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Don't Call CPS on Parents Who Mask Their Kids; Don't Call the FCC on Tucker Carlson

 

Fighting authoritarianism with authoritarianism? Just when you thought outrage mongers couldn't wring out another masking debate news cycle, Fox News host Tucker Carlson suggests that not only is it silly for people to wear masks outdoors but it's actually child abuse when parents make their kids do it. On his program last night, Carlson said that when people see kids wearing masks outdoors, they should "call the police immediately, contact child protective services."

For someone who "backs the blue" and thinks crime is out of control right now, that's showing remarkably little respect for police time and resources. Imagine if people actually took Carlson's advice, and the cops were actually called to respond to countless incidents of…children wearing masks.

And for someone who often rails against excessive government intervention, or for parents' rights when it comes to things like school choice, that's also a pretty big reversal. It might not be necessary for kids to mask up outside, but children aren't being hurt by it, either. The idea that child protective services could or should do something about it just because Carlson doesn't like it is ludicrous.

You can't reasonably argue that people should be able to choose whether to get vaccinated, but not whether to put a piece of cloth over their faces in public; that parents should be able to choose how their children are educated, but not where they wear personal protective gear during a pandemic; that it's an unconscionable overreach if the government were to try and control what people eat, but not if it locks parents up for being overzealous about child safety.

But it's a doomed project to expect consistency from conservative commentators these days. Whatever Democrats are against, they are for; whatever Democrats are for, they are against. And when being oppositional isn't getting enough attention, we get ante-upping of this variety.

Alas, the same goes in the opposite direction, too. For progressive pundits looking to stand out from the pack, it's not enough to merely condemn Carlson's comments and point out the fallacies in his thinking. No, they need to call his comments "hate speech" and "incitement," and insist the federal government should somehow intervene.

For example:

There are so many things wrong with this statement it's hard to know where to begin. First, merely suggesting that a behavior should be sanctioned is not incitement.

Second, the Fairness Doctrine—a Federal Communications Commission policy that required broadcast licensees to cover issues of "public importance" and to ensure opposing viewpoints about these issues were aired—did not apply to cable networks and hence would have had no bearing on Fox News programming. Some people might suggest making sure a new Fairness Doctrine applies to cable news, too. But doing so would likely be unconstitutional. ("Even in its mid-20th century heyday"—and applied only to broadcast—"the fairness doctrine was constitutionally suspect," notes the nonpartisan Brookings Institution's John Villasenor.)

Third, even if a new Fairness Doctrine did apply to Fox News, it wouldn't do what Carlson's opponents seem to want: prevent him from saying things they don't like on air. It would simply mean that Carlson's views would have to be tempered by an opposing viewpoint. This is something Carlson frequently does anyway—bringing on guests who oppose him to serve as foils—and critics still flip out about his comments, suggesting that merely airing a challenger isn't really enough to satisfy people who think he shouldn't be allowed to speak to large audiences at all.

The Fairness Doctrine also seems unlikely to satisfy the people calling for its renewal for another reason: It wouldn't just apply to conservative media. A new, cable-applicable doctrine would also mean that outlets like MSNBC would have to give daily air time to conservative viewpoints, platforming the very people or opinions that cause so much consternation when coming from Fox.

Critics of David Weissman's Fairness Doctrine tweet—which this morning included me and author Jillian C. York—were met with some truly depressing responses. Some suggested the Fairness Doctrine has nothing to do with the First Amendment, even though its core is government-compelled speech—one of the main things the First Amendment guards against. Some simply dismissed us as right-wingers for daring to suggest the First Amendment matters. (Remember when free speech was considered a liberal value… anybody? Anybody?) Do progressive proponents of a renewed Fairness Doctrine realize they're on the same side as Mike Pence and Josh Hawley?

A lot of people seemed to think the Fairness Doctrine would somehow prevent Carlson from having a platform altogether (which is nonsense), or that if it didn't, we should find a policy that would. A number of people suggested this while insisting they do support the First Amendment, but that this had nothing to do with free speech because Carlson could still speak freely in private and it was only his platform they wanted the government to take away.

The First Amendment does not merely mean you have a right to speak freely within your own home or in private conversations. It means that while no private company is required to platform your speech if they don't want to, they're also allowed to do so (with a few exceptions) without government interference. To say otherwise is authoritarianism. A government that can simply order the press or other private actors to ban certain speakers has no place in a liberal democracy.

And can you imagine the uproar if conservatives suggested that banning calls from the airwaves to defund or abolish cops were constitutional because people could still talk about it among themselves? Or suggested that the federal government should be able to decide who is and isn't allowed on CNN? Do you remember the outrage from the left when former President Donald Trump made any comments disparaging the press or questioning the right of certain programs to exist?

That anger wasn't misplaced—it is outrageous for public officials (or anyone) to suggest that the government get to control what viewpoints Americans hear. It was outrageous when Trumpian conservatives did it. And it's outrageous when progressives do it today.

The craziest part is that both sides would hate the world created by their theatrical calls for a more authoritarian approach to speech. Even if whoever is in power when they're proposing them would mostly make calls they like, those same powers would be granted to the next person in power, and the next, and the next. Do they honestly believe another leader they dislike will never again be in office? Or that laws powerful enough to randomly kill speech they don't like would never be used against speech they do like?

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