White House Withdraws Nomination Of FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, Who Doubted Donald Trump’s Executive Order On Social Media

Ted Johnson
·4-min read

The White House withdrew the nomination of Michael O’Rielly to serve another term as commissioner at the FCC, just days after he gave a speech in which he signaled his opposition to President Donald Trump’s executive order to try to limit liability protections for social media companies.

O’Rielly, a Republican who joined the commission in 2013, was facing Senate confirmation for another term that would have extended through 2024.

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The White House did not give a reason for the withdrawal of the nomination, and it was unclear if it was related to O’Rielly’s comments on Trump’s social media order. The president and others on the right have long complained that tech platforms’ content moderation practices are biased against conservatives.

Last week, O’Rielly addressed in a speech he gave to the Media Institute in which he criticized the effort to target the social media platforms.

“The First Amendment protects us from limits on speech imposed by the government—not private actors—and we should all reject demands, in the name of the First Amendment, for private actors to curate or publish speech in a certain way,” he said.

“Like it or not, the First Amendment’s protections apply to corporate entities, especially when they engage in editorial decision making. I shudder to think of a day in which the Fairness Doctrine could be reincarnated for the Internet, especially at the ironic behest of so-called free speech ‘defenders.'”

O’Rielly said that his remarks weren’t directed at Trump or White House officials, who he said were within their rights to seek FCC action, but to “certain opportunists elsewhere who claim to be the First Amendment’s biggest heroes but only come to its defense when convenient and constantly shift its meaning to fit their current political objectives.”

Complaining that the tech platforms were stifling free speech, Trump issued his executive order in May, shortly after Twitter, for the first time, placed a fact-check on two of his tweets.

The order directed the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to draw up a proposal to the FCC, an independent agency, to limit the liability protections that tech platforms currently enjoy for third-party content on their sites under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. First Amendment advocates have raised doubts that such a move would survive constitutional scrutiny, but the FCC on Monday put the proposal up for public comment. It now will go through a 45-day period for comments.

With O’Rielly’s potential opposition to the proposal, the Trump administration faces not having enough support on the commission for it the pass. The two Democrats on the commission, Jessica Rosenworcel and Geoffrey Starks, have signaled that they oppose it as well.

A spokesperson for O’Rielly did not immediately return a request for comment.

The news of the withdrawal of O’Rielly’s nomination drew a strong reaction from public policy circles in D.C.

Preston Padden, a communications policy consultant and former top lobbyist for The Walt Disney Co., wrote on Twitter, “I have been around D.C. communications policy circles for 47 years. President Trump withdrawing the renomination of Mike O’Rielly for the FCC is the worst thing I have ever seen.”

The Senate Commerce Committee approved O’Rielly’s renomination, but Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) placed a hold on O’Rielly’s nomination. The issue was over the FCC’s order to allow Ligado Networks to create a low-power 5G network on spectrum that has been used for radar and GPS.

Gordon Smith, president and CEO of the National Association of Broadcasters, said in a statement, said that O’Rielly “is the consummate professional—smart, diligent, honest, and fair. For these and many other reasons, NAB has been proud to support his continued service at the Commission. But for these reasons also, I have every confidence that he will succeed wherever he casts his lot.”

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