Chairman of Children's Health Defense (CHD) Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and other plaintiffs have filed a lawsuit against the Trusted News Initiative (TNI) alleging antitrust and First Amendment violations.
TNI, launched in March 2020, is a coalition of some of the world's largest news organizations, including the Associated Press, the BBC, the Washington Post, and Reuters, who partnered with Big Tech with the aim of stopping the spread of “misinformation.”
Kennedy, CHD, and several other organizations, journalists, and individuals filed a lawsuit in the District Court for the Northern District of Texas-Amarillo Division alleging that these legacy news organizations partnered with Big Tech to “collectively censor online news” about COVID-19 and the 2020 presidential election that did not align with the official narratives.
We obtained a copy of the complaint for you here.
All the plaintiffs claim they were penalized by Big Tech platforms through censorship, shadow-banning, de-platforming, and de-monetization because of content they published that TNI deemed “misinformation” or “disinformation.” The result was a significant loss in visibility and revenue.
“My uncle, President Kennedy, and my father, the attorney general, sought to prosecute antitrust laws that are still on the nation's books, with vigor,” Kennedy told The Defender.
“As private enforcers of those laws, we are confident that the federal court in Texas will vindicate our bedrock freedom to compete with legacy media in the marketplace of ideas.”
CHD president Mary Holland said: “I'm glad that CHD is bringing this case. We are hopeful we will get a fair hearing, and I'm glad that we are together with other organizations that have also been harmed by these corporate and governmental censorship policies.
“To have a free society, you have to have free speech, you have to have a diversity of views. We don't have the same views as all of the other plaintiffs by far … but we want to protect the marketplace of ideas.
“If in fact the government and the corporations they collaborate with can engage in censorship and propaganda nonstop, and there are no alternative voices, democracy is dead.”
The lawsuit notes that there are two categories of TNI members: legacy news organizations and Big Tech platforms.
“The TNI exists to, in its own words, ‘choke off' and ‘stamp out' online news reporting that the TNI or any of its members peremptorily deems ‘misinformation,'” the lawsuit states.
“TNI members have targeted and suppressed completely accurate online reporting by non-mainstream news publishers concerning both COVID-19 (on matters including treatments, immunity, lab leak, vax injury, and lockdowns/mandates) and U.S. elections (such as the Hunter Biden laptop story).”
It adds: “By their own admission, members of the [TNI] have agreed to work together, and have in fact worked together, to exclude from the world's dominant Internet platforms rival news publishers who engage in reporting that challenges and competes with TNI members' reporting on certain issues relating to COVID-19 and U.S. politics.
“While the ‘Trusted News Initiative' publicly purports to be a self-appointed ‘truth police' extirpating online ‘misinformation,' in fact it has suppressed wholly accurate and legitimate reporting in furtherance of the economic self-interest of its members.”
The lawsuit claims “this is an antitrust action” and notes, “Federal antitrust law has its own name for this kind of ‘industry partnership': it's called a ‘group boycott' and is a per se violation of the Sherman Act.”
“Group boycott” is “a concerted attempt by a group of competitors” to “disadvantage [other] competitors” by “cut[ting] off access” to a “facility or market necessary to enable the boycotted firm[s] to compete.”
To support the allegation, the lawsuit cites several public statements made by TNI members. In March 2020 then-senior news controller at BBC News Jamie Angus explained TNI's strategy to beat disinformation:
“Because actually the real rivalry now is not between for example the BBC and CNN globally, it's actually between all trusted news providers and a tidal wave of unchecked [reporting] that's being piped out mainly through digital platforms. … That's the real competition now in the digital media world.
“Of course, organizations will always compete against one another for audiences. But the existential threat I think is that overall breakdown in trust, so that trusted news organizations lose in the long term if audiences just abandon the idea of a relationship of trust with news organizations. So actually we've got a lot more to hold us together than we have to work in competition with one another.”
The lawsuit explains: “Plaintiffs are among the many victims of the TNI's agreement and its group boycott. Plaintiffs are online news publishers who, as a result of the TNI's group boycott, have been censored, de-monetized, demoted, throttled, shadow-banned, and/or excluded entirely from platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram.”
The plaintiffs said that the lawsuit has legal precedence, a 1945 ruling by the Supreme Court involving the Associated Press. The AP, a news industry partnership, “prevented non-members from publishing certain stories.”
Non-members sued under the Sherman Act, but the AP argued that its actions were legal under the First Amendment.
The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. Writing for the majority opinion, Justice Felix Frankfurter said that the First Amendment “rests on the assumption that the widest possible dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources is essential to the welfare of the public, that a free press is a condition of a free society.
“Surely a command that the government itself shall not impede the free flow of ideas does not afford nongovernmental combinations a refuge if they impose restraints upon that constitutionally guaranteed freedom.
“Freedom to publish means freedom for all, and not for some. Freedom to publish is guaranteed by the Constitution, but freedom to combine to keep others from publishing is not. Freedom of the press from governmental interference under the First Amendment does not sanction repression of that freedom by private interests.”
Holland explained that the lawsuit only targets TNI's legacy news organizations because Big Tech firms have “very serious, very binding arbitration provisions” that require legal challenges against them to be filed in the courts of northern California.
“Northern California is Silicon Valley. It's their turf,” said Holland. “And so, we decided, in order to be able to file in a jurisdiction that we believe will be more neutral on these issues … we elected to file in Texas just against the legacy media.”
However, he added, they could still be liable because “the conspiracy between legacy media and Big Tech will incorporate all of them. If there is a conspiracy, they're all liable, not just those who were named as defendants.”
Explaining how TNI acts as “a global media monopoly,” Holland said: “They couch what they're doing, their conspiracy to suppress independent media, i.e. the voices of dissent about election information and COVID information, as a ‘need to preserve the trust of the people' and ‘upgrade the trust.'
“By censoring independent voices, what they're doing is economic suppression. Antitrust is against trusts, it's against monopolies, and what the TNI has done is essentially create a global media monopoly in the English language.”