Lying As Free Speech

I really have to stop reading the news. It’s bad for my mental health.

Just recently, I’ve learned that Wisconsin’s Republican legislature plans to reverse April’s election of a state Supreme Court Judge–who won by eleven points–by impeaching her. (Grounds to be concocted later…)

DeSantis appointed the co-founder of Moms for Liberty to the state’s ethics commission.

Elon Musk threatened to sue the Anti-Defamation League for reporting on the steep rise of anti-Semitic content on “X.” Musk claims that it is the ADL’s reports, not his wack-a-doodle management of the platform formerly known as Twitter, that is responsible for the steep drop in companies willing to advertise on the site.

And I see that Florida–which has been waging war against “woke” (i.e. accurate) education–is being joined by Oklahoma in authorizing the use of PragerU propaganda in public school classrooms.

The Guardian recently provided an in-depth look at PragerU.

A rightwing media outlet promoting climate-crisis denialism and other “anti-woke” staples to young students and adults via social media has become a fundraising Goliath, raking in close to $200m from 2018 to 2022 with big checks from top conservative donors, tax records reveal.

Founded in 2009 by the conservative talkshow host Dennis Prager, the eponymous Prager University Foundation is not an accredited education organization. But via online media its PragerU Kids division has become a key tool in spreading false claims to young people with short videos aimed at undercutting widely accepted science that climate crisis disasters are accelerating due, largely, to fossil-fuel usage.

PragerU’s influence in pushing false narratives about climate change and other far-right shibboleths such as airbrushing the brutal reality of American slavery gained ground when the Florida board of education in July gave the green light to using its videos and other materials in classrooms, a move that PragerU is trying to capitalize on in Texas and other states. On Tuesday, Oklahoma’s school system also approved the use of PragerU’s materials.

On its website, PragerU claims to be the “world’s leading conservative non-profit, focused on changing minds through the creative use of digital media.”

In other words, through lying. They call it “edutainment.”

The site’s funders include the Right-wing’s “usual suspects”–  oil and gas billionaire brothers Farris and Dan Wilks ($8m over the past decade), the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the National Christian Charitable Foundation and (predictably) the Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation

PragerU cartoons and videos include one about Christopher Columbus and the discovery of America, which has Columbus explaining that slavery isn’t so bad.

“Slavery is as old as time, and has taken place in every corner of the world, even amongst the people I just left. Being taken as a slave is better than being killed,” the cartoon Columbus said. “I don’t see the problem.”

Other PragerU videos about the climate crisis make various false claims: they depict solar and wind power as environmentally dangerous, liken environmental activists to Nazis and claim recent record-breaking heat is just part of the natural weather cycle.

What truly drives me up the wall is the emerging “conservative” argument that the First Amendment protects such unconscionable lying.

In an extraordinary display of chutzpah, Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio, and fellow Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee have accused Democrats of violating the First Amendment rights of election deniers.

In a report titled “The Weaponization of CISA: How a ‘Cybersecurity’ Agency Colluded With Big Tech and ‘Disinformation’ Partners to Censor Americans,” they argue that

the First Amendment recognizes that no person or entity has a monopoly on the truth, and that the “truth” of today can quickly become the “misinformation” of tomorrow. Labeling speech “misinformation” or “disinformation” does not strip it of its First Amendment protection. As such, under the Constitution, the federal government is strictly prohibited from censoring Americans’ political speech.

These people have no shame….

These civil libertarian claims of unconstitutional suppression of speech come from the same Republican Party that is leading the charge to censor the teaching of what it calls divisive concepts about race, the same party that expelled two Democratic members of the Tennessee state legislature who loudly called for more gun control after a school shooting, the same party that threatens to impeach a liberal judge in North Carolina for speaking out about racial bias, the same party that has aided and abetted book banning in red states across the country.

The linked column focuses upon the GOP’s hypocrisy, but that hypocrisy’s effectiveness relies on Americans’ widespread ignorance about the operation of the First Amendment.

Free Speech doesn’t allow you to engage in defamation or commit fraud with impunity; it doesn’t allow  science teachers to substitute creationism for evolution.

It does, however, protect the ADL from Musk’s anti-Semitic  threats….


