Ted Cruz defends Alex Jones’ free speech; praises Trump for having `permanently unmasked the media’

Alex Jones catches Ted Cruz in an elevator in Washington, D.C. after President Trump’s inauguration.

Good Monday Austin:

U.S. Ted Cruz spoke at Erick Erickson’s Resurgent Gathering in Austin on Saturday.

Early on in their conversation, Cruz was interrupted by a protester.

A protestor interrupts U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, as he is escorted out of the Resurgent Gathering at the Capitol Sheraton, Saturday, Aug. 4, 2018. (Stephen Spillman / for American-Statesman)

From my story in Sunday’s American-Statesman:

Holding up a cardboard sign with the words, “Cruz: Russian bootlicker,” a young man stood and shouted toward the podium, “You’re a coward, Ted. Fight the trade war. Stand up to Russia. Stand up for all Texans.”

As he was being hooted at by the audience and led out of the hall, the young man chanted, “Beto, Beto, Beto,” a reference to Cruz’s Senate campaign rival, Democrat O’Rourke of El Paso.

xxxxx

In his immediate response to the protester’s outburst Saturday, Cruz said, “What you saw there, it’s not about Russia. That young man, bless his heart, couldn’t tell you a thing about Russia — has no idea.”

“He’s just angry, and Russia’s the latest thing they’re screaming,” he said.“That anger, by the way, is dangerous.”

Then Cruz said something that I found troubling.

There’s a rage on the left and it’s being irresponsibly stoked. It’s being stoked by the media. I will say one of the greatest blessings of the Trump presidency is he has finally and I think permanently unmasked the media.

Do you remember when there used to be people who would get on TV and try to argue in a gravelly voice, “There’s no bias in media.” No one even says that any more. They don’t even try it. They are so foaming at the mouth, unhinged. I was with the president a few weeks back, I told him, I said, “Listen, I think you’re greatest friends ironically are the media because they’re so deranged about you, the American people turn on the TV, they see that and say, `If those nuts are that mad, you’ve got to be doing something right’.”

I don’t think this is healthy advice to give President Trump, especially coming from Cruz, who knows firsthand the hurt that Trump’s loose attachment to the truth can cause and how that loose attachment has long been at the core of Trump’s nature.

I understand the political necessity for Cruz to make his political peace with the president, even to become his staunch ally, but I think he would be doing himself, the country and even President Trump a service to not encourage the president’s pernicious presentation of the news media – i.e. Fake News, which is simply any reporting the president doesn’t like – as the enemy of the people.

And I think Ted Cruz is uniquely qualified to provide the president with advice that would be infinitely more useful to the  president – even if the president is unlikely to take the advice and even if offering the advice is unlikely to improve Cruz’s chances of being re-elected.

Then, in the wake of Facebook temporarily suspending Alex Jones’ personal Facebook account, and YouTube taking down his videos and Spotify taking down his podcasts, there was this.

I spent much of last week covering two defamation suits against Jones in Travis County District Court, and Jones, who thrives on adversity, heralded Cruz’s defense of his right to be heard.

In his conversation with Erickson, Cruz decried the ugly state of political discourse.

CRUZ:

It’s not healthy in our culture for these divisions to be as ugly, to be as nasty, to be as hateful as they were. Listen, all of us gathered together when  Obama was president, we disagree with what Obama was doing, but you know, I remember Trump’s inauguration, all the young people with hats and shirts that said, “not my president.”

As much as a I disagreed with Barack Obama, as much as I thought his policies were harmful, he was always my president, every day he served in office he was he president of the United States and I respect the office and the democratic process that elected him. And you see the fever pitch to impeach the president. Listen, as bad as I thought Obama was, I didn’t call for him to be impeached. I wanted him to be defeated in the ballot box.

CRUZ: You know when Trump went to Helsinki and did a press conference with Putin, now I think that press conference was a mistake, I don’t think he handled it well. I think we’ve seen good policies on Russia, I think the sanctions put in place have been a good thing. I think providing lethal weapons to Ukraine to stand up and resist the Russians have been a good thing, but I think that press conference was a mistake, I don’t think the American president ought to be apologizing for Russian aggression.

