“To our knowledge, the cable, satellite and over-the-top companies that disseminate these media outlets to American viewers have done nothing in response to the misinformation aired by these outlets,” two Democratic representatives from California, Anna G. Eshoo and Jerry McNerney, wrote in the letter, which was reviewed by The New York Times.
None of the companies to which the letter was sent immediately replied to requests for comment.
Newsmax, a right-wing cable channel carried by AT&T, CenturyLink, Charter, Comcast, Dish and Verizon, had a surge in ratings in November because of programs that embraced the former president’s claims of voter fraud. One America News Network, a right-wing outlet carried by AT&T, CenturyLink and Verizon, also promoted the false theory.
Fox News, the most-watched cable news network, which is available from all major carriers, was one of five defendants in a $2.7 billion defamation lawsuit filed this month by the election technology company Smartmatic. In the suit, the company accused Fox News, its parent company Fox Corporation, three Fox anchors and two frequent Fox guests of promoting false claims about the election and Smartmatic’s role in it. (Fox has denied the claims and filed a motion to dismiss the suit.)
Congress can raise the issue of whether cable providers bear responsibility for the programs they deliver to millions of Americans, but it may have no way to force them to drop networks that have spread misinformation. And unlike broadcast stations, cable channels do not have licenses that are regulated by the Federal Communications Commission.
The lawmakers’ letter asks the companies, “What steps did you take prior to, on, and following the November 3, 2020 elections and the January 6, 2021 attacks to monitor, respond to, and reduce the spread of disinformation, including encouragement or incitement of violence by channels your company disseminates to millions of Americans?”