An antitrust lawsuit was filed this week against legacy media giants and Big Tech companies that alleges they had a collusive agreement to shut down anti-vaccine coverage during the height of the COVID pandemic.
Plaintiffs allege that a partnership called the Trusted News Initiative, formed by the Associated Press, Reuters, BBC, Washington Post, Meta, Microsoft, and Google, censored coverage questioning the safety and efficacy of COVID vaccines. They argue that censorship amounted to a “group boycott” of smaller publishers and eliminated their ability to compete in the news business.
Interestingly, the attorney filing this antitrust suit is Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a well-known, well-connected Democrat and son of the late attorney general. Kennedy is working with the group Children’s Health Defense in leading the case. CHD has spent the last two years pushing back on U.S. government vaccine mandates and other pandemic responses from the government.
Just the media group’s name, Trusted News Initiative, smacks of communism and gives me chills. The suit filing points out that TNI members collectively control 90% of the overall social media market, have an 85% market share of the online social media news market, and over 90% of the search engine market. Search engine dominance is key to their case. By including search engines in the TNI group, these large news organizations could push competing coverage, and stories running against their agreed upon narrative, down in your search results.
“By their own admission, members of the ‘Trusted News Initiative’ (‘TNI’) agreed to work together, and have in fact worked together, to exclude from the world’s dominant Internet platforms rival news publishers who engage in reporting that challenges and competes with TNI members’ reporting on certain issues relating to COVID-19 and U.S. politics,” the complaint reads.
Much of what TNI had suppressed as “misinformation” is now believed to be true, or at least highly plausible, by those same mainstream sources.
“For example, TNI members deemed the following to be ‘misinformation’ that could not be published on the world’s dominant Internet platforms: (A) claims that COVID originated in a laboratory in Wuhan, China; (B) claims that the COVID vaccines do not prevent infection; (C) claims that vaccinated persons can transmit COVID to others; and (D) claims that compromising emails and videos were found on a laptop belonging to Hunter Biden.”
Filed in a federal court in Texas, plaintiffs include Dr. Ben Tapper, Dr. Joseph Mercola, independent news publisher and founder of The Gateway Pundit Jim Hoft, independent journalists Ben Swann and Erin Elizabeth Finn, independent news outlets TrialSite News and Creative Destruction Media. Also listed as plaintiffs are alternative medicine activists Ty and Charlene Bollinger, who run pages called “The Truth about Cancer” and “The Truth about Vaccines.”
Whether you agree with these outlets and their positions or not, their right to exist in the digital public square — cover stories, run a business, connect with readers — is solidly supported in legal precedent.
In 1945, the U.S. Supreme Court heard the case Associated Press vs. The United States and found that the AP participates in interstate commerce in its role as a provider of news and that blocking competitors’ applications for membership violated the Sherman Antitrust Act.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black wrote the majority decision in that case, saying:
“The U.S. Const. amend. I rests on the assumption that the widest possible dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources is essential to the welfare of the public, that a free press is a condition of a free society. … Freedom to publish means freedom for all and not for some. Freedom to publish is guaranteed by the Constitution, but freedom to combine to keep others from publishing is not. Freedom of the press from governmental interference under the First Amendment does not sanction repression of that freedom by private interests.”
As editor-in-chief of a small publication offering readers a fresh option — news from a free-market, pro-liberty perspective — I’ve come to accept that we will continuously be mislabeled by pundits and competitors. Links will not appear in the stories they get from us. Big news platforms will not return calls when our stories are disproportionately hidden in searches or our Facebook page mysteriously disappears days before an election.
To a degree, we see it as the price of the work we do. Plus, you only take flak when you are over the target. Whether the plaintiffs can make their case remains to be seen, but this lawsuit filed against the Goliaths of our industry is gratifying.
More alarming, though, is the increasingly clear influence that government agencies had over TNI’s alleged decisions to censor smaller news outlets. According to the lawsuit, the food chain for this process during the pandemic started with federal health agencies. Bureaucrats there would call the legacy news services and Big Tech to censor “misinformation.” TNI members would then feed the “correct” news down to their members: your local television and newspapers. The plaintiffs allege TNI did not just limit opinion content but also news articles from smaller publishers who were reporting the viewpoints of local doctors and scientists.
“Platforms partner with the alphabet soup of federal agencies to censor speech,” Mercola wrote in a press announcement. “Those same platforms and legacy media outlets conspire to boycott stories that don’t fit an official narrative about COVID and many other topics. Our nation’s founding fathers would be appalled and resolute in defense of maintaining an informed citizenry.”
If these news agencies are writing the first rough draft of history, it’s time they got a new editor.