Government officials push against First Amendment, claiming disinformation is ‘threat to democracy’

"The government wants to censor Americans for failing to toe the party line. But the only way we can truly protect ourselves is by exercising our First Amendment rights," Mike Davis, founder and president of the Article III Project said.

Published: May 2, 2024 11:00pm

Government officials and even some journalists claim that the First Amendment prevents crackdown on “disinformation,” which they say is a “threat to democracy,” despite the constitutional protection of free speech.

While journalists and government officials are supposed to uphold and defend the First Amendment’s protection of free speech, several on the left are now claiming that because mis- and disinformation are "threats to democracy," shutting down such information is of greater importance than protecting speech.

Katherine Maher, who runs National Public Radio and has no journalistic experience, has long propounded that the same constitutional right upon which her employees rely every day should be curtailed.

Maher became president and CEO of NPR this past March, and said in a June 2021 interview that regarding "governmental regulation, the number one challenge here that we see is, of course, the First Amendment in the United States … is a fairly robust protection of rights and that is a protection of rights both for platforms, which I actually think is very important that platforms have those rights to be able to regulate what kind of content they want on their sites, but it also means that it is a little bit tricky to really address some of the real challenges of where does bad information come from and sort of the influence peddlers who have made a real market economy around it.”

Maher, who was the CEO of the left-wing Wikimedia Foundation until April 2021, made the statement while being interviewed by NBC News senior reporter Brandy Zadrozny. During her tenure at Wikimedia, she oversaw a $2 million endowment from activist billionaire George Soros. Prior to that, according to The City Journal, "during much of 2011, Maher worked for the National Democratic Institute, a government-funded NGO with deep connections to U.S. intelligence and the Democratic Party’s foreign policy machine." 

Maher said earlier in the interview regarding the 2020 presidential election that it “was just rife with misinformation and disinformation, and just a real threat to democracy, actually.”

“The largest and most influential platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter that they overall failed when it came to keeping their spaces free of this junk,” she added.

Beyond journalism, a newly-minted jurist of the U.S. Supreme Court has said that the First Amendment can prevent the federal government from protecting Americans.

In March, during oral arguments in the social media censorship case of Murthy v. Missouri, Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson said that the federal government was being restricted by the First Amendment, preventing the protection of citizens on social media platforms.

"My biggest concern is that your view has the First Amendment hamstringing the federal government in significant ways in the most important time periods," Jackson said to a lawyer representing Louisiana and Missouri, who allege that the Biden Administration is colluding with social media platforms to squelch unpopular views and promote an "official" state line.

"And so I guess some might say that the government actually has a duty to take steps to protect the citizens of this country, and you seem to be suggesting that that duty cannot manifest itself in the government encouraging or even pressuring platforms to take down harmful information," she continued.

"I'm really worried about that because you've got the First Amendment operating in an environment of threatening circumstances from the government's perspective, and you're saying that the government can't interact with the source of those problems," Jackson later added.

Louisiana Attorney General Liz Murrill (R) told "Just the News, No Noise” in March that Jackson’s statement “was pretty shocking. I think the wholehearted answer to her question about whether the First Amendment hamstrings government is, 'yes it does.' That's what it was intended to do. That's what the founders wrote it for.”

At the same time, a Republican county official running for reelection in Arizona has claimed that the First Amendment is “a thorn in the side” of his office. On Sept. 17, 2021, Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer gave a speech to Maricopa Community Colleges regarding the First Amendment.

According to a draft of the speech, Richer wrote, “I posit that the gravest threat to voting rights and our elected form of government is no longer the systematic disenfranchisement of a particular class of people, but instead the undermining of the entire election system through lies and disinformation. And it is in this respect, that the Constitution today is in some ways a thorn in the side of my office. Specifically the First Amendment.” 

The speech later reads, "This, in my mind, is the biggest threat to elections and democracy. If 30% of the population thinks the process is fundamentally unjust, they will simply drop out, or they will seek to disrupt the system.”

Richer’s office was asked by Just the News if they work with the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, the Center for Internet Security, the Election Integrity Project, and the Arizona Secretary of State's Office to monitor and report mis/dis/malinformation. The recorder’s office said that they work with them “to protect staff, voters, and critical election infrastructure – and to help ensure constituents have access to accurate information.”

Abe Hamadeh, a GOP candidate for Arizona’s 8th Congressional District, responded to Richer’s view of the First Amendment on the “Just the News, No Noise” TV show Monday, saying, “It's shocking how reckless our government officials are and his statements about how the First Amendment, it gets in his way.

“And if they spent as much time as they are trying to suppress the First Amendment rights of Arizonans as they did to make sure we have an honest and fair election, maybe we wouldn't have this mess here in Maricopa County. And Maricopa County has become the laughingstock across the country,” he continued.

“So it's very disingenuous to see Stephen Richer, and he always claims that he's a protector of democracy, a defender of democracy. He thinks he's protecting us against these threats. But in fact, he's the one who's a threat to democracy, his incompetence and possible corruption, I believe, has done so much damage to Arizona’s standing,” Hamadeh said.

Richer’s office declined to comment.

Mike Davis, founder and president of the Article III Project, told Just the News on Tuesday that the First Amendment defends Americans against government officials’ attempt to control speech.

"Information control is how the career bureaucrats in Washington who view themselves as the arbiters of truth secure control over our thoughts and opinions,” Davis said. "The First Amendment is our main defense against this war on information. Of course it gets in their way. The entire point of the First Amendment is to prevent the government from policing information and to protect our rights to political speech.

“The government wants to censor Americans for failing to toe the party line,” he continued. “But the only way we can truly protect ourselves is by exercising our First Amendment rights.”

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