The Texas attorney general’s office announced Wednesday that it was teaming up with two right-wing sites—The Daily Wire and The Federalist—to sue the U.S. Department of State over a purported “conspiracy” to censor conservative media outlets.
A 67-page complaint filed by Texas AG Ken Paxton in federal court alleges that the government is covertly funding the development of “censorship technology and private censorship enterprises to covertly suppress speech of a segment of the American press.”
By allegedly infringing on the First Amendment rights of “disfavored” press groups, the suit claims, the State Department is committing what the organizations characterize as “one of the most audacious, manipulative, secretive, and gravest abuses of power” in U.S. history.
Specifically, the lawsuit alleges, the State Department’s grim plot involves the “funneling” of grant money to anti-disinformation organizations, which it accuses of “tarring disfavored domestic news organizations as purveyors of ‘disinformation,’ throttling traffic to those outlets, reducing their visibility on social media, and starving them of advertising revenue.”
“These entities,” the complaint continues, “generate blacklists of ostensibly risky or unreliable American news outlets for the purpose of discrediting and demonetizing the disfavored press and redirecting money and audiences to news organizations that publish favored viewpoints.”
Those organizations are named in the lawsuit as the Global Disinformation Index, a British-based nonprofit, and NewsGuard, a rating system. Both track false information online for the purposes of advising advertisers on a given website’s brand safety. According to the suit, the GDI received a $100,000 grant in 2021 from the State Department’s Global Engagement Center, while NewsGuard got a $25,000 award in 2020.
The lawsuit complains that the State Department does not have the “statutory authority” to fund the technology being developed by the GDI and NewsGuard. “It follows that they also lack the power to attempt to censor speech and the press,” the suit adds, “and they lack the power to ask others to censor speech and the press.”
Paxton said in a press release that he was “proud” to stand against President Joe Biden’s “tyrannical federal government” in the name of preserving Americans’ “precious” constitutional rights.
“The State Department’s mission to obliterate the First Amendment is completely un-American,” Paxton said. “This agency will not get away with their illegal campaign to silence citizens and publications they disagree with.”
In a joint statement released through the conservative New Civil Liberties Alliance, which is suing the State Department alongside Paxton’s office, The Daily Wire accused the Biden administration of attempting to financially cripple media outlets seeking to cover topics that went against “the government’s ideological agenda.”
Mollie Hemingway, the editor-in-chief of The Federalist, said, “We will not stop until this entire corrupt edifice has been torn down, brick by brick, and every single person involved has been held accountable.”
“George Orwell, call your office,” added Peggy Little, an NCLA attorney. “The Disinformation Governance Board is back!”
Neither GDI nor NewsGuard are named as defendants in the case, but a spokesperson for NewsGuard told The Daily Beast that its “apolitical” work creating reliability ratings for American websites is conducted separately to its work for the Global Engagement Center, which is focused on tracking state-sponsored disinformation in Russia, China, and Venezuela.
“We’re not sure how any of this work could be relevant to any of the plaintiffs involved in this lawsuit,” the spokesperson said.
Neither the GDI nor the State Department immediately returned The Daily Beast’s queries. The State Department declined to comment on the lawsuit to Reuters.
Paxton’s push to accuse the federal government of censoring conservatives online comes less than two months after the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the Biden administration’s challenge to a lower court order blocking it from “coercing”—as a complaint from GOP attorneys general in Missouri and Louisiana put it—social media companies into removing misleading posts about subjects like COVID-19 and the 2020 presidential election.