I’ve not been posting a lot this week because I’ve been in Rome, and very busy, so I’ve only been able to follow the news sporadically. I’m headed to the airport in a few minutes, and just caught this news:
Elon Musk faced a growing backlash on Friday from lawmakers on both sides of the Atlantic, with threats of fines and sanctions, after Twitter suspended the accounts of at least eight journalists on Thursday without warning.
The suspended accounts included those belonging to Ryan Mac of The New York Times, Donie O’Sullivan of CNN and Drew Harwell of The Washington Post. It was unclear what the suspensions had in common.
The silencing of prominent voices could raise the regulatory heat on Twitter, and possibly Mr. Musk’s other companies, including Tesla and SpaceX, which is a big recipient of government funding and projects. It could also hurt his push to get reluctant advertisers back onto the platform.
The action set off a wave of protests. News organizations, including The Times and CNN, have demanded that Mr. Musk explain his rationale. Supporters of the journalists argued on Twitter that the move was overly punitive.
Lawmakers in the European Union may go on the offensive. Vera Jourova, a vice president of the European Commission, said the move violated the E.U.’s Digital Services Act and its Media Freedom Act.
“There are red lines. And sanctions, soon,” she tweeted Friday morning.
I don’t know why Elon Musk suspended those accounts, so I won’t take a position on that just now. What blows my mind is the fact that “lawmakers on both sides of the Atlantic” are threatening legal action against Elon Musk over it. Where the hell were all these people when the previous Twitter regime was suspending the accounts of conservatives constantly? Unless I missed it, the mainstream news organizations have barely, if at all, covered the Twitter Files revelations, which showed the social media giant colluding with the government to suppress speech, as well as revealed how and why the old Twitter suppressed discussion of Hunter Biden’s laptop at a time when it stood to hurt Joe Biden’s presidential campaign. Those moves at a thousand times more alarming than what Elon Musk has done today, but news organizations haven’t shown themselves to be angry over what Jack Dorsey’s Twitter did, or even interested in it.
But let Elon Musk suspend eight journalists, and the First Amendment is suddenly under siege. What effing hypocrites these liberals are.
And look, maybe I missed something else, but I don’t recall Republican lawmakers threatening to use the power of the state against Twitter over its punishing of conservative voices over petty infractions. You can be sure, though, that they will going forward. This escalation in the culture war is 100 percent the fault of the Left.
See, this is why I keep saying that American conservative politicians need to learn from Viktor Orban. He understands very well how powerful private-sector actors — George Soros being the premier example — exercise power in illiberal ways, to forward their causes. The only means conservatives have to push back is through state action. If Twitter had been headquartered in Hungary, Orban would not have sat back and let its previous ownership treat conservative voices that way — not if he had any influence over the matter as an elected political leader. Should the state involve itself in the way media run their business? As a matter of general principle, I would say no. But that’s because when it comes to free speech, I still operate from a classical liberal mindset.
We are seeing now, in the case of Elon Musk’s Twitter, how inadequate classical liberalism is to the various crises of the current moment. Liberalism (by which I mean classical liberalism) only works if everybody who is part of the system — left, right, and middle — share the same broad commitment to liberal ways of thinking and acting. But we have seen in the last decade or so that the Left, and the institutions it controls, have no real interest in liberalism. They have become illiberal Leftists. And given the power of technology giants and corporate monopolies to control discourse in this country, dissenting voices from the Right are not going to be heard without government action to level the playing field.
When I first arrived in Hungary in 2021, I talked to a couple of Hungarian journalists of the Right, and expressed disapproval of how the Orban government handles the media — specifically, what I understood to be his government maneuvering the sale of a large number of small media titles to one of his supporters. These journalists told me that it only looks bad from the outside. By far the biggest media outlets in Hungary today, they said, are strongly on the Left, and critical of the government. As I understood them, they were saying that it would be like a conservative buying ten small newspapers in the outer boroughs of New York, and The New York Times claiming it was outnumbered ten-to-one by the Right.
More importantly, though, both these journalists told me that the media culture in Hungary is so monolithically and aggressively on the Left that if the Orban government had not acted, there would be virtually no way for dissenting conservative voices to get a hearing.
To be clear, I don’t speak Hungarian, so I can’t evaluate those claims independently. Still, I don’t find them difficult to believe, because we have a similar situation in the United States. Liberals always say, “But Fox News!”, to which any conservative who knows what’s what says, “We will happily trade you Fox News for The New York Times, the Washington Post, the three broadcast networks, CNN and MSNBC,” et cetera.
Anyway, the Musk thing: this is a five-alarm fire for conservatives facing the power of the Cathedral, which has gone Torquemada on Musk. Its minions cannot be allowed to get away with it. It might be the case that Musk’s suspension of these journalists’ accounts was indefensible — I don’t know, because I haven’t read his justification. But even if it was wrong, the fact that the Cathedral has remained silent all these years as conservative accounts were suspended gratuitously, and have stayed quiet as church mice over the Twitter Files revelations, means their hair-on-fire reaction to suspending the accounts of eight journalists is galling hypocrisy. This tells you something about how the United States and the European Union are run. It’s really important too that American conservatives understand that what the Cathedral is doing to Musk, the European Cathedral (the EU) is doing to Viktor Orban and Hungary. It’s time that conservative US lawmakers get on the phone to Budapest and ask the Orban government for advice.