Elon’s Banning Spree & The Media’s Sudden Conversion to Free Speech Absolutists

Watch System Update Episode #5 here on Rumble.

Note From Glenn Greenwald: The following is the full show transcript, for subscribers only, of a recent episode of our System Update program, broadcast live on Rumble on Friday, December 16, 2022. As I indicated last week, we now have a service in place that will produce full transcripts of all the live shows we do – Monday through Friday, live on Rumble, at 7:00 pm ET – for our subscribers here.

We have a backlog of the first ten episodes from the first two weeks of shows that we’ll post here over the next five days. We will be off from Wednesday, December 28 until Sunday, January 1. We’ll be back live on Monday, January 2, 2023, and will start publishing full transcripts of every show here within the next 24 hours for those we prefer to read the program rather than watch. 

In this episode, we take a look at the new horde of free speech champions: the very same people in the corporate media, the Democratic Party, the US and EU governments who spent years building the censorship regime used by big tech and have been endlessly demanding its expansion, are today waving the banner of free speech because for the first time the targets of censorship are not their political enemies, but themselves, their friends and their political allies. We’ll examine all the implications of this spate of banning from Twitter aimed at various journalists. And then we’ll speak to independent journalist Michael Tracey to explore several related issues.


Gather around, everyone, I want to share a story with you — a nice story for the holiday season. It’s about a woman named Jane Harman. Some of you may remember her from the sixteen years she spent as a Democratic member of Congress representing California’s 36th congressional district. First elected in 1993, she served continuously, except for a two-year hiatus when she unsuccessfully sought her party’s nomination to be governor, losing to Gray Davis.

In 2011, she finally resigned her seat, in part due to anger that Nancy Pelosi refused to appoint her as chair of the House Intelligence Committee. Harman and her political directory bear remarkable resemblance to her fellow California Democrat Dianne Feinstein, who also unsuccessfully ran for governor of that state. They’re almost identical. Like Feinstein, Harman was one of the wealthiest people in Congress by virtue of having married a mogul. She was basically an establishment liberal economic and cultural debates. But like Feinstein, she was one of the most steadfast, loyal and aggressive defenders of the U.S. security state, defending every secret program and secret power of the FBI, the CIA, the NSA, and Homeland Security.

Despite being a Democrat, Harman, like Feinstein, was one of the most important allies of the Bush-Cheney administration in its so-called war on terror, including all sorts of programs that clearly ran roughshod over the civil liberties and privacy rights of American citizens, using her position as the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, and thus one of the so-called Gang of Eight, which received the most sensitive classified briefings. Jane Harman was one of the most reliable and steadfast defenders of everything the CIA, FBI, and NSA did. 

In late 2005, just weeks after I began writing about politics, which I did in order to shine a light on what I regarded as the civil liberties assault being carried out in the name of the War on Terror, The New York Times published a blockbuster story…

…The gist of it was that President Bush, in the months after the 9/11 attack, had authorized the National Security Agency to spy on the international telephone calls of anyone, including American citizens, without the warrants required by law, namely those required by a 1978 law called the FISA law that governs how the U.S. government is and is not permitted to spy on our communications. 

The first paragraph of that Times story read:

Months after the September 11th attack, President Bush secretly authorized the NSA to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States to search for evidence of terrorist activity without the court-approved warrants ordinarily required for domestic spying.”

Once this illegal domestic spying program was revealed, it became almost my singular focus for the next 18 months. My first book, in 2006, is about that scandal, and I cheered when The Times won the Pulitzer for that story because I regarded the spying program as revealed by this article as a direct attack on our Constitution. 

Now, back to Jane Harman. Before the scandal could really percolate and gain steam, she immediately emerged as the most vehement defender of this warrantless NSA spying program revealed by The Times. Along with Nancy Pelosi, she was one of the Gang of Eight who had been briefed on the program back when it was implemented in 2002 and approved of it, never raising once any objections. And when this story was revealed, she defended this warrantless program as, quote, “legal and necessary”. And rather than calling for the criminal investigations into those who were doing the illegal spying on Americans, as many civil libertarians were doing, Jane Harman was demanding that The New York Times be forced to reveal its source, or sources, who told them about this program and suggested that both the source and even The Times should be prosecuted and imprisoned if they refused to do so. 

This is one of my earliest journalistic experiences in seeing how the establishment wings of both parties have far more in common than they do differences, especially when it comes to protecting the permanent financial and national security power of factions in Washington. And the more I learned about Jane Harman, the more I began to see how vital she was, genuinely indispensable, to the neocons in the Bush-Cheney administration because few people were willing to go to bat more aggressively in defense of their ideology than this California Democrat. And that is what made it so darkly ironic and sweet when Harman herself became targeted by the very surveillance system she helped build and then defended. 

In 2006, Harman was caught on an NSA wiretap talking to an Israeli spy. That spy was trying to convince Harman to intervene in the Justice Department criminal investigation aimed at two officials of the American Israel Political Action Committee, AIPAC. Those two AIPAC officials had been accused, in the words of The Guardian, of providing defense secrets to the chief political officer at the Israeli embassy in Washington about U.S. policy toward Iran and al-Qaida. In other words, they were spying on the United States for Israel. The espionage prosecution of those AIPAC officials was started by the Bush DOJ [Department of Justice] but ultimately dropped by the Obama Justice Department. 

