Lieu Blasts ‘Conservative Media’ Over Reporting About His Free Speech Comments

The Democratic congressman has not addressed his apparent flip on free speech for corporations

Rep. Ted Lieu / Getty Images
December 13, 2018

Rep. Ted Lieu (D., Calif.) released a statement Thursday saying he supports the First Amendment and criticizing "conservative media" for mischaracterizing him.

Lieu was sharply critical of Republicans questioning Google CEO Sundar Pichai in a congressional hearing Tuesday. Instead of pressing Pichai on issues related to bias or privacy, Lieu used his time to slam Republicans for being "stupid," which drew some criticism from those on the left who don't believe corporations have full free speech rights.

But on CNN Wednesday, Lieu made news by saying, "I would love to be able to regulate the content of speech. The First Amendment prevents me from doing so, and that's simply a function of the First Amendment, but I think over the long run, it's better the government does not regulate the content of speech."

Some questioned whether he’s committed to the principle of free speech given the content of that statement, and he hit back Thursday by saying he considers himself an "ardent defender of the First Amendment" and on CNN he was merely making the point that the First Amendment prevents him from regulating speech.

"In the interview, I again stated the First Amendment prevents government from regulating the content of speech. I also made the point that it was the First Amendment that prevents me from regulating speech. I have been, and always will be, an ardent defender of the First Amendment," he said.

He slammed "conservative media," including Fox News host Tucker Carlson, for its response to his comment on CNN.

"Whether deliberately or out of ignorance, some conservative media outlets and entertainment shows like Tucker Carlson Tonight tried to mischaracterize my words to mean the exact opposite of what I was conveying," Lieu said. "This is my response: I served on active duty in the United States military to defend the right of anyone, including Mr. Carlson, to say stupid stuff, to criticize me, and to blatantly mischaracterize what I said."

Specifically, Lieu argued corporations have free speech rights and therefore should not be questioned about matters such as political bias. That makes sense given the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. FCC decision articulating corporations’ rights under the First Amendment, but Lieu has been an outspoken critic of that decision, saying "corporations are not people."

He did not address Citizens United in his statement, and his office did not respond to multiple requests for comment on whether he has changed his position on it. Instead, Lieu again blamed Republicans for holding the Google hearing at all.

"This week Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee held their fourth stupid hearing on regulating the search algorithms of internet companies, such as Google," Lieu said in his statement. "The hearing was stupid because the First Amendment prevents the government from regulating the speech of non-governmental entities."

Other Democrats echoed his argument that it’s not valid to question Google over bias unless they also questioned conservatives over their bias. In an attempt to defend Google’s free speech rights, Rep. Jerry Nadler (D., N.Y.) brought up reinstituting the fairness doctrine, and Rep. Jamie Raskin (D., Md.) said they could subpoena Fox News and "beat them up" over their bias, but that would not be worth the effort.

"We could subpoena Fox News and bring them in here and beat them up about how 90 percent of the references on Fox News to Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton are negative, but they’ve got that right under the First Amendment, and [Google has] a right under the First Amendment to have whatever political views you’ve got," Raskin said.