'Special Report' panel on White House flagging problematic posts for Facebook

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. VIVEK MURTHY, U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: While it often appears innocuous on social media apps and retails site or search engines, the truth is that misinformation takes away our freedom to make informed decisions about our health and the health of our loved ones. During the COVID-19 pandemic, health misinformation has led people to resist wearing masks in high risk settings. It’s led them to turn down proven treatment and to choose not to get vaccinated. 

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We have increased disinformation research and tracking within the surgeon general’s office. We’re flagging problematic posts for Facebook that spreads disinformation. 

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BAIER: White House flagging problematic posts for Facebook. That is problematic for some Republicans on Capitol Hill. 

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SEN. JOSH HAWLEY, (R-MO): I think it’s really scary to have the federal government of the United States, the White House, compiling lists of people, organizations, whatever, and then going to a private company that, by the way, is a monopoly, Facebook, and saying you need to censor, you need to do something about this, you need to tell these users, these private users on a private company what they can or cannot say. I just think that this kind of coordination between big government and the big monopoly corporation, boy, that is scary stuff, and it really is censorship, Bret. 

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BAIER: With that, let’s bring in our panel, Ben Domenech, publisher of “The Federalist,” Kimberley Strassel, a member of the editorial board at “The Wall Street Journal,” and Harold Ford Jr., former Tennessee Congressman, CEO of Empowerment and Inclusion Capital. Kimberley, let me start with you, your thought on all this. 

KIMBERLEY STRASSEL, “WALL STREET JOURNAL”: This is kind of remarkable. Only last week we had the former president of the United States sue big tech, arguing that they had violated First Amendment standards because they were acting as arms of the government. And here you have the White House and Jen Psaki giving talking points that seem to lead credence to what is kind of a novel legal theory. But you are going to see stuff like this presented in court, because First Amendment usually only normally applies to the government, but if you can prove these companies are taking dictation from government out of fear of political retribution or anything else, you can claim that they are state actors. 

BAIER: Harold, the administration is saying that they are trying to combat misinformation because they believe the vaccination rates in certain areas and with some groups lower than it needs to be and should be because of that misinformation, but what about the tactic? 

HAROLD FORD JR., FORMER TENNESSEE REPRESENTATIVE: Well, the tactic — thanks for having me on — the tactic, whatever they choose to do, Facebook or the White House, all of it will be transparent and done in the open. And I would agree with Kimberley. If there is something that is in violation of the First Amendment, I suspect someone will challenge it and it will go before a court. 

But one of the chief responsibilities and obligations of any government, of any president, is public health. So I understand where this White House is coming from. We had a few hundred thousand people die from this virus, and we see the Delta variant on the rise. The surgeon general has every right to push back and every right to use every tool at his disposal, and certainly social media platforms are just that. 

I listened to your interview with Senator Hawley who is a really effective presenter. And he is right on one side. As they look at Facebook and some of the challenges in terms of some of its size, competitive nature, is it suppressing competitiveness and innovation? Those questions need to be answered. But Facebook has a process you have to go through if you or I or anyone on this panel flags something on Facebook that might insight violence or might bring violence to you or create a problem in the community. 

So I suspect that all of this being done in the open, all of it being done with transparency on it, it will be hard for them to cheat, or for that matter to exert some sort of influence that’s undo. 

BAIER: But here’s the biggest problem, and I’m going to play a soundbite from the head of the W.H.O. right now, and then we will go on the back side of it. 

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TEDROS ADHANOM GHEBREYESUS, WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION DIRECTOR-

GENERAL: 

There was pretty much a push to especially reduce one of the options, like the lab theory. As you know, I was a lab technician myself. I’m an immunologist, and I have worked in the lab, and lab accidents happen. It’s common. I have seen it happening. And I have myself had errors. So it can happen. 

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BAIER: The beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, if you said on Facebook or on Twitter that there was a leak from the lab at Wuhan that caused this coronavirus to spread, that was one of the things listed as disinformation. 

If you said at the beginning of the Hunter Biden investigation that this laptop is going to provide information, that was one of the things that was disinformation, Ben. So as it evolved, it’s now not disinformation as the head of the W.H.O. just conceded. 

