Category Archives: Censorship

Why Did Amazon Cancel Justice Thomas?

If you do business with Amazon, you should be complaining. If you are Amazon Prime customer, you should pull you subscription- and tell them why. mrossol

WSJ  2/2/2021 by Jason L Riley

Now that another February has come and gone, perhaps Amazon will revert to offering customers a broader and more variegated view of black history.


Early last month Amazon deleted a documentary film about Justice Clarence Thomas from its popular streaming service. Titled “Created Equal: Clarence Thomas in His Own Words,” and culled from more than 30 hours of interviews with its subject, the film recounts Justice Thomas’s rise from poverty in segregated Georgia to Yale Law School and, eventually, to the Supreme Court. Along the way, viewers learn about the justice’s views on race, religion, politics and the role of the judiciary.

The documentary began airing on PBS in May 2020 and streaming on Amazon in October. But it was taken down by Amazon on Feb. 8, according to the director, Michael Pack, and he has never been told why. “Our distributor, who’s the one who made the deal with Amazon, has repeatedly asked them for explanations but they haven’t given any,” Mr. Pack told me by phone this week. “They have the right to pull anything from their site, and they don’t have to give an explanation. So it’s not a contract violation. But many people have complained, and they haven’t put it back up.”


If this episode sounds familiar, it’s because Amazon pulled a similar stunt last fall. Eli Steele’s “What Killed Michael Brown ?”—a critique of liberal social policies that was written and narrated by his father, the race scholar Shelby Steele —was slated to stream on Amazon in October, then held up for reasons the company never fully explained. Amazon eventually relented and made the film available, but only after these pages weighed in and made a fuss.

Mr. Pack said that “Created Equal” was doing well on Amazon, so it wasn’t pulled because no one wanted to see it. “For a while our film was, briefly, No. 1 in documentaries. And I think it’s still No. 25 or 30, so it’s been selling,” he said. Notably, he added, less-popular documentaries about Anita Hill and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg continue to be available for streaming on Amazon. “So why don’t they offer ‘Created Equal’? There’s obviously customer demand.”

There seems to be plenty of demand these days for positive assessments of black conservatives, even while one of the country’s most popular streaming services is ambivalent about showcasing them. In addition to Messrs. Pack’s and Steele’s documentaries, the past year has brought Larry Elder’s “Uncle Tom,” which is about the treatment of blacks who challenge liberal orthodoxy, as well as “ Thomas Sowell : Common Sense in a Senseless World,” a profile of the Hoover Institution economist narrated by yours truly.

Mr. Pack was particularly dismayed that his film was pulled during Black History Month. “Clarence Thomas, to my mind, is the most important African-American leader in America today,” he said, adding that people ought to be exposed to a range of black opinions. He’s right, and what Amazon has done is a disservice to anyone—black or white—who is interested in the rich history of black Americans.

“The spectrum of thought amongst African-Americans is and has always been much broader and multifarious than commonly perceived,” the black legal scholar Randall Kennedy wrote in a recent essay for Heterodox Academy. “Fervent debates about scores of subjects—indeed every imaginable subject—have roiled African-Americans ideologically: accommodation versus protest; interracial socialism versus black nationalism; Gandhian non-violence versus ‘by any means necessary,’ support for affirmative action versus detestation of ‘lowered standards,’ ‘integration’ versus ‘black power.’ ”


One reason for this misperception is Black History Month, whose emphasis is on celebrating the achievements of blacks who fit a liberal narrative while ignoring or minimizing the achievements of those who don’t. If you are a prominent black figure who has been more focused on black development than on black victimhood (Clarence Thomas, Shelby Steele, Robert Woodson ), or someone who is more interested in the results of a policy than in its intentions (Thomas Sowell, Walter Williams ), there is an attempt to write you out of black history. Wittingly or not, Amazon has used its power to abet this effort.

“I don’t think Amazon should get away with doing these things without suffering at least some PR consequences,” Mr. Pack said. “I think it’s great that the Steele film got reinstated after the controversy. Deplatforming will go on if people don’t write about it and complain about it.”


Who needs For-Profit Colleges?

WSJ 2/25/21

Colleges for years have justified charging exorbitant tuition by offering what they claim is an immersive education. But many closed their campuses during the pandemic and didn’t discount tuition. Now Democrats plan to shower them with more money while punishing vocational schools.

Congress allocated colleges $14 billion from the Cares Act and $23 billion in the December relief bill on top of the $125 billion in federal student aid they soak up annually. The new $1.9 trillion bill would hand them another $40 billion regardless of whether they open or need the money. The December bill at least reduced aid to colleges with enormous endowments.

