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Where Have All The Liberals Gone?

Opening comments to the general public to ask a question, in sincerity: what changed the minds of society's former First Amendment advocates?

By Matt Taibbi

July 14, 2023: Information Clearing House -- Yesterday a House Committee — Republican-led, but still — released a series of documents showing without a doubt that the FBI has been forwarding thousands of content moderation “requests” to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube on behalf of the SBU, Ukraine’s Security Agency.

The documents not only contain incontrovertible evidence that our own FBI pressures tech companies to censor material, but that the Bureau is outsourcing such work to a foreign government, in this case Ukraine. This passage below for instance reads “The SBU requested for your review and if appropriate deletion/suspension of these accounts.”

There can’t possibly be controversy at this point as to whether or not this censorship program is going on. Whether it’s the FBI forwarding the SBU asking for the removal of Aaron Maté, or the Global Engagement Center recommending action on the Canadian site GlobalResearch.Ca, or the White House demanding the takedown of figures like Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., the same types of behavior have now been captured over and over.

In light of this, I have to ask: where are the rest of the “card-carrying” liberals from the seventies, eighties, and nineties — people like me, who always reflexively opposed restrictions on speech?

Is your argument that private companies can do what they want? Then why did you think otherwise in 1985, when Tipper Gore’s Parents Music Resource Center suggested record companies “voluntarily” label as dirty songs like “Darling Nikki,” and call them McCarthyites when they compiled a list of the “Filthy Fifteen” albums? Does that not sound suspiciously like the “Disinformation Dozen”? Why were you on Frank Zappa’s side then, but with blacklisters now?

Do you now think it’s not really censorship if the FBI merely makes its opinion known about content, and doesn’t order takedowns? Did you think the same when the FBI sent a letter to Priority Records complaining about NWA’s “Fuck the Police”? Did you agree then with the ACLU, whose Southern California chairman responded to the FBI’s letter by saying, “It is completely inappropriate for any government agency to try to influence what artists do. It is completely against the American traditions of free speech”?

Is your belief that new forms of speech constitute “harm” and “offense” to such a degree that censorship is warranted? If so, why did you once support Andres Serrano and his work Piss Christ, which Catholics insisted was an intolerable offense, and call it censorship when opponents like Al D’Amato and Jesse Helms tried to pull funding for Serrano from the National Endowment of the Arts? Wasn’t the Hustler magazine spread suggesting Jerry Falwell had sex with his mother in an outhouse offensive? Didn’t you go to The People Versus Larry Flynt anyway?

If you’re okay with the FBI collaborating on censorship with the SBU now, why oppose the original PATRIOT Act, suggesting you didn’t even want the government looking at library records in search of Islamic terrorists? Why did you support the Dixie Chicks when they were blackballed for antiwar views after the Iraq invasion? Did you cheer them when you watched Shut Up and Sing?

Weren’t those national security issues, too? That wasn’t even that long ago. Is Vladimir Putin that much more of a menace than Al-Qaeda to justify the change in heart?

The change in thinking of traditional American liberals is the only part of this censorship picture that still doesn’t quite compute for me. I’d like to hear from anyone who has an explanation, a personal testimonial, anything. Comments are open to everyone here.

Matt Taibbi is an American author, journalist, and podcaster. He has reported on finance, media, politics, and sports. A former contributing editor for Rolling Stone, he is the author of several books, co-host of Useful Idiots, and publisher of the newsletter Racket News on Substack.

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