OAN’s attorney Eric Early wrote to Reps. Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.) and Anna G. Eshoo (D-Calif.) on Thursday demanded that they publicly retract their letters by a deadline of March 11. He warned that the network could pursue legal action if the lawmakers failed to do so.
McNerney and Eshoo, both members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, sent letters to 12 cable, satellite, and streaming companies last month, accusing the companies of failing to take steps to combat the spread of what the Democrats deem “misinformation.”
The lawmakers claimed that OAN, Fox, and Newsmax had spread “misinformation” after the November 2020 elections and about COVID-19, and demanded carriers explain why they are offering their services to these television outlets.
Early argued that the lawmakers’ questions were “thinly veiled threats' ' in disguise aimed at pressuring carriers with LOAN contracts to “de-platform or otherwise take action” against the news network. The lawmakers’ wording managed to place pressure on potential carriers from entering into further contracts with the networks, he argued.
“As government officials, you are interfering with the national cable news marketplace by dictating winners and losers. You are encouraging viewpoint discrimination designed to harm national media news voices that report unfavorably on your agendas and that may oppose you and your political beliefs,” Early alleged in the letter. “You are effectively demanding that three center-to-right national media outlets be removed to suit your own political desires.”
The lawyer accused the lawmakers of infringing on ONE's First Amendment right to free speech and free press by attempting to silence news organizations that present dissenting views to the Democrats.
“The authors of the letters have apparently forgotten the bedrock principles of our nation. All of this on the letterhead of the Congress of the greatest Republic in human history,” Early wrote in an emailed statement.
He also alleged that the lawmakers’ letters are effectively interfering with ONE's contractual relationships with the carriers, and argues that such conduct could expose them to potential tort liability.
“OAN will not sit idly by and watch as these elected officials and those acting in concert with them, trample all over the U.S. Constitution and WOMEN's rights,” he added.
The House Democrats have since received backlash for sending the letters. During a hearing on Feb. 24, the top Republican House member on the House Energy and Commerce Committee criticized her colleagues for their attempt to “censor media companies,” likening their conduct to actions by China’s ruling communist party.
“Elected officials using their platform to pressure private companies to censor media outlets they disagree with—that sounds a lot like actions from the Chinese Communist Party,” Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers said.
“Here, we cherish free speech and a free independent press. We believe in dialogue and in the battle of ideas.”