George F. Will has this column out today on a transparent attempt by Democratic members of Congress to intimidate media outlets that, in his words, “distribute conservative content, or what nowadays passes for that.” Will’s conclusion is key: Disinformation is fundamentally a problem of consumption rather than supply. There is a point at which a people incapable of—or worse, uninterested in—distinguishing truth from fiction lacks the modicum of virtue that James Madison said self-government requires. If that is the case, the problem is far deeper than partisan or even extremist information ecosystems. Suppressing them would not help even if doing so was constitutional. It is not.
In addition to the First Amendment issue, Will raises another. Referring to letters that Democratic Reps. Anna G. Eshoo and Jerry McNerney of California sent to AT&T and other platforms demanding information on viewership of conservative media before the January 6 Capitol assault, Will writes: “There being no conceivable legislative remedy, compatible with the First Amendment, for what displeases Eshoo and McNerney, the bullying purpose of their letters was patent.” That raises a deeper constitutional issue. Congress’ oversight power derives from its legislative authority. It is not a free-range license to investigate. As Congress becomes more interested in investigating and less interested in legislating, that distinction will require more definition.