EXCLUSIVE: Unearthed Emails Show Legacy Media Cozying Up to Disgraced Censorship Group

May 1st, 2024 1:04 PM

FIRST ON MRC: Never-before-seen emails reveal how several legacy media outlets closely aligned themselves with a disgraced censorship entity, accused of leading the censorship of Republicans and conservatives on social media.

Documents reviewed by MRC Free Speech America indicate that certain leftist, legacy media outlets — including The Washington Post, The Guardian, ABC News, NBC News, Vice and others — collaborated closely with the anti-free speech Election Integrity Partnership (EIP), a now-defunct consortium of researchers and universities with ties to government agencies and embroiled in censorship controversies.

Stanford University’s Stanford Internet Observatory (SIO), along with the University of Washington’s Center for an Informed Public, led the effort to launch the EIP. 

Tellingly, the EIP was created “at the request of” the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and “worked directly with” the DHS and the State Department’s Global Engagement Center to “monitor and censor Americans’ online speech” before the 2020 elections, according to the House Judiciary Committee.

In response to these emails, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-OH) called on the federal government to defund the massive web of anti-free speech entities, infamously known as the Censorship Industrial Complex.

“We’ve obtained the secret reports showing how the Election Integrity Partnership worked closely with Big Tech to censor thousands of Americans,” Jordan said. “Other documents confirm that the EIP was created ‘at the request of’ the federal government. In other words, Big Tech, Big Academia, and Big Government teamed up to censor Americans before the 2020 election.”

The emails, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request investigation by government watchdog Protect the Public’s Trust (PPT), suggest that the legacy media blindly relied on the EIP to reinforce their anti-free speech narratives. “It’s disappointing and, frankly, a little frightening that media outlets have taken up full membership in the Censorship Industrial Complex,” PPT President Michael Chamberlain told MRC Free Speech America.

Little has been reported or known about the extent of the media’s involvement with the disgraced censorship group — at least until now.

The Washington Post Calls Anti-Free Speech Researchers ‘My Fave People’

In one instance, Elizabeth Dwoskin, a Silicon Valley correspondent for The Washington Post, referred to EIP leader Alex Stamos, a former chief security officer at Facebook, and Stanford researcher Renée DiResta, as her “fave people” in an email dated April 1, 2022.

According to the email, Dwoskin contacted EIP to propose “a potentially powerful collaboration” concerning alleged “disinfo” in the 2022 midterm elections. 

The proposed collaboration, dubbed "The Megaphone Project," aimed to track individuals who raised questions about the 2020 elections and whether they still had platforms in the 2022 midterm elections.

“What platforms are they using? Do they still have the megaphones they had in 2020? What are they saying in the run-up to 2022?” Dwoskin asked Stamos and DiResta. 

Whether “The Megaphone Project” was initiated remains unknown. However, the proposal raises concerns about the impartiality of The Post's reporter, said MRC Free Speech America Vice President Dan Schneider.

“It is sickening that The Post sought to create a hit list against people who simply wanted to exercise their free speech rights,” Schneider said. “In the past, leftists have also done the same thing. Did The Post ever produce a similar blacklist? We doubt it. This only proves the legacy media are nothing but arms of the Democrat Party.”

Dwoskin did not immediately respond to MRC Free Speech America’s request for comment.

ABC News Mourns Rise of Parler: ‘Will We Ever Stop Misinformation?’

In another instance showcasing how legacy media outlets leaned on EIP to promote their anti-free speech agenda, ABC News reporter Laura Romero emailed professor and EIP mastermind Kate Starbird on Nov. 11, 2020, seeking comment regarding Parler, a pro-free speech platform.

Rather than simply requesting Starbird's expert analysis on Parler, Romero, in a 257-word email, voiced her concerns that while Facebook and Twitter were cracking down on the “Big Lie,” Parler allowed Americans to freely express their views on the 2020 election.

