Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) insists he has an obligation to make a demand of Fox News.
On Thursday, CNN’s John Berman noted that the New York senator, along with House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), sent a letter with demands to the executives at Fox News.
“Is it the role of government officials to demand that media organizations say things? Or tell media organizations what to put on their airwaves?” he asked.
Schumer responded, “Well, you know, it’s hardly the first time that people have said, ‘Channel 4 should have done this. The New York Times should have done that.’ That’s not unusual.”
“But what has happened here, John, is very unusual. This is not simply telling them what to do,” he continued. “This is telling them, showing them, that they have hurt our democracy probably in a way that no other actor maybe with the exception of Donald Trump — who used them — has done.”
Schumer added, “So when it’s that vital, I think we not only have a right to tell Rupert Murdoch and Fox what to do but an obligation. And I hope people from one end of the country to the other will call up Fox and say, do what Leader Hakeem Jeffries and I asked for.”
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— Tom Elliott (@tomselliott) March 2, 2023
In a letter to Fox News executives, Schumer and Jeffries wrote, “As noted in your deposition released yesterday, Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, and other Fox News personalities knowingly, repeatedly, and dangerously endorsed and promoted the Big Lie that Donald Trump won the 2020 presidential election.”
“Though you have acknowledged your regret in allowing this grave propaganda to take place, your network hosts continue to promote, spew, and perpetuate election conspiracy theories to this day,” it continued.
The letter added, “We demand that you direct Tucker Carlson and other hosts on your network to stop spreading false election narratives and admit on air that they were wrong to engage in such negligent behavior.”
The letter refers to some pretty stunning tidbits from deposition in Dominion Voting Systems’ $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox News.
On Monday, testimony was released from Rupert Murdoch, the chairman of Fox News’ parent company, in which he admitted that “some of our commentators were endorsing” conspiracy theories about the 2020 election.
“I would have liked us to be stronger in denouncing it, in hindsight,” he added.
The network told The New York Times in a statement, “Dominion has mischaracterized the record, cherry-picked quotes stripped of key context and spilled considerable ink on facts that are irrelevant under black-letter principles of defamation law.”
Schumer is correct. He has a right to send his letter, and it is not the first time someone has spoken out to criticize a news outlet’s coverage or suggest they should cover an issue a certain way.
But the language used in the two top Democrats’ letter is not a “suggestion.” It is a letter including a “demand.” They demand Fox executives intervene to prevent their top talent from saying certain things. And they demand the executives make the network’s hosts say something specifically — in this case, an admission they were wrong.
There is also not an obligation for lawmakers to try to pressure an outlet to alter its coverage. It is not the government’s role to tell the media what to say or do. Still, it is worth noting the two lawmakers’ letter essentially equates to two angry men sending a letter to a news outlet after reading a story or watching a segment they did not like.
While it is not as though Congress will take action against Fox, we should not have high-ranking federal government officials sending demands to outlets protected by the First Amendment and telling them to force their hosts to say something specific on air.
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