One America News Network (OAN) is demanding two House Democrat lawmakers retract letters that it says sought to pressure television carriers into taking action against OAN and two other conservative- to right-leaning news channels.
OAN’s attorney Eric Early wrote to Reps. Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.) and Anna G. Eshoo (D-Calif.) on Thursday demanding that they publicly retract their letters by March 11. He warned that the network could pursue legal action if the lawmakers refuse to do so.
McNerney and Eshoo, both members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, sent letters to 12 cable, satellite, and streaming companies last month, accusing the companies of not taking steps to combat the spread of what the Democrats say is “misinformation.”
The lawmakers claimed that OAN, Fox, and Newsmax had spread “misinformation” after the November 2020 elections and about COVID-19, and demanded carriers explain why they are offering their services to these television outlets. One of the questions the lawmakers posed asked the carriers to explain the “moral or ethical principles” behind the decision for carrying the news channels. They also asked the companies whether they were planning to continue carrying the news networks.
Early argued that the lawmakers’ questions were “thinly veiled threats” in disguise aimed at pressuring carriers with OAN contracts to “de-platform or otherwise take action” against the news network. The lawmakers’ wording also puts pressure on potential carriers from entering into further contracts with the networks, he argued.
“As government officials, you are interfering with the national cable news marketplace by dictating winners and losers. You are encouraging viewpoint discrimination designed to harm national media news voices that report unfavorably on your agendas and that may oppose you and your political beliefs,” Early alleged in the letter. “You are effectively demanding that three center-to-right national media outlets be removed to suit your own political desires.”
The lawyer also accused the lawmakers of infringing on OAN’s First Amendment right to free speech and free press by attempting to silence news organizations that present dissenting views to the Democrats.
“The authors of the letters have apparently forgotten the bedrock principles of our nation while taking positions to cancel OAN’s rights in a manner that would delight some of the most brutal dictators in world history. All of this on the letterhead of the Congress of the greatest Republic in human history,” Early said in an emailed statement to The Epoch Times.
He also alleged that the lawmakers’ letters are effectively interfering with OAN’s contractual relationships with the carriers, and argues that such conduct could expose them to potential tort liability.
“OAN will not sit idly by and watch as these elected officials and those acting in concert with them, trample all over the U.S. Constitution and OAN’s rights,” he added.
McNerney and Eshoo’s offices did not immediately respond to The Epoch Times’ request for comment on OAN’s letter.
The House Democrats have since received backlash for sending the letters. During a hearing on Feb. 24, the top Republican House member on the House Energy and Commerce Committee criticized her colleagues for their attempt to “censor media companies,” likening their conduct to actions by China’s ruling communist party.
“Elected officials using their platform to pressure private companies to censor media outlets they disagree with—that sounds a lot like actions from the Chinese Communist Party, not duly-elected representatives of the United States Congress,” Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers said during that hearing.
“Here, we cherish free speech and a free independent press. We believe in dialogue and in the battle of ideas. Rather than censor and silence constitutionally protected speech, the answer is more speech. That’s the American way.”
Similarly, two FCC Commissioners, Brendan Carr and Nathan Simington, in separate statements characterized the Democrats’ pressure as “troubling” because it seeks to “stifle political speech and independent news judgment.”
“This is a chilling transgression of the free speech rights that every media outlet in this country enjoys,” Carr said in his statement.
McNerney and Eshoo have both defended their letters. Eshoo pushed back on claims that they had violated the First Amendment.
She said she had asked First Amendment experts at the Congressional Research Service to review their letters for violations, and that the experts informed her their preliminary analysis did not find any “First Amendment red flags.”
“I’d like this to be understood, the idea that members asking questions violates the First Amendment is absolutely absurd. It’s our job to ask questions,” Eshoo said during the Feb. 24 hearing.
Similarly, McNerney said the letters sought to understand how “disinformation spreads” and the role of various companies in enabling that spread.