“Is this a cat and mouse chase?” Romero asked Starbird, alluding to Big Tech’s crackdown on free speech. The ABC News reporter pondered, “Will we ever stop misinformation from spreading?” without specifying who the “we” in her email referred to. In the same email, Romero suggested that she preferred “to hop on the phone to discuss this,” citing her busy schedule.

Tellingly, Romero did not promptly respond to MRC’s repeated requests for comments or clarification.

Romero ultimately published an ABC News article on Nov. 17, 2020, headlined: “‘Free speech’ social media platform Parler is a hit among Trump supporters, but experts say it won't last.” In the article, Romero accused Parler of disseminating “misinformation.” She supported her anti-free speech assertions by citing “experts.”

Did The Guardian Rely on EIP for Legal Advice Following Project Veritas Threat?

Amid a legal dispute between media activist group Project Veritas and EIP, attorneys representing then-Project Veritas President James O’Keefe filed a complaint against The Guardian. The newspaper had previously covered an EIP blog that labeled O’Keefe as a “repeat spreader” of “election misinformation” a year prior.

Faced with a potential legal challenge regarding its coverage of O’Keefe, Eline Gordts, a West Coast editor at The Guardian, reached out to EIP, apparently seeking guidance on how to respond to Project Veritas. Project Veritas had initiated a lawsuit against EIP over an EIP blog published on Sept. 29, 2020 (and later covered by The Guardian).

“O'Keefe's lawyers mention that they have filed litigation against EIP for defamatory content,” Gordts wrote to EIP researcher DiResta and Communications Director Michael Grass. 

Gordts added, “As we're crafting our response, it would be very helpful to get a sense of your thinking around his allegations, what exactly they are suiting [sic] over and whether Project Veritas is suing or James O'Keefe.” Later in the email, she asked to “discuss this over the phone."

In response, Stamos confirmed that Project Veritas had initiated legal action against EIP. He then offered Gordts access to EIP’s attorneys and provided communications advice for further comment.

In response, Stamos confirmed that Project Veritas had initiated legal action against EIP. He then offered Gordts access to EIP’s attorneys, deferring to them for further comment.

In statements to MRC, The Guardian spokesperson Matt Mittenthal vehemently denied that the newspaper had reached out to EIP for potential advice. 

“An editor for the Guardian contacted the Election Integrity Partnership to verify Project Veritas's claim that it had sued EIP, a fact that could have bearing on our own reporting,” he claimed in an email on Wednesday. “Any suggestion of ‘coordination’ would be a gross mischaracterization of an editor doing her job.”

Mittenthal said that Project Veritas did not threaten to sue The Guardian for its reporting of the EIP blog. He clarified that Gordst did not engage with EIP’s attorneys past Stamos’s comment.

MRC’s Schneider said that such a coordination would have been highly unusual for a media outlet.

“Not only did the media peddle EIP’s work blindly, but they seemed to be so entangled with EIP that they even wanted to secretly coordinate their dissembling in the courthouse. Their corruption does not end with election interference. It might also include obstruction of justice.”

VICE News and The Post Ask: First Amendment Worse Than Russian ‘Disinformation’?

One of the accusations raised by House Republicans against the EIP and its government ties is that the EIP conflated constitutionally-protected speech with alleged foreign “disinformation,” occasionally prioritizing the targeting of Americans’ free speech.

VICE and The Post suggested that Americans’ ability to freely speak posed a greater threat to the nation than foreign interference.

In September 2020, Vice commissioned a “big/special” election documentary with HBO, as indicated by Graham Brookie, an aide at The Atlantic Council’s Digital Foreign Research Lab (also part of the EIP, according to House Republicans).

In an email to Starbird, Brookie forwarded a note, purportedly from Vice News, that stated, “While foreign interference is continuing in similar fashion to 2016, the primary issue is domestic misinformation.” It isn’t immediately clear whether such a documentary was ever videotaped or finalized.

Not to be outdone by Vice, The Post's Dwoskin (mentioned earlier in this report) reached out to EIP about a briefing related to the 2020 election.

