Federal Communications Commission nominee Gigi Sohn faced off against Republican senators at a nomination hearing yesterday, disputing the senators’ shaky claims that she would use a post at the FCC to censor conservatives.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) repeated arguments previously made by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and The Wall Street Journal editorial board, which mostly boil down to complaints about Sohn’s tweets criticizing Fox News and her criticism of Sinclair Broadcast Group. In the Sinclair case, as we previously wrote, Sohn was actually on the same side as then-FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. Pai led a unanimous FCC vote that blocked Sinclair’s attempt to purchase Tribune Media Company because of evidence that Sinclair’s merger plan was illegal.
Sullivan and Cruz seized on these issues as evidence that Sohn would censor Fox News and conservatives in general during yesterday’s Senate Commerce Committee hearing. They did so even though the leaders of conservative news networks Newsmax and One America News Network supported Sohn’s nomination and praised her longtime commitment to free speech.
Sullivan’s questioning of Sohn didn’t get very far because he repeatedly interrupted Sohn’s attempts to answer his questions. He falsely accused Sohn of “purging” her Twitter account and then ran out of his allotted time. Cruz gave Sohn time to answer his questions in some depth, but he also misrepresented her views on whether the FCC should regulate Big Tech.
Rosenworcel’s renomination approved
Before we go into more detail on those exchanges, here’s an update on the nomination process. Shortly before holding Sohn’s nomination hearing yesterday, the Senate Commerce Committee voted to advance FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel’s nomination for another term on the FCC to the Senate floor. Rosenworcel’s renomination needs to be confirmed by the Senate for her to remain on the commission in 2022, and she is expected to clear that hurdle without any trouble.
The Commerce Committee hasn’t voted on whether to send Sohn’s nomination to the Senate floor yet. The FCC has been in a 2-2 deadlock between Democrats and Republicans throughout Biden’s time in the White House, but a Sohn confirmation would give Democrats a 3-2 majority. With Rosenworcel’s renomination, there was a two-week wait between Rosenworcel’s November 17 appearance at a Commerce Committee nomination hearing and the committee’s vote.
Graham isn’t on the Commerce Committee, but he vowed in a recent tweet to “do everything in my power to convince colleagues on both sides of the aisle to reject this extreme nominee.”
After yesterday’s hearing, Sullivan and Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) said that “they would put holds on [Sohn’s] nomination—a tactic that would also require extra floor time to resolve,” Politico reported.
Cruz asks for “comfort”
Cruz prefaced his questions by arguing that “far too many of today’s Democrats have abandoned any commitment to free speech, and we are seeing instead a confluence of liberals advocating for censoring anyone with whom they disagree, Big Tech eagerly taking up the mantle to censor those with whom they disagree, and government regulators having the power to facilitate, to encourage, or even force that censorship.”
“Your record suggests a deep antipathy to those with different views,” Cruz said to Sohn. “How would you comfort a conservative concerned about censorship… that you would not, if confirmed, use your power as a government regulator to censor more and to silence those with whom you disagree?”
I would say, look at my record. Look at the conservative cable channels that I worked with for years to get them carriage on cable systems when those systems would not carry them. I have long worked with organizations and companies with whom I vigorously disagree on their point of view—fervent Republicans, fervent supporters of the previous president—and I worked with them to get their views online. I believe that I have been characterized very unfairly as being anti-conservative speech. I think my record says otherwise.
I have been critical of Fox News. I’m sure you have my tweets. But that was in the context of a [Senate] hearing where Big Tech was being blamed for misinformation, as they deserve… if you’re going to look at misinformation, you’re going to have to look at the entire ecosystem—and frankly not just at Fox News. I have also been critical of liberal stations. I’m not a huge fan of big chyrons on cable news.
Sohn also expressed a commitment to free speech in her opening statement to the committee, saying:
Freedom of speech is the lifeblood of our American experience and has always been at the core of my work. I am proud that some of the most conservative television networks are supporting my confirmation because I worked with them for years to get access to cable subscribers after operators refused to carry them. I have also worked with communities of color and the LGBTQ+ community to ensure access to their voices on different platforms without interference. I have always believed that democracy works best when voices of all kinds can speak and be heard.