Republican Legislation in Florida Hits Conservatives and DeSantis the Hardest
By Trey Radel
Furious Florida Republican lawmakers are on the offense against the mainstream media. It’s clearer than ever: so-called journalists for “mainstream” outlets like the New York Times and Washington Post are nothing more than foot soldiers for the Democratic Party. And now, Florida Republicans are doing something about it.
Their intentions are noble. Unfortunately, the legislation they’re proposing is a sword that cuts both ways. The collateral damage will be widespread, hitting conservative talk radio and center-right digital media the hardest.
The bill, known as HB 991, is aimed at holding leftist media outlets accountable for their lies about Republican politicians.
As a former Republican member of Congress, who has had more than my fair share of false stories printed about me, I empathize with their frustration. However, legislation motivated by anger is rarely a good idea.
The legislation may be well-intended, but it isn’t well thought out. Not only does it pose a threat to free speech in general, it’s conservative talk-show hosts who will be the main targets.
Overall, it weakens current Florida law, which protects commentators against frivolous lawsuits. That includes prominent media figures including Tucker Carlson, contributors and hosts like Dan Bongino, digital behemoths like Benny Johnson and Dave Rubin, as well as people like me, a conservative talk radio host working for a family-owned station in Southwest Florida. And it's exactly us, smaller and independent conservative media, that will get hit the hardest.
The bill opens the door for progressives and liberal, sue-happy lawyers to saddle us with crippling legal bills, threatening our ability to provide a counterweight to the liberal propaganda that dominates the airwaves. Worse, the mere threat of litigation may very well stifle conservative talk before lawsuits even get filed.
Supporters of the bill say there’s no reason for conservative media to be concerned. They argue that the legislation doesn’t change the definition of defamation and point to existing protections in Florida law for broadcasters. But these flimsy assurances won’t protect conservatives.
Consider forum shopping. The bill would allow plaintiffs to pick and choose in which counties to sue. This would enable anyone, but especially liberals and their trial-lawyer allies, to weaponize the law itself to target conservative media. Ask yourself: How well do you think a FOX or NEWSMAX host would fare with left-wing judges and juries in deep blue Broward County?
The bill also reintroduces the “false light” tort that had been thrown out by the Florida Supreme Court in 2008, giving liberals who don’t like how they are portrayed by conservatives a new way to sue, even if it’s not technically “defamation.” While the liberal media spent years calling Anthony Fauci a hero, conservatives in Florida rightfully called him out for being a power-hungry tyrant. Do we really want to give Fauci the ability to sue us for telling the truth?
If that weren’t enough reason for trial lawyers to be licking their chops, it gets worse. The bill would gut Florida’s protections against frivolous lawsuits (passed with bipartisan support in 2015) by passing more legal costs onto victims rather than plaintiffs. This will only encourage bogus lawsuits aimed at stifling conservative speech, as the liberal plaintiffs know they won’t have to pick up the tab if they lose.
Those are just some of the legal ramifications. Politically, there is one person who will be hit the hardest: Governor Ron DeSantis.
Simply by advancing this bill, the Republican-controlled legislature is already giving ammunition to political figures on the right to attack the Governor. They will accuse him of stifling conservative media and being no different from other big government, institutional Republicans. The left is already portraying him as authoritarian and fascist, further cementing their narrative.
Conservative talk radio, center-right digital organizations, and TV stations have provided Floridians with the largest and most powerful platforms to communicate the state’s accomplishments and push back against the dominant left-wing narrative. Without these platforms, the liberal media would have a monopoly on discourse in the Sunshine State.
Even if you don’t live in Florida, this bill will have a chilling effect on how and where you get your news and opinion. Opening the floodgates to frivolous lawsuits would have an impact far beyond Florida’s state line.
I understand why Florida lawmakers want to fight back against the abuses of the left-wing press. But this bill would only empower those outlets and weaken conservative voices.
We need Florida Republicans to come to their senses before it's too late. Otherwise, some of us will be forced to shut down.