Tennessee State Legislature’s Bill to Recognize CNN, Washington Post as ‘Fake News’

Claim

A real piece of legislation filed in Tennessee sought to officially label CNN and the Washington Post as "fake news."

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True

Reporting

On February 11 2020, tweets and social media posts alluded to “an actual bill” in the state of Tennessee, aimed at labeling CNN and the Washington Post as “fake news”:

 

Verifying the existence of the legislation was fairly straightforward; Tennessee House Joint Resolution 779 or HJR0779 was available to view on the official Tennessee General Assembly website. An asterisk next to the bill’s sponsor, Micah Van Huss, led to a state government profile page.

A summary of Van Huss’ legislation was available in the form of a February 4 2020 [PDF] “fiscal note,” observing that the proposal would have no financial effects on the public. Its summary read:

SUMMARY OF BILL: Resolves to recognize CNN and The Washington Post as fake news and part of the media wing of the Democratic Party, and further resolves to condemn such media outlets for denigrating our citizens and implying that they are weak-minded followers instead of people exercising their rights that our veterans paid for with their blood.

A longer version was available via capitol.tn.gov [PDF], available to review in full. The House Joint Resolution’s final two lines were of key importance.

It is clear that Van Huss filed the bill and sent it along a legislative track in Tennessee, along with a fleshed-out list of grievances against CNN and Washington Post for perceived characterizations made by both outlets of either United States President Donald Trump and/or his base of support.

However, the final two lines following the list of Van Huss’ grievances sought only to label said outlets “as fake news and part of the media wing of the Democratic Party” and “condemn them for denigrating our citizens and implying that they are weak-minded followers” rather than actively censoring them from being distributed in the state:

A RESOLUTION to recognize CNN and The Washington Post as fake news and condemn them for denigrating our citizens.

WHEREAS, on October 3, 2019, an editor for The Washington Post wrote that President Donald J. Trump has cast a spell on the Republican Party and suggested that Trumpism is cultlike; and

WHEREAS, on November 24, 2019, a CNN host suggested that Trump supporters belong to a cult and that our president is using mind control; and

WHEREAS, we recognize that fake news outlets suggest ideas without directly making accusations so that they can claim innocence from their ivory towers; and

WHEREAS, it is fascinating to see this latest “cult-of-Trump” meme coming from the left, because they are the true masters of deploying mobs to demand total conformity and compliance with their agenda; and

WHEREAS, any thoughtful observer can see the cult-of-Trump meme as a classic case of psychological projection; after all, accusing someone’s perceived opponent of exactly what one intends to do is a very old tactic; and

WHEREAS, the mainstream media is in a panic because President Trump has opened the eyes of many average Americans who are tired of politics as usual. They are tired of being politicians’ political pawns, and they are tired of every other country’s needs being put before their own; and

WHEREAS, suggestions of cult-like behavior by President Trump’s supporters substitute a value judgment in place of a sorely needed argumentative analysis of how voters generate their own political views; and

WHEREAS, to describe the entire Republican Party as a cult led by President Trump is problematic: If journalists are going to refer to the party as a cult and its supporters as cultists, they must define what “cult” means; otherwise, they are assuming that a cult is some obvious phenomenon and everyone knows what the word means; and

WHEREAS, this cult diagnosis isn’t a reasoned argument, or even an objective description; and

WHEREAS, the cult diagnosis draws a line between Trump opponents and Trump supporters, and it oversimplifies the way people think and feel about their own beliefs and those on the other side of that line; and

WHEREAS, President Trump understood their frustration when he ran for office; he has taken a stand on behalf of the middle class and everyday people, and that is the reason he has growing support; and

WHEREAS, suggestions that supporters of President Trump are exhibiting cult-like behavior isn’t helpful in an era of significant political polarization; now, therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED BY THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF THE ONE HUNDRED ELEVENTH GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE STATE OF TENNESSEE, THE SENATE CONCURRING, that the State of Tennessee recognizes CNN and The Washington Post as fake news and part of the media wing of the Democratic Party.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we condemn them for denigrating our citizens and implying that they are weak-minded followers instead of people exercising their rights that our veterans paid for with their blood.

Neither proposed resolution appeared to meaningfully affect either the two named news outlets or residents of the state of Tennessee, even if passed. Van Huss did not seek to limit their distribution or reach, or attach any penalties to their reporting.

One of Van Huss’ fellow Republican lawmakers answered a media query about HJR0779 on January 31 2020, citing legislative efforts such as healthcare and education as a more appropriate focus for state funds and man hours:

Asked whether the resolution was a good use of taxpayer money, state Sen. Rusty Crowe of Johnson City, who is also mulling a run for Congress, said: “I don’t think so. It’s a personal message from Van Huss to his constituents.

“I’ve got so many things that I’m working on as chairman of the Health Committee, on the Education Committee and on the Government Operations Committee that are so important. I just don’t… I don’t have time for that. I’ve got other things to do,” he said.

In 2018, Van Huss cited the satirical website “The Onion” during a Criminal Justice Committee meeting.

“I’m reading right here on The Onion a report about Kentucky seniors who haze freshmen basketball players,” Van Huss said.

While careful to criticize Van Huss outright, Northeast Tennessee Republicans told News 5 that they have different priorities.

Other Tennessee Republicans concurred, referencing constituents’ needs on issues they deemed more pressing:

Asked if a fake news resolution is what Tennesseans want taxpayer-funded lawyers working on, state Sen. Jon Lundberg of Bristol said: “I think our voters determine that. Voters in each of our districts.”

State Rep. David Hawk of Greeneville said he doesn’t believe the General Assembly should be addressing the topic.

“We have a lot of work to do outside of that,” Hawk said. “That’s not the first issue that comes from my constituents’ mouths when I have a discussion with them. They’re worried about workforce development; they’re worried about health care; they’re worried about mental health and substance abuse, that’s about 15 to 20 down the list of concerns that they’ve got.

“Really, as a state government, I don’t think that we should be dipping our toe in that.”

No final action had been taken on it as of February 13 2020. As of that date, HJR0779’s next scheduled action was for February 18 2020.

It is true that Van Huss sponsored House Joint Resolution 779, which was riddled with disinformation and jingoistic language, aiming for the “State of Tennessee [to recognize] CNN and The Washington Post as fake news and part of the media wing of the Democratic Party,” and to “condemn [those outlets] for denigrating our citizens and implying that they are weak-minded followers instead of people exercising their rights that our veterans paid for with their blood.”

However, the resolution was not final as of February 13 2020, and it carried no measurable effects on either news outlet or on Tennessee citizens should it pass a vote.