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"Fox and Newsmax, both delivered to my home by your company, are complicit," NJ state Assemblyman Paul Moriarty texted a Comcast executive on Thursday. "What are you going to do???"
"You feed this garbage, lies and all," Moriarty added to the executive, according to a screen grab of the texts he provided me. Moriarty was referring to the fact that Comcast's cable brand, Xfinity, provides a platform to right-wing cable networks that have for weeks been disseminating disinformation about the November election results to audiences of millions.
Moriarty has a point. We regularly discuss what the Big Tech companies have done to poison the public conversation by providing large platforms to bad-faith actors who lie, mislead, and promote conspiracy theories. But what about TV companies that provide platforms to networks such as Newsmax, One America News -- and, yes, Fox News?
Somehow, these companies have escaped scrutiny and entirely dodged this conversation. That should not be the case anymore. After Wednesday's incident of domestic terrorism on Capitol Hill, it is time TV carriers face questions for lending their platforms to dishonest companies that profit off of disinformation and conspiracy theories. After all, it was the very lies that Fox, Newsmax, and OAN spread that helped prime President Trump's supporters into not believing the truth: that he lost an honest and fair election.
Yes, Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson and Mark Levin and others are responsible for the lies they peddle to their audiences. But the TV companies that beam them into millions of homes around the country also bear some responsibility. And yet we rarely, if ever, talk about them.
Tech companies have community guidelines governing the content posted on their platforms. Do cable carriers? If so, what are they? Surely, these companies — many of which boast about their social and civic responsibilities — have limits to the content they disseminate. It's hard, for instance, to imagine they'd carry a fringe and conspiratorial network like InfoWars.
So why do AT&T (which I should note is CNN's parent company), CenturyLink, and Verizon carry OAN? Why do AT&T, CenturyLink, Verizon, Comcast, Charter, and Dish carry Newsmax? And why do they all carry Fox — which is, frankly, at times just as irresponsible and dangerous with its platform as its smaller competitor networks?
I asked all of these companies for comment on Thursday. I asked them if they have any guidelines governing the content that they carry on their platforms. I asked them if they have any regret over carrying right-wing channels that were in many ways partly responsible for what took place in our nation's capital this week.
Only CenturyLink provided a comment, saying it was committed to providing "a variety of broadcast channels covering thousands of topics" and that as a company it does not "endorse specific media or outlets." CenturyLink didn't respond to a follow up email, but at least it responded in some way. AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, Charter, and Dish did not. They chose to simply ignore the questions.
At least Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and others have acknowledged they have some responsibility for the content they host and they have very clearly posted community guidelines on their websites for all to see. Why do we expect any less of TV companies?
SPEAKING OF MEDIA COMPANIES DODGING Qs...
It's not a TV carrier, but its one of the biggest distributors of right-wing talk radio in the country — and yet you rarely hear about Premiere Networks. That's despite hosts like Rush Limbaugh regularly misusing the platform to spread outright falsehoods or make grossly irresponsible comments.
Limbaugh did just that on Thursday when he appeared to endorse political violence one day after the Capitol Hill riot. "There's a lot of people calling for the end of violence," he said on his radio show. "There's a lot of conservatives on social media who say that any violence or aggression at all is unacceptable — regardless of the circumstances. I am glad Sam Adams, Thomas Paine, the actual Tea Party guys, the men at Lexington and Concord didn't feel that way."
So I asked a spokesperson for Premiere Networks, the company that distributes Limbaugh's show, if the company had any comment. Is it OK with its top host appearing to endorse political violence, especially in the wake of at least five dying in our nation's capital as a result of it? The spokesperson did not reply...