The Daily Wire, The Federalist, and the state of Texas joined on Tuesday in a lawsuit against the U.S. State Department, alleging that the government agency funded censorship technology designed to bankrupt domestic media outlets with disfavored political opinions.
The State Department is tasked with foreign relations and has no authority over domestic affairs, yet it took a government office designed for countering foreign terrorist propaganda, the Global Engagement Center (GEC), and unleashed it against Americans engaged in what it claimed was “disinformation,” according to the lawsuit, filed in federal court in the Eastern District of Texas on Tuesday night by the New Civil Liberties Alliance.
It was “one of the most audacious, manipulative, secretive, and gravest abuses of power and infringements of First Amendment rights by the federal government in American history,” said the suit, which also names Secretary of State Antony Blinken and five other officials as defendants.
The lawsuit asks a judge to declare the State Department’s attempt to interfere with domestic speech illegal and to permanently bar it from developing, promoting, or encouraging others to use technology to de-amplify, shadow ban, or restrict “the lawful speech of the American press and Americans.”
GEC was founded in 2011 as the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications and tasked with countering the propaganda of foreign terrorists like Al Qaeda. In 2016, it was renamed, but kept the same counterterrorism mission. Congress has made clear that “none of the funds authorized” for the entity “shall be used for purposes other than countering foreign propaganda.”
Nonetheless, GEC turned its focus on Americans, the complaint alleges, using taxpayer funds to finance the development and promotion of censorship organizations such as NewsGuard and the Global Disinformation Index (GDI), which regularly target conservative media outlets such as The Daily Wire and The Federalist with the stated goal of limiting ad revenue.
The New Civil Liberties Alliance’s Mark Chenoweth, who is representing the outlets, said “the federal government cannot do indirectly what the First Amendment forbids it from doing directly.”
GDI’s main product is a “Dynamic Exclusion List” of media outlets that it says present a “high risk for disinformation.” It licenses the list to advertisers, who adopt it as a convenient way to avoid boycotts from the Left. That playbook was deployed last month against Elon Musk, when blue-chip advertisers were persuaded to stop advertising on the platform because the Left-wing Media Matters group claimed that big companies’ ads occasionally appeared near objectionable content.
GDI says it aims to destroy “the incentive to create [disinformation] for the purpose of garnering advertising revenues.”
GDI keeps its main blacklist secret, but publicly published its top 10 “riskiest” outlets, which was essentially a list of America’s most prominent and mainstream conservative media publications, including both The Daily Wire and The Federalist, as well as the New York Post, and Reason Magazine.
GDI “was funded and promoted by State Department Defendants,” the lawsuit states. “State Department Defendants’ active intervention in the news media market to make disfavored media unprofitable thus had devastating consequences to Media Plaintiffs.”
Also funded by the State Department is for-profit company called NewsGuard, which said it aimed to “cut off revenues to fake news sites” by coming up with a whitelist that purported to name every legitimate news site. NewsGuard ranks The Federalist as “unreliable” and The Daily Wire as “credible with significant exceptions.”
GEC funded GDI in 2021 through its U.S.-Paris Tech Challenge, in which GDI was awarded $100,000. The Washington Examiner reported that the State Department-funded National Endowment for Democracy apparently funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars more to GDI. The National Endowment for Democracy later acknowledged its “mandate is to work around the world and not in the United States,” and thus would no longer fund GDI.
The State Department also co-sponsored a “COVID-19 misinformation and disinformation” tech challenge that gave a prize to NewsGuard. NewsGuard said in a press release that it planned to “help” the State Department by flagging COVID “hoaxes.”
One of the “hoaxes” flagged by NewsGuard was that COVID might have come from a Chinese lab, a scenario now viewed by U.S. agencies to be likely. NewsGuard gave its secret data to scientists from Los Alamos, the lab that created the atomic bomb, who used it to target skeptics of then-conventional COVID wisdom.
The lawsuit says that the government used tools developed to be used against foreign nations against political opponents at home.
“State Department disinformation tools were developed… as tools of warfare… in the context of national security” and “foreign relations,” then “misdirected to be used at home against domestic political opponents,” it said.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton says he is “proud to lead the fight to save Americans’ precious constitutional rights from Joe Biden’s tyrannical federal government.”
“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.”
The lawsuit argues that Paxton’s ability to enforce Texas’ anti-censorship laws were infringed by the State Department’s funding of censorship tools.
“The Biden administration is illegally funding organizations with the stated goal of financially crippling media outlets whose coverage does not walk in lockstep with the government’s ideological agenda,” The Daily Wire said in a statement on the lawsuit. “We sued the Biden administration before over its unconstitutional vaccine mandate, and we won. This time, we’re suing for our rights, all news organizations’ rights, and the constitutional guarantee of a free press that all Americans deserve.”