That being said, the Democratic response to it was thoroughly unhinged. It was most captured by John Brennan who began  bellowing that Trump committed treason. Now Brennan is not just a fly-by-night individual, he is the former head of the CIA,  Treason is a capital crime defined in the United States code and punishable by death. Now having a foolish press conference with the head of Russia is not treason and for the former Democratic officials ratcheting  it up to that rhetoric, listen it contributes to that environment, it is not good for our country, and I’ll tell you, on our part, we have a responsibility not to respond in kind, not to respond with the same anger and hatred back but to instead respond with reason, with facts.

After that, Cruz, typical for him, did a 26-minute gaggle, providing long and detailed answers that suggest that Cruz actually respects the press and its obligations and his obligations, and that perhaps, for the same reason that he has agreed to five debates with O’Rourke, he also out of ego, confidence, delight in intellectual sparring, and genuine commitment to the democratic process, enjoys and embraces these opportunities.

He was asked a question about his concerns with censorship on social media.

CRUZ: I have deep concerns about social media and Big Tech. We have a concentration of  power in a handful of giant tech companies that are controlling a vast proportion of political discourse in this country and these companies have a degree of power and an ability to censor that William Randolph Hearst at the height of yellow journalism could never have imagined.

They have the ability  if there is a speaker who is disfavored simply to silence the speaker, to shadow ban them. You might speak but  your words float off into oblivion and nobody hears them.

And what’s so pernicious about that is it’s invisible. You might never know you’re shadow-banned. You might just think no one seems to be responding to what you’re saying because no one is in fact hearing what you’re saying.

On the flip side, they have the ability to curate your feed so that every piece of news you hear is news they approve of. Every piece of news you  hear conforms with their political ideology.

A couple of months ago, Mark Zuckerberg testified  before the Senate and I engaged in pretty vigorous questioning with Mr. Zuckerberg. The first question I asked him was whether Facebook considers itself a neutral public fora. He didn’t really answer that question and I have asked numerous representatives of Facebook that question. They’ve given multiple and contradictory answers.

The reason that  question matters so much is under current federal law – Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act – Facebook and other social media companies, have an exemption from liability. And the predicate, the reasoning behind Congress passing that exemption, was that they were neutral public fora, that if someone says something slanderous or libelous that  it wasn’t fair for Facebook or the social media site to be liable for it because it was not their speech, it was whoever was posting.

And so there’s a special exemption from liability.

Well, my question to Zuckerberg was, are you in  fact a neutral public fora. If you are than the reason behind that immunity from liability under the CDA is still sound. If you’re not, if you’re in fact a First Amendment speaker, if you’re engaged in politics, if you’re espousing your views, you have a right to do that, everybody has a First Amendment right, but  you  don’t have an entitlement to a special immunity from liability.

If (Patrick) Svitek (who was part of the gaggle) writes something in the Texas Tribune that is libelous, he can be sued, he doesn’t have an immunity from liability. There’s no reason Facebook or Twitter should get a special immunity that Pat doesn’t get, and that  question is a question that’s got the tech companies very nervous because they like their immunity from liability but at the same time they have demonstrated a pattern of bias that is deeply concerning and one of the most maddening aspects of it is there are actually no clear and objective data.

So I went through a number of anecdotes, examples, where they had silenced conservatives.

Now look, reasoning  by anecdote is not the most reliable way to reason, it’s not the most satisfying way to reason, but  it’s the only choice we have because all of the data are controlled by Facebook and Twitter and Google and YouTube and it’s completely opaque, it’s not remotely transparent, so we don’t know how many people Twitter has shadow-banned, how many conservatives, how many liberals, how many Republicans, how many Democrats. We don’t know. We have no idea.

That lack of transparency is dangerous, particularly when combined with a heavy ideological skew to the left, and I think it poses a real threat to our democracy.

I followed up:

FR: Senator, substituting Alex Jones for Patrick Svitek in that example …

CRUZ: They are very similar.

FR: You  were critical of Facebook, saying, what made them the arbiter. (Alex Jones) has been in court this week defending himself against defamation suits and the argument (his lawyer is making) is he can’t be held liable because he’s not a journalist, what he presents as facts are merely his opinions and are protected. Is there a line there and does Facebook have any responsibility to police it?

