“At the governor’s urging, Florida’s Republican-dominated Legislature is pushing to weaken state laws that have long protected journalists against defamation suits and frivolous lawsuits. The proposal is part DeSantis’ ongoing feud with media outlets like The New York Times, Miami Herald, CNN and The Washington Post — media companies he claims are biased against Republicans — as he prepares for a likely 2024 presidential bid.
Beyond making it easier to sue journalists, the proposal is also being positioned to spark a larger legal battle with the goal of eventually overturning New York Times v. Sullivan, the landmark 1964 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that limits public officials’ ability to sue publishers for defamation, according to state Rep. Alex Andrade, the Florida Republican sponsoring the bill.”
“the proposed bill goes further than simply decrying media bias. Free-press advocates call the measure unconstitutional and suggest it could have far-reaching consequences beyond major media outlets.
“I have never seen anything remotely like this legislation,” said Seth Stern, director of advocacy for the Freedom of the Press Foundation. “I can’t say I have seen every bill ever introduced, but I’d be quite surprised if any state Legislature had seriously considered such a brazen and blatantly unconstitutional attack on speech and press freedoms.”
He added: “This bill is particularly remarkable since its provisions have the vocal support of a governor and likely presidential candidate.”
DeSantis’ office said he “will make a decision on the merits of the bill in final form if and when it passes and is delivered to the governor’s office.””
“Andrade’s proposal incorporates many of the elements DeSantis called for during the roundtable, including:
— allowing plaintiffs who sue media outlets for defamation to collect attorneys fees;
— adding a provision to state law specifying that comments made by anonymous sources are presumed false for the purposes of defamation lawsuits;
— lowering the legal threshold for a “public figure” to successfully sue for defamation;
— repealing the “journalist’s privilege” section of state law, which protects journalists from being compelled to do things like reveal the identity of sources in court, for defamation lawsuits.
Stern said 49 states and several appellate circuits recognize a reporter’s privilege against court-compelled disclosure of source material and stressed that it’s essential for people to be able to speak to reporters without risking their jobs or freedoms.
“Journalists do not work for the government and it’s none of the government’s business how journalists gather news,” he added.
Andrade, however, said the privilege language in his bill would not allow a judge to force a journalist to reveal an anonymous source, but removes existing protections if they decide not to.”
““The law protects journalists from being ‘compelled’ by judges to disclose anonymous sources, but if a journalist has been sued for defamation, and wants to avoid liability, this section makes clear that they cannot claim a special privilege to avoid disclosing the source of the defamatory information and also avoid liability,” Andrade said.
Critics of the bill took issue with the section about attorneys fees, saying it could add a financial incentive to file defamation lawsuits and erode the laws preventing retaliatory lawsuits filed to silence criticism. Florida, like other states, has anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuits against public participation) laws designed to help stop frivolous lawsuits.
“One of my largest concerns with the bill is the rolling back of the anti-SLAPP protection for defamation defendants,” said Adam Schulman, a senior attorney with the Hamilton Lincoln Law Institute, which advocates for free markets, free speech and limited governments. ”That’s just moving in the wrong direction.”
He said beyond large media companies, some of which have legal teams, the changes could affect the “ordinary guy” who leaves an “unfavorable Yelp review.”
“At one time, it was not considered ‘conservative’ to advocate for turning on the spigot to all sorts of troll-like civil litigation that will line the pockets of bottom-feeding plaintiffs’ lawyers,” Schulman said.
Stern said the new bill would leave those protections “toothless.” Under most anti-SLAPP laws, individuals can recover attorneys’ fees if they can show they were sued in retaliation for criticizing the government.”
“The editors and publishers of The New York Times and several major European media outlets have released an open letter condemning America’s prosecution of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
Assange faces 19 federal charges of espionage and hacking for his alleged role in helping Chelsea Manning get access to classified military reports from the Iraq and Afghan wars. Those charges were filed in 2019, but a superseding indictment from the Justice Department filed in June 2020 added more details and accusations (but not new charges), claiming Assange recruited hackers and directed them to targets. The Department of Justice’s position is that Assange is a hacker, not a journalist.”
“Leaders at The New York Times and The Washington Post have long opposed Assange’s indictment for the potential chilling effect. If Assange can be imprisoned for publishing classified documents, then couldn’t the editors of the Times or the Post or any other media outlet who also published these documents face the same fate?
In order to get around these First Amendment concerns, the justification for Assange’s prosecution is that he doesn’t qualify as a journalist. He is not a “legitimate” journalist. The problem with that argument is that it gives the government the authority to define who does and does not qualify as a journalist, which itself would seem like a violation of the First Amendment’s protections. There is no “legitimacy” distinction in the First Amendment. Journalism is an activity, not just a career. Many, many people have engaged in various forms of journalistic activities without being credentialed reporters for media outlets.”
“For a long while, Russia has “flooded the zone” and bombarded the population with so many contradictory accounts of reality that they weren’t sure what to believe, or they were too cynical to believe anything. But now it’s full Orwellian control of reality, and that’s a much heavier lift because it’s not about undermining consensus, which is easy; it’s about enforcing one.”
“I have to be honest, there were a handful of people here who have been warning about this for a long time, who were telling people like me that this was going to be a fascist dictatorship one day, and we’ve been dismissing these people. We were like, “Come on, Putin is a cynic, he’s evil in so many ways, but at least he’s a rational guy. All he wants to do is get himself insanely rich. He’s not going to do anything really drastic.”