  1. There are a copion company of people now speaking their mouths with Obsessive, Compulsive wreclessness. These incompetent people are not good for democracy. They do not affirm and support good behavior. They make no sensible contribution to the country. The idea they can have a posive contribution to government is absurd! They , in fact, like Trump, are not even good citizens.

  2. “Free Speech doesn’t allow you to engage in defamation or commit fraud with impunity; it doesn’t allow science teachers to substitute creationism for evolution.”

    Too bad the founding fathers didn’t make that clear when they wrote it. Of course their “We the People of the United States…” didn’t include the Native Americans, indentured servants or the slaves they themselves owned. Even today, former criminals who have worked hard to reenter society as law-abiding citizens, become educated, have jobs and families are denied the right to vote and lost other rights. One young woman, after serving her time in prison, in the news recently worked her way up to starting her own business only to find she did not have the right to license her business. The Preamble to the Constitution should have begun with a disclaimer that they didn’t mean ALL people. We watch as Trump’s MAGA groups, even with their infighting, are above the Rule of Law and are MORE equal than the rest of us. They have reached that level by lying their way to the top.

  3. Sadly you can now add NH to the ranks of schools who may be using Prager propaganda. Our Education czar, who has been on a destroy the schools since his appointment a few years back, managed to get approval from republican majority education committee. Republicans claim government is ineffective, inefficient and broken so when they get power they work really hard to ensure it becomes exactly what they think it is. Ditto schools.

  4. The GOP is now a zombie party. The external trappings look vaguely human but they are really a lethal threat.

  5. “Pete. Your phrase “my god of certainty, science…”, jolted me because so many people think that science IS based on certainty when it is actually a process of constant questioning and discovery. In the field of science, there is no certainty, only probabilities”

    Sharon, Thanks, good catch. Please let me explain. Fortunately, your question is still relevant in today’s Sheila, teaching us to be junior lawyers.

    In High School, my younger sister noticed something and declared it sacred. She was in charge of letters, our brother was in charge of musical notes, and I was in charge of numbers. She was astute beyond her years.

    As the king of numbers, I was, like our father, naturally good at science and math but lousy at words. She went on to become a writer, a journalist in fact. I went on to become an engineer.

    When I reluctantly retired, adapting to what I used to consider “old”, 65, a student in an adult education climate change class I was teaching in Naples, Florida told me after class that a lawyer from Indianapolis had a daily blog that I might be interested in.

    Since, Sheila has revealed to me a fascinating world that I simply had left up to others. She taught me why law matters, especially to us climate change Jr Greta Thunbergs. Sheila also demonstrated daily why words were as useful as numbers, because if she wasn’t such a compelling writer I may have abandoned this ship way too early as “wordy”, my sister’s domain. But, I persisted.

    Also, I had a career in a place that exposed me to engineering’s “front end”, applied science, and research science all in a supply chain. That company left experimental science and its front end, theoretical science, to others.

    In order to simplify all of that detail I typically use a common shortcut which is to identify the whole supply chain as simply “science”. That unfortunately often leads to confusion that stems from trying to be too brief.

    As you know, the front end of that whole supply chain begins with hypotheses which are guesses about how the universe might work, but with virtually zero certainty. After much research, they turn them into theories, proven with as much certainty as humans are able to muster (with tools that are in themselves products of the entire supply chain which extend the precision of human virtual blindness to measure at a scale never before possible. An example is the Large Hadron Collider. I have driven over it many times leaving Geneva.)

    That is a long-winded exposure to “climate change” which is really a political challenge now that in detail requires the expertise of the entire science supply chain, plus “legal” and many, many words. How in fact “climate science” requires understanding beginning with century-old quantum scale research and ends up at the United Nations and well beyond.

    It’s the storyline of “Oppenheimer” all over again without the PR of war pushing it.