BEN DOMENECH, PUBLISHER, “THE FEDERALIST”: I’m sorry to disappoint Harold, but “transparency” is not a word I in any way associate with any processes when it comes to Facebook flagging misinformation or disinformation. In fact, they are completely opaque in terms of their processes, what they judge, and how they deem things to be determined, including even their fact-checking process, which we previously at “The Federalist” ran into on exactly this issue when it came to reporting and writing about the lab leak hypothesis. 

And that was something that certainly frustrated us as a publisher, but it was also far more frustrating from the perspective of individuals, just trying to share their own thoughts, their own information.

And one of the things that I’m really concerned about, when it came to Jen Psaki’s comments today, is she mentioned the fact that this wasn’t just about Facebook but about also the companies in other areas that they own. 

They obviously own the popular messaging component, the app, WhatsApp, which is something that a lot of people use to communicate. What we saw during the Hunter Biden experience was that people weren’t even allowed to direct message “New York Post” reporting about that laptop on Twitter.

Is this going to be a similar circumstance where Facebook starts to reach into the private communications of individuals under the guise of preventing misinformation, disinformation, when we all know that the real reason that people are seeing these declines in terms of vaccination rates is the kind of story that you had earlier about L.A. County, about these school processes, that say regardless of your vaccination status, you are going to have to wear a mask again. That does much more damage to the cause of vaccination than I would say any kind of sharing of information or debate around the origination of this virus or any of the other related issues that we’re discussing. 

BAIER: Harold, I will go back to you for reaction here. It seems like this is an issue that the ACLU would embrace and say you’re right, don’t overstep this. Don’t see the mixing of the government and the White House and this private company that’s not controlled or overseen as a publisher. 

STRASSEL: Yes. That’s the unfortunate thing is we used to have a lot more robust community, including groups like the ACLU, that would be terrified if the federal government was, in essence, coercing companies this way, because, remember, the enormous amount of power the feds have over outside big tech groups. And we now have Democrats in the House who proposed legislation that would basically require big tech to get the sign-off of federal regulators for almost any action they take. And all of this is going to lead potentially to some really big lawsuits. 

BAIER: Harold, last word. 

FORD: It’s not lost on me any of the things that are being said. I would hope that people would want to get a vaccine because they want to stop wearing a mask. I would hope people also realize that we may all get the vaccine and there may not be enough of us vaccinated that we may have to go back to wearing it. 

This will all be played out in court. I don’t fault this administration for trying to use every tool possible to get as many Americans vaccinated, because one thing we do know, if you’re vaccinated, the chances of you getting sick or worse from this virus decreases in overwhelming and dramatic terms to less than 0.1 percent. This is what we should be doing. 

No American, no person in public life, in responsible public life should be encouraging people not to get the vaccine. So I understand what the White House is trying to do. And if it’s wrong, if it’s illegal to both of my panelists, look, the courts will step in. But I doubt they will. 

BAIER: All right, panel, stand by. When we come back, tomorrow’s headlines with you. 

(MERCIAL BREAK)

BAIER: Finally tonight, a look at tomorrow’s headlines with the panel. 

Kimberley, first to you. 

STRASSEL: As analysts continue to sift through this week’s unemployment claims, the Biden administration comes up with evermore creative excuses for why the states stopped taking enhanced unemployment benefits are doing so much better than those that still are. It’s been pretty clear the government has been getting in the way for a while, and now the numbers are proving it. 

BAIER: And talk to small business still has a concern with that. Harold? 

FORD: Ben may like this one, too. Free at last, Britney Spears likely to be freed from her conservatorship, and at the same time set a new legal standard for who can fall into conservatorship in the first place. 

BAIER: Unity on the panel. Ben? 

DOMENECH: I do like that one, Harold. 

The Cuban government airdrops in propaganda push copies of “The 1619 Project.” Nikole Hannah-Jones two years ago called Cuba the best example of equity in a multiracial government. Unfortunately, I don’t think the people necessarily agree. 

BAIER: All right, panel, thank you very much. Tomorrow on SPECIAL REPORT, cancel culture goes after historical statues in Portland. That’s the latest battleground. 

Thanks for inviting us into your home tonight. That’s it for this SPECIAL REPORT, fair, balanced, and unafraid. FOX NEWS PRIMETIME hosted by Pete Hegseth with one second to spare starts right now. 

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