Democrats have also cut the share of money going to proprietary schools to 1% from 3%. For-profits will have to distribute 100% of their federal relief to students, which is fair enough. But nonprofit and public colleges only have to spend 50% on student aid. They can spend the rest on diversity coordinators and higher salaries for tenured professors.

The distinction between nonprofit and for-profit colleges is becoming increasingly tenuous. Four years of tuition at many nonprofits now costs more than a new home. Yet colleges aren’t accountable for student outcomes, and many graduate with enormous debt and degrees that don’t help them get high-paying jobs.

At least the pandemic forced some to tighten their belts. Consider the University of Southern California, which is trading its president’s colonial seven-acre estate for $24.5 million for a more modest $8.6 million mansion. Tough living. For-profit enrollment has shrunk by half over the last decade due to the Obama regulatory assault and improved job market. Several large chains have closed, and many surviving schools are small businesses that offer training in fields like welding, cybersecurity and nursing—skills in high demand.

Yet Democrats have slipped a provision into their bill that would force many of these to close. A 1998 law known as the 90/10 rule requires for-profits to derive at least 10% of their revenue from non-federal student aid. The rule doesn’t apply to nonprofit and public colleges, which generate much of their revenue from state aid, federal research grants and private donations.

Democrats have long complained about a “loophole” in the 90/10 rule, which excludes veterans benefits from the federal revenue calculation. This isn’t a loophole. GI Bill benefits are delayed compensation for military service, not federal handouts or loans. For-profits are popular among veterans because they offer vocational training and flexible schedules.

The Democratic bill aims to drive more proprietary schools out of business by counting veterans benefits as federal revenue in the rule. An analysis by an American Enterprise Institute fellow this month estimated this would cause 87 for-profit institutions to fall out of compliance, including many that are popular among military students.

As the report notes, hundreds of public institutions “report student outcomes as weak, or weaker, than those of the for-profit colleges failing a 90/10 rule.” For-profits might be forced to turn away veterans to avoid losing access to all federal aid. Some veterans might end up at community colleges, and others might not avail themselves of their GI benefits.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the 90/10 rule change would reduce federal spending by $124 million over 10 years, allowing Democrats to claim savings in budget reconciliation. Behold another example of how Democrats are using pandemic relief to jam through their progressive agenda, which includes hostility to private education.


The Censorship Party

WSJ 2/26/2021.  The Editorial Board

Imagine if a pair of Donald Trump’s allies in Congress had sent a letter to cable company CEOs in 2017 blasting CNN and other progressive media outlets and asking why their content is still broadcast. Then imagine that a GOP-run committee in Congress staged a hearing on the societal menace of fake news and the need for government and business to rein in the hostile press.

The media would have treated that as a five-alarm political fire, an existential threat to a free press, the First Amendment and political norms, and a step toward authoritarian rule. “Democracy dies in darkness,” and all that. Yet that’s exactly what Democrats in Congress did this week, targeting conservative media outlets, but the media reaction has been silence or approval.

On Monday Democrats Anna Eshoo and Jerry McNerney sent letters pressing 12 cable and tech CEOs to drop contracts with right-of-center media outlets including Fox News. Two days later the Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing about “disinformation and extremism” in conservative media. The only notable extremism on display was the majority party’s appetite for regulating and policing the free press.

Rep. Mike Doyle, chair of the subcommittee on communications and technology, declared in opening remarks that “it is the responsibility of this subcommittee to hold these institutions”—meaning press outlets he doesn’t like—“to a higher standard.” He said later that “more free speech just isn’t winning the day over the kind of speech that we’re concerned about.”

Democrats chose witnesses to lay the rhetorical foundation for press restrictions. One was Kristin Urquiza, whose father died of coronavirus and who spoke at the Democratic convention against Donald Trump. She said “the media didn’t pull the trigger” in her father’s death, “but they drove the getaway car,” because he watched and listened to news that downplayed the virus.

Rep. Eshoo bristled at Republican concerns about government officials investigating broadcast media with the aim of deplatforming disfavored networks. “I call them lies,” she said of the content described by Ms. Urquiza. “I don’t know what you call them. You call that the open market, something that’s competitive?” Rep. Marc Veasey said he saw a tension between “the freedom of speech versus other peoples’ safety.”

Chairman Rep. Frank Pallone generously conceded that the First Amendment protects speech that is “controversial” but distinguished “misinformation that causes public harm.” Apparently Mr. Pallone wants someone, perhaps the government, to determine what constitutes public harm and when speech causes it. Would two years of false Democratic narratives about Russian collusion with Mr. Trump qualify as public harm? How about apologias for riots in the streets last summer?