Now, obviously, it would have been illegal for Jane Harman to promise to intervene in a DOJ criminal investigation and pressure them to drop those charges, especially if her promise to do so involved receiving favors in return. But that’s exactly what happened. On these NSA wiretaps, the transcripts of which had been given to The New York Times, the Israeli spy promised her that if she helped these AIPAC officials with their serious criminal problems, then he would help her achieve her sole political ambition to convince Nancy Pelosi to crown her as chair of the House Intelligence Committee, once Democrats, as expected, won control of the House in the 2006 midterm elections. 

The story of Harman’s being spied on by the NSA was first broken by the national security law partner, Jeff Stein of the Congressional Quarterly. In doing so, he wrote: Congresswoman

Jane Harman, the California Democrat with a long-time involvement in intelligence issues, was overheard on an NSA wiretap telling a suspected Israeli agent, that she would lobby the Justice Department to reduce espionage-related charges against two officials of IPAC, the most powerful pro-Israeli organization in Washington. Harman was recorded saying she would, quote, ‘waddle into’ the AIPAC case, quote, ‘if you think it’ll make a difference’, according to two former senior national security officials familiar with the NSA transcript. In exchange for Harman’s help, the sources said, the suspected Israeli agent pledged to help lobby Nancy Pelosi, then House minority leader, to appoint Harman as chair of the Intelligence Committee after the 2006 elections, which the Democrats were heavily favored to win”. […] “Seemingly wary of what she had just agreed to […] Harman hung up after saying, ‘This conversation doesn’t exist’.

Now, the Bush DOJ knew about this quid pro quo Harman had promised, but for some odd reason, while they were prosecuting these two AIPAC officials, they never even opened the criminal investigation into Harman. In his reporting, Jeff Stein explained the reason the Bush DOJ, then run by Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, regarded Jane Harman as far too valuable an ally due to her key role in standing up as a Democrat and defending the Bush-Cheney security state spying programs to risk having her fall during this investigation. He wrote:

[C]ontrary to reports that the Harman investigation was dropped for ‘lack of evidence’, it was Alberto Gonzales, President Bush’s top counsel, and then attorney general, who intervened to stop the Harman probe. Why? Because, according to three officials, Gonzales wanted Harman to be able to help defend the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program, which was about to break in The New York Times and engulf the White House”. […] According to two officials privy to the events, Gonzalez said he ’needed Jane’ to help support the administration’s program, which is about to be exposed by The New York Times.” Harman, he told former CIA director Porter Goss, “had helped persuade the newspaper to hold the wiretap story before, on the eve of the 2004 elections. And although it was too late to stop the Times from publishing now, she could be counted on again to help defend the program.” 

Now, remember that New York Times story that I mentioned that was published in late 2005, the one that became so important to my own work on the NSA and illegal spying. The Times could not stop congratulating itself for this very brave reporting, something that I myself thought at the time they deserved. But, in 2006, it was revealed that the two reporters who broke the story, James Risen and Eric Lichtblau, actually had the story in mid-2004, as Bush and Cheney were planning to run for reelection. But The New York Times owner, publisher, and editor-in-chief all banned the two reporters from telling the country about this domestic spying program before the 2004 election because the Bush White House and Jane Harman played a crucial role in convincing the paper that revealing the program would somehow harm national security. 

That argument never made sense. How would it help terrorists to learn that the NSA was spying on Americans without warrants instead of with the warrants required by law? But that was the argument Jane Harman made that led The New York Times to suppress the story. And as it turned out, the only reason The Times ended up even publishing the story in late 2005 when they did, was because Rice was about to publish its own book in early 2006, where he intended to report that story since The Times wouldn’t let them do it in their paper — and they were desperate not to be scooped by their own reporter in a book. So, they finally relented, let him publish it in the paper, and then patted themselves on the back for their courage, even though their hand was forced. 

As a side note, when Edward Snowden chose me and Laura Poitras to report the archive he had on the NSA spying, he told us, in one of the earliest conversations, that he chose us because he did not trust corporate media outlets like The New York Times with this story because citing that episode, he feared that they would hide and sit on this story due to their subservience to the U.S. security state rather than aggressively and adversarially report it and he would have ended up unraveling his life for nothing. 

But that episode shows what an important advocate Jane Harman was for the U.S. security state’s domestic spying machine in general, and the Bush-Cheney NSA warrantless spying program in particular. When it came to ordinary Americans, there was no such thing as too much surveillance for Jane Harman.

But, boy, did everything change instantly when it was Jane Harman, rather than the peasants and the serfs who were spied on. She was furious when she learned that the NSA had eavesdropped on her conversations using the system she helped build. And overnight she went from sounding like a mix of J. Edgar Hoover, and Bill Kristol to sounding like Edward Snowden or the old-school version of the ACLU as she gushed poetic in her spirited defense of the right to privacy and its sanctity and how sacred it is to American life. 

On MSNBC Morning Joe, the day after that story broke, she acted like she was ringing the liberty bell and praying to the constitution. She told this to Joe Scarborough, quote,

I’m just very disappointed that my country — I’m an American citizen just like you are — could have permitted what I think is a gross abuse of power in recent years. I’m one member of Congress who may be caught up in it, but I have a bully pulpit, and I can fight back. I’m thinking about others who have no bully pulpit and who may not be aware — as I was not — that right now, somewhere, someone is listening in on their conversations, and they’re innocent Americans

She then continued her newfound privacy crusade on CNN. When asked by Wolf Blitzer about news reports that her private conversations have been wiretapped by the NSA, this is what she told them: 

Wolf Blitzer:   Do you remember any such conversation with an Israeli or an Israeli agent representing AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee? 

