Christian Coalition and Cato Institute rebut Glenn Beck on net neutrality

Glenn Beck has repeatedly said that if he made “inaccurate” statements, Fox News “would have fired me long ago.” But Beck has been imparting information that is incontrovertibly wrong about proposed net neutrality regulations. If Fox won't take it from us, how about the Christian Coalition or the libertarian Cato Institute?

When asked recently by Bill O'Reilly to explain what net neutrality means, Beck said “it's basically the Fairness Doctrine on the Internet” and that it would regulate Internet content. He has also claimed that net neutrality would require his website to provide content from left-leaning sources like the Huffington Post.

Michele Combs of the Christian Coalition told Media Matters that Beck is “misinformed” about this issue. Combs also provided this statement:

The Fairness Doctrine is an abandoned policy that required broadcasters to air programs that discussed controversial issues and to require a variety of different points of view on those issues.

In contrast, network neutrality does not regulate content. It simply prohibits and Internet access provider from preventing consumers from accessing the lawful content of their choice online.

The Christian Coalition supports net neutrality regulation. The Cato Institute does not. Both agree that Beck has his facts wrong. Julian Sanchez, a research fellow at Cato, told Media Matters that “Beck is clearly mistaken” :

While I do believe Net Neutrality regulation is unnecessary (and, indeed, potentially harmful) at this point, Beck is clearly mistaken about what it entails. Neutrality rules apply to broadband providers such as Comcast, and would require them to treat packets the same whether they're coming from MediaMatters.org or FoxNews.com. Net neutrality has nothing to do with requiring sites to carry any particular content.

Beck appears to have mixed up Net Neutrality with a proposal once floated by political theorist (and now OIRA director) Cass Sunstein in his book Republic.com: the idea was to require partisan sites to carry links to “the other side” as a mechanism for preventing online echo chambers. Sunstein himself has long since acknowledged that this was an awful idea, and almost certainly a violation of the First Amendment to boot. Fortunately, pretty much everyone seems to agree with that assessment, because nobody is pushing for the kind of “Internet Fairness Doctrine” regime Beck appears to be imagining. There are plenty of reasons to worry that neutrality rules might ultimately be bad for consumers in ways the advocates for regulation don't anticipate or intend, but this objection is pure fantasy.

Indeed, Beck's tirades about net neutrality rely heavily (and mistakenly) on OMB official Cass Sunstein's 2002 book, which discussed the idea of using government regulation to require websites to link to opposing viewpoints. But Sunstein renounced this proposal years ago, calling it a “bad idea” and “unconstitutional.” And at any rate, it has nothing to do with net neutrality.

Even O'Reilly is skeptical (though he himself doesn't appear to be interested in figuring out or reporting on what net neutrality actually is.) Appearing on Beck's radio show on December 2, O'Reilly said of Beck's take on net neutrality, “It's not going to happen,” adding that it is “unconstitutional.” Beck replied: “I hope you're right, but I'm more entertaining than you” :

O'REILLY: What you do is good. It gives me stuff to follow up on. But there's not a chance in hell of this stuff happening. It's just not going to happen.

[...]

O'REILLY: Beck, you're not going away, I'm not going away. Our websites aren't going away. Arianna Huffington is not going to appear on my website ever.

BECK: I hope you're right but I'm more entertaining than you.

Transcripts:

From the November 22 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:

BECK: Net neutrality -- what it is, is they say you can't -- it's basically the Fairness Doctrine on the Internet.

O'REILLY: So they want to regulate Internet content?

BECK: Correct.

O'REILLY: Those on the left.

BECK: Right.

O'REILLY: Why would they want to do that? It's a leftwing cesspool.

BECK: How did it -- how great was it for the left when you shut down opposing voices on talk radio?

From the December 1 edition of Beck's Fox News show:

BECK: Do you remember when we told you of net neutrality and we told you that they were going to begin to protect you on the Internet? It was called net neutrality.

Well, they're going to do it. We told you they would. And most people relaxed. They're going to do it anyway.

The FCC announced plans today that they are going to go ahead and regulate the Internet. This, by the way, was rejected by Congress. FCC Chairman Julius -- how appropriate that his name is Julius -- Genachowski says he believes he has the legal authority to do so and has set a vote on December 21st.

But don't worry -- it's only about fairness and protecting you. It's about neutrality, nothing to worry about. It's not like we have a regulatory czar who wants to dictate what you see open the Internet, is it?

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

CASS SUNSTEIN, REGULATORY CZAR: Sites of one point of view agree to provide links to our 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 popup on your screen that would show an advertisement or maybe even a quick argument for a competing view. If we could get voluntary arrangements in that direction, it would be great and if we can't voluntary arrangements, maybe Congress should hold hearings about mandates.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

BECK: Well, they did and they rejected it and now -- now, we have the FCC just doing it. This is why we have a regulatory czar I warned you about. He had his dream job and he is making his dreams come true. They will be our nightmares.

From the December 2 edition of Beck's radio show:

BECK: Net neutrality. They are going to do net neutrality which basically as we played for you last night on television, Cass Sunstein says net neutrality is necessary because if you're going to a website like let's say mine and you're listening to my opinion, you need to have pop up boxes of someone else's opinion that is against me. That's what they want on the Internet and that's what's coming. And the FCC is moving towards it on December 21st.