In the latest socially distanced episode of our Useful Idiots podcast, hosts Matt Taibbi and Katie Halper are joined by friend-of-the-podcast Shahid Buttar, a constitutional lawyer and 2020 challenger of Nancy Pelosi.
“This is the Republicans we grew up to love, the Dixie Chicks-hating Republicans. And this is frankly one of the reasons why they’re not getting as much sympathy as you might guess on the free speech front, because they’ll turn around and do stuff like this that undermines their entire argument against speech prohibitions,” says Matt.
“We cherish the values of these United States of America, which include not letting people kneel, not letting people protest,” jokes Katie.
Matt breaks down his recent piece regarding a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on “traditional media’s role in promoting disinformation and extremism,” and a string of letters from two Democratic Congresspeople inquiring to cable providers if they would continue carrying Fox News.
“It’s always a little bit weird when members in the government are suggesting moving anybody, any kind of media outlet, or clamping down on them in any way,” says Matt. “I don’t think you can argue that there’s been misinformation on Fox. But A. they don’t have a monopoly on it, B. there’s often confusion between misinformation, or stuff that’s just obnoxious.”
“Or offensive, or racist,” adds Katie. “Which is not dismissing those things as unimportant. But you deal with those things differently.”
“This is just another station on this highway that we’re on that is abandoning the traditional way that we think about this stuff, which is ‘yeah like, they suck, and we sue them when they go over the line, but basically we combat this by making better arguments.’ Increasingly the new approach is ‘let’s find a way to clamp down on them,’ ” says Matt.
Shahid Buttar joins our hosts to discuss the increasing role of government and tech in limiting speech. In Buttar’s previous appearance on Useful Idiots, he responded to controversy surrounding his Congressional campaign.
“Many of the solutions being discussed on Capitol Hill take the form of trying to restrict and diminish, when, in fact, the answer to which America has long been committed across both parties, as a constitutional, not just political matter, has been fight wrong speech or inaccurate speech with more speech,” says Buttar, who points to the lack of alternatives for modern online platforms as a major hindrance to this concept. “The danger that accumulated corporate power presents to our country is greater than it has in the past… Now we’re talking about companies controlling the organs of information, and this is a little bit of a stretch, but effectively brainwashing people. When you have Americans who are spoon-fed some version of a truth, we can’t really on the veracity of whatever that truth is as long as there aren’t alternative narratives to combat it. And that’s the genius of our constitutional design, and it’s exactly what I think too many members of Congress fail to appreciate and understand.”
Buttar points to the former president as the cause of the current climate surrounding speech.
“The explanation has a single word: Trump. I think Democrats were faced with the nightmare scenario. You might think of our former President as a perfectly weaponized exploiter of the constitutional permissions that the founders built in. And I think Democrats are responding to the abuses of that system in a very linear fashion, without recognizing the way in which the linear response creates a problem worse than the one they’re responding to,” Buttar explains. “Trump and right-wing media spreading misinformation is a problem. Having a single organ of truth deciding what is true and what is not, that everybody else would have to follow, that’s a problem far worse, frankly. That’s stepping from Trump’s world into Orwell’s world. Or frankly possibly worse, Kafka’s world.”