Michael Knowles, host of the Daily Wire’s right-wing Michael Knowles Show, has accused several news outlets of libel for their coverage of his speech at CPAC (Twitter, 3/4/23). The affair illustrates the kind of ideological pretzel-twisting right-wing media go through to make themselves look like victims of free speech suppression, but it’s no laughing matter: This is the kind of censorship and bullying of journalists the right is hoping will be standard practice if the Supreme Court implements its anti-press agenda.
Knowles at CPAC (3/4/23) declared that “for the good of society…transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely.” Rolling Stone (3/4/23) initially reported this under the headline “CPAC Speaker Calls for Transgender People to Be ‘Eradicated,’” which Knowles called libelous. (The magazine’s headline is now “CPAC Speaker Calls for Eradication of ‘Transgenderism’—and Somehow Claims He’s Not Calling for Elimination of Transgender People.”) Alyssa Cordova (Twitter, 3/4/23), a public relations executive for the Daily Wire, called for retractions from HuffPo and the Daily Beast for their headlines as well.
Knowles and Cordovas’ argument is that Knowles didn’t specifically say society needed to eradicate transgender people, but that it must eradicate “transgenderism”—whatever that means. Like Rolling Stone, Daily Beast (3/4/23) also changed its headline to address “transgenderism.” A headline in HuffPost (3/4/23) now doesn’t mention “trans” or “transgenderism” but said Knowles’ comments “sound downright genocidal.”
‘A preposterous ideology’
At first glance, the changes to the Rolling Stone and the Daily Beast headlines after Knowles’ online tantrum could seem innocent enough, but it’s hard to imagine media outlets being so generous to an incendiary speaker if the tables were turned. If someone said, “Christianity should be eradicated,” and media heard that as a call against all Christians, the excuse “I didn’t say I wanted to eradicate Christian people—I just want to eradicate their ideas, liturgy, houses of worship, freedom to identify as Christians and their entire way of life” is probably not going to hold up well in the court of public opinion.
But “transgenderism” is a tricky word that was once a broadly used term referring to people with a gender identity different from the one they were assigned at birth. Now, however, it’s used almost exclusively by the right to paint trans identity as some sort of political agenda to undo God’s gender order (Focus on the Family, 9/13/15), a campaign to influence children into a new “gender ideology” (Focus on the Family, 9/13/15) and an abomination on par with gay rights and abortion rights (Fox News, 11/2/22). Knowles, in his speech, called “transgenderism” a “preposterous ideology” that he knows to be “false.”
Being transgender isn’t a political ideology, just as being gay or straight aren’t ideologies. But in the right’s ongoing moral panic about gender identity, trans people aren’t simply a population that exists, but the foot soldiers in the anti-Christ’s campaign to use “they” pronouns and gender-neutral bathrooms to upend established orders.
Sarah Kate Ellis, CEO of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, said in a statement to FAIR:
“Transgenderism” is a phony term made up by anti-transgender activists and used to dehumanize transgender people and target them, their lifesaving healthcare and access to society. Similar hate speech about “eradicating” human beings has been used by extremists throughout history… This rhetoric is horrifically irresponsible and endangers innocent people and children. Responsible media must accurately describe terms used to target transgender people as hate speech, and identify those who use this rhetoric on any platform as anti-trans activists.
Politics of transphobia
The conservative use of the word “transgenderism” is a form of projection, a distorted mirror image of their own reactionary political agenda that seeks to eradicate access to healthcare, free speech, spaces to exist and protections for people who deviate too far from established norms about binary gender.
In Tennessee, the Republican governor signed bills “banning drag shows in public spaces, a measure that will likely force drag shows underground in Tennessee,” and a “ban on gender-affirming healthcare for youth” (NPR, 3/2/23). Another proposed measure (Washington Post, 3/1/23) “would effectively cut off access to gender-affirming care for low-income people, including adults,” by prohibiting “Tennessee’s Medicaid program from working with health insurance companies that cover gender-affirming care.” Meanwhile, “Republican lawmakers in at least five states have introduced legislation that would limit such care for adults.”