In the email dated Nov. 4, 2020, Dwoskin posed the highly cynical question of whether Trump declaring himself winner was “a bigger test for the platforms than Russian disinfo, in terms of protecting threats to democracy?”

On the same day, Dwoskin published a write-up for The Post headlined “Trump’s early victory declarations test tech giants’ mettle in policing threats to the election.” In it, she used a quote from Stamos to accuse Big Tech platforms of failing to act against so-called “repeat offenders” of “misinformation.”

Neither Brookie, Vice nor Dwoskin immediately responded to MRC’s request for comment.

NBC News to EIP: ‘Why YouTube Isn’t Adjusting’

In an email to Starbird, NBC News Correspondent Jake Ward whined about YouTube's alleged reluctance to follow the lead of other major Big Tech platforms in censoring Americans in the days leading up to the 2020 election.

The subject line of Ward’s email, dated Oct. 26, 2020, read, “Why YouTube Isn't Adjusting.” Ward sought to interview Starbird to gain a “big-picture” perspective on how YouTube “handles itself.”

Ward declared his intent to write a story on YouTube. “I'm putting a story together about why it is that YouTube has adjusted so little of how it handles misinformation as compared to Twitter and FB,” he wrote, extending an invitation to continue the conversation on Zoom.

Ward, who has since left NBC News, did not immediately respond to MRC's request for comment.

Ward’s concerns seemingly prompted action from YouTube, as the platform undertook a significant purge of content that allegedly violated the platform’s COVID-19 policies, resulting in the removal of over 500,000 videos. YouTube also moved to ban former President Donald Trump’s account for over three years, a decision ultimately reversed in March 2023.

Despite Ward’s assertions about YouTube’s perceived inaction on censorship, its parent company, Google, faced scrutiny nearly four years later, following the release of an MRC Free Speech America report. The MRC report revealed that the tech giant intervened in U.S. elections at least 41 times, every time in favor of the most left-wing candidates.

EIP to Fox News: No, Thank You?

In contrast to EIP’s engagement with other media outlets, the organization appears to have been less receptive to a Fox News reporter’s inquiry about an EIP fact check of a Project Veritas video on alleged voter fraud.

In an email dated Oct. 5, 2020, Fox News reporter Audrey Conklin reached out to Dr. Joe Bak-Coleman, one of the authors of an EIP blog that targeted Project Veritas. Such a blog was at the center of a now-settled lawsuit between Project Veritas and EIP.

Bak-Coleman forwarded the email to Starbird and Stamos seeking advice. “Thoughts on how/if I should respond? My instinct is to just ignore it but I figured better to ask y'all,” Bak-Coleman wrote that same day.

Starbird advised against responding, warning, “I wouldn't respond. I'm curious as to why they reached out to you and not Alex or me. Something to chat about at our next meeting.”

Bak-Coleman chose not to respond to Conklin. Instead, Stamos intervened, stating, “I believe our post speaks for itself and we are going to decline further comment.”

Legacy Media, Enemies of Free Speech?

Reacting to these revelations, PPT’s Chamberlain criticized the legacy media’s role in endorsing EIP’s controversial work and, even worse, failing to uphold the principles of the First Amendment.

“I’m old enough to remember when they would be the staunchest defenders of free speech, the First Amendment, and the search for truth,” Chamberlain told MRC. “Now it appears that instead of defending those principles they are more interested in defending the narratives they advance and defending themselves against upstarts and alternative outlets.”

Chamberlain concluded with a sobering assessment: “There's profit and prestige in being an approved information gatekeeper.”

But not all hope is gone, as Jordan and the House Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government are calling for legislation to defund these censorship-tied tools.

“Our investigation continues but it’s clear that Congress must pass legislation that ends the censorship-industrial complex in all its forms, including the EIP,” Jordan told MRC.

Conservatives are under attack. Contact your representatives and demand that Big Tech be held to account to mirror the First Amendment while providing transparency, clarity on hate speech and equal footing for conservatives. If you have been censored, contact us using CensorTrack’s contact form, and help us hold Big Tech accountable.