NCLA Site Search

All the News Fit for You To Hear

Margaret A. Little
Senior Litigation Counsel
Margot Cleveland
Of Counsel

December 6, 2023

Do you want your government, under the guise of managing foreign affairs, to divert its anti-terror technology and resources to censor a segment of the American domestic press? Do you expect your tax dollars to fund and promote a scheme of media blacklists, designed to drive advertising dollars away from disfavored media outlets to bankrupt and thereby silence them? Does this sound like an Orwellian governmental curating of “all the news we deem fit for you to hear”? Welcome to the world of the U.S. Department of State.

Among the many nasty shocks delivered by the Twitter Files, discovery in Murthy v. Missouri, and recent congressional oversight investigations, came the revelation that the State Department has diverted government grants, technical resources, and the time and efforts of salaried federal employees into a sprawling, whole-of-government effort to silence a segment of the American press – those news organizations that disagree with the preferred views of those holding the reins of government power.

Launched in the Obama administration, this lawless juggernaut powered undisturbed through the Trump administration, blossoming into full flower during the Biden presidency. In 2016, the State Department, whose only lawful charge is guiding foreign affairs, rebranded its Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications as the “Global Engagement Center.” Soon this arm of the State Department transitioned from countering the message of violent extremism of terrorist organizations such as the Islamic State and al-Qaeda, to supposedly “Countering Propaganda and Disinformation.”

While in its official statements and more public pronouncements the State Department’s GEC portrays its efforts as limited to countering foreign mis-, dis-, or mal-information, investigative journalists have uncovered the truth: GEC funds, helps develop, and/or markets and promotes censorship technology and censorship enterprises that target the American press.

Over the last five-plus years, the GEC has compiled a catalog of over 365 “Countering Propaganda and Disinformation” tools and technologies. These tools include everything from supposed fact-checking and “media literacy” tools to social network mapping, machine learning, and artificial intelligence technology. Significantly, many of the hundreds of tools and technologies the GEC cataloged and tested reach squarely into the American marketplace of speech, most blatantly NewsGuard and the Global Disinformation Index: Both NewsGuard and GDI rate the American press, branding news organizations as “unreliable” or “risky,” with the express purpose of systemically defunding what they call sources of harmful misinformation.

State’s GEC did much more than merely catalog and test NewsGuard and GDI’s technology and that of the other 350-plus censorship enterprises. The State Department provided government grants to numerous censorship enterprises – including organizations targeting the American press and speech. The taxpayer-funded employees and contractors of GEC also shilled for these technologies, most appallingly through a GEC-employed Silicon Valley liaison who peddled the censorship technology to American social media and technology companies.

Such government-supported censorship of the press and of viewpoint wrong-think on this scale is unprecedented in American history. And it is unconstitutional.

For these reasons, the New Civil Liberties Alliance has filed a federal lawsuit against the State Department and the officials responsible for this censorship scheme, representing The Daily Wire and The Federalist – two of the many conservative media outlets blacklisted by government-funded and government-promoted censorship enterprises. The state of Texas has joined in this suit to halt these disturbing ultra vires actions of the State Department.

The federal officials who originated, promoted, participated, and propagated this “whole of government” censorship enterprise must be halted in their tracks and brought to account for their unlawful and unconstitutional scheme. Swift court action is essential to restoring our nation to its core principles of respect for the freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and observance of the legal and constitutional constraints and the rule of law that should have prohibited this enterprise from the get-go. We are happy to lead that effort.

Originally Published in RealClearPolitics