Jane Harman: I have known about this for a few days and I never had any idea that my government was wiretapping me at all. Three anonymous sources have told various media that this happened, and they’re quoting snippets of allegedly taped conversation. So, I don’t know what these snippets mean. I don’t know whether these intercepts were legal. And that’s why I asked Eric Holder to put it all out there in public. 

Wolf Blitzer:  The New York Times and Congressional Quarterly say there were actually transcripts of this recorded wiretap. 

Jane Harman: Well, let’s see if there are, or wiretaps, and let’s see who else was wiretapped. I mean, lots of members of Congress talk to advocacy organizations. My phone’s ringing off the hook in my office from worried members who are asking whether I think it could have happened to them. I think this is an abuse of power. 

Oh, it’s an abuse of power, is it? That’s a person who spent years as the most vocal champion of this secret, sprawling, unaccountable domestic spying program that was implemented completely in the dark. But when she learned that it could be and actually was used against her instead of the peasants and serfs against whom it was supposed to be directed, she suddenly transformed into the patron saint of constitutional values. So deeply concerned! Not for herself. Oh, no, perish the thought, but for all those powerless people out there whose privacy might be invaded by the system that she spent years building. 

Now, I trust that most of you have by now apprehended the relevance of this story for today’s events. For years now, big tech has been building and fortifying, and expanding an extremely aggressive regime of censorship. Each year, arguably each month, the range of views and opinions we are permitted to express over the Internet without being banned, silenced, or otherwise punished, becomes narrower and more repressive. Every crisis, real or fake, is instantly exploited to justify all new means of silencing dissent and compelling, unquestioning acceptance and decrees of the institution of authority.

First, it was Russiagate, then Trump’s election, then the COVID pandemic, then the January 6 riot of 1000 Facebook posts — I’m sorry, I mean, the insurrection that almost brought down the most powerful and militarized government in history — then there was the war in Ukraine… Every one of these episodes ushered in an all-new and unprecedentedly expansive means of suppressing dissent and silencing those who just who are disliked and established in political and media circles.

And to the extent that leading Democrats and their media allies and media corporations have had any problem with this growing censorship regime, the problem is that they have been bitterly complaining that there is not enough censorship, that far more is needed, that too many people are being allowed to speak. As I’ve repeatedly reported, congressional Democrats spent two years summoning big tech CEOs to appear before them in their August committees and even explicitly threaten them right out in the open that unless they start to censor even more, namely censor the views and people Democrats regard as dangerous, then Democrats will use their legal and regulatory power to punish them. 

Here’s Democratic senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts, in very simple terms, explaining the Democratic Party’s view on the big tech censorship regime:

Sen. Ed Markey: The issue is not that the companies before us today are taking too many posts down. The issue is that they’re leaving too many dangerous posts up. 

It couldn’t be any clearer than that. The Democratic Party’s problem with the big tech censorship regime is not, as he said, that they’re censoring too much: it’s that they’re leaving too many dangerous posts up. The Democratic Party and almost every single liberal employee of large media corporations have been complaining for years that still more and more and more censorship is needed. Until yesterday, when everything changed.

And that’s because Twitter, under the new ownership of Elon Musk, did what Twitter has been doing for years and banned a bunch of accounts without much transparency about why, including various journalists. That’s happened many, many times over the last several years, all while the Democrats and their allies in the media, a partisan, demanded more. But for some reason, everything is different this time. CNN is threatening all sorts of reprisals against Twitter because of this.

Democrats are demanding congressional hearings. The EU is warning of sanctions against Elon Musk. In other words, just like Jane Harman, these people are the ones who built this censorship regime and demanded that it become more and more powerful and now overnight are pretending to be free speech champions because, for once, the targets of this censorship are their friends and allies rather than their political enemies and people they regard as pygmies, who don’t have the right to speak. 

In fact, even as Democrats and their media allies raise all sorts of flags, trying to indicate that they’re now free speech advocates, they continue to demand, on the other hand, an expansion of their censorship regime. Here, for example, just today, we have congressman Adam Schiff, who, like Jane Harman wanted to be, is the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, proudly announcing that he, along with a Democratic senator Whitehouse, are demanding or urging that Facebook continue to maintain its ban of Donald Trump.

In other words, they’re insisting that Facebook not follow the example of Twitter in allowing their political, main political adversary, Donald Trump, to be back on the Internet. So, it’s not even like pretending that they’re against a censorship regime now. They’re continuing to demand this expansion. They’re just angry about the fact that this one time the people they like are the targets. 

Now, let’s remember something that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez did — because she was one of the people who told Elon Musk that he should turn off his phone, stop playing with proto-fascism and stop banning journalists.  But it was in December or January of 2021 when a free speech app called Parler listened to the arguments of liberal censorship advocates, who always said:  ‘If you don’t like how Twitter’s censoring, they’re a private company, they have the right to censor whomever they want, go start your own platform’. Parler did that. They gave much more free speech rights to their users, and as a result, they became the most popular app and most downloaded app on Apple and Google stores in the country, following Twitter and Facebook’s banning of Donald Trump. 