CRUZ: Look Alex Jones, I don’t listen to his show. I don’t know what he says. I  do know that he has this odd fixation with spreading lies about my dad and accusing him of killing JFK and I would encourage him while he’s at it, he also buried Jimmy Hoffa in the backyard and is, in fact, Elvis.

Look those theories are nutty, they’re fringe and they’re nutty.

The reason I sent out the tweets I did defending someone whose defamed my own family, is I actually believe in the First Amendment. I believe in the First Amendment. It protects the right of people to be nutty. It protects the right of people to say things that are dumb.

And I think the right solution to bad speech, john Stuart Mill told us the solution to bad speech is more speech. Censorship is profoundly dangerous and it’s wrong. And if Facebook or anyone else thinks that what Alex Jones is saying is wrong, is nutty, the right way to respond to it is lay out, here’s why you’re wrong, to engage it on the merits. It’s not simply to say, we’re banning you from speaking and we, the Star Chamber – mind you, this is one company but it is a company that is the portal of communication for the vast majority of Americans. It is a company with power – by any measure the big tech companies today, they are bigger and control more market than Standard Oil did when the federal government broke them up under the anti-trust laws. They are bigger and have more power than AT&T had when the federal government broke them up under the antitrust laws.

Q – Are you proposing to break them up?

TC: I think it’s an issue that policymakers are looking at seriously. We have existing anti-trust laws that protect against monopolies, and part of the reason is monopolies’ history has shown they abuse their power, and in this instance, I have to say I watched a lot of the Twitter response when I sent out the tweet on Alex Jones. I wasn’t surprised to see a lot of Democrats attacking me. I was sad though to not see any liberals willing to make the same point. And for a long time I’ve wondered what’s happened to real liberals. There was a time not that long ago when liberals defended free speech.

By the way, free speech, the First Amendment is all about offensive speech, bad speech, stupid speech. One of the big First Amendment cases before the Supreme Court out of Skokie, Illinois, was the right  of the Nazis to march in protest. Now Nazis are vile, despicable idiots and bigots, which means I’m not remotely scared to have Nazis protest and speak. Now I think we should speak out and respond to them, that the answer to that kind of stupidity is to counter it with truth, but the Supreme Court rightly said that even Nazis have a right to speak.

When I sent the tweet on Alex Jones it was striking how all – I did not see any liberals saying, “Like Cruz, I don’t like Jones either, but  I do believe in free speech and we shouldn’t be censoring speech we don’t agree with,” and it’s worrisome that the left, so much of the left, and for that matter, so many in the media – look there were reporters who took a lot of shots at me for that.

There used to be a time when reporters were big supporters of the First Amendment. And you know as the poem goes, ‘First they came for Alex Jones…

That doesn’t end well.

There is a reason I have picked someone who has been nasty to me. To illustrate this is not about defending someone I agree with, this is about a First Amendment principle that everyone has a right to speak and the people can sort out those who are making sense from those who are full of crap.

A few things here.

It is fine to say that you are defending Alex Jones’ right to say despicable things not because you agree with him but precisely because you don’t agree with him. Cruz was, in fact, victimized as he says he was by InfoWars.

But it is inconsistent to encourage President Trump in his war on the media when it was in fact Trump, and not Alex Jones, who most publicly said those despicable things about your father, which you denounced in no uncertain terms at the time. Furthermore, what Trump said about your father was a blip on the radar screen of Trump’s dabbling in fake news. His dissertation was the birther movement, which he carried for years based on even less evidence than that grainy photo of Lee Harvey Oswald and some guy purported to be Rafael Cruz in New Orleans and, contrary to Cruz’s assertion that Republicans like himself didn’t ever question whether Obama was “our president,” Trump successfully helped persuade a sizable chunk of Republicans that Obama was not a a bona fide American and was fraudulently elected.

In their approach to news, there is very little daylight at this point between the Alex Jones approach – his lawyer argued in court last week that Jones’ speech is protected because it is simply his opinion, even if it is sometimes “opinion masquerading as fact”- and the Donald Trump approach, and for Cruz to denounce Jones while defending his First Amendment rights, seems inconsistent with encouraging Trump’s Jones-like devotion to conspiracy theories – only in the president’s case there seems even less reason to believe he pursues them for anything but politically transactional reasons and the stakes are immensely higher.

I doubt that President Trump ever doubted that Barack Obama was born in Hawaii or ever thought, or cared, whether Rafael Cruz was involved with Lee Harvey Oswald.

Cruz’s JFK/Jimmy Hoffa/Elvis comment Saturday was verbatim what he said when the accusation about his father went national, not because of anything Alex Jones said or did, but because of what Donald Trump said and did on the day of the crucial Indiana primary that ended Cruz’s challenge to Trump.

From May 3, 2016, the day of the Indiana primary.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This morning, Donald Trump went on national television and attacked my father.

Donald Trump alleges that my dad was involved in assassinating JFK. Now, let’s be clear. This is nuts. This is not a reasonable position. This is just kooky. And while I’m at it, I guess I should go ahead and admit, yes, my dad killed JFK, he is secretly Elvis, and Jimmy Hoffa is buried in his backyard.

You know, Donald’s source for this is “The National Enquirer.” “The National Enquirer” is tabloid trash. But it’s run by his good friend David Pecker, the CEO, who has endorsed Donald Trump. And so “The National Enquirer” has become his hit piece that he uses to smear anybody and everybody.

And this is not the first time Donald Trump has used David Pecker’s “National Enquirer” to go after my family. It was also “The National Enquirer” that went after my wife, Heidi, that just spread lies, blatant lies.

But I guess Donald was dismayed, because it was a couple of weeks ago “The Enquirer” wrote this idiotic story about JFK. And Donald was dismayed that the folks in the media weren’t repeating this latest idiocy, so he figured he would have to do it himself. He would have to go on national television and accuse my dad of that.

Listen, my father is has been my hero my whole life. My dad was imprisoned and tortured in Cuba. And when he came to America, he had nothing. He had $100 in his underwear. He washed dishes making 50 cents an hour. You know, he is exactly the kind of person Donald Trump looks down on.

I’m going to do something I haven’t done for the entire campaign. For those of you all who have traveled with me all across the country, I’m going to tell you what I really think of Donald Trump.

This man is a pathological liar. He doesn’t know the difference between truth and lies. He lies practically every word that comes out of his mouth. And in a pattern that I think is straight out of a psychology textbook, his response is to accuse everybody else of lying.

He accuses everybody on that debate stage of lying. And it’s simply a mindless yell. Whatever he does, he accuses everyone else of doing. The man cannot tell the truth, but he combines it with being a narcissist, a narcissist at a level I don’t think this country’s ever seen.

Donald Trump is such a narcissist that Barack Obama looks at him and goes, dude, what’s your problem? Everything in Donald’s world is about Donald. And he combines being a pathological liar — and I say pathological because I actually think Donald, if you hooked him up to a lie detector test, he could say one thing in the morning, one thing at noon, and one thing in the evening, all contradictory, and he would pass the lie detector test each time.

Whatever lie he’s telling, at that minute, he believes it. But the man is utterly amoral.

And Trump didn’t let it rest.

The day after the Republican National Convention in July 2017, at which Cruz refused to endorse Trump, Trump revisited the  issue.

Is it true that Cruz didn’t deny that his father was involved in the Kennedy assassination?

Well, according to Politi-Opinion, err PolitiFact, no.

From Dylan Baddour at PolitiFact on July 22,2016:

Donald Trump, fresh off triumphantly accepting the Republican presidential nomination in Cleveland, surprisingly revived an explosive unfounded tale related to someone with no chance of beating him in November.

The day after the 2016 Republican National Convention, Trump said his vanquished Republican rival, Sen. Ted Cruz, had never denied that his father was in a 1963 photo with Lee Harvey Oswald, who went on to assassinate President John F. Kennedy that November.

At a rally, Trump initially told supporters he doesn’t want the backing of Cruz, whose convention speech two days earlier drew boos for not including a Trump endorsement; the Texan did offer congratulations. Next, Trump resurrected his unconfirmed claim about Oswald and Rafael Cruz, the senator’s father, possibly knowing one another.

