• ProPublica Attacks First Amendment, Cloudflare Edition

    May 8, 2017 // 12 Comments »



    You’re almost certainly interacting with Cloudflare right now. Feel OK?

    Cloudflare is a web services company that, among other things, protects sites against various malicious attacks and hacks. They don’t “host” data in most cases, but work as a kind of middleman between you and the server out there somewhere on the web that has the actual data. Cloudflare processes more web traffic than Twitter, Amazon, Apple, Instagram, and Wikipedia combined, because it handles data for most of those places at the same time. On average, you have interacted with a Cloudflare service 500 times today. This blog uses Cloudflare, as does the FBI, OKCupid and The Daily Stormer.

    You may not be as familiar with The Daily Stormer, but it is a nasty white supremacist site. They feature all sorts of hate, with a particular focus on anti-Semitism. Real garbage. But garbage fully protected under America’s long tradition of free speech (and yes, I understand the legal side of the First Amendment applies to government and not private businesses, but the broader concept of free speech underlies every democracy and has been the cornerstone of our inalienable rights in America. America at its best has always sought ways to broaden speech and access to ideas, not game ways to block them.)


    Yet in another example of assault on free speech from the left, investigative journalists ProPublica are now “outing” Cloudflare for providing business services to The Daily Stormer.

    ProPublica writes:

    The operations of such extreme sites [The Daily Stormer] are made possible, in part, by an otherwise very mainstream internet company — Cloudflare. The widespread use of Cloudflare’s services by racist groups is not an accident. Cloudflare has said it is not in the business of censoring websites and will not deny its services to even the most offensive purveyors of hate.

    The wording, implying Cloudflare has some special affinity for racist groups, is noted.


    Though it only cites three specific cases, ProPublica also makes much out of claims that Cloudflare, in accordance with its policies, forwarded content-related complaints about The Daily Stormer it received to the site itself. Apparently persons offended by Stormer’s speech wrote to Cloudflare demanding censorship. The complaintants felt their voluntary, public demand, to include their real names and contact information, demanding censorship, should itself be kept top secret from those they wished to censor.

    The idea is that (three) people offended by The Daily Stormer sought to shut the site down by threatening the “printer,” Cloudflare, who conveys information in a content neutral fashion. ProPublica is in favor of this.

    Of course shutting down printing presses to prevent the spread of ideas is old-school fascism. Sad to see a group like ProPublica, which thrives under the broader ideals of unfettered speech, trying to do away with such protections for others.

    I also guess as journalists ProPublica are unfamiliar with the trial of Peter Zenger, where, in pre-revolutionary America the government tried to punish a printer Peter Zenger for printing something offensive someone else wrote. Defended by Alexander Hamilton, Zenger was found not guilty. The trial is seen as the beginnings of what became our mighty First Amendment, and a significant victory for free speech. It established the precedent that you can’t shut down a means of conveyance of speech as a backdoor way to censor speech.



    Now, c’mon, I get it.

    Actually, ProPublica is familiar with the Zenger trial, citing its precedents on libel in a November 2016 article regarding fears that then President-Elect Trump might threaten parts of the First Amendment.

    ProPublica are smart people, and they understand the Zenger case and they understand the root value of free speech in America. But they are trying to be clever, talking fast to the rubes on the left who suddenly “woke” to allow their prejudices to be manipulated. It’s fundraising time, and groups like ProPublica know the money right now is to be made not in content-free defense of free speech, but in being seen as part of The Resistance.

    They know in the Age of Trump no progressive is going to stand up for the rights of unpopular speakers on the right, even though real progressives know that’s the pure thing to do in our democracy and always has been. Nope, the good guys are going to look down at their shoes and mumble mumble when these tough issues arise, say something about “means to an end” and the “greater good” and allow once stalwart defenders of liberty like ProPublica to get away with peddling hate in the guise of opposing it.

    Just know not everyone is fooled, and some of us are making notes. And that every call for censorship risks someone returning the favor.



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    Copyright © 2017. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

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    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    ProPublica’s Homophobic Witchhunt

    May 5, 2017 // 9 Comments »




    How to run a witch hunt:

    1) Make accusations as dramatic and salacious as possible;
    2) Play to existing fears and prejudices;
    3) Cite the greater good that makes way for necessary evil.

    So, if you’re Joe McCarthy in 1950s America:

    1) The government is full of Communists. Some are gay, subject to Commie blackmail!
    2) America is under threat for its very survival, and traitors are everywhere. Maybe even… you?
    3) We may need to destroy the lives of a few innocents, but isn’t our nation worth that risk?

    Or if you’re ProPublica in 2017:

    1) A Trump political appointee has (been accused of) sexually assaulting boys!
    2) Trump himself is a sexual assaulter, and his administration has shown it does not vet appointees (some work for Moscow!)
    3) Presenting accusations as evidence, headlining an issue resolved years ago, and pretending Googling is investigative journalism are necessary evils if we can pretend it is part of the Resistance.



    ProPublica is a non-profit organization that “produces investigative journalism in the public interest… focusing exclusively on truly important stories, stories with ‘moral force.’”

    Which seems an odd claim in that their latest blockbuster is to revive settled accusations that a minor Trump political appointee sexually assaulted fellow students at a military academy.

    ProPublica writes “Steven Munoz [above] allegedly assaulted five freshmen. His hiring at the State Department raises further questions about the Trump administration’s vetting process.” The story lists accusations of unwanted sexual touching from 2009 that first surfaced in 2012 via a leaked email, when Munoz did some work for the Rick Santorum campaign. Munoz claimed the acts were consensual. All of the information is available via Google searches; no investigative journalism is needed.

    Upshot? A South Carolina prosecutor reviewed the case and its 200 pages of evidence and declined to seek an indictment in 2013.

    Accusations and an investigation that lead to no charges. That’s it.



    But ProPublica went on to write “Munoz’s hiring raises questions about the Trump administration’s vetting of political appointees, which has been both slow and spotty, with multiple incidents of staff being fired only weeks into their jobs, including for disloyalty to Trump.” The implication is that the old, closed, accusations against Munoz should have been grounds to turn him down for an administrative job.



    So, ProPublica, what’s the story?

    If it’s that the military academy did a poor job of investigating the allegations, then write that story. If the local prosecutor failed in her responsibilities, then investigate and write that story. If you have evidence Munoz is sexually assaulting people in his political appointee job today in Washington, let’s hear it. If you can find that the Trump vetting process uncovered evidence of Munoz’ guilt and hired him anyway, let’ see that headlined.

    But if all you are doing is resurfacing old, dismissed allegations of a salacious nature in hopes of embarrassing the administration and making yourself look like The Resistance for a news cycle, then, no, you are just conducting an old-fashioned witch hunt.

    Shame on you, ProPublica, and your organization’s otherwise proud record.




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    Copyright © 2017. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

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    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

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