Prof. Heidi Kitrosser’s “Protecting the Public Knowledge Producers”,


The article is Here is a link to the articleIntroduction

In 2020, USAGM was sued by a number of its employees. USAGM oversees U.S. funded international broadcasting outlets including Voice of America (VOA). The plaintiffs, which included five USAGM senior management and VOA’s director of programming, alleged that USAGM’s CEO Michael Pack was not a qualified person to be appointed by President Trump.[had] sought to interfere in the newsrooms of the USAGM networks, in violation of their eighty-year practice … of journalistic autonomy.” Plaintiffs accused Pack Pack of “seek[ing] to quash … coverage that is insufficiently supportive of President Trump,” as well as “any coverage, unless unfavorable, of President Trump’s political opponents.” The plaintiffs claimed that these actions were in violation of not only statutory directives but also of the First Amendment. USAGM responded, saying that VOA speaks on behalf of the federal government and does not have any First Amendment right to do so. Pack’s actions were merely “exercise”.[ing] You can find out more about it here. [own] The authority to “direct and supervise” and to “assess the effectiveness, quality, and professional integrity of USAGM reporting”.

The First Amendment arguments that were made in this case. Turner v. USAGM, reflect a broader tension in the case law concerning the government’s role as “knowledge producer”—that is, its role in producing or conveying information or otherwise fostering knowledge. The plaintiffs argue that the government is bound by a mast of sorts when it claims to produce journalism. This mast is made up of the standards of professional journalism. It also includes a strict separation of an operation’s political or business commitments from its journalistic endeavors.

This argument is in line with several Supreme Court cases. The Court has repeatedly held that although the government is not required by law to subsidize private speech, or create speech forums for that matter, once it has done so, it cannot impose restrictions based on a particular viewpoint, or that are incompatible or incompatible with speech subsidized, or the forum created. The defendants, however, cited aspects of the free speech doctrine which emphasize the government’s wide discretion to control speech. This includes the Garcetti rule—stemming from the 2006 Supreme Court case of Garcetti v. Ceballos—whereby government employees generally are unprotected by the First Amendment for their work product speech, meaning speech that they produce as part of their job duties. Garcetti The Court’s own statement that “speech of public employees on subjects related to their employment has special importance precisely because they gain knowledge of issues of public concern from their employment” may be in conflict with this.

The current battles over state legislative proposals that would restrict discussions of race and racist in public colleges and university raise similar First Amendment issues. They claim that the laws are contrary to higher education. They suggest that states tie themselves to the mast of academic freedom norms—including rules of faculty and intradisciplinary governance on matters of scholarship and pedagogy—when they create colleges and universities. The proponents of the laws, on the contrary, stress the “public” aspect of public education. They suggest that schools are owned by the public and funded in part by their taxes, and that the public through its representatives must have a voice in what is studied and taught at the schools.

These First Amendment controversies are on top major cultural and political tensions. This is not surprising, since public knowledge institutions are often the sites of cultural conflict. One can find interesting overlaps when comparing the public debates and the legal arguments on these issues. Public outcries against “critical race theories” and the press are often framed in terms of fighting against elite indoctrination. According to this view, neither journalism nor higher education is under attack. The ordinary person is seeking to restore neutrality to public spaces and rebalance the scales. These arguments parallel legal arguments to the effect that government employees, or persons carrying out government-subsidized functions, have no constitutional right to speak freely while carrying out their government-supported roles. Their words belong to the people.

The core populist arguments for broad political control in public knowledge institutions reveal their fundamental failures. First, the idea that political power should govern knowledge production is incompatible with the idea of discipline-based expertise and knowledge; it would strip the production of its value and meaning. It would also mislead the public about any “knowledge” produced because it would be based on disciplinary best practices. This deception is harmful to the speech market and goes against core First Amendment values. Second, the idea that political controls prevent indoctrination or support neutrality is a lie. The power that those who advocate political control seek is the power to prohibit or require certain content in public education and other public knowledge establishments.

In this essay, i explore the nature and importance of government’s knowledge-producers in our constitutional order, as well as the legal, cultural and political threats they face. Part I explains that public knowledge producers play a vital role in a democratic society and that their value depends on them being protected from political pressure. In Part II I use the international broadcasting example, with a focus on the USAGM In this case, it is important to note that the First Amendment requires such insulation. I do acknowledge that First Amendment doctrine has a mixed bag of opinions. One can find both support for my position and contrary indications in judicial precedent. I also argue for a more robust doctrinal foundation to protect public knowledge producers in the future. In Part III, i explore the broader political, legal, and social contexts. I note that, in terms of the law, legislation plays a role at least as important as the First Amendment when it comes to protecting knowledge producers. The Supreme Court’s increasing adherence to the unitary executive theory is threatening such legislation. I also explore parallels in judicial reasoning from some First Amendment cases, unitary Executive Theory, and cultural movements against knowledge providers. I then apply some of the analyses that I have done to a final set of examples, which is the ongoing legal and political debates about race in public higher educational institutions.


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