Parler was wildly popular and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was enraged that it was even allowed to exist. And so, knowing she was a member of the party that possesses majoritarian power in Congress, at the time the Democrats were about to take over the White House and executive branch and had control of both the Senate and the House, she went on Twitter, to her 13 million followers and demanded that Apple and Google, two of the Silicon Valley monopoly companies, according to the Democratic Party, she demanded that they use their monopoly power to take Parler off of the Internet and banned them from existing by kicking them out of their stores.

Once Apple immediately complied and announced they would no longer allow Parler, the number one most downloaded app, to be in their store any longer, AOC returned to Twitter that day. She gave a head pat to Apple – “Good to see this development from Apple” — and then demanded again that Google follows suit. And then once Google followed suit, there was no more Parler because nobody could download Parler in the future. That meant they had no more users, and even current users could no longer receive updates that allowed it to function. Within 24 hours, other Democrats demanded that Amazon, the dominant hosting service, terminate their account with Parler, which it did. And that had the effect of removing Parler not just from the play store, as in your phones, but also from the Internet and crippled Parler for months. And they never recovered. 

These are the people who are now pretending to be free speech advocates to be offended by the idea that Elon Musk censored or temporarily banned a handful of liberal journalists that the Democratic Party likes. Now, as we’ve repeatedly shown you, it is a very common view in American liberalism that censorship should be happening and should be happening more not only by corporate power and big tech but in unison with the government.

As we’ve shown you before, this Pew Research poll is amazing because it shows that three out of every four self-identified Democrats want tech companies to take steps to restrict what they regard as false information, even if it limits freedom of information online, and two-thirds of Democrats, 65%, want the State to take steps to censor the Internet in the name of stopping false information, even if it limits freedom of information. So, this is a party, the Democratic Party, and a political faction, American liberalism, that has made no secret of its zealous support for a unique, unifying corporate and state power in the name of censoring their enemies off the Internet. And they have now done a complete 180 because for the first time it’s their friends and allies who are being censored. 

One of the very first shows that we did, in fact, our debut episode on Monday night, here on Rumble, on our live show, presented all of the evidence that demonstrated the Democratic Party, as a party, and American liberalism, as a faction, have completely abandoned a belief in free speech. They no longer believe in free speech, and it is astonishing to watch, four days later, as they suddenly express such righteous outrage and indignation, demanding congressional hearings, and threatening legal punishments because Elon Musk did what they have been advocating for years: censored people disliked by Twitter. But just because in this case it’s people they like instead of don’t like; they find it to be a grave crime. 

One of the worst offenders is the EU. The EU doesn’t have a First Amendment, so they don’t even need to be careful or pretend about how much they love censorship. Back just in November, when Elon Musk first purchased Twitter and took over and he posted a tweet saying the bird has been freed, one of the leading EU officials in charge of their censorship laws, Thierry Breton, responded, “In Europe, the bird will fly by our EU rules”, meaning don’t you think for one second that you’re going to be allowed to restore free speech on Twitter because here in the EU we don’t tolerate free speech, we have laws that limit severely the kind of free speech that can be permitted. And you’re going to have to be confined to the way in which we require that your platforms censor. Now, if the EU just loves censorship and the citizens of the EU want to be told by their government what they can and can’t hear, that would be one thing, except the EU is among the leading voices today threatening Elon Musk and expressing outrage over the fact that he did what they always have wanted Twitter to do, which is to censor. 

Here is a story by The New York Times tech reporters, all of whom have basically devoted themselves to be among the leading agitators and advocates for big tech censorship. Almost every story in The New York Times by these New York Times tech writers is geared toward complaining that big tech isn’t censoring enough. They often write articles that have no purpose other than to say, here’s a group of people, or here are specific individuals expressing views that ought to be censored and yet Facebook and Twitter are immorally allowing them to remain. They have been agitating through this reporting for years for greater censorship. But today, they write an article saying, quote: “Musk faces growing anger over Twitter ban of journalists”. 

Do you see how they frame it? It’s no longer battling disinformation or people who are doxing or engaging in hate speech or dangerous speech. Now it’s “Twitter bans journalists”. Twitter has been banning journalists for years. So are Facebook and Google. Just the journalists who are conservative or independent, and therefore the kinds of people that The New York Times thinks are not really journalists. So, they’ve been applauding it and being happy about it and demanding more, and now suddenly they present it as though we’re suddenly living under a tyranny and the people who got temporarily suspended are Nelson Mandela. And this article, it describes the threats that Elon Musk is now facing, quote:

The silencing of prominent voices could raise the regulatory heat on Twitter, and possibly Mr. Musk’s other companies, including Tesla and SpaceX, which is a big recipient of government funding and projects. It could also hurt his push to get reluctant advertisers back onto the platform. 

Notice what The New York Times is saying here. What they’re saying is that Democrats are in power in Washington. They control the executive branch. And the fact that Elon Musk has now censored employees of media corporations that Democrats regard as allies could result in punishment not only for Twitter, but they could take retaliatory action, and reprisals against his other companies, Tesla and SpaceX. What do you call that when the government punishes private companies for censoring the people that they like or for refusing to censor the people that they don’t like? It’s incredibly ironic that the Democratic Party and the Liberal faction that supports it hold themselves up as the bulwark against fascism when one of their main political projects is using government power and corporate power in unison to silence the voices that they dislike and to punish those who refuse to censor. 

