Analysis by WorldTribune Staff, March 17, 2021
Is there is a special place in hell for those who use their own First Amendment rights to advocate for stripping the First Amendment rights of others?
If so, there may be an even deeper place for those who think the founders didn’t grant government enough power to stifle free speech.
Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman (Ret.), who became a hero for the Left for his testimony at the first impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, is now advocating for filing lawsuits against conservative media outlets to make them less “radicalized.”
“Recent events have made the need for accountability more pressing than ever. Should anyone be surprised that viewers of right-wing media are radicalized when media personalities themselves promote radical ideas based on lies?” Vindman wrote in a March 15 op-ed for the Lawfare blog.
In his testimony against Trump, Vindman floated the theory that Trump had withheld aid from Ukraine in exchange for investigating his 2020 rival, Democrat Joe Biden.
Evidence provided by other witnesses contradicted Vindman’s claim.
Vindman expressed regret that he had not sued Trump over tweets about him, and noted that the First Amendment “gravely” limits what government can do to stop “lies” by the media. Vindman argues in the op-ed that “right-wing media” — and “right-wing media” only — should be held accountable via lawsuits.
While the rioters are being held accountable through the criminal justice system—and Congress at least had a chance to hold the former president accountable through the impeachment process—how can Americans hold the right-wing media responsible for its role in the attack? The mob that attacked the Capitol was born of hatred fomented by the right-wing media. These insurrectionists were raised for years on a steady diet of disinformation and half-truths, which produced the fertile fields for radicalization.
The First Amendment gravely limits the available tools to seek accountability for the right-wing media. Policymakers cannot, after all, tell media organizations what to say. Except in the most extreme situations, which are unlikely ever to arise, prosecutors also cannot accuse them of incitement.
Civil consequences, rather than governmental restrictions on First Amendment rights, could be a meaningful way to take what are fundamentally money-making ventures and demand truth from them, instill rigor in their reporting, and uphold accountability. Like a tabloid being sued and paying severe penalties, media companies and right-wing media personalities will claim that what’s at stake is freedom of speech. But defamation is not covered by the First Amendment, so this is, by definition, not true. And the generous standards in defamation law for purposes of protecting the press offer a true safe haven for good-faith actors even when they err. Putting companies in fear of the real costs in civil damages for slander, libel, and false claims that can cumulatively incite violence and that can individually harm actual human beings should have a restraining effect on their behavior.
Breitbart News Senior Editor-at-Large Joel B. Pollak noted that “Vindman’s strategy replicates that used by left-wing pressure group Media Matters, whose ‘Project 2012’ strategy document called for lawsuits to be brought against “Fox News and its feeders,” providing “counsel or litigation costs” to potential plaintiffs.