Dennis Prager’s PragerU Files Lame Lawsuit Alleging YouTube ‘Censorship’

illustration showing a screenshot from a PragerU video, overstamped with the word "CENSORED?"
Artist conception of plaintiff's conception (PragerU video screenshot via YouTube; rubber stamp via Wikimedia Commons)
Right-wing gasbag Dennis Prager filed a federal suit on October 23, claiming YouTube is "censoring" videos from PragerU, his nonprofit propaganda spigot.

Right-wing radio blowhard Dennis Prager’s imaginatively named Prager University (a.k.a. PragerU) filed suit in federal court against YouTube on October 23, claiming the Google-owned platform is censoring the conservative nonprofit’s five-minute videos because of the reactionary viewpoints they convey.

But in the same way Prager University is not an academic institution and awards zero sheepskins, its cries of “censorship” ring hollow. YouTube has neither banned nor taken down any of the 250 or so videos on the PragerU channel.

According to the claim, YouTube has flagged more than three dozen of PragerU’s videos as falling under YouTube’s “restricted mode” category, an optional setting that allows parents, libraries, and, ahem, real universities to filter out adult or controversial content on their computers.

In its 43-page complaint, PragerU concedes that YouTube’s “restricted mode” affects a mere sliver of its potential viewership, noting that only “about 1.5-2 percent of YouTube’s daily views come from people who have Restricted Mode turned on.”

Photo of middle-aged man (Dennis Prager) with glasses, dressed in a suit with tie and button-down shirt, hands clasped before him, speaking.
Dennis Prager at the 2016 Conservative Political Action Conference (Gage Skidmore via Flickr)

And a Wall Street Journal article on the filing notes that “YouTube hasn’t pulled the [PragerU] videos from the default version of its website or mobile app, which are how the vast majority of users access videos.”

Yet reading PragerU’s allegations, one might think YouTube has engaged in censorship along the lines of what Reddit recently inflicted on far-right and Nazi subreddits, wherein admins nixed swaths of online content on the grounds that the forums incited or glorified violence.

“This is speech discrimination plain and simple,” reads the complaint, a case of “censorship based entirely on the perceived identity and political viewpoint of the speaker not on the content of the speech.”

To this point, the lawsuit — drafted by the firm of Browne George Ross, LLP, which includes former California Gov. Pete Wilson as a partner — includes a chart of the affected PragerU videos, whose titles include  Born to Hate Jews, Where Are the Moderate Muslims? and Are 1 in 5 Women in College Raped?

Also listed are the titles of videos from other outlets that address similar subjects, yet are not exiled to YouTube’s “restricted mode.”

The complaint calls the filter “a political gag mechanism to silence PragerU.” If that’s the case, the gag isn’t working. Some of PragerU’s most-watched videos are those YouTube has restricted. Three examples:

Behold the spoils of “censorship.”

In a video interview with the conservative website NewsMax.com, PragerU CEO Marissa Streit suggested YouTube was restricting PragerU because “they just don’t like what we have to say.”

Another bone of contention: YouTube’s ads don’t play on videos banished to “restricted mode,” meaning PragerU receives no ad revenue. (Of course, neither does YouTube.)

The Wall Street Journal covered the suit when it was filed, and Eriq Gardner did yeoman work poking holes in PragerU’s case in an October 27 story in The Hollywