Legal experts and fact checkers dismantle Tulsi Gabbard’s 'absurd' comparison of press freedom in US and Russia

Legal experts and fact checkers dismantle Tulsi Gabbard’s 'absurd' comparison of press freedom in US and Russia
Tulsi Gabbard in August 2019, Wikimedia Commons

Democratic former Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii has been pandering to MAGA Republicans a lot recently, speaking at the 2022 Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida and making frequent appearances on Fox News —where she hasn’t been shy about defending Russian President Vladimir Putin. During a March 15 appearance on Fox News, Gabbard told far-right host Jesse Watters that freedom of the press in the United States is “not so different” from Russia. And PolitiFact’s Bill McCarthy pushes back against that claim aggressively in an article published on March 18.

Gabbard told Watters, “This foundation of freedom of speech, freedom of expression is directly under threat and under attack.… What’s happening here is not so different from what we’re seeing happening in Russia, where you’ve got state TV and controlled messaging across the board. This is where we’re at."

McCarthy, in response, explains, “A new law in Russia threatens up to 15 years of prison time for spreading information about the war that authorities consider to be ‘false.’ There are no parallels in the U.S., where freedom of speech, expression and the press are safeguarded by the Constitution. Gabbard alleged censorship by social media companies, but experts say those claims are not supported by evidence.”

Scott Gehlbach, who teaches political science at the University of Chicago, denounced Gabbard’s claims as “absurd.”

“In Russia, one can now face up to 15 years in prison for simply calling a war a war," Gehlbach told PolitiFact. “In the U.S., citizens such as Tulsi Gabbard are free to make not only truthful, but untruthful, statements without fear of legal sanction."

Similarly, Ellen Goodman, a law professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey, told PolitiFact, "The state in Russia is criminalizing speech and locking people up. That is not happening in the U.S. — not at (the) hands of private parties or state."

David Kaye, who teaches law at the University of California, Irvine, also pushed back against Gabbard’s claims.

Kaye told PolitiFact, “Russia is exercising extraordinary powers of censorship unseen in Russia since the Soviet era…. Is there anything remotely like this in the United States? No. The U.S. government lacks power under the Constitution to engage in the kind of actions taking place in Russia."

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