Democrats trash journalists for 'cherrypicked' federal censorship emails in Twitter Files

Day after Democrats smear science writer as white supremacist, they repeatedly ask about sources in Twitter Files reporting.
Rep. Stacey Plaskett (D-V.I.)

Congressional Democrats seem to have settled on a strategy for countering reporting that undermines key party narratives: Shoot the messenger.

At hearings this week on COVID-19 origins and Twitter Files revelations about federal pressure to censor users and narratives, House Oversight and Judiciary Committee Democrats tried to discredit veteran journalists as tools of white supremacy, stooges of new Twitter owner Elon Musk and even threats to physical safety.

Thursday's Judiciary witnesses, heterodox liberal writers Matt Taibbi and Michael Shellenberger, each dropped new Twitter Files threads on the "censorship-industrial complex" an hour before the Weaponization of the Federal Government Subcommittee hearing. 

The federal-private partnership combined "psychological manipulation" developed by the U.S. military for the war on terror with artificial intelligence, according to Shellenberger, known for his contrarian environmentalism and California governor's run. He told lawmakers the feds' target had moved from stopping ISIS terrorism to ordinary Americans who are "wrong on the internet."

By co-leading the Election Integrity Partnership, which funnels private and government reports of misinformation to platforms for action, the Stanford Internet Observatory is "[p]erhaps the ultimate example of the absolute fusion of state, corporate, and civil society organizations," according to Taibbi, previously known for his Wall Street coverage for Rolling Stone.

He pointed to SIO Director Alex Stamos describing EIP's mission as "fill[ing] the gaps" for the Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, which lacked "legal authorizations" for the work, and Stamos noting that SIO research manager Renee DiResta has "worked for the CIA."

The Virality Project, which includes EIP's four principals, even recommended tech platforms throttle "true content which might promote vaccine hesitancy" such as verified side effects from jabs, according to Taibbi's email screenshot. He described the term "malinformation," a class below dis- and misinformation, as "a euphemism for 'true but inconvenient.'"

The EIP principals "all have inadequately-disclosed ties to the Department of Defense, the C.I.A., and other intelligence agencies" and work with agencies to "institutionalize censorship research and advocacy within dozens of other universities and think tanks," according to Shellenberger's written testimony.

SIO's Stamos told Just the News it would be releasing a full response to the characterization.

Judiciary Republicans delighted in the optics of their colleagues across the aisle repeatedly asking the writers about their sources, which echoed the Federal Trade Commission's letter to Twitter demanding the identities of journalists granted access to its systems days after the first installment of the Twitter Files.

"Are you trying to get journalists to divulge their sources?" Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) asked ranking member Stacey Plaskett (D-V.I.). At Wednesday's COVID hearing, Jordan highlighted a potential quid pro quo to squelch the lab-leak theory.

Democrats insisted they were only trying to discern Musk's precise role. Plaskett described Taibbi and Shellenberger as his "public scribes" using "cherrypicked" emails between the feds and Twitter, and noted the FTC fined Twitter $150 million a year ago for violating a consent decree by misusing user data.

As with Wednesday's hearing, Democrats repeatedly cut off GOP witnesses before they could defend themselves against smears. Plaskett even blamed them for physical threats against former Twitter trust and safety head Yoel Roth, whose communications appear frequently in the files.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz accused Taibbi of violating the Society of Professional Journalists ethics code by testifying as a GOP witness, relying on "spoonfed, cherry-picked" material and generating "another right-wing conspiracy theory" that tripled his Twitter following.

"You hit the jackpot on that Vegas slot machine," the Florida Democrat sneered, referring to Taibbi's visual description of his rapidly updating feed when the first Twitter Files installment dropped. "It's probably a wash," he said before she cut him off. 

"Not one of us have actually been paid to do this work," Taibbi told Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.), noting he recently hired supplementary staff "out of my own pocket."

Rep. Harriet Hageman (R-Wyo.) marveled that the revealed federal requests to Twitter rarely claimed flagged content was "unlawful" but simply violated its terms, questioning the FBI's priorities. Taibbi said that was the point, to conduct Twitter searches "keyed" to terms that could conceivably violate its terms so the feds could disavow any intent to circumvent the First Amendment. 

"News media became an arm of a state-sponsored thought policing system," Taibbi said.

Shellenberger emphasized that mainstream journalism institutions had abandoned their mission to hold governments to account. Stanford's Cyber Policy Center, which hosts SIO, called on journalists in a March 2020 report to explicitly junk the precedent set by the Pentagon Papers in 1971, he noted.

Authenticating leaked information before publishing it is not good enough because "foreign adversaries like Russia are hacking into political campaigns and leaking material to disrupt our democracy," the report said. 

The report authors were listed as attendees several months later at an Aspen Institute "tabletop exercise" hosted by prominent media leaders which applied this principle to a potential "hack-and-dump" operation involving Hunter Biden. 

Jordan also cited this "mock exercise" and its curious timing, shortly before the letter from 51 former intelligence officials that said New York Post reporting on Hunter Biden's laptop has "all the classic earmarks of a Russian information operation."

The Aspen Institute didn't respond to Just the News queries.

Government-tinged censorship is not a left-right issue so much as an attempt to marginalize purported extremes, Taibbi said, citing communications that label far-left outfits Truthout and Consortium as disinformation sources. Jordan cited the FBI's alleged use of an informant to infiltrate Denver's Black Lives Matter movement.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) argued the "extreme" right and left were inherent to America's founding and their right to speak was once defended by the ACLU and journalists. He noted how many of the groups policing disinformation are funded by taxpayers, which is "historically what we'd consider an indictment" against First Amendment rights.

"We're describing people having political arguments online," and federal involvement in policing their opinions is "not a slippery slope, it's an immediate leap" into what totalitarian societies do, Shellenberger said.