Then the article goes on:

Lawmakers in the European Union may go on the offensive. Vera Jourová, a vice president of the European Commission, said the move violated the EU’s Digital Services Act and its Media Freedom Act. There are red lines, she said, and sanctions, soon, she tweeted Friday morning.

Now, remember, last month, the EU threatened Elon Musk with legal punishments if he restores free speech to Twitter and fails to censor more. Now, less than a month later, the EU has turned around and is now threatening Elon Musk with punishment because he censored people that they like. There are no principles involved here at all. There are no legal principles. There’s no law. It’s pure power. EU officials like the Democratic Party want to control the flow of information on the Internet, and so they’re perfectly willing to use the power that they have to threaten Elon Musk and punish him, just like the Democratic Party has done, if he doesn’t censor enough. 

I’ll show you something even more amazing. The EU official now threatening Elon Musk for censoring, Vera Jourova, the vice president of the EU, back in 2001, when Trump was banned from Twitter and Facebook, was the one who rose in support of Twitter’s banning: “This is not about censorship. This is about flagging, verifiably false or misleading information that may cause public harm”.

She is the person who created the framework in the EU that says we must center those who do harmful speech. And now she’s the same person saying that Elon Musk has crossed a line because he has banned or suspended people from Twitter who, according to him, have put his family in danger by publishing information about their real-time location. Something we’ll talk about when we talk with Michael Tracey. 

But let’s look at what CNN is doing. For years, CNN was demanding more censorship. They cheered when Donald Trump was banned by Twitter, and when other conservatives were banned by Twitter. Here, for example, is then CNN host Brian Stelter in 2021, when Trump was banned, and he quotes Playbook as reporting, quote: “The White House, the Trump White House, is expected to up its pressure on Twitter in the coming days and is considering sending a threatening letter for issuing fact checks on the president’s tweets”.

This was actually in 2020 when they were fact-checking Trump on COVID. And then Brian Stelter added: “A letter threatening… what? Twitter is a private company…” He was enraged that the government thought it should have any role in regulating what Twitter is allowed to do. After all, it’s a private company. What right does the U.S. government have to interfere in Twitter’s censorship decisions? That was what they were saying for years. 

Here is Stelter’s CNN colleague, Oliver Darcy, making clear that his complaint is not that there’s a censorship regime, but that Elon Musk isn’t censoring enough of his political enemies and censoring too many of his political allies. Here is what Oliver Darcy tweeted today that Brian Stelter dutifully retweeted, quote:

Zooming out: within the last few weeks, Musk has permitted white nationalists — who had previously been banned from breaking platform rules — back on Twitter while banning several journalists who cover him from top news organizations. 

Do you see the worldview that’s implicit in this? They believe that there are certain people who bear legitimacy, the people who work for the largest media corporations in the U.S. That’s the only way you can be a legitimate journalist in their eyes. Not if you work for Fox, then you’re just a fascist.

But the only way you can be a real journalist is if you work for CNN, MSNBC, The New York Times, and The Washington Post, that’s what he means by ‘how dare you ban several journalists from top news organizations?’ while he simultaneously complains that Musk has permitted other people — the people with all regards, he dislikes — back onto the platform again. There are no principles. It’s just about power. They want this censorship regime. They just want it directed exclusively at their enemies. 

CNN itself issued its own statement, which I’m about to show you. This is a statement from CNN itself. CNN, the network that has been cheering censorship for years, quote: “A CNN spokesperson said the company has asked Twitter for an explanation, and it would ‘reevaluate our relationship based on that response’”. ‘The impulsive and unjustified suspension of a number of reporters, including CNN’s Donnie O’Sullivan, is concerning but not surprising. Twitter’s increasing instability and volatility should be of incredible concern for everyone who uses Twitter’, the CNN spokesman said”. 

Where were all of these people over the last several years, as many of us have been warning that allowing this handful of billionaires to arbitrarily censor the Internet and control our discourse would result in a serious infringement of our ability to have free expression and free discourse? They were the ones cheering on it, and just like Jane Harman, they’re angry because it finally got directed at them. 

Now, let’s remember, because as someone who has been critiquing the censorship regime for years, I know exactly how liberal journalists have been defending it. They make these arguments, number one: Twitter is a private corporation, and therefore it’s no business of yours when they censor whomever they decide they want to censor; number two: private corporations like Twitter have the absolute right to disassociate themselves from anybody they don’t want to be associated with; number three: private corporations like Twitter have the right to create terms of service and content moderation rules, and they can apply them however they want; and number four: if you don’t like how Twitter is censoring, this solution is very clear — go leave Twitter and start your own social media platform that censors less. 

What happened to all of those arguments? Where are they today? In fact, the very same people most enraged by what Elon Musk has done, treating it like it’s some kind of newfound, never-before-seen attack on the free press have suddenly decided that this is wrong, even though for years they spent all that time making those very arguments. 

Here, for example, is NBC News Ben Collins, one of the leading and most angry people today over what Elon Musk did, arguing why private corporations like Twitter should have the absolute right to censor people like Donald Trump whenever they choose and nobody has the right to say anything in response.

Ben Collins (NBC): … but Facebook says in this post, like, ‘Look, this guy can post wherever he wants. The Internet is free for him to express himself on his blog which is now down on other social media platforms, but that doesn’t allow him necessarily the right to post on our platform. We’re a private company and they’re a private company that doesn’t want to be associated first and foremost with dictators and authoritarians, using it to drum up violence in fear of the other’. So, you know, Facebook is taking this stand to say ‘we have control of this platform. This is our platform; this is our company, within it, Donald Trump has to play by the rules and that’s the stand they took today’. 

