MSNBC's Stengel Claims First Amendment ‘Doesn’t Protect False Speech About a Virus’

Listen to the Article!

For all of CNN’s conspiracy theories, juvenile news coverage, and lack of accountability on the left, MSNBC has had many of the same issues. On Thursday’s Deadline: White House, host Nicolle Wallace and former Time editor/former Obama official Richard Stengel flaunted their opposition to the First Amendment, equating President Trump’s pandemic rhetoric to Chinese disinformation campaigns.

But something even more sinister came from Stengel, who falsely claimed that “the First Amendment doesn’t protect false speech about a virus or a false speech that endangers the health” of social media users in the context of clamping down on Trump.

 

 

Wallace started the segment on an important note about disinformation coming from social media bots promoting narratives about mannequins filling hospitals instead of people and a Chinese-backed claim that the coronavirus came from the U.S. government.

Instead of bringing on Stengel to focus on those points that would have bipartisan support, the pair reminded us of their Trump Derangement Syndrome by making it about Trump (click “expand”):

STENGEL: I mean, that terrific Carnegie Mellon study shows that people are receptive to this stuff because they don't know about it, and that's one of the things that's so pernicious about Donald Trump, whom I call the disinformationist in chief in the book, is that he is echoing these things, so he's not only echoing conspiracy theories but then the conspiracy theorists and the bots echo the disinformation and misinformation that he's giving out there. It's kind of a terrible combination of things and it makes people even more insecure.

WALLACE: You know, I want to ask you why the social media companies don't have more power and authority at a time when it's a health crisis. I understand in the context of an American political election you've got free speech to navigate, but what is the right to spread lies a deadly pandemic? Where’s that?

That’s quite rich for one of the most deranged shows on cable consisting of former Obama officials and aggrieved Never Trumpers spouting off conspiracy theories.

Whether it’s Wallace spreading conspiracies, a panel fantasizing about Trump being physically harmed, or predicting that Trump will carry out a second Holocaust to name a few examples, Deadline: White House should sit this one out.

Nevertheless, Stengel replied to Wallace’s concern with his claim about the First Amendment, which was first flagged by our friend Tom Elliott at Grabien:

Political speech is complicated. The First Amendment protects it. The First Amendment doesn't protect false speech about a virus or a false speech that endangers the health of your users. By the way, Facebook and Twitter have been taking things down, but they need to be even more vigilant about it and Google needs to be even more vigilant about what they prioritize in their search results. I mean, they need to prioritize factual information in their search results rather than emotional and inflammatory conspiracy theories that get people's eyes.

Just like Wallace’s griping, Stengel has no room to talk and, despite his long background in government and journalism, he has shown no concern or support for the First Amendment.

In October, Stengel proposed that the First Amendment be dramatically curtailed. Why? Because, the intellectual underpinning of the First Amendment was engineered for a simpler era” and, when it comes to social media, the “landscape is neither level nor fair.”

Back in the present, Stengel ironically bemoaned the supposed effectiveness of Chinese and Russian disinformation campaigns which, despite their claims to the contrary, were made worse by the liberal media’s similar penchant for spreading division.

As for Wallace, she falsely claimed that hydroxychloroquine shouldn’t be taken because it’ll kill you (click “expand”):

STENGEL: I mean, part of the problem as some people have noted is that while the Russians and the Chinese and others are good at creating emotional speech that people will follow, the CDC is not good at that. The World Health Organization is not good about this. They're still putting out press releases for doctors and reporters. They need to get better at it and as you say, the social media companies need to become much more vigilant about taking the bad stuff down and prioritizing the correct and informative stuff.

WALLACE: Well, and you could already see just listening to you talk, what would you do with Donald Trump's recommendation that we look at having people inject bleach into their veins? What would you do with him recommending something our own government's FDA calls deadly, taking hydroxychloroquine outside of a hospital. I mean, you've got, as you said, our President falling in the category of the kinds of things we would want them to take down. That seems to be setting up a showdown now.

To see the relevant MSNBC transcript from May 21, click “expand.”