  6. nothing shocking anymore. but the news (real news)is still the only viable source of the above.
    there was once a supreme court case whereas, free speech is the rule, but ya cant yell fire in a
    crowded theatre. todays mass hysteria of the need to knows,are being shot out of a bull horn of mass social media only looking for a click$,when no one there is reading and following the issues? now the courts are showing the alignment with so called conservitive and liberal slants, mostly today filtered thru think tanks and one sided money. weve become a grinder of every thought and fake anything as a nation. i use to say to my party buddies, put the pipe down and level out. now its put that damn thing down,and get a life. were too worried about how someone smells or looks. weve become a nation of public judgement and a court of freelance lawyers. no one reads the issues. STFU, if ya cant argue aware of why you are drowning in a cesspool when your the problem. Wisconsin may be the poster child now of how the right wing maggots will decide the rest of whats left our nations democracy. the bradley foundation, is the big lie.

    one item that caught my eye, the UAW strike, seems in one contract,(i believe is 4 years) the automakers paid out more money to its shareholders than was paid to every employee at the same time. think about how much better our local economy would be with that,er politcal money..

  7. If lying is protected speech, I wonder what the reaction would be if news items suddenly appeared claiming that Jim Jordan is having an affair with one of the women staffers on his committee.

  8. I still believe these occurrences are the exception rather than the rule. Still, what we need is the propaganda police. I want to say our media is equipped for it, but they are not. NPR gets funding from the right-wing perpetrators, so they get a pass on public media.

    It’s one of the primary reasons to keep your TVs only for entertainment and not the current news. I ventured into a household yesterday with two TVs blaring Hunter Biden. If it bleeds, it leads.

    The oligarchy has no purpose to change the current trajectory of this country. The UAW goes on strike today, and the Prez of the union was conned into limiting the breadth of the strike. Only strike at certain factories. Reminds me of how the Railroad oligarchy used the government to avert a strike.

    Furthermore, when Americans start believing that unions are the problem, we are heading for a further slide in this country.

    Propaganda rules. He who hath the gold maketh the rules.

  9. An historian, the late David Donald, wrote a small little book many, many years ago now, called, “An Excess of Democracy”. It was a wonderful explanation of the reasons for the Civil War.
    Sadly, we are at another era similar to that and I would call it “An Excess of Freedom” – which really has to be taken as “An Excess of Lies”. And, while there are many examples of that throughout history, the ‘excess’ of it now can be attributed to one thing – the opening of the public’s airwaves to one-sided lies. Yes, the end of the Fairness Doctrine ordered by that god of early Conservatism, Ronnie Reagan. (And don’t tell me the public’s airwaves don’t include the air between earth and satellites)
    Another book that deals with another culture who lost it’s bearings is discussed in “Rubicon” by Tom Holland. It’s topic is, of course, the end of the Roman Republic.
    And the parallels of the party-politics of then and now is clear. In both cases, one group would not accept the results of an honest election and change of power. Civil War(s) followed, and Augustus became the first Caesar.
    I’m just too worn out mentally now to worry about it much longer, but hope that the people would finally see clearly the destruction that is coming unless they do one, single thing – and that is to destroy the Republican Party. But, I’m not holding my breath.

  10. The real problem with the proliferation of lies these days is the absence of brave truthtellers to call out the liars. We used to be able to rely on the leaders of the news media to take on the Trumps and the Jim Jordans of the world. And as a backup to those efforts the media owners, the producers and the editors had traditionally stood by their employees. With few exceptions, not anymore.
    Sadly, more and more each day I hear a friend tell me that they no longer even listen/watch the news anymore.

  11. If I was forced to bet, I would say that most people do basically understand the 1st amendment – especially when it comes to their own beliefs. They just see a way to fight against the “other team” and their basically sound understanding goes out the window when it’s time to “own” someone else. Cognitive dissonance at its finest.

  12. Sheila, your compilation of these egregious offenses sets what little hair I have left on my head…on fire!
    These propaganda spewing bastards are going to push us closer to the new civil war that some are already predicting!
    Fools, like Elon Musk, who insist that anybody can say anything, with impunity are dangerous. His recent satellite maneuver literally endangered Ukraine!

  13. The Republican Party is not now a political party because political parties are designed to govern, and since its recent capture by fascists it exists in name only by its captors in order to have a framework within which to gain and use power – not to govern – and its tools to effectuate such design are found in the greedy rich and corporate class, who apparently are willing to dump democracy in favor of unregulated pursuit of greedy returns on investment rather than policymaking for the common good.

