The same White House that was slapped down last week by a federal appeals court for meddling in the content moderation policies of social media networks sent a letter Wednesday to the heads of most major American press outlets demanding that they subject Republican charges of corruption within the Biden family with the “appropriate scrutiny” during their coverage of the upcoming impeachment hearings in Congress.
In a memo directed at the editorial leadership of America’s news organizations, a spokesman for the White House counsel’s office, Ian Sams, says “It’s time for the media to do more to scrutinize House Republicans’ demonstrably false claims that they’re basing impeachment stunt on.” Describing impeachment as “grave, rare, and historic,” he urges the outlets to avoid reporting on the process of impeachment and instead focus on the substance of the allegations against President Biden.
“Covering impeachment as a process story — Republicans say X, but the White House says Y — is a disservice to the American public who relies on the independent press to hold those in power accountable,” Mr. Sams says. “In the modern media environment, where every day liars and hucksters peddle disinformation and lies everywhere from Facebook to Fox, process stories that fail to unpack the illegitimacy of the claims on which House Republicans are basing all their actions only serve to generate confusion, put false premises in people’s feeds, and obscure the truth.”
Mr. Sams’ memo is accompanied by a 14-page dossier aimed at debunking the claims against the president leveled by Republicans in Congress. “At every turn, their allegations about wrongdoing by Joe Biden have been debunked and refuted by their own witnesses’ testimony, the financial records they have obtained, independent public reporting, and more,” Mr. Sams says. “It’s clear that this ‘investigation’ is all politics and no evidence.”
The White House efforts to direct coverage of the upcoming impeachment comes just days after an appeals court at New Orleans chastised the Biden administration for attempting to suppress anti-vaccine and other content critical of the government’s response to the coronavirus during the Covid pandemic as well as news articles about election interference and Hunter Biden’s laptop.
In the 74-page unsigned opinion, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals at New Orleans upheld a lower court ruling that said officials from the White House, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the FBI, and the Surgeon General’s office, among others, coerced and threatened employees at social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter, now known as X, in an effort to tamp down content that ran afoul of government policy at the time.
“Officials, via both private and public channels, asked the platforms to remove content, pressed them to change their moderation policies, and threatened them — directly and indirectly — with legal consequences if they did not comply,” the opinion states. “And, it worked — that ‘unrelenting pressure’ forced the platforms to act and take down users’ content.”
Evidence in the case, Missouri v. Biden, suggests that “the government has engaged in a years-long pressure campaign designed to ensure that the censorship aligned with the government’s preferred viewpoints,” the opinion says. That campaign, it says, was a clear violation of the plaintiffs’ — the states of Missouri and Louisiana and a handful of scientists skeptical of America’s Covid policies who were silenced by the platforms — First Amendment rights, the court ruled.
“It is true that the officials have an interest in engaging with social media companies, including on issues such as misinformation and election interference,” the court held. “But the government is not permitted to advance these interests to the extent that it engages in viewpoint suppression.”
The Department of Justice has not yet said whether it intends to appeal the court’s ruling — which upheld portions of a lower court ruling that enjoins administration officials from contacting social media companies for “the purpose of urging, encouraging, pressuring, or inducing in any manner the removal, deletion, suppression, or reduction of content containing protected free speech” — to the Supreme Court.