MSNBC’s Deadline: White House
May 21, 2020
3:43 p.m. Eastern

NICOLLE WALLACE: There’s a new war against coronavirus: the fight against disinformation about the deadly disease. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found nearly half of the accounts tweeting about the virus are likely bots and identified more than 100 false narratives. Among them, hospitals being filled with mannequins and tweets that connected 5G wireless towers to the spread of the disease. Both are false narratives, researchers say, are aimed at dividing Americans. Meanwhile, China has recently launched new Twitter accounts to strengthen its offensive to control the narrative and spread the false conspiracy theory that the virus started in a U.S. government lab. Joining our conversation, MSNBC political analyst and former Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Rick Stengel. He's also former managing editor for Time magazine and the author of Information Wars: How We Lost the Global Battle Against Disinformation and What We Can Do About It. Rick, it's in the capacity of that last role, the author of Information Wars, that I want to ask you about disinformation about coronavirus. I know we shouldn't be surprised at this point, but it's deeply disturbing.

RICHARD STENGEL: Yes. I mean, the --- the funny thing is, Nicolle -- it's actually not funny at all -- is that a pandemic is the perfect petri dish for disinformation where people feel secure, where they feel powerless, where they don't have the knowledge that they need, that's an absolutely ripe situation for disinformation and conspiracy theories. I mean, that terrific Carnegie Mellon study shows that people are receptive to this stuff because they don't know about it, and that's one of the things that's so pernicious about Donald Trump, whom I call the disinformationist in chief in the book, is that he is echoing these things, so he's not only echoing conspiracy theories but then the conspiracy theorists and the bots echo the disinformation and misinformation that he's giving out there. It's kind of a terrible combination of things and it makes people even more insecure.

WALLACE: You know, I want to ask you why the social media companies don't have more power and authority at a time when it's a health crisis. I understand in the context of an American political election you've got free speech to navigate, but what is the right to spread lies a deadly pandemic? Where’s that?

STENGEL: I think it's a much easier call, as you suggest. Political speech is complicated. The First Amendment protects it. The First Amendment doesn't protect false speech about a virus or a false speech that endangers the health of your users. By the way, Facebook and Twitter have been taking things down, but they need to be even more vigilant about it and Google needs to be even more vigilant about what they prioritize in their search results. I mean, they need to prioritize factual information in their search results rather than emotional and inflammatory conspiracy theories that get people's eyes. I mean, part of the problem as some people have noted is that while the Russians and the Chinese and others are good at creating emotional speech that people will follow, the CDC is not good at that. The World Health Organization is not good about this. They're still putting out press releases for doctors and reporters. They need to get better at it and as you say, the social media companies need to become much more vigilant about taking the bad stuff down and prioritizing the correct and informative stuff.

WALLACE: Well, and you could already see just listening to you talk, what would you do with Donald Trump's recommendation that we look at having people inject bleach into their veins? What would you do with him recommending something our own government's FDA calls deadly, taking hydroxychloroquine outside of a hospital. I mean, you've got, as you said, our President falling in the category of the kinds of things we would want them to take down. That seems to be setting up a showdown now.

STENGEL: So, we've been talking about this for a long time, obviously since he's been in office, and I --- I’m not an editor anymore but I think all the time about what I would do if I was an editor and certainly when the President of the United States makes a statement, even a false one, that is news. But what's not news is to repeat it over and over. It might be like, okay, I'm going to put on MSNBC, yes, the President said to use this drug that is not verified and that might be dangerous, but then I'm not going to repeat it over and over. I'm not going to put it on again in every news cycle. I’m not going to put it out there in a way that people hear it. I've cited before the work Emily Thorson, who’s a professor who has this theory of belief echoes that even when we repeat false information, it embeds it in the person's ear so that even by saying Trump said this and it's false, they're learning about something that they didn't know already. I think as journalists we have to be super, super careful about that, about not repeating the disinformation.

WALLACE: Well, it's such a good point and it's your own version of a tease. I feel like this is a conversation you and I could have had for the whole hour. Let's try to do that one of these days, Rick Stengel.

STENGEL: Absolutely.

WALLACE: Thanks for spending time with us today.

NB Daily Censorship Coronavirus Facebook Twitter Google MSNBC Deadline: White House Video Richard Stengel Nicolle Wallace Donald Trump
Curtis Houck's picture