How did they not have even the slightest self-awareness to recognize that the arguments they’re all making today, the anger that they’re expressing over what they regard as arbitrary and unjust censorship of journalists, is the exact 180-degree opposite of everything that they’ve been arguing and defending for the last three or four years. 

I think there are legitimate questions about how Elon Musk is censoring Twitter. We devoted an entire show after he banned Kanye West to questioning whether or not he was adhering to his own standards when he described himself as a civil libertarian absolutist. He said what that meant to him was that anything that’s allowed by law should be permitted, and only that which is illegal should be banned.

And when he banned Kanye West, even though nothing Kanye West said was arguably illegal, we questioned whether or not we were going to have a similarly arbitrary system where now a different billionaire is going to decide what can and can’t be said on his platform — and it might be a little different than before in terms of who gets targeted, but the principle, or lack of principle, is the same.

I still think that’s a concern. But if you’re going to stand up now and argue and object to what he’s doing, when for the last four years you’ve been demanding that this system be built and defending its fundamental values without even acknowledging the complete and total reversal and everything that you’re saying — because now it’s your friends and allies being targeted — you have absolutely zero credibility to speak on this subject at all. This is the system that you built, and now it’s one that you’re going to have to live under. 

So, one of the people who has been following most closely all of these issues about how people in the media think about these issues, the issues of how selectively censorship and the right to free speech have been applied is the very, very independent journalist Michael Tracey. And so, I’m thrilled to have him to help me explore some of these issues tonight. We’ll talk to him in our interview segment. 

The Interview: Michael Tracey

G.G: hey, Michel, welcome back to System Update. I appreciate your being in your weird little car taking the time to speak with us today. 

M.T.:  It’s just for you. I arranged it so that I would be in my famously shitty car during the interview because I know you really enjoy that. I’m actually not even sure I can proceed with the interview because you’ve now got me despondent over the expulsion of Donny O’Sullivan. 

G.G: What are we going to do without Donny O’Sullivan being able to express himself on Twitter? We only have about 1200 or 1300 other employees of media corporations who say exactly the same thing he says on a daily basis. First of all, before I ask you about specific issues, just tell me what you make of all of this, this kind of amazing spectacle of these people who have been defending censorship for years, suddenly doing a complete 180 with seemingly no recognition of what they’re doing. 

M.T.:  Well, I think of what the basic principle, if there was one, that guided the demand of an ever-increasing sort of drumbeat for censorship over the past several years, it probably culminated with the banning of Donald Trump in January 2021 from Twitter and from all other major social media platforms simultaneously. The underlying principle, to the extent that one can be discerned, and of course, that’s a sort of tenuous notion, was that these censors, these tech bureaucrats operating in their little klatch somewhere in San Francisco, they need to be ever more mindful of how online speech can create harm  — and harm can be confined to words, as expressed on an Internet platform, or it can even translate to offline harm, in that if free speech is allowed to unregulatedly proliferate on the Internet, that could inflict unsuspecting users with offline harm. Of course, these concepts are incredibly nebulous and are seldom ever defined with any real precision, but that was at least ostensibly the underlying principle. And now, Musk, at least based on what he says — and there hasn’t been a whole lot of independent verification of his claims, as far as I know — but he’s going off, what he says, and stipulating that it’s at least roughly accurate, he has a very tangible and clear cut case that there was something resembling a harm that was done not to him on account of a speech that was allowed to proliferate on Twitter, but done to his baby — well, a two-year-old baby in a car who was apparently accosted. Now, of course, I can’t confirm that that happened, I can’t verify the precise details.

But if that is roughly accurate, then that’s an extremely tangible instance of harm arising from the speech on the Internet, potentially. So that should be totally within the wheelhouse of these people who have been harm maximalists in terms of the operating principle that they’re demanding guide, the enforcement action of these social media platforms. But because they don’t like Musk, and they don’t like what he represents, they think he’s ushering in fascism and legitimizing anti-Semitism and all this histrionic nonsense, the harm principle has just been discarded without anyone even noticing. Now, I agree with you. I am skeptical of the rationale put forward by Musk for this banning, it just seems like it was probably a bit capricious, it seems to center on Musk himself as though he could, he’s just unilaterally decreeing new rules on the basis of what infringes on him or his family, which is kind of a recipe for arbitrary dictates. At the same time, though, the criticism of him, the utter outrage and indignation, it doesn’t even pretend to adhere to the standards that have been so furiously set out, pretty much taking over Twitter by these same people who wanted everyone to be so hyper cognizant of harm. Now, when it’s someone that is disliked or makes a harm claim, it’s just ignored. And it’s somehow now this tyrannical censorship. 

G.G.: Yeah. One of the things I think is so striking is that the Twitter files, which these same people, who are so outraged about what Musk did, all united to dismiss this trivial, meaningless, nothing burger, they used all the same phrases as they always do because they’re all of one hive mind, they all said: this is all completely irrelevant — these documents show nothing of any interest because what they actually showed was how capricious and arbitrary these censorship decisions have always been. In fact, the most influential one, arguably, that they made — to ban any discussion of reporting by the New York Post on Joe Biden’s business interests in China and Ukraine was recognizably done by these Twitter executives without having any basis in their rules to the point where they had to make one up or a fine one, namely the ban on hacking, and then invoke that rule, even though they admitted they had no evidence that these documents were actually hacked — and in fact, it turns out that they weren’t hacked. 

