Glenn Beck falsely accused Cass Sunstein, head of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, of “saying that every website needs to include links to an opposing view” and falsely asserted that Sunstein wants to “tax speech, stop speech” and "[d]iscredit speech, even speech that ends up being true." Beck also falsely suggested that Sunstein's position in OIRA represents a “new role” created by President Obama.
Beck falsely claims Sunstein wants to require websites to link to opposing views
Beck: “Sunstein now is saying that every website needs to include links to an opposing view.” On the May 17 edition of his radio show, Beck said: “Cass Sunstein now is saying that every website needs to include links to an opposing view. On every story. You gotta be kidding me.”
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]
Beck falsely claims Sunstein wants to “tax speech, stop speech” and "[d]iscredit speech, even speech that ends up being true"
Beck: Sunstein wants to “tax speech, stop speech, but also infiltrate speech.” Beck also said: “Don't call me a Nazi. I'm not the one saying limit speech. I'm not the one that says tax speech. I'm not the one, like Cass Sunstein, that not only says tax speech, stop speech, but also infiltrate speech. Discredit speech, even speech that ends up being true. That would be Cass Sunstein, White House office of information. Hmm. Warning. Warning.”
Reality: Sunstein and co-author made clear they weren't advocating banning or taxing speech. In the article to which Beck was referring, Sunstein and his co-author, Harvard law professor Adrian Vermeule, made clear they were not advocating banning and taxing speech. From the article (purchase required):
What can the government do about conspiracy theories, and what should it do? (1) Government might ban “conspiracy theories”, somehow defined. (2) Government might impose some kind of tax, financial or otherwise, on those who disseminate such theories. (3) Government might itself engage in counterspeech, marshaling arguments to discredit conspiracy theories. (4) Government might formally hire credible private parties to engage in counterspeech. (5) Government might engage in informal communication with such parties, encouraging them to help. Each instrument has a distinctive set of potential effects, or costs and benefits, and each will have a place under imaginable conditions. Our main policy claim here is that government should engage in cognitive infiltration of the groups that produce conspiracy theories, which involves a mix of (3), (4), and (5).
Reality: Sunstein article explicitly addresses “false conspiracy theories” that are also “potentially harmful.” Contrary to Beck's claim that Sunstein advocates "[d]iscredit[ing] speech, even speech that ends up being true," Sunstein and Vermeule specifically stated that their “focus throughout is on demonstrably false conspiracy theories, such as the various 9/11 conspiracy theories, not ones that are true or whose truth is undetermined.” They went on to write, “Within the set of false conspiracy theories, we also limit our focus to potentially harmful theories.” From the article:
Our focus throughout is on demonstrably false conspiracy theories, such as the various 9/11 conspiracy theories, not ones that are true or whose truth is undetermined. Our ultimate goal is to explore how public officials might undermine such theories, and as a general rule, true accounts should not be undermined.
Within the set of false conspiracy theories, we also limit our focus to potentially harmful theories. Consider the false conspiracy theory, held by many of the younger members of our society, that the mysterious “Santa Claus” distributes presents around the world on Christmas Eve. This theory turns out to be false, but is itself instilled through a widespread conspiracy of the powerful -- parents -- who conceal their role in the whole affair. It is an open question whether most conspiracy theories are equally benign; we will suggest that some are not benign at all.
Beck falsely suggests Sunstein's “Reichstag” office is “a new role”
Beck compares OIRA to “Reichstag.” Beck said of Sunstein: “He holds the office -- the White House office of information. Jawohl. Is that a new role, do we know?” He went on to comment: “The office of information -- that doesn't sound too Reichstag, here, does it? The office of information for the White House says that anybody who disagrees with the direction of the administration or the policies of the government is to be deemed anti-government. And if you're deemed anti-government, well, then you can be infiltrated by a government operative to be discredited. That's incredible. How do people not know this stuff?”
Reality: OIRA was created in 1980. The Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) was created by the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1980 (PRA) and is housed in the White House Office of Management and Budget. It has operated under every president since then, including presidents Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush. The OIRA website further states:
The Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA, pronounced “oh-eye-ruh”) is a Federal office established by Congress in the 1980 Paperwork Reduction Act. It is part of the Office of Management and Budget, which is an agency within the Executive Office of the President. It is staffed by both political appointees and career civil servants.
Under the Paperwork Reduction Act, OIRA reviews all collections of information by the Federal Government. OIRA also develops and oversees the implementation of government-wide policies in several areas, including information quality and statistical standards. In addition, OIRA reviews draft regulations under Executive Order 12866.
Conservatives have repeatedly praised Sunstein
Conservatives praise Sunstein. As Media Matters has documented, conservatives have praised Sunstein's intelligence and qualifications, including Instapundit's Glenn Reynolds, the Wall Street Journal editorial board, and former Bush administration Solicitor General Ted Olson.