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  • Fox plays defense for Rep. Devin Nunes’ lawsuit against Twitter

    Blog ››› ››› GRACE BENNETT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    On March 19, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) filed a lawsuit against Twitter and three specific users, claiming that the site has censored him and allowed him to be the target of defamation. The Washington Post called the lawsuit's merits "questionable at best," but Fox hosts and contributors covered the lawsuit credulously, suggesting or even outright agreeing that Twitter tries to censor conservative accounts.  

    In the $250 million suit, Nunes argues that Twitter is routinely “shadow-banning conservatives” on its platform by allowing them to post but not letting other users see or interact with the content. Twitter denies that it shadow bans accounts, and CEO Jack Dorsey told Congress last year that the company has not found any evidence of a difference in the reach of tweets from conservative and liberal accounts. Following similar allegations of shadow banning last summer, The New York Times also found no evidence that Twitter engaged in the practice.

    In the suit, Nunes also takes issue with several specific users he claims Twitter allowed to defame him. Among them are @DevinNunesMom and @DevinCow, satirical accounts aimed at mocking Nunes. Some of the remarks that the suit specifically mentions as defamatory include a claim by the @DevinNunesMom account that Nunes was “voted ‘Most Likely to Commit Treason’ in high school,” and the @DevinCow account's tweet that “Devin’s boots are full of manure. He’s udder-ly worthless and its pasture time to move him to prison.”

    Some journalists have suggested that far from being a serious legal dispute, Nunes’ lawsuit is simply aimed at silencing critics. The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake wrote:

    The legal merits of the case appear highly questionable at best. The standard for defamation of a public figure such as Nunes is much higher than for an average person. One expert The Washington Post talked to cited the landmark Supreme Court case in which Jerry Falwell sued Hustler magazine for a satirical advertisement in which his likeness was engaged in sexual activity with his mother in an outhouse. The court ruled that public figures aren’t protected from “patently offensive speech” if the statements couldn’t be understood as actual facts.

    So feel free to chuckle about the spectacle of Devin Nunes suing “Devin Nunes’ cow” — especially given Nunes’s past opposition to “frivolous lawsuits” — but know that this most likely isn’t about his purported cow or what it said. Nunes is telegraphing an expansive effort to go after people who hurt Republicans with their public discourse. Its potential impact, not so much legally as from personal behavioral standpoint, shouldn’t be so casually dismissed.

    Fox hosts and contributors took a different approach than others in the media, choosing to take Nunes at his word and cheering on the lawsuit.  

    After news of Nunes’ suit broke, Fox’s Sean Hannity hosted the congressman on his show and allowed him to rant about Twitter’s alleged political bias and supposed censorship.

    During the March 19 edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade claimed that Twitter is “already suppressing people like Don [Trump] Jr. and conservatives.” Fox News senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano also argued that Nunes is “focusing a spotlight on Twitter’s bias.”

    Later in the day, on Fox Business’ Varney & Co., Kilmeade told host Stuart Varney that Nunes is making a “very courageous move.” Varney responded, “I think it’s about time we had it out about censoring conservatives on social media.”

    On Fox’s America’s Newsroom, Fox contributor Ken Starr said the lawsuit is proof that litigation can be “a powerful engine for getting the truth.” He also argued that the suit could be “one of those action-forcing events. It’s calling Twitter, and more broadly these social platforms, into the age of accountability.”

    Fox contributor Bill Bennett argued on America’s Newsroom that Nunes “has a very important point” and contended that “there is bias in a lot of these [tech] companies.”

    Fox contributor and former Arkansas Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee told America’s Newsroom co-host Sandra Smith that he is “so proud of the congressman” because the lawsuit will “hold these social media companies’ feet to the fire.” He claimed the tech companies have been “shadow banning conservatives, they’ve been making it very difficult for conservatives to get the message out,” and “they are in essence a contributing force to the Democratic Party and a contributing force against Republicans.”

  • USA Today Lets Ken Starr Dishonestly Attack "Contraceptive Mandate" Before Supreme Court

    Newspaper Doesn't Disclose Professional Connections Between Starr And Hobby Lobby

    Blog ››› ››› SERGIO MUNOZ

    USA Today allowed a deeply misleading op-ed to endorse the conservative plaintiffs challenging the Affordable Care Act's "contraceptive mandate" before the Supreme Court in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby, without disclosing the author's professional connections to Hobby Lobby's owners.

    On March 23, USA Today published an opinion piece by Ken Starr, former Clinton-era independent counsel and current president of Baylor University, arguing in favor of Hobby Lobby, the for-profit, secular corporation currently challenging the availability of women's preventive services in health insurance under the ACA. And yet USA Today did not disclose the fact that as part of its religious mission, Baylor has a professional relationship with the owners of Hobby Lobby.

    Baylor explained its partnership with the Green family, Hobby Lobby's founding owners, in its alumni magazine:

    Over the past few years, the Green family has become involved with the university through Baylor's Institute for Studies of Religion (ISR) and the Green Scholars Initiative (GSI). A partnership with the family has established Baylor as a major research partner and an academic home for the GSI's primary undergraduate program. Baylor plays a leadership role in providing undergraduate and graduate coursework and research.

    The website of the Green Scholars Initiative confirms this close relationship between the Greens and Baylor.

    This professional connection between Hobby Lobby and the author of an op-ed supporting the business' position before the Supreme Court should have been disclosed by USA Today, especially in light of Starr's extremely biased explanation of the case and outright inaccuracies. From his op-ed