Last year, Michigan saw a bill that sought to “potentially sentence parents of transgender children to life in prison if they allow their child to obtain gender-affirming treatments” (MetroWeekly, 10/27/22). The Georgia state senate has “passed a bill that would prohibit medical professionals from giving transgender children certain hormones or surgical treatment that assists them” in transitioning (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 3/6/23).
Florida has proposed bills limiting the use of preferred pronouns (Washington Post, 3/5/23) and another that would “allow disapproving parents to take ‘emergency jurisdiction’ over their children if the minor receives or is ‘at risk of’ receiving gender-affirming care—or if their custodial parent receives it themselves” (Insider, 3/4/23). The American Civil Liberties Union (1/19/23) has cited more than 120 bills introduced this year aimed at “restricting LGBTQ people, targeting their freedom of expression, the safety of transgender students, and access to healthcare for gender dysphoria.”
‘False account of human nature’
Knowles is very much a part of the media arm of this political crusade, and he often mixes the style of a late-night AM radio preacher with the banality of someone begging for a job with the Trump Organization. He said “depictions of demons” are “always trans. And the reason for that is that the Devil hates human beings, and sexual difference is, basically, at the very core of human nature” (LA Blade, 2/7/23). He has called on states to “ban transgenderism entirely” (Vice, 3/3/23).
(As an aside, I’ve seen a lot of horror flicks and been to a lot of museums, and Knowles’ assertion about the sexual identity of demons is certainly going to leave a lot of cinephiles and art historians scratching their heads.)
Knowles (Twitter, 2/1/23) said that former President Donald Trump “is calling to outlaw transgender ideology—not just for little kids, not just in classrooms or certain federal programs—at every level. This is an *excellent* development.” He declared (KSNT, 3/31/22): “Transgenderism is simply not true. It is a false account of human nature which holds that one’s true self has nothing to do with reality.”
It’s not hard to infer that if a “false account of human nature” is “eradicated,” no one would subscribe to this “false account”—i.e., there would be no more trans people. If Knowles ever does take his case against these media outlets—despite the changes in headlines—to court, he would have to argue that his words don’t mean what they seem to mean.
‘Created a monster’
Knowles was partly successful in forcing the media to bury this inference, and that’s part of the broader problem. For FAIR (3/1/23, 2/25/22, 3/26/21), I have repeatedly covered the right’s desire to overturn New York Times v. Sullivan, a Supreme Court decision that protects people against defamation lawsuits from powerful people, noting that “public figures”—of which Knowles is certainly one—must prove “actual malice,” which is to say a “reckless disregard for the truth,” for the case to go forward.
In this instance, Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee (Twitter, 3/5/23) said that the headlines about Knowles are proof that Sullivan “has created a monster—giving the news media a license to lie about any public figure who can’t prove that the reporter acted with ‘actual malice,’ which is nearly impossible.”
Lee isn’t blowing hot air when it comes to exerting state power over the media. Republican Florida State Sen. Jason Brodeur has proposed a bill “requiring bloggers to register with the Office of Legislative Services or the Commission on Ethics…[and] requiring such bloggers to file monthly reports with the appropriate office by a certain date.” This comes after the state enacted legislation to police speech in schools around LGBTQ identity (Slate, 3/26/22). In Texas, a bill seeks to “force internet providers to block websites containing information about obtaining an abortion” (Vanity Fair, 3/1/23).
In short, the right wants the freedom to spout their hateful ideology, but to be protected from criticism in the press. The Daily Wire’s quick attack on media outlets that accurately put Knowles’ comments in their actual political context shows the lengths the right will go to in order to suppress their critics in the media. And if they take down the Sullivan standard, they will have far more power to do so.
The post A Taste of What’s in Store if Right-Wing Zealots Get Green Light to Sue Media appeared first on FAIR.
This content originally appeared on FAIR and was authored by Ari Paul.
Ari Paul | Radio Free (2023-03-10T21:32:30+00:00) A Taste of What’s in Store if Right-Wing Zealots Get Green Light to Sue Media. Retrieved from https://www.radiofree.org/2023/03/10/a-taste-of-whats-in-store-if-right-wing-zealots-get-green-light-to-sue-media/
Please log in to upload a file.
There are no updates yet.
Click the Upload button above to add an update.