Trump said: “All I did is point out the fact that on the cover of the National Enquirer there was a picture of him and crazy Lee Harvey Oswald having breakfast. Now, Ted never denied that it was his father. Instead he said, ‘Donald Trump.’ I had nothing to do with it. This was a magazine that frankly, in many respects, should be very respected.”

In May 2016, PolitiFact found incorrect and ridiculous–Pants on Fire–Trump’s claim that Cruz’s father was with Oswald before Kennedy’s assassination.

There was no evidence the man next to Oswald in the black-and-white photo published in the Enquirer was the elder Cruz. Notably, facial recognition experts advised that no such match could be made; meantime, historians found no corroborating records. The Enquirer never said how it determined the man in the photo with Oswald was Rafael Cruz.

Could it still be that Sen. Cruz never denied his father was in the photo?

To our inquiry on this point, Cruz spokeswoman Catherine Frazier pointed out a statement the Cruz campaign gave to the McClatchy News Service in April 2016 at the time the photo in question was printed on the Enquirer’s cover.  

The Cruz campaign’s communications director, Alice Stewart, said then: “The story is false; that is not Rafael in the picture,”according to the Miami Herald’s April 22, 2016 news story.

Stewart’s “not Rafael” declaration appears to have gotten play. We found it in stories or web posts on the McClatchy website and for the conservative web network The Blaze plus in the International Business Times, on the FactCheck.org fact-checking site and on sites for Yahoo! News, The Hill, Gawker, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal.

Trump first cited the Enquirer article during a May 3, 2016, telephone interview with the Fox News program, Fox and Friends. Later that day, at an Indiana campaign event, Cruz spoke to reporters, saying: “This morning Donald Trump went on national television and attacked my father. Donald Trump alleges that my dad was involved in assassinating JFK. Let’s be clear, this is nuts. This is not a reasonable position, this is just kooky.”

Cruz said the Enquirer “just spread lies, blatant lies” and described the article as “this idiotic story about JFK.”

Also,  on May 3, 2016, Ben Jacobs, political reporter for the Guardian, tweeted a statement regarding the claim that Jacobs generally attributed to the Cruz campaign. It said: “It’s embarrassing that anyone would enable Trump to discuss this. It’s a garbage story and clearly Donald wants to talk about garbage.”

The same day, Rafael Cruz told ABC News in a TV interview that the links insinuated between him and Oswald were “ludicrous.”

“I was never in New Orleans at that time,” he said.

Our ruling

Trump said the day after the Republican convention that Cruz “never denied” his father was pictured with Oswald before Kennedy’s assassination.

This spring, Cruz called the National Enquirer story “lies.”  Earlier, a Cruz camp spokeswoman said outright the elder Cruz wasn’t in the published photo.

That’s far enough from “never denied,” it makes Trump’s claim incorrect and ridiculous. Pants on Fire!

PANTS ON FIRE – The statement is not accurate and makes a ridiculous claim. Click here for more on the six PolitiFact ratings and how we select facts to check.

For what it’s worth, PolitiFact had also offered a negative judgment on the original claim linking Rafael Cruz and Lee Harvey Oswald.

Of course, that’s just PolitiFact’s opinion. It’s a circumstantial case built on reasonable assumptions.

But, to InfoWars, that’s fake news.

From October 26, 2017, via InfoWarrior/Alex Jones political guru/ Trump’s political brain, Roger Stone:

Of course, Cruz and Trump eventually reconciled, which Jones celebrated when he ran into Cruz in an elevator after the inauguration.

In the meantime, Big Tech continues its assault on Alex Jones.

Which will give Cruz more reason to press his, “I don’t like what Alex Jones says but I will fight to the death defending his right to say it,” which will be well good enough for Jones, who will tout Cruz’s stout defense of him against the Big Tech/Deep State to his legion of listeners who in 2016 proved they could help elect a president,and in 2018 could help re-elect a Texas senator.

 

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks to supporters during the Resurgent Gathering at the Capitol Sheraton, Saturday, Aug. 4, 2018. (Stephen Spillman / for American-Statesman)