Two Democratic members of a House communications subcommittee sent a letter to a dozen television carrier executives this week, asking them why they carry Fox News, Newsmax and OANN and warning that the three news channels are "disseminating misinformation to millions" of Americans.
The letter, signed by Reps. Anna G. Eshoo (D-Calif.) and Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.), implies that the three conservative channels should be dropped from the platforms because they allegedly played a role in the Jan. 6 attack on the capitol. Eshoo and McNerney are members of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications.
"Are you planning to continue carrying Fox News, Newsmax, and OANN … both now and beyond any contract renewal date? If so, why?" the representatives ask in the letter.
The letter was sent to the heads of 12 cable, satellite and streaming services: Comcast, Charter, Cox, Altice, Dish, AT&T, Verizon, Amazon, Google/YouTube, Apple, Roku and Hulu.
"Our country’s public discourse is plagued by misinformation, disinformation, conspiracy theories, and lies," the letter says. "These phenomena undergird the radicalization of seditious individuals who committed acts of insurrection on January 6th, and it contributes to a growing distrust of public health measures necessary to crush the pandemic."
The letter says the representatives are "concerned" about the role each television carrier "plays in disseminating misinformation to millions."
"Not all TV news sources are the same. Some purported news outlets have long been misinformation rumor mills and conspiracy theory hotbeds that produce content that leads to real harm,” the letter says. “Misinformation on TV has led to our current polluted information environment that radicalizes individuals to commit seditious acts and rejects public health best practices, among other issues in our public discourse. Experts have noted that the right-wing media ecosystem is ‘much more susceptible … to disinformation, lies, and half-truths.'"
Fox News, Newsmax and OANN "all aired misinformation about the November 2020 elections,” the letter says. Further, they “also have been key vectors of spreading misinformation related to the pandemic," the letter says.
"Yet, to our knowledge, the cable, satellite, and over-the-top companies that disseminate these media outlets to American viewers have done nothing in response to the misinformation aired by these outlets," the letter says.
The representatives ask the executives to respond to a series of questions, including:
- "What moral or ethical principles (including those related to journalistic integrity, violence, medical information, and public health) do you apply in deciding which channels to carry or when to take adverse actions against a channel?"
- "How many of your subscribers tuned in to Fox News, Newsmax, and OANN … for each of the four weeks preceding the November 3, 2020 elections and the January 6, 2021 attacks on the Capitol? Please specify the number of subscribers that tuned in to each channel."
- "What steps did you take prior to, on, and following the November 3, 2020 elections and the January 6, 2021 attacks to monitor, respond to, and reduce the spread of disinformation, including encouragement or incitement of violence by channels your company disseminates to millions of Americans? Please describe each step that you took and when it was taken."
- "Have you ever taken any actions against a channel for using your platform to disseminate any disinformation? If yes, please describe each action and when it was taken."
On Wednesday, the Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology held a hearing on the subject of "disinformation and extremism in media."
Photo courtesy: Unsplash/Glenn Carstens-Peters
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.