So, try and put yourself in the position of one of these media people today who has spent the last four years cheering censorship and demanding more and now suddenly wants to turn around and criticize Elon Musk. The thing that has always amazed me is this argument that, well, it’s dangerous to have a single billionaire have the capricious power to dictate our discourse. That appeals to me, although I think it’s ironic when it comes to people who work for Jeff Bezos or Warren Powell jobs at The Atlantic, nonetheless, that’s an argument that appeals to me. But how is that any different from the system that they’ve spent all this time defending? 

M.T.: Well, it’s not different at all. They just want their discretion and their subjective value judgments to be the ones that are in the position to capriciously exert this power. And that was fundamentally why it is that they were so enraged about Musk taking over Twitter, not because they all of a sudden had an epiphany about billionaire control of media, and they were all of a sudden, you know, furnishing this long-standing leftist critique or something of concentrated power. No, it was because power had already been concentrated at Twitter in the hands of a remarkably select group of people. But those people happened to be the cultural, political, and social peers of the lion’s share of members of the media. And so, they could be reasonably assured that those people in charge of Twitter content moderation policies would be of the same mind as them when it came to certain political instincts and judgments and whose harm to validate and whose harm to invalidate.

So, when Musk obviously is of a different mindset than, you know, the Donny O’Sullivans of the world, I guess — by the way, wasn’t Donny O’Sullivan like the neighbor on “Different Strokes” or something? That’s what I remember that name as —  then they flip out and they concoct all these extremely circumstantial claims as to their principled aversion to billionaire-controlled media, when, I mean, there was never this kind of meltdown at all about Twitter when it was just under a slightly different ownership structure and with slightly less autonomous power of one individual. And the form of Musk has no consistency. It’s not undergirded by any sort of neutrally applicable principle. As you said in the intro, it’s all about power. And when you have a raw power struggle between competing factions that view one another, and especially with the Liberal faction viewing the Conservative faction increasingly not just as enemies, their opponents, but as literal fascists as genocidal tyrants and… 

G.G.: Nazis. Nazis in the world view. Well… 

M.T.: Yeah, exactly. Well, then they have to retrofit all these logical-sounding arguments that are incredibly superficial and don’t hold up to scrutiny, because really what they’re motivated by is this emotional, ascetic drive to punish and curtail their enemies. The Foster prenup is out, but it doesn’t lend itself to really intelligible argumentation most of the time. 

G.G.: Yeah, I saw a video clip today from the CNN morning host Poppy Harlow. And one of the points… 

M.T.: Oh, she’s great. I love her. 

G.G.: She’s fantastic! She’s one of the giants of investigative journalism! And one of the points she made was, I thought, so revealing. She said when she was talking about the Twitter files that she found it so notable that Elon Musk has decided not to give them to any legitimate journalist at real media outlets, but instead this kind of obviously illegitimate freaks like Matt Taibbi, who doesn’t even have a corporate employer. And you saw that, too, in what Oliver Darcy said today, that this is, I mean, there have been many journalists censored by big tech over the years. Dan Bongino, for example, was removed and banned from Google’s YouTube. And now one of these people stood up and objected about how this is an attack on the free press because they don’t regard Dan Bongino as a legitimate journalist.

And I thought it was so notable, both in Poppy Harlow’s statement about how Matt Taibbi is not a legitimate journalist, even though Matt Taibbi has, you know, has more journalist accomplishments by a multitude of a thousand than she ever does or could. And also, Oliver Darcy today saying the reason this is so upsetting is you’re talking about journalists at top news organizations — I’d like to know how that metric is determined. How much of this do you think is about this kind of caste system, this desperation for them to maintain this hierarchy, that they are entitled to some kind of special status because they happen to be employees at large media corporations?  

M.T.: Well, I mean, it goes without saying that obviously, Matt Taibbi has more journalistic accomplishments in his pinky than Poppy Harlow. I mean, you could give all the cliches and they would all be applicable there. But even take someone like Bari Weiss. I’ve had disagreements with Bari Weiss over the years about various issues that she and I might differ on, but I would never argue that she’s not a legitimate journalist. What does that even mean? She was an opinion editor at The New York Times. She was a writer at The New York Times and of course… 

G.G.: And before that, at the Wall Street Journal. And before that, at the Wall Street Journal.

M.T.: Exactly. Exactly. Not that being at The New York Times automatically sanctifies you as an illustrious journalist, necessarily. But you think, at least in terms of the career standards, that a lot of these people seem to go by that would endow her with the ability to be recognized as a legitimate journalist. But it doesn’t. Not because of her actual competence. She’s a competent person. She’s able to competently do the work. That’s not really even what’s at issue. It’s that she doesn’t meet certain newly fashioned moral criteria that they’ve attributed to her in terms of what supposedly now constitutes a legitimate journalist. Mostly, people would even say that you are not a legitimate journalist. Now, Glenn, even though, I mean, we don’t have to go down the list of the stuff that you’ve done, whether it’s Snowden… 

G.G.: We can. We can! Feel free to herald me…

M.T.: I actually prefer not to; I might actually blow my brains out. But the point is it’s not actual journalistic merit, which is driving their constant impulsion to ostracize people as not real journalists. It’s this moral test that there are kind of, you know, all of a sudden, fashioning and making everybody else adhere to, or at least they’re not a real reporter. They have this bizarre idea that to be a reporter is somehow like a morally exalted status when some of the worst scumbags on Earth are still reporters, right? That’s just what they are. It’s just their craft. But they’ve made it into this weird quasi-shooting spectrum, right? Because he’s not infringing on those moral pieties, and that’s their main criteria for making these blinkered determinations. 