    Wholesale lying, Pragerism, blaming Soros for interference in school board elections, and Trump’s permission to be our worst selves via destruction of our institutionalism, grab ’em by, and the embrace of fascism are some of the means employed, all reminiscent of Hitler’s courting of the capitalists and religious of his day undergirded by the successful efforts of his
    propaganda chief, Dr. Goebbels, and the elevation of a minority Nazi Party to governing. History tells us how that worked out, and one would think we would learn something by such an almost contemporary example of what was left of German democracy after the Goebbels treatment of the horrors of the Treaty of Versailles and French reparations stemming from WW I – or are we thinking?

    I’m beginning, if reluctantly, to buy Todd’s view of “the oligarchs” as tools of democracy’s demise. What to do? Relentlessly call liars liars.

  14. Well, I’m guessing Oliver Wendell Holmes is turning in his grave and has been for some time now. I’m relatively certain that he meant to show that there are limits to all of the Amendments in the Bill of Rights. Sadly too many people have missed the point.

  15. You are right, Peggy. For instance, it makes a big difference as to venue. Thus one has free speech to yell “Fire” when alone in the woods but not in a “crowded theater.” I think our forefathers who put quill to papyrus assumed that their successors would employ common sense in the application of their production of our organic law to varying factual situations, and have often wondered how pure constitutional originalists can justify the regulation of jet planes, the internet, and other such modern devices which did not exist in 1787-1789 or the First Ten in 1791, which necessarily depends not upon the languge of the Constitution per se but rather judicial interpretation and all that brings in political and other prejudices to the scene today instead. See Alito and Crow, I mean, Clarence. (?)

  16. All of the people in the cult of tfg are looking for certainty in a world changing so fast, especially technologically, that they have lost their footing in the flood. Trying to stay grounded when the very earth is no longer beneath their feet, they grab onto the first seemingly solid handhold within reach. Fear and loss of privilege drive them to continue their grasp on that handhold as the release of it could mean being swept away by uncontrolled, ambiguous forces.

    Ironically, science itself, formed of facts tested and replicated, offers a strong anchor that they reject or willfully ignore, in favor of irrational, “faith” based ideology.

    The winners write the history. PragerU is writing the history to insure the continued grip on power that centuries of racism, xenophobia and class culture have held.

    IMHO, history is more than a chronicle of the past. It is a recipe for avoiding the mistakes of our forebearers if only we dig it out of the old file box and use it as a basis for the policies of the future. Sadly, too many find it a chore to rummage through the “stuff” of life. Too busy or distracted by choice with infotainment, we lose our focus and way until too late. Hopefully, enough of us may stay gripped to science to avoid the likely slide to authoritarianism so often the result of past eras in history.

    For some evidence of how insidiously the flood is rising, tfg visited the Iowa vs. Iowa State football game recently. He was met with standing ovation and chanting of his name. The audience were most likely alumni and family/friends as well as fans of those higher public education institutions. They are hardly the great unwashed of generally believed lore. Racism and fundamental religious belief apparently know no divisions based on class.

    BTW, being told that the events unfolding are God’s will seems to insult both God and the victims of the harm that will enables. Make of that as you will.

  17. The truth is that when it comes to “sense,” there is no clear definition of what is “common”.

    Definitions of ‘common” include:

    I think that the phrase “common sense” is supposed to refer to shared values that we can all agree about. Sadly, there don’t seem to be any of those left!

  18. Off Topic:
    When I thought Indiana AG Todd Rokita had satisfied his need for revenge against OB/GYN Caitlin Bernard, MD, he got his second wind and filed a lawsuit today against IU Health and IU Healthcare Associates alleging the healthcare organization violated HIPAA and state law after Dr. Bernard made international news in 2022 when she mentioned a 10-year-old girl from Ohio who traveled to Indiana for an abortion.

    This lawsuit is more than an embarrassment; it is a blatant waste of Indiana taxpayers’ money. Rokita is a reckless steward of taxpayers’ money. Has he considered that when the Indiana State AG sues Indiana University Health both parties will pay expensive attorney fees from the same pot of Indiana taxpayers’ money? Or, does he refuse to acknowledge he’s attempting to seek what amounts to ‘personal’ vengeance using our money?

  19. Ian – Lie. The more pertinent question is whether the Magas are supporting Nazis here. There ARE NOT “good people on both sides” in Charlotte or elsewhere – never was and never will be – contrary to the pronouncement of TFG.

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