The Heritage Foundation and the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) have released statements defending themselves after Fox News host Tucker Carlson blasted them last night over their opposition to reforms that would strip away big tech’s blanket legal privileges to censor political speech.
In the 1990s, Congress granted tech companies special legal privileges enjoyed by no other company, under subsection c(2) of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA).
The law has allowed tech companies to successfully argue in court that they have a right to censor their users at will, regardless of how much money and time the users have invested in the platform, or whether employees of a business depend on them retaining access to their account.
D.C. think tanks like Heritage and CEI have opposed attempts to reform this piece of legislation, and also take donations from big tech companies like Google. This is why Tucker Carlson told his viewers that “conservative nonprofits in Washington, the ones that are supposed to be looking out for you, aren’t actually looking out for you.”
Responding to Tucker Carlson, the Heritage Foundation released the following statement:
WASHINGTON—In a segment that aired Friday, Fox News host Tucker Carlson made several false, outrageous, and unfounded accusations against The Heritage Foundation. Rob Bluey, vice president of communications at Heritage, released the following statement in response:
For nearly 50 years, The Heritage Foundation has represented the interests of the American people based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional values, and a strong national defense. Heritage does not support policies that deviate from these principles, nor are our recommendations ever influenced by donations or outside political pressure.
It was, therefore, incredibly disappointing to hear Tucker Carlson, whom we hold in high regard, mislead his viewers about Heritage’s work on the topics of big tech and censorship. Carlson is a former employee of Heritage who last year received our prestigious Salvatori Prize and who regularly features Heritage guests on his Fox News program. In other words, he knows Heritage, our people, and our principles.
Unfortunately, Carlson did not contact us in advance of his segment or provide Heritage with an opportunity to respond to his accusations. Rather than engage in a substantive policy debate, he chose instead to make ad hominem attacks and question our integrity. We are disappointed this came from someone whom we admire and respect.
The Heritage Foundation will not let these attacks go unanswered and we welcome the opportunity to have a substantive debate on public policy.
Carlson’s claims began with an attack on a recent Heritage report about Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. He claimed the report’s author repeated lines verbatim from a trade association. This is false. In fact, the 13-page Heritage report contained 22 footnotes, all of which were properly quoted and attributed to sources. The report went through a thorough and lengthy process of vetting and review by Heritage scholars to ensure accuracy and agreement among all Heritage analysts involved in technology and social media policy.
The conclusions of Heritage’s report were based on the principles that guide all of our policy recommendations—principles Carlson seems curiously less interested in defending. Instead, he made an unfounded assertion against Heritage and outrageous smear of one of our scholars. It is disappointing that Carlson would deceive his viewers with such patently false information.
It should come as no surprise that Heritage supports empowering consumers rather than government. We are, and have always been, champions of the free market and critics of government intervention. That’s why we are forcefully pushing back on the few outspoken individuals who seem to prefer an expedient answer rather than a principled solution.
Carlson also failed to acknowledge Heritage experts’ consistent criticism of technology companies, including Google’s decision to withdraw from the Department of Defense’s Project Maven and its work with communist China on a censored search engine.
He apparently missed Heritage President Kay C. James’ Washington Post op-ed blasting Google for caving to the radical left and disbanding its AI board simply because she, a prominent conservative leader, was asked to join it.
And he made no mention of Google-owned YouTube censoring a video produced by The Daily Signal, Heritage’s multimedia news outlet. On our public platforms and in a private meeting with YouTube’s CEO, we made our position abundantly clear: We will not tolerate this type of censorship and will stand side by side with other conservatives experiencing similar challenges.
Heritage and its team of dedicated scholars are committed to pursuing public policies that make life better for all Americans. Heritage is the largest public policy organization in America with more than 500,000 members and has the No. 1 ranking from the University of Pennsylvania for impact on public policy. We won’t be intimidated or bullied as we continue to represent the interests of conservatives and all Americans.
The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), which attracted controversy in December 2018 when leaked audio revealed that a Google executive connected the tech company’s close relationship with the think tank to its members’ decisions to write op-eds opposing the regulation of big tech, also released a statement.
The statement incorrectly describes Tucker Carlson as a “television entertainer,” rather than his actual role as the host of a news show. It is unclear if this was intentional.
Last night, television entertainer Tucker Carlson aired a segment attacking CEI and other free market groups for opposition to using government power to intervene in markets and questioning the integrity of our positions.
CEI President Kent Lassman responded:
Since its founding in 1984, the Competitive Enterprise Institute has opposed government regulations that interfere with property rights, free flowing prices, and consumer choices in the market. The characteristics of economic regulation include protection for incumbents against innovators and new entrants and misallocated resources. More often than not, economic regulation disproportionately hurts consumers. We have consistently opposed regulations both supported and opposed by industry, including large technology companies. On so-called Net Neutrality regulations, CEI opposed government interference into technology that was supported by big tech and social media companies because we believe those regulations would harm competitiveness, innovation and, ultimately, consumers. The regulations would obviate property right for millions of shareholders in the massive capital investments made to build communications networks and ultimately put power in the hands of government proctors to decide what we see, hear, read, and share on those networks.
For more than 35 years, CEI has advocated against antitrust regulation and advocated free markets rooted in consumer sovereignty. ‘Truly competitive markets are inherently free markets, unrestrained by antitrust regulators second-guessing valid business decisions,’ CEI senior policy analyst Jule R. Herbert Jr. wrote in a Wall Street Journal oped titled An Antitrust Route to Re-regulation, on July 26, 1985. CEI’s consistent opposition to antitrust predates many companies that may seem dominant today. A simple search for ‘antitrust’ on cei.org shows hundreds of publications, commentaries, and media citations criticizing antitrust. It is a legitimate and widely held position undeserving of drive-by smears. Two years before CEI was established in 1984, CEI’s founder, Fred L. Smith, Jr., wrote a lengthy analysis titled Why Not Abolish Antitrust?, building a persuasive case against antitrust law.
CEI has always sought reform of our nation’s regulatory system to promote economic liberty, opportunity, and prosperity and is directed independently by our policy experts and managers, not by outside interests. We proudly seek out allies who share our values and policy priorities, and that includes individuals, businesses, and foundations. And we do not change our positions on public policy issues to suit the politics of the day or please the occupants of powerful offices whose whims can have profound negative effects on American families.
The framing of opposition to the reform of Section 230 of the CDA as opposition to “regulation” is not accurate. Section 230, by definition, is already a regulation — one that grants the Silicon Valley Masters of the Universe special legal privileges that no other type of company enjoys. It was given to them by D.C. politicians, and is now maintained by D.C. politicians — many of whom are now funded by the same tech companies that benefit from it.
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Allum Bokhari is the senior technology correspondent at Breitbart News.