Progressives seem to believe that they are in a position to dictate the terms of what is acceptable speech in a more controlled media environment. As committee witness Emily Bell of Columbia Journalism School put it, “there has to be a will among the political elite and the media elite and the technology elite to actually do the right thing, as it were.” That means tightening speech restrictions. To borrow another progressive cliche, this is a dog whistle for tech companies and other businesses to censor or block conservatives if government can’t.

This thinking is dangerous at any time, but especially so now as the Democratic Party runs both Congress and the executive branch with the power to punish companies that don’t oblige. The danger is worse since most of the media are abdicating their role as defenders of the free press because they aren’t the political targets. The First Amendment dies in media darkness.


The ‘Experts’ Cited by the New Censors

At first I thought I was reading about the 1760 British Parliament and King George planning on steps regarding the colonies… mrossol

WSJ, 2/23/2021,  by James Freeman

Two House Democrats from California, Reps. Anna Eshoo and Jerry McNerney, launched a frontal assault on the First Amendment this week with a letter to the CEOs of communications companies demanding to know what they are doing to police unwelcome speech.

A Journal editorial notes that “the letter is a demand for more ideological censorship.” The two legislators write: “Our country’s public discourse is plagued by misinformation, disinformation, conspiracy theories, and lies.”

But it’s clear that they only want to discipline one side. The Democrats claim, “Experts have noted that the right-wing media ecosystem is “much more susceptible…to disinformation, lies, and half-truths.”

The “experts” quoted are three Harvard academics, and the lead author is law professor Yochai Benkler. His take on “right-wing” media is perhaps not surprising given that according to the OpenSecrets website he donates exclusively to left-wing politicians, especially Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.).

In any case, Mr. Benkler has assembled an interdisciplinary team at Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society and purports to have discovered data showing that conservative media is bad.

Writing in the Washington Post in October of 2018, Mr. Benkler asserted:

Our analysis underscores not only the enormous power of right-wing media but also their distinctiveness from left-wing media. The conservative network of outlets, with Fox at its center, feeds a large minority of Americans narratives that confirm their biases, fills them with outrage at their political opponents, and isolates them from views that contradict these narratives. It is a closed propaganda feedback loop.
Left-leaning media, whatever the goals of some of their members, have failed to produce anything similar, our analysis found.

Your humble correspondent is a Fox News contributor and does not share Mr. Benkler’s opinion of the network or its viewers. But is it really possible that by the fall of 2018, two years into the collusion story, he hadn’t figured out that CNN and MSNBC were relentlessly persuading many Americans on the political left to believe something that wasn’t true?

Mr. Benkler spent part of that 2018 column grousing about how much attention Hillary Clinton’s email scandal had received during the 2016 campaign, and this is perhaps not surprising. While his so-called research is now being used by Democrats to try to suppress non-leftist media outlets, he seems to think that classified information should often be free. In November of 2018 in the New York Times, Charlie Savage wrote about WikiLeaks leader Julian Assange, espionage convict Chelsea Manning and fugitive Edward Snowden:

Yochai Benkler, a Harvard Law School professor who testified at Ms. Manning’s court-martial in 2013 that WikiLeaks played a watchdog journalism role, denounced any charging of Mr. Assange for his work with Ms. Manning and Mr. Snowden. Mr. Benkler described Ms. Manning and Mr. Snowden as ‘’patriots’’ and ‘’whistle-blowers’’ and who, even if one did not agree with their actions, ‘’are clearly trying to do something to keep the government accountable.’’
But, he said, if there turns out to be evidence that Mr. Assange knowingly coordinated with a Russian intelligence agency trying to undermine democracy, ‘’I don’t think you have the same kind of protections from prosecution.’’

Good guess, professor.

Mr. Benkler’s research into U.S. media still seems to have plenty of holes. There’s at least circumstantial evidence that by 2019 the professor and his Harvard colleagues still hadn’t figured out how much the government had abused its surveillance powers against Trump associates. That’s the year the Washington Post’s Erik Wemple wrote:

Just take the whole “deep state” conspiracy theory, which holds that President Trump fell victim to a plot by national security establishment figures who felt threatened by his outsider policies. In their book “Network Propaganda: Manipulation, Disinformation, and Radicalization in American Politics,” Yochai Benkler, Robert Faris and Hal Roberts examine how the phrase “deep state” morphed from a nonpartisan description of dark forces to a highly partisan attack on Trump detractors.

Had the Harvard crew never heard of the “resistance” movement inside the federal government? Reviewing the recent sentencing of Kevin Clinesmith would be a good place for the professors to begin their research on this topic.

Perhaps they’ve never heard of the case if they’ve chosen to stay inside a closed propaganda feedback loop of leftist media.