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Jonathan Turley on Biden’s choice for media official: ‘Would be difficult to select a more anti-free speech figure’

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Legal scholar Jonathan Turley fears that former Vice President Joe Biden’s transition team has taken an “ominous turn” with one of its latest appointments.

The George Washington University Law professor warned of the consequences of Biden’s choice for a key media post, noting on his website that it would be “difficult to select a more anti-free speech figure” than Richard Stengel, an MSNBC analyst and former Obama administration official.

Biden’s choice for the top state media position has raised alarms and, according to Turley, does not bode well for “those of us who have been critical of the growing anti-free speech movement in the Democratic Party.”

“As I previously addressed in a column, Stengel has been one of the most controversial figures calling for censorship and speech controls. For a president-elect who just called for everyone to ‘hear each other,’ he picked a top aide who wants to silence many,” Turley wrote Wednesday.

(Image: C-SPAN screenshot)

“Since it would be difficult to select a more anti-free speech figure to address government media policy, one has to assume that Biden will continue the onslaught against this core freedom as president. This is not the first Biden aide to indicate a crackdown on free speech in the new Administration and Biden himself has called for greater censorship on the Internet,” Turley, a Democrat, wrote.

“Last year, Stengel wrote a chilling Washington Post op-ed that denounced free speech as a threat to social and political harmony. Like a number of liberal and Democratic figures, Stengel struggled to convince readers that what they need is less freedom,” Turley continued, including the quote from the man described as “the longest serving Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs in American history.”

“All speech is not equal. And where truth cannot drive out lies, we must add new guardrails. I’m all for protecting ‘thought that we hate,’ but not speech that incites hate,” Stengel said in the op-ed.

Turley recalled how Biden had “called for greater speech controls on the Internet and denounced Twitter for allowing others to speak freely” back in January as he attacked President Donald Trump. As Republicans have continued to sound the alarm on big tech, amid a wave of online censorship and a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing scheduled for Tuesday, Democrats and congressional leaders like House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff have called for the outright removal of what they deem false information.

Stengel, a former managing editor of TIME Magazine and former strategic advisor to the company running Snapchat, was described by Turley as “one of the most unnerving and outspoken voices against free speech.”

Indeed, the former State Department official has advocated a call to “rethink” the First Amendment.

And earlier this year, Stengel contended that Constitutional rights do not apply to “false speech” on the coronavirus.

“The First Amendment doesn’t protect false speech about a virus or false speech that endangers the health of your users. And 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,” Stengel said on MSNBC in May.

(Source: MSNBC)

“So in a nation filled with gifted people to lead the effort on government media policy and positions, Biden selected a person who rejects the very essence of free speech,” Turley concluded on his website.

“Stengel promises the unity’ of a nation silenced by government speech codes and censorship,” he wrote. “If no one has a megaphone, free speech is no longer a problem.”

Frieda Powers

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