G.G.: Yeah. So just for the last couple of minutes that we have, I want to focus a little bit not on what journalists are doing, but instead on what governments are doing. You see now lots of Democrats coming out demanding hearings, threatening all kinds of reprisals against Twitter because, for the first time, the people who got censored were people Democrats like. There is one Democrat whom I’ve seen so far, to his credit, who has stood up and said “Are you crazy? The First Amendment doesn’t allow us to play any role in this”, which is the California Democrat in the House, Ted Lieu. I would suspect that maybe O’Connor would feel the same, given that he has objected in the past, such as when Twitter banned the Hunter Biden story. But in general, you see the Democratic Party very open about the view that they have a real role to play in regulating what Twitter did in terms of whom they censor and whom they don’t. And the EU, as usual, is going even further. I mean, these are people who are pretending that they’re offended by the idea that journalists would be censored when the same EU has made it illegal – illegal — for any platform to even R.T. other Russian news outlets if they choose to. How concerned are you about this idea that you’re going to now have the government power being used to punish social media outlets to either censor too much when it comes to their allies or who don’t center enough when it comes to their enemies?

M.T.: Well, I’m first of all surprised to hear the report that Ted Lieu made a statement of some kind that seems to be a bit averse to censorship… 

G.G.: You know, it was it was very vehement. I was surprised, too. But it was I mean, he actually chided someone who demanded that Congress haul Elon Musk before them and immediately interrogate him. And Ted Lieu said “the First Amendment has means that we have no role to play in any of these decision”s. It was a quite a good statement and it surprised me, too. 

M.T.: Okay. Well, I’ll look at it. I’m curious to see how it compares with whatever statements he might have made over the past, I don’t know, four or five years about the urgent need to combat, quote, “Russian disinformation on the Internet”. But we’ll see. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt for at least, I don’t know, 5 minutes on that. Yeah. You know, I think it’s got to a point where free speech has become more and more calcified as just a pure culture war issue. So, you’re the average Democrat who maybe hadn’t given much thought to these sorts of topics in the past now is automatically sorting themselves on speech questions in relation to just the overall culture war. So, for example, yesterday Donald Trump actually gave an interesting little speech that most people ignored, and I probably would have ignored it as well if I hadn’t been told about it by somebody by happenstance, because everybody was flipping out about, oh, Donald Trump did this stupid thing where he put out trading cards with him as a superhero, depicted that whatever. But he also actually put out a speech yesterday where he pledged and you could take it with a grain of salt.

I mean, you should take it with a grain of salt. But this happens to be what he said, that if he were to become president again immediately after his inauguration, he would issue an executive order that would bar all federal employees from a category  wise, classifying any lawful speech by domestic citizens as either misinformation or disinformation. Now, of course, because Trump is the one suggesting that proposal, it’s automatically going to get coded vehemently by all the usual suspects as fascism, Nazism, anti-Semitism, anti-trans, whatever, and the merit of the idea is never going to be entertained. And that’s what you’re going to see more and more of. It’s going to be automatically assumed that anybody who might have a wariness about the wisdom of governments officially designating certain lawful speech as misinformation on the basis of criteria that is never fully really fleshed out, or are not really subject to reasonable contestation, that is going to be seen as this innately right wing position, and being in favor of maintaining and expanding speech regulation is going to be seen as this innately left or progressive position, and it’s going down that course really ineluctably. So, yeah, you’re going to see some of these progressive superstars in Congress think that they’re fighting the evil of fascism, standing up for marginalized groups, if they make sure to hold Elon Musk to account for banning Dolly, Donnie O’Sullivan, and Poppy Harlow, you know, cheering from the sidelines. I forget even what she did now because once you said that name, it just kind of turned my brain off. I couldn’t process what you were reporting that she actually did. 

G.G.: All right, Michael, we got to go. But, yeah, I mean, I think that that is an important point, that last point, which is that these people who are now waving the flag of free speech actually want the government, let’s remember, to be the official arbiters of what is true and false… 

M.T.: The carceral state. 

G.G.: Exactly. And to then unify that power with corporate power, which is the hallmark of fascism, to silence their political opponents. Michael, I know you’re pinching up in that fast food drive-thru line that you’re in. Really appreciate your taking the time. 

M.T.: I’m in a church parking lot right now. It’s actually pretty creepy…

G.G.: All right. Thank you very much, Michael, for joining us, Talk to you soon. 

M.T.: Okay. 

So, this concludes our show for this evening. As always, we will now move to Locals for our interactive aftershow. If you want to join that, all you have to do is be a subscriber to our Substack or our Locals, which you can easily do by clicking JOIN in the upper right-hand corner of the Rumble page. Thank you so much. For those of you who joined us in our debut week, it was a very hectic week, but we produced five shows that we’re very happy with and we will be back next week and every week after that, live, only here on Rumble, Monday through Friday at 7 p.m. Eastern. Thanks for watching and have a great weekend. 

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