’ America’s Newsroom co-anchor Bill Hemmer said during a teaser for an upcoming segment that Pelosi was “taking a line on free speech” and asked, “Is that just caving in to the Communist regime?” The chyron for the teaser stated “Free Speech Under Siege At Beijing Olympics.”
- On his radio show, right-wing commentator Buck Sexton said, “Nancy Pelosi is going out there and telling our athletes, ‘Shut up, bend the knee, go out there on your ice skates and smile,’ and you just wonder why. Pelosi’s such a coward.”