House GOP Memo Encouraged Members to Defend Tech Behemoths Google and Facebook Against Antitrust Claims
A memorandum leaked ahead of a Wednesday antitrust hearing suggests Republican members of the House Judiciary Committee drafted talking points to help them defend tech companies against claims they have become too monopolistic.
The 37-page memo was prepared in advance of an antitrust subcommittee’s hearing with tech CEOs including Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Apple’s Tim Cook, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, and Google’s Sundar Pichai. Marked “confidential,” the document threatened to undermine Republican efforts to appear tough on the companies amid claims they have not only engaged in anti-competitive practices, but have also sought to censor conservatives online.
Four themes summarized on the first page began with a brief acknowledgment of conservatives’ concerns, calling “political bias in Big Tech” a “problem that must be highlighted … so that consumers are aware, the market can respond, and lawmakers can evaluate options.” The final three themes emphasized the need to defend “Big Tech” from regulation, stating, “Antitrust law should be used to promote freedom, competition, and the American dream, not to punish success or attack companies.” (You can read the full memo here.)
The document also argued the companies are “already subject to numerous investigations” spearheaded by Attorney General William Barr’s Justice Department, and said efforts by Democrats to investigate them threatened “legal precedents that gave rise to greatest economy in history and to Europeanize the American business climate.”
A Republican committee spokesman said the document, published by Mike Cernovich prior to the hearing, was simply a “guidance memo” meant to serve as an “information and learning tool,” not to represent the party’s official position.
“Guidance memos are created to present all sides of the equation for members of Congress to learn about issues before the committee, and this leaked document has been wildly mischaracterized,” the spokesman said. “These memos are regularly created for every hearing to show every argument that might come up in a hearing. These memos are NOT meant to serve as a plan of attack for any hearing.”
The spokesman declined to say whether members were provided with memos providing alternative viewpoints.
Some conservatives on Wednesday expressed their displeasure with the news, and especially with Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), after the memo widely circulated on social media.
“He needs to give an explanation for why his office put out a memo for this hearing that might as well have been written by Google’s lobbyists,” Human Events publisher Will Chamberlain wrote on Twitter. Breitbart News reporter Allum Bokhari wrote in another message directed at Jordan, “Big tech has faced billion-euro antitrust fines in Europe and taken it on the chin. Has GOP ever proposed any punishment close to as severe for political bias?”
Jordan sparred with committee Democrats at the hearing on several occasions — particularly after they denied his request to allow fellow Judiciary Committee member Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA) to participate, and again when Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-PA) referred to his claims of Google’s bias as “conspiracy theories.” But he did not specifically press the CEOs on individual claims of bias on their platforms, and named just one news outlet during an opening statement — Breitbart — that conservatives believe tech companies have sought to suppress.
One member, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), named a range of media organizations or websites allegedly suppressed by Google. Besides Breitbart, that list included The Gateway Pundit, Western Journal, American Spectator, and Daily Caller. Quoting former Google engineer Mike Wacker, Gaetz said he didn’t believe Google CEO Pichai’s claims that the company does not manually manipulate search results. “The manual blacklist targets that Google specifically goes after are those who support President Trump, are those who hold a conservative viewpoint,” Gaetz said. (Pichai countered that he “strongly disagreed” with that assessment.)
One more member of the committee, Rep. Greg Steube (R-FL), noted that Google prevented him accessing The Gateway Pundit. Other GOP members — including Reps. Ken Buck (CO) and Kelly Armstrong (ND) — avoided specific allegations related to bias by the tech companies.
The memo distributed to members failed to mention any of the examples Gaetz and Steube cited, but said members should try to avoid the topic, advising, “Political bias in big tech should be decried, but antitrust won’t solve it.” It also encouraged them to defend the companies from the idea they hold an unfair market advantage even if evidence pointed in the opposite direction: “Even if this hearing or investigation suggest that Google, Amazon, Apple, or Facebook have acted unlawfully, that would not necessarily mean underlying antitrust law needs an overhaul.”
That guidance did appear to align with positions held by some of the members, including the committee’s top Republican, outgoing Rep. James Sensenbrenner (WI).
“I have reached the conclusion we do not need to change our antitrust laws,” Sensenbrenner told the committee. He subsequently asked Amazon’s Bezos to speculate on what might happen if the federal government ordered his company to break into smaller components, saying, “You might have to go to separate places for books or groceries or videos or electronics. How are the consumers helped by that?”
Bezos agreed: “They would not be. Very clear.”
Watch above, via the House Judiciary Committee.
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