On Thursday, Hillary Clinton came to the Capitol and paid tribute to outgoing Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid.
There, standing in a place where the Constitution is supposed to be honored and protected, Clinton took a jackknife to some of the document’s sacred principles.
“Does Hillary not get that millions of people don’t trust her? Why would they trust her, then, to properly regulate ‘fake news’?”
Clinton said the Congress and businesses must address the scourge of “fake news” and propaganda. Such speech, she said, was endangering America.
“This is not about politics or partisanship. Lives are at risk, lives of ordinary people just trying to go about their days to do their jobs, contribute to their communities,” Clinton said. “It is a danger that must be addressed and addressed quickly. It is imperative that leaders in both the private and public sector step up to protect our democracy and innocent lives.”
Clinton’s appeal to fear was key. Courts are more willing to listen to cases based on constitutional rights if a case can be made that public safety is in jeopardy.
In this case, Clinton was likely referencing a disturbed man’s recent attack on a Washington, D.C., restaurant. The man said he was “self-investigating” a conspiracy theory about the restaurant. The man discharged his weapon but no injuries occurred.
The incident gave the Democrats the opportunity they have been hoping for: a chance to use a tragic or unfortunate incident to attack their enemies. In this case, the enemy is not the NRA.
Now the political scapegoat for the actions of a madman is “fake news.” The Democrats have already applied the term to encompass a vast array of stories rooted in reality — albeit damaging for them.
The proposal raises a question: Who gets to decide what is true and what can be posted?
And some who are experts on the First Amendment note that fake news started a long time ago, when outlets such as Rolling Stone reported on a rape that didn’t happen on the campus of the University of Virginia.
Or when people got their news from “The Daily Show” or “The Colbert Report.” Liberals and Democrats loved those shows during the last decade, because they tended to skewer Republicans and President George W. Bush.
In 2004, CBS News spread a false story in 2004 that President Bush had gone AWOL while he was in the Air National Guard in the 1970s. People make mistakes or they lie. Usually, no one proposes laws to stop them. And, of course, Americans are not likely to agree on a committee to stop fake stories.
“All of this, of course, is the problem with trying to legislate on ‘fake news,'” said Brad Smith, a professor at Capital University Law School and a former Federal Election Commission member. “Does Hillary not get that millions of people don’t trust her? Why would they trust her, then, to properly regulate ‘fake news,’ as opposed to news she just doesn’t like, or disagrees with, or interprets differently?”
Many of the stories that angered Democrats spread on Facebook. The stories could have swung a few elections in states that went to Trump, and given him the election.
But Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s COO and a Clinton supporter, told NBC News that isn’t the case.
“There’ve been claims that [fake news] swayed the election, and we don’t think it swayed the election,” Sandberg said Thursday. “But, we take that responsibility really seriously.”
Sandberg said people don’t want to see hoaxes on Facebook, and that Facebook will crack down on such stories.
But the pressure on a media company by a politician should be the concern.
Smith said if politicians want to sue for libel, they can. If it is too hard, they should change the libel laws. But the Democrats will have a problem doing that: They could look like hypocrites.
“One way you might limit ‘fake news’ would be to make it easier to for public figures to sue for libel,” Smith said. “I’m not saying we should do that, but that would probably reduce some of the ‘fake news’ about public figures, and hence public affairs … Of course, Trump has suggested something like that, and Hillary and others now calling for the regulation of ‘fake news’ called him a threat to free speech and democracy.”