Democrats Tear Into RFK Jr. Testimony on Censorship by Social Media

July 20, 2023 by Tom Ramstack
Democrats Tear Into RFK Jr. Testimony on Censorship by Social Media
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. testifies before a House Judiciary Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, July 20, 2023. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

WASHINGTON — Fellow Democrats ripped into presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Thursday during a congressional hearing on whether the Biden administration was trying to censor social media for political gain.

They accused him of racism and promoting false conspiracy theories about the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kennedy denied all the accusations, saying he “never uttered a phrase that was either racist or antisemitic.” He also denied being opposed to the vaccines credited with saving millions of lives worldwide during the pandemic.

Several of his accusers mentioned a video shown on national television last weekend that showed Kennedy saying COVID-19 was targeted most specifically at Caucasian and Black people but that Chinese and Ashkenazi Jews were more resistant to it.

In the video first published online by The New York Post, Kennedy was attending a press dinner when he said, “We don’t know whether it [COVID-19] was deliberately targeted or not, but there are papers out there that show the racial or ethnic differential and impact.”

Health officials have said the virus was more lethal to some groups because of health care inequities rather than race.

The House hearing was intended primarily to discuss what Republicans call the “weaponization” of the federal government. They say the Biden administration is using the Justice Department to censor politically inflammatory content on social media while downplaying financial misdeeds of the president and his family.

Republicans on the House Judiciary Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government feel the censorship is accomplished by intimidation of executives from companies like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

Kennedy said some of his postings about the pandemic on YouTube and other internet platforms were removed by social media companies. He called it censorship, but they called it an effort to eliminate untruthful or racially inflammatory content.

“I’m subjected to this new form of censorship, which is called targeted propaganda, where people apply pejoratives like ‘anti-vax.’ I’ve never been anti-vaccine,” he said.

Earlier this week, 102 Democratic representatives sent a letter to the House Judiciary Committee that cited his comments, saying Kennedy should be uninvited to testify at the hearing Thursday.

At one point during Kennedy’s testimony, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., interrupted by invoking a rule calling for the subcommittee to stop the hearing to consider consequences for the presidential candidate after what appeared to be his false and degrading statements about ethnic groups.

“Mr. Kennedy has repeatedly made despicable antisemitic and anti-Asian comments,” Wasserman Schultz said.

She told Kennedy, “Your rhetoric creates an environment of mistrust.”

Subcommittee Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, denied her request after taking a vote among all lawmakers present. He sees Kennedy as being a champion of First Amendment rights of free speech for his opposition to censorship by social media.

Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., said the removal of Kennedy’s comments and other controversial postings from social media showed “the collusion between the government and private organizations.”

Another example discussed during the hearing was a New York Post story saying presidential son Hunter Biden used his influence with his father to gain millions of dollars from foreign business contracts. The original Oct. 4, 2020, story was based on emails in a hard drive Hunter Biden left in a laptop he had taken to a Delaware computer shop for repairs.

The shop owner gave the hard drive to former President Donald Trump’s attorney, Rudy Giuliani, who passed it to The New York Post. The New York Post stories were republished on Twitter, which later removed them.

Twitter officials said they removed the content under their policy against publishing “hacked” materials. Some Republicans claim the company gave in to threats of prosecution from the Justice Department.

All of the information published by The New York Post later was verified as accurate.

“The press is being told they can’t ask the tough questions,” said Rep. Kat Cammack, R-Fla.

The sharpest criticism of Republican cries of censorship came from Rep. Stacey E. Plaskett, D-Virgin Islands. She said the real issue in removing some social media content was protecting the public against potentially devastating misinformation.

Examples she cited were efforts by Russian agents who used Facebook to try to influence the 2016 election in favor of Trump and anti-vaccine protesters who endangered other people by telling them COVID-19 vaccination was useless or dangerous.

“Our [free speech] right does not mean that we as Americans are free from accountability,” Plaskett said.

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