On Wednesday, Oklahoma state Sen. Nathan Dahm has proposed a bill that would require journalists to submit to drug tests, take courses in being “propaganda-free,” and get a license from the state. According to Dahm’s Senate Bill 1837, called the Common Sense Freedom of Press Control Act, “any media outlet that includes opinions at any time in its print, broadcast, or other means of distribution shall do each of the following before any articles, stories, opinions, news, videos, or other media are distributed to the public:”
- Complete a criminal background check.
- Receive a license from the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, which regulates public utilities in the state.
- “[C]omplete a propaganda-free safety training course of no less than eight (8) hours as prescribed by the State Department of Education, which shall be developed in coordination with PragerU,” which is a right-wing advocacy group known for distorting U.S. history and promoting climate change denial.
- Have liability insurance of at least $1,000,000.
- Submit to drug testing every quarter.
Enjoy fascism much? Dahm isn’t just a Republican state senator, he’s the chair of the state Republican Party. And while The Oklahoman suggests the legislation probably won’t become law, the continuing trend of Republican extremism is enough to worry state Rep. Mickey Dollens, the rare Democrat in Oklahoma, who told the news outlet, “I would have said this bill has no chance of advancing, but based on extremist legislation passed in recent years, I wouldn’t put it past them. As a Democratic legislator in a supermajority Republican House, I feel it’s one of my duties to push back on unconstitutional extremist legislation and to be the voice of those Oklahomans who don’t have one in their elected officials.”
Dollens isn’t wrong. Oklahoma Republicans spent a good part of 2023 getting rid of library books they deemed “woke.” Earlier this week, Republican state Rep. Justin Humphrey filed a bill that would target students who identify as “furries,” ostensibly creating legislation based on debunked right-wing urban legends.
This isn’t the first, second, or third time that conservative lawmakers have attempted to control the free press by demanding some sort of licensing requirements. In 2016, a South Carolina Republican introduced a bill that would require journalists to be registered and vetted by the state. An Indiana Republican tried to do a similar thing in 2017, arguing it was the same as licensing Second Amendment rights. And in 2023, a Florida lawmaker attempted to force bloggers who write about Gov. Ron DeSantis, people in his administration, or state legislators to register with the government.
This anti-press movement has partly been led by Donald Trump, the de facto head of the GOP since around 2016. Trump has been relentlessly escalating his anti-press rhetoric for years. And yet many traditional media outlets have cut Trump slack over his dehumanizing and threatening language, thereby helping to normalize that sentiment—at least within the world of MAGA and the Republican Party.
As for Dahm, he’s been licking MAGA boots for some time. In early 2020, Dahm and fellow state Sen. Marty Quinn proposed that the Sooner State add a couple of Trump-themed license plate options. You also might recall Dahm as the tooney-lune who filed the Firearms Freedom Act, which would have tried to exempt Oklahoma-made and -owned guns from any federal regulation. He also debated Jon Stewart and was roundly demolished, with Stewart exposing Dahm’s hypocrisy of trying to ban drag-queen story times while remaining mute on gun safety legislation.
John Small, who is on the board of directors of the Oklahoma Society of Professional Journalists and editor of the Johnston County Sentinel, tells The Oklahoman, “[Dahm is] asking journalists to undergo more scrutiny than he did. The bill is an egregious violation of the First Amendment.”
Small added, “I wonder if it’s a knee-jerk response on his part, because there are journalists in Oklahoma, myself included, who think the good senator may be a couple of McNuggets short of a Happy Meal.”
Is there anything more iconic in American politics than the whistle-stop tour? Author Edward Segal joins us on this week’s episode of “The Downballot” to discuss his new book unearthing the storied history of campaigning by train. Segal takes us through nearly two centuries of rail campaigns, from early pioneers like Abraham Lincoln to the great popularizer of whistle-stop touring William Jennings Bryan all the way up to “Amtrak Joe” Biden. Along the way, learn how politicians’ trains were actually deployed, lessons for today’s campaigners, and the surprising era Segal identifies as the heyday for these tours.