By Chuck Ross
On Monday, the senior Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee sent out two letters: one urging cable and streaming providers to deplatform three conservative news networks, and another calling on President Joe Biden to make Jessica Rosenworcel the permanent chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission.
Rosenworcel would seemingly have some say over the proposal from the first letter, sent out by California Rep. Anna Eshoo, but she has so far stayed silent on the issue. Brendan Carr, a Republican FCC commissioner, called Monday for his fellow commissioners to publicly denounce the letter.
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Rosenworcel’s silence is a reversal of sorts from 2017 when the Democratic FCC commissioner criticized President Donald Trump for an “assault on free expression” for proposing a review of broadcast licenses for NBC News affiliates.
“I don’t think that the government should be in the business of substituting its judgment for programming licensees,” Rosenworcel added in a 2017 interview on CNN, according to The Federalist. “I think it’s essential for newsgathering that the government isn’t dictating what content should and shouldn’t be on the airwaves.”
Rosenworcel, who was first appointed to the FCC in 2012, called on her fellow commissioners in the CNN interview to “make clear that they support the First Amendment” by affirming that the agency would not revoke TV licenses at the whim of the president. “History won’t be kind to silence,” Rosenworcel said at the time.
Rosenworcel has not commented publicly on Eshoo and McNerny’s efforts to deplatform Fox News, Newsmax and OANN.
The Democrats urged 12 cable, satellite and streaming providers to cut ties with the conservative networks because of their coverage of voter fraud allegations after the 2020 election. Eshoo and McNerny asserted that the companies “have done nothing in response to the misinformation aired by these outlets.”
“Are you planning to continue carrying Fox News, OANN, and Newsmax on your platform both now and beyond the renewal date?” they asked in the letter sent to companies like Cox Communications, AT&T, Dish, Apple and Comcast. “If so, why?”
Carr and another FCC Republican, Nathan Simington, publicly condemned the letter on Monday. Carr called it a “chilling transgression” aimed at stifling political speech. “I call on my FCC colleagues to join me in publicly denouncing this attempt to stifle political speech and independent news judgment,” he said.
Simington accused Eshoo and McNerny of seeking to “intimidate into silence those who would distribute on their platforms disfavored points of view.” He said their letter was “particularly concerning” because the House Energy and Commerce Committee oversees the Communications Act. “Their statement could be read to imply that action will be taken under the Communications Act should the recipients not agree in advance to chill their speech.”
— Brendan Carr (@BrendanCarrFCC) February 23, 2021
Rosenworcel did not respond to an email seeking comment on the letter or the request by Carr that she speak out publicly. The FCC’s media office also did not respond to a request for comment.
Rosenworcel is vying to become the first female chair of the FCC.
In her letter to the White House on Monday, Eshoo said that the FCC has “embarrassingly never had a woman” serve as permanent chair of the commission. “We urge the Administration to rectify this track record by nominating Jessica Rosenworcel to the role of FCC Chairwoman,” continued the letter, which Eshoo signed with more than 30 female House Democrats.
Trump suggested twice during his presidency, in 2017 and 2018, that licenses for NBC stations be revoked. He first suggested it in October 2017 after NBC News published what he called a “fake news” report about his nuclear strategy.
Trump floated the idea again in September 2018 after a report that NBC News executives allegedly killed a story about disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.
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