Democrats revealed their clear disregard for free speech in the second hearing of the Select Committee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government Thursday that featured prominent journalists who published the “Twitter Files.”
Substack reporters Matt Taibbi and Michael Shellenberger testified in the nearly three-hour hearing and explained how the federal government uses major social media platforms as conduits to regulate speech through censorship. Both voted for President Joe Biden and possess decades of experience covering American politics with liberal backgrounds far from anything that could be considered “ultra MAGA.”
“American taxpayers are unwittingly financing the growth and power of a censorship industrial complex run by America’s scientific and technological elite, which endangers our liberties and democracy,” Shellenberger said in his opening statement. “The censorship industrial complex combines established methods of psychological manipulation, some developed by the U.S. military during the global war on terror with highly sophisticated tools from computer science.”
“We learned Twitter, Facebook, Google, and other companies developed a formal system for taking in moderation requests from every corner of government, from the FBI, the DHS, the HHS, DoD, the Global Engagement Center at State, even the CIA,” said Taibbi. “A focus of this fast-growing network, as Mike noted, is making lists of people whose opinions, beliefs, associations or sympathies are deemed misinformation, disinformation, or malinformation. That last term is just a euphemism for ‘true but inconvenient.'”
Taibbi called such lists a form of “digital McCarthyism,” with users de-platformed from social media sites and payment processors.
The “Twitter Files” exposed how the government manipulates public opinion by way of censorship campaigns that place pressure on Big Tech to promote a monolithic narrative. Taibbi and Shellenberger testified how the government did so on both the Hunter Biden laptop and reporting on the novel Wuhan coronavirus that broke from the Faucian prescriptions of endless lockdowns.
Democrats responded to the pairs’ appearance with efforts to obstruct the proceedings at every opportunity while questioning the integrity of the liberal reporters instead of the integrity of government censorship campaigns. The Democrats on the Weaponization probe also weaponized the panel by intimidating the witnesses to reveal their sources. Earlier this week, House Republicans revealed in a 112-page report the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) engaged in the same conduct, demanding Twitter reveal who was given access to internal company records with more than two dozen letters.
Democrats Weaponize Probe To Compel Journalists Reveal Sources
Stacey Plaskett, the congressional delegate for the Virgin Islands who serves as the Democrats’ ranking member, interrupted Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) nearly every time the chairman spoke, leading the pair to clash repeatedly throughout the fiery hearing.
As the hearing got underway, Plaskett tweeted that each witness was a “direct threat to anyone who opposes them.” Plaskett was the first on the panel to demand the witnesses compromise their sources for the “Twitter Files.”
“Again, the attribution for my story is sourced at Twitter,” Taibbi said when asked about contact with Twitter CEO Elon Musk.
Shellenberger told Plaskett it was Bari Weiss who brought him into the project.
The exchange provoked a defense by Jordan, who jumped in again when the pair of reporters were attacked for information about their sources by Texas Democrat Rep. Sylvia Garcia, which led to another round of sparks between lawmakers.
After Rep. Stacey Plaskett claimed they are not trying to get @mtaibbi to reveal his sources, Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX) once again tries to get him to reveal his sources. pic.twitter.com/ECsl643EAr— Greg Price (@greg_price11) March 9, 2023
Garcia went on to inquire who were the primary authors of the Twitter Files, asking if Taibbi, Shellenberger, and Weiss were “in this as a threesome.” The 72-year-old lawmaker also explained that she is unaware of what “Substack” is in the same line of questioning.
Former DNC Chair Complains About Journalists Making Money
Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz charged Taibbi and Shellenberger with forgoing their credibility by virtue of their testimony at the request of Republican colleagues.
“Being a Republican witness today certainly cast a cloud over your objectivity,” Wasserman Schultz said.
The Florida lawmaker continued to complain about the pair of witnesses making money off their journalism as if their independent outfits ought to operate for free.
“After the ‘Twitter Files,’ your followers doubled, and now it’s three times what it was last August,” Wasserman Schultz said to Taibbi. “I imagine your Substack readership, which is a subscription, increased significantly because of the work you’ve done for Elon Musk … Is it true that you have profited since you were the recipient of the ‘Twitter Files.’ You’ve profited.”
Taibbi responded by explaining his growth in profile has led him to “hire a whole group of people to investigate.”
Virginia Democrat Misses The Point Of Weaponization Probe
Virginia Democrat Rep. Gerry Connolly completely missed the point when questioning the witnesses on episodes of partisan censorship.
“Have you combed the so-called ‘Twitter Files’ to look at other examples that aren’t about the Biden White House or FBI that might, in fact, involve people from the right, ideologically or from the Republican ranks?” Connolly asked.
Taibbi made clear the effort of de-weaponizing the federal government was not a partisan cause but instead a movement to reinforce the First Amendment in the digital age.
“We’re focused not on the Biden administration or the Trump administration,” Taibbi said. “Really, we were looking at the intelligence agencies when we were doing this research.”
“In some ways, what you just said undermines the premise of this Select Committee,” Connolly said, “which is that the federal government has been organized to weaponize against conservative voices. And, of course, what you just indicated is that’s not the evidence you found.”
Taibbi corrected him.
“No, my understanding is [this committee] is concerned about the weaponization of the government against free speech, which is certainly what we’re finding,” Taibbi said.
New York Democrat Defends FBI Over Laptop Censorship
New York Democrat Rep. Daniel Goldman defended the FBI and claimed the agency did nothing to censor the Hunter Biden laptop story in 2020, the focus the “Twitter Files: Part 7” written by Shellenberger.
“Are you aware that the FBI had nothing to do with Twitter’s decision to pause the New York Post story?”
“I am not aware of that,” Shellenberger said.
Goldman then read the Feb. 8 testimony from Yoel Roth, Twitter’s former head of safety, who denied the company’s censorship was motivated by recommendations from the government intelligence community. In his second round of questioning, Goldman argued the government giving companies “direction” was far from compelled censorship.
“Mr. Shellenberger, in all of the emails that you reviewed, did the FBI ever direct Twitter to take down any accounts or remove any posts?” Goldman asked.”
“Yes,” Shellenberger said.
The pair sparred over the term “direct,” with Goldman denying the word could be taken as synonymous with a mandated instruction.
“I mean, I think if a police officer says you broke the law,” Shellenberger began before Goldman cut him off.
Shellenberger’s Twitter Files revealed federal law enforcement directed the company to suppress stories that implicated President Biden in Hunter Biden’s foreign business ventures.
Witnesses Stand Their Ground For Free Speech
Despite the onslaught of partisan accusations Thursday, Taibbi and Shellenberger testified as champions of free speech who warned about the dangers of government censorship.
“The government no longer needs a predicate of calling you a terrorist or extremist to deploy government resources to counter your political activity,” Shellenberger said. “The only predicate it needs is simply the assertion that the opinion you expressed on social media is wrong.”
Taibbi shared his experience living in Russia when President Vladimir Putin came to power.
“I was friends with a group of very brave muckraking reporters in Russia, many of whom didn’t make it; a few of them were murdered,” Taibbi said. “So I’ve always been conscious of how the risks that other reporters take in other countries are incredibly severe, and that’s one of the reasons why I’m motivated to protect the First Amendment because our country has the best protections for reporters in the world.”