Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who would like very much to reimpose the old, so-called, “Fairness Doctrine” that once censored conservative opinion on television and radio broadcasting, is scheming to impose rules barring any member of Congress from posting opinions on any internet site without first obtaining prior approval from the Democratic leadership of Congress. No blogs, twitter, online forums – nothing.
This was first reported to me by Congressman John Culberson (R-Tx) and I asked for approval to cite him and for any media links to this story. He provided the following link of regulations proposed by the Chair of the Congressional Commission on Mailing Standards (PDF) Congressman Michael Capuano (D-Mass) that was sent to Rep. Robert Brady, Chairman of the House Committee for Administration. The net effect of the regs would be to make it practically impossible for members of Congress to use social media tools to discuss official business or share video of the same with the public while creating a partisan disparity in what little approved messages might be permitted. It would be a very considerable error to assume that the House leadership intends to let dissenting Democratic members post any more freely than Republicans.
Set aside the nakedly partisan aspect of this plan for a moment – on the technological merits alone this may be the goddamn dumbest thing I’ve heard of regarding the Internet coming out of Congress in a long, long time. The dinosaurs who are uncomfortable with computers, the unwashed masses being aware of their actions and free political debate want to turn the clock back to the 1970s. Except during the 1970s no one would have dared to propose controlling what a democratically elected member of Congress could say to their constituents. Doesn’t it register in the Beltway that they are talking about public information that already belongs to the people of the United States? Senators and Congressmen should be interacting with citizens more freely, not less; the U.S. Congress needs radical transparency not greater opacity imposed by the Democratic House leadership to better hide shady dealings
It’s a brazenly Orwellian and most likely unconstitutional power grab by the Speaker of the House unlike anything dreamed of by any previous speaker – not Sam Rayburn, not Joseph Cannon. Nobody.
Nancy Pelosi has finally arrived at a historical pinnacle – as an enemy of free speech and the public’s right to know.
Given that I was somewhat intemperate in tone in my post and many questions were raised by the other side regarding the document, I’m highlighting my reply to those commenters who felt aggrieved:
1. The old rules were indeed worse than the new proposed changes. They were also not enforced and most members of the House posted as they pleased, much like the rest of us.
2. Putting new, modestly less restrictive rules in place and actively enforcing them results in a de facto large increase in the level of restrictiveness to access social media.
3. What larger public good is served by either the old or the proposed new rules?
4. The complexity of this elaborate gatekeeping system is rife for partisan abuse and selective enforcement that would have a chilling effect on members of Congress using social media. If you think Pelosi is a saint then imagine the system in the hands of Tom DeLay. The pre-publication review is itself a significant barrier to access given the limited time Congressmen have in very busy schedules
5. The rules that seem “reasonable” regarding content and external sites are subjective and are to be interpreted by the majority at the minority’s expense. Again, consider the shoe on the other foot.
6. Changes in the rules of the House of Representatives are done only in close consultation with the Speaker, who appoints the committee chairmen, and the the majority leader and whip. The chance of Nancy Pelosi not being at the table here is about zero. That the issue is being pressed on the Senate side as well indicates that this is a coordinated leadership agenda and not minor tidying up by members themselves.