Monday, June 27, 2022


It would seem a bit un-American if Republicans tried to crush critical media voices the way Viktor Orban does it in Hungary:
Since Orbán and his Fidesz party came to power in Hungary in 2010, they have step by step brought the media landscape under their control....

The public broadcasters have been centralised in the state media holding MTVA, while the regional press has been wholly owned by Orban-friendly entrepreneurs since 2017 and important independent media had been switched off....

After the closing of the daily Népszabadsag and oligarchs’ assumption of control over news sites and, the government has targeted the RTL channel, the daily Népszava, and weeklies HPV, Magyar Hang, Magyar Narancs, and the site.

... Klubrádió, Hungary’s last independent public affairs radio station was forced to move online completely ... after losing its court appeal against the national media council’s refusal to extend its licence, prompting an outcry from domestic and international media watchdogs.
We're unlikely to have the majority of media companies actually owned by the government or by oligarchs openly committed to a pro-government line. Our major media outlets might suck up to the government some of the time -- maybe quite a bit of the time -- but they like to maintain an aura of independence. The press tends to sour on Democratic presidents very quickly, and on Republicans sooner (Donald Trump) or later (second-term George W. Bush). Americans expect that.

But what if the press can't be critical? In America, the biggest fear isn't jackbooted thugs shutting down your media operation -- it's being sued into bankruptcy. Which is, apparently, what Clarence and Ginni Thomas dream about in their idle moments....
Justice Clarence Thomas on Monday indicated that he believes the Supreme Court should reconsider a ruling that makes it more difficult to sue media organizations, saying he disagreed with the court's decision to turn away an appeal in a defamation case.

... The case in question, Coral Ridge v. SPLC, was designed to overturn the landmark New York Times v. Sullivan case, which established the precedent that a public figure must prove a defendant acted with "actual malice," or intentionality, in defaming a person.

... "I would grant certiorari in this case to revisit the 'actual malice' standard," Thomas wrote in his dissent.

"This case is one of many showing how (NYT v. Sullivan) and its progeny have allowed media organizations and interest groups 'to cast false aspersions on public figures with near impunity,'" he added.
Because Thomas is a Republican, when he says "false aspersions," he means assertions I don't like. The defendant in this suit is the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has had ample reason for criticizing Coral Ridge. The SPLC told us this in 2010:
The late Rev. D. James Kennedy started turning fundamentalist Coral Ridge Presbyterian into a mega-church in the 1960s...

Over the years, Kennedy emphasized anti-gay rhetoric, particularly in his TV ministry. He recommended as “essential” the virulent work of R.J. Rushdoony ... who believed practicing gays should be executed. In an especially nasty 1989 edition of a CRM newsletter, Kennedy ran photographs of children along with the tagline, “Sex With Children? Homosexuals Say Yes!”

... In 2009, it hired anti-gay activist Robert Knight as a senior writer and Washington, D.C., correspondent. Knight has used the work of discredited researcher Paul Cameron.... In one recent essay on the CRM website, he argued against allowing homosexuals to serve openly in the military, saying that “Bible-believing Christians would quickly find themselves unwelcome in Barney Frank’s new pansexual, cross-dressing military.”
Kennedy was notorious for his anti-LGBTQ+ activity.... He wrote many books, including What’s Wrong With Same-Sex Marriage? in 2004, in which he claimed “a tiny fraction of our population is on the verge of redefining the institution of marriage for all of us.” He endorsed a comic book titled Homosexuality: Legitimate, Alternate Deathstyle ...
[In 2021,] the ministry’s CEO Frank Wright said during a livestream: “The destruction of marriage isn’t really about sexuality, it’s a left-wing idea, it’s a Marxist, socialist idea... destruction of the family [is] step one for overturning the government [...] or any form of democracy.”

He then went on to compared marriage equality to tying the knot with a car.

Wright said: “I hate to break it to them, but many of our gay and lesbian friends, they’ve just been used by the left to destroy the historic definition of marriage and changed the criteria to only be that of love.

“If two people love each other, or some guy and his Volkswagen, he loves his Volkswagen, he ought to be able to marry his Volkswagen.”

The organisation has backed conversion therapy, and ... Wright said that people only “feel” oppressed on the basis of their “sex, sexual preference, gender identity and skin colour” because they aren’t “thankful” enough. Wright has also said that trans people are “undoing the very fabric of God’s creation”.
Oh, and given that we're talking about a right-wing megachuch, I'm sure you won't be surprised that this is at least partly about money:
Due to the “hate group” moniker, Amazon denied the church’s application to become a charitable organization on its AmazonSmile program, which allows customers to select a charity to which they can donate 0.5% of their purchase. AmazonSmile charities must not “engage in, support, encourage, or promote intolerance,” according to its website.
A U.S. District Court judge rejected the ministry's case in 2019, stating that the SPLC didn't knowingly publish a false statement about the church. (I'd say it didn't publish a false statement at all.) But if you remove the "malice" standard for libel in the case of a public figure or well-known institution, then the threat of a lawsuit -- even against an individual, organization, or news outlet that's telling the truth -- will have a chilling effect.

Which is what the Thomases want. No need to shut down media organizations that criticize them and their allies -- just make sure that the fear of bankruptcy keeps them in check. I'm sure Viktor Orban would approve.

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