But we were all fucking wrong. The alarmists were right all along, and almost every one of them is either dead or in jail or exiled.”
“we’re in uncharted waters. All these major foreign media outlets, like the New York Times and the BBC, are fleeing Moscow. That’s never happened. The New York Times has had a bureau in Moscow throughout the entire 20th century, including three revolutions and two world wars and the entire Cold War. But now Moscow isn’t safe for the New York Times. I really don’t have the words to describe how unpredictable this situation is.”
“On Wednesday, CNN Executive Vice President and General Counsel David Vigilante made a revelation sure to startle those unaware of the state’s vast power to not just seize information from journalists but bully their employers into silence about it under penalty of jail time.
“Since July 17, 2020,” Vigilante wrote, “I have been bound by a gag order or a sealing order that prohibited me from discussing, or even acknowledging, that the government was seeking to compel the disclosure of the professional email communications of CNN reporter Barbara Starr.”
The Justice Department under Attorney General William Barr had been requesting email header data and phone logs of Starr, a Pentagon reporter, dating from June 1 to July 31 of 2017, for reasons that are still unknown to any third parties aside from some federal judges operating a secret court. (Starr herself was not the target of the investigation, the feds confirmed to reporters.)
The Trump administration launched a crackdown in 2017 against national security-related leaks, an effort that led to the secret seizure of three Washington Post reporters’ phone records, which was revealed only last month. In doing so, former President Donald Trump’s DOJ prosecutors followed the rules and legal justifications established by their predecessors in the Obama administration, which prosecuted more leakers than every prior presidency combined, even charging Fox News White House chief James Rosen as “at the very least, either…an aider, abettor, and/or co-conspirator.””
“one of the only judges to lay eyes on the DOJ’s reasoning for harassing CNN concluded that it was based on “speculative predictions, assumptions, and scenarios unanchored in any facts.”
Commented CNN’s Vigilante: “This was the first characterization of the evidence we had seen, and it was stunning: After months of secret proceedings and heavy-handed enforcement tactics, a neutral judge said that, in large part, the emperor had no clothes.””
“As Nick Gillespie and I wrote six years ago, “From press accounts of similar actions at other news publications and social media sites, we know that it is increasingly common for the federal government to demand user information from publications and websites while also stifling their speech rights with gag orders and letters requesting ‘voluntary’ confidentiality.””
“while the increasing but still comparatively rare open clashes between the DOJ and news organizations tend to make headlines, the real data collection is happening every day, quietly, in the form of requests and subpoenas to social media companies and other third-party vendors.”
“After winning Hungary’s 2010 election, the prime minister systematically dismantled the country’s democracy — undermining the basic fairness of elections, packing the courts with cronies, and taking control of more than 90 percent of the country’s media outlets. He has openly described his form of government as “illiberal democracy,” half of which is accurate.
Since the coronavirus, Orbán’s authoritarian tendencies have only grown more pronounced. His allies in parliament passed a new law giving him the power to rule by decree and creating a new crime, “spreading a falsehood,” punishable by up to five years in prison. The Hungarian government recently seized public funding that opposing political parties depend on; through an ally, they took financial control of one of the few remaining anti-Orbán media outlets. In May, the pro-democracy group Freedom House officially announced that it no longer considered Hungary a democracy.”
“Religious conservatives find Orbán’s social policies to be a breath of fresh air. Orbán has given significant state support to Hungary’s churches, officially labeling his government a “Christian democracy.” He provided generous subsidies to families in an effort to get Hungarian women to stay at home and have more babies. He launched a legal assault on progressive social ideals, prohibiting the teaching of gender studies in Hungarian universities and banning transgender people from legally identifying as anything other than their biological sex at birth.
Conservative nationalists focus on the Hungarian approach to immigration and the European Union. During the 2015 migrant crisis, Orbán was the most prominent opponent of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open borders approach; he built a wall on Hungary’s southern border with Serbia to keep refugees from entering. He has repeatedly denounced the influence the EU has on its member states, describing one of his governing aims as preserving Hungary’s national character in the face of a globalist onslaught led by Brussels and philanthropist George Soros.
For Western conservatives of a religious and/or nationalist bent, Orbán is the leader they wish Donald Trump could be — smart, politically savvy, and genuinely devoted to their ideals. Hungary is, for them, the equivalent of what Nordic countries are for the American left: proof of concept that their ideas could make the United States a better place.
Yet while the Nordic countries are among the world’s freest democracies, Hungary has fallen into a form of autocracy.”
“Orbán and much of his inner circle are lawyers by training; they have used this expertise to set up a political system that looks very much like a democracy, with elections and a theoretically free press, but isn’t one. This gives intellectually sympathetic Westerners some room for self-delusion. They can examine Hungary, a country whose cultural politics they admire, and see a place that looks on the surface like a functioning democracy.”
“If these thinkers continue to insist that Hungary is just another democracy — despite copious evidence to the contrary — how can we expect them to call out the same, more embryonic process of authoritarianism happening at home? If American conservatives won’t turn on a foreign country’s leadership after it crosses the line, what reason would we have to believe that they’d be capable of doing the same thing when the stakes for them are higher and the enemies more deeply hated?”