Mainstream news outlets are already failing in their coverage of a newly created House Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government by allowing false Republican claims to go unchallenged, and omitting crucial context about suppression of left-wing groups at the hands of federal law enforcement.
The new committee is chaired by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), and was reportedly established as a concession to hardline opponents of Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) in his recent, rocky bid for the chamber’s top office. Jordan and his team have set their sights on the Department of Justice, the FBI, the IRS, and other offices that Republicans falsely claim are specifically targeting and persecuting conservatives.
In describing the committee’s investigative prospects, several mainstream outlets allowed false or misleading claims to go unchallenged.
Axios described Rep. Thomas Massie’s (R-KY), who has announced his spot on the subcommittee, as “a libertarian-minded conservative long skeptical of the federal security apparatus,” who “pointed to IRS targeting of Tea Party groups in the 2010s and Trump's sparring with the FBI as inflection points.”
Axios failed to inform its readers that Massie’s claim of a partisan witch hunt by the IRS is false. Although the IRS did audit some Tea Party groups, the agency also targeted “scores” of progressive groups for audits as well.
The New York Times reported that the committee is planning to investigate “allegations that the federal government encouraged Twitter to discriminate against Republicans and the treatment of conservative or right-wing protesters at school board meetings and abortion clinics.”
Readers of the Times’ coverage wouldn’t know that Twitter, in fact, has shown a bias toward promoting conservative content, not suppressing it. Conservatives have also claimed, falsely, that the DOJ has targeted parents at school boards, including identifying them as domestic terrorists. Although the Times didn’t use that phrase, their coverage failed to challenge the myth that conservative parents are facing federal persecution.
One of the focuses of the subcommittee is likely to be an examination of the FBI and DOJ’s case against a group of men who plotted to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. The FBI used undercover agents and informants in their investigation, which conservatives have argued could amount to entrapment.
In Politico’s article on the subcommittee, they quoted Rep. Dan Bishop (R-NC), who cited the Whitmer case, and asked, “Exactly what is the line on entrapment and then the law on entrapment?”
Although that is a fair question to ask in the abstract, Politico’s readers could be left thinking that the FBI specifically uses informants against right-wing movements. In fact, the FBI has been using informants extensively against Muslims at least since 9/11. John Miller, a high ranking police officer turned conservative pundit turned CNN analyst exemplifies the right-wing impulse towards increased investigations of Muslim communities.
None of these articles include broader historical context, which is that the FBI has disproportionately targeted left-wing movements since its inception. None of them include more recent examples of the FBI targeting the left, either, especially FBI operations to infiltrate and spy on Black activists, including creating the ridiculous category of “Black Identity Extremist” to justify the Bureau’s actions.
Those real documented examples of FBI overreach are nowhere to be found in this overly credulous mainstream coverage. Nor are readers given an adequate sense of what this committee is likely actually about, as detailed recently by a Trump-aligned think tank called the Center for Renewing America, which released a proposed federal budget sharing almost the exact same title as the new subcommittee.
CRA is run by Christian nationalist Russ Vought, who served as former President Donald Trump’s director of the Office of Management and Budget. His organization’s budget proposal makes clear that the conservative aim here is unleashing the FBI on the right’s political enemies while ensuring immunity for themselves.
All of that context is crucial to understanding this new subcommittee, and the new Republican House majority writ large. Jordan and company haven’t even begun their work, but mainstream outlets are already falling short.