Florida may be known as the Sunshine State for its pretty beaches and nice weather, but it could also earn that moniker for the amount of scrutiny its state legislature receives from the mainstream media.
To be clear, that legislature has been no friend of free speech or a free press in recent months.
From attacks on a private company (Disney) that criticized the state’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, to a content moderation law that prohibits private social media platforms from removing politicians, to blocking members of the media from Republican events, Republican lawmakers in the state have consistently earned condemnation and lawsuits from true stalwarts of the First Amendment. And, as the very visible leader of the state’s GOP-arm, Governor Ron DeSantis has incurred most of the blame for these events, albeit the fact that there are many lower lawmakers playing a part in these policies.
So when news recently broke of yet another anti-free speech bill circulating in the Florida legislature it seemed par for the course. The media rushed to credit DeSantis with the bill.
This bill is the closest thing to the Alien & Sedition Acts of 1798, one of the most despised & undemocratic laws in US history. It curtailed freedom of the press and allowed individuals to be imprisoned for criticising the govt. Clearly unconstitutional. https://t.co/jj7OkgRla8
— Richard Stengel (@stengel) March 5, 2023
— WFLA NEWS (@WFLA) March 2, 2023
Let me just start paying my fines now. No way in hell, I will register to talk about a member of a government in the State I live in. We don’t register guns, we sure as hell are not going to register bloggers. https://t.co/CO763jcKZk
— Mike Harvey (@electMikeHarvey) March 3, 2023
To be clear, the gnashing of teeth over the bill was by no means undeserved. It was every bit as bad as was reported and should have been universally condemned by anyone who believes in the Constitution, no matter what political party they’re a part of.
Among its components, the bill requires bloggers to register with the state if they cover Governor Ron DeSantis, Attorney General Ashley Moody, other members of the Florida executive cabinet, or the legislature. Should they not, the journalists/bloggers would face fines. It also stipulates that bloggers monthly report to the state and disclose how much compensation they were paid for a given piece of content.
The catch though? Ron DeSantis had nothing to do with the bill. This week he publicly disavowed it.
BREAKING— @GovRonDeSantis just struck down the 'Blogger Bill' that forces Bloggers to Register With State
— Javier Manjarres (@JavManjarres) March 7, 2023
“Every person in the legislature can file bills. I see these people filing bills and there are these articles with my face on the article, ‘bloggers are going to have to register with the state,’ attributing it to me,” said Gov. DeSantis.
“That’s not anything I’ve ever supported, I don’t support. I’ve been very clear on what we are doing,” he added.
The legislation was actually introduced by a low profile state senator, Jason Brodeur (R-Lake Mary). And newsflash people, members of the legislature can introduce bad ideas with literally no other support. So while Brodeur deserves to be laughed out of all serious political conversations (and never left alone with the Constitution), his actions should never have been attributed to Ron DeSantis or any other Republican in the state not on the bill.
This is actually a growing problem in the media where reporters find the craziest bills they can each year and then credit the ideas in them to an entire group of people. It’s disingenuous, shoddy journalism, and leads to a breakdown in our political discourse in which people are left fighting over bills with no co-sponsors that aren’t going anywhere. Such bills are reported on simply because they’re extreme instead of journalists focusing on more relevant issues.
Here’s another example of this practice out of Texas just last week:
Holy shit. Texas republicans introduced a bill to give huge tax cuts to *straight* couples having children—with up to 100% cut in property taxes for TEN kids.
The bill’s author said “Get married, stay married, and be fruitful and multiply.”
This is handmaid’s tale shit. pic.twitter.com/HQROWJTj8R
— Sawyer Hackett (@SawyerHackett) March 2, 2023
We’ve been critical of DeSantis and his support for anti-free speech policies several times in the past, but only when it’s actually warranted and clear that he personally is in support of the policies. This time was certainly not one of them.
We applaud Gov. Ron DeSantis for speaking out against the terrible ideas contained in this bill.