CMR Changing the Subject

This is an odd title for a news article: “McMorris Rodgers: Effort to block disinformation really tries to silence conservatives.” Written by Jim Camden, it appeared electronically in the Spokesman as “updated” on February 26, 2021. (I was unable to locate the article in the print version.)

McMorris Rodgers is the “ranking member” (gov-speak for “the most senior member from the minority party serving on a committee”) of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. The full House Committee on Energy and Commerce has 31 Democratic and 24 Republican members. Energy and Commerce has six Subcommittees, among them the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology. On February 24th the Communications and Technology Subcommittee held a hearing entitled “Hearing on ‘Fanning the Flames: Disinformation and Extremism in the Media.” The hearing was held and recorded on Webex (an electronic meeting platform similar to Zoom). You can watch the whole meeting on youtube.  As the ranking member of the parent Energy and Commerce Committee, CMR is also an “ex-officio” member of all of the subcommittees, that is, she is entitled to attend and speak at subcommittee meetings of her choosing. It is in this capacity as an “ex-officio” member of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee that she attended the “Fanning the Flames…” hearing. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), the chairman of Energy and Commerce also attended the hearing in his ex-officio capacity, suggesting that both felt this was an important meeting at which to be seen and heard.

The topic of the Subcommittee hearing was “Disinformation and Extremism in the Media,” essentially an inquiry into the origin of the demonstrably false stolen election narrative amplified by some media outlets, a narrative partly responsible for the Capitol insurrection on January 6th. The opening statement by Chairman Pallone (D-NJ) is clear: “Let me start by saying we’re all staunch defenders of the First Amendment and its mandate that ‘Congress make no law abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.'” but, “Months of disinformation about the Presidential election results helped fan the flames for the attack on the Capitol on January 6 – an abhorrent, attempt to overturn a free and fair election.”

So does McMorris Rodgers want to engage in a discussion of media disinformation (a polite word for lies) about the integrity of our elections? No. No. No. She would find it inconvenient to consider the role of some media outlets in spreading lies about the election or the pandemic. She can’t discuss that. Instead, she leaps to change the subject, saying she is “deeply troubled” by the hearing’s “obvious attack on the 1st Amendment.” (27:30-33:00 in the Webex) She assails two Democratic committee members for a letter that requested information from certain media carriers about the carriers’ criteria for carrying media that pushed a demonstrably false narrative. You can read the letters here. The First Amendment is a prohibition against Congress making a law “…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” No one is making a law with these letters, these letters are requests for information. 

McMorris Rodgers is making a point to work straight out of the Republican election narrative. Don’t discuss the integrity of the elections based on the facts. Don’t allow even a hint that the January 6th insurrection was inspired by Trump’s ongoing Big Lie about election fraud, his claimed win, and the media outlets that continue to blare his falsehoods. No. No. No. Instead, change the subject to an imagined First Amendment freedom to spread whatever lie one wishes regardless of the consequences (but, shhhh, don’t ever admit it was a lie). Then go on a la Roger Stone and “attack, attack, attack” the very premise of having a discussion of the original topic. [1]

The most telling comment in McMorris Rodgers’ polemic opening speech at the subcommittee hearing (starting at 32:00) comes directly from her background as a devoted Evangelical schooled in Fundamentalist institutions: “We does it end? We’ve already seen the liberal ideology pushed in our schools, where we work, the books we read, who we communicate with, how we practice our faith. It’s frightening. And you know what the worst part is? People afraid of a woke and authoritarian system that is getting them fired, cancelled, and shamed. So they’re being silent. They have no voice. They can’t trust the broken institutions to protect them. This culture of fear is unjust. This committee should not be using fear to force everyone to be the same or be destroyed. It’s the abuse of power. And it’s the force of a state religion of liberal ideology. I embrace all of us to embrace our fundamental rights…” [2]

Wow, Cathy! With this grievance-based polemic you could have had a speaker’s spot on the Odal rune stage at CPAC last weekend. After four years of Trump’s denigrations, attacks, and threats of violence on anyone and everyone he disliked, your whiney, snowflakey claims of persecution ring hollow. Instead of changing the topic, how about discussing the actual issue of the hearing, the spread of disinformation and outright lies by some media? Or does that strike too close to home?

Keep to the high ground,

[1] Roger Stone “…has described his political modus operandi as “Attack, attack, attack – never defend” and “Admit nothing, deny everything, launch counterattack.” (wikipedia)

[2] I find it fascinating that CMR characterizes modern thought and norms on inclusion and tolerance not only as a terrible threat to her belief system, but as a “state religion”. Her brand of Evangelical theology has diverged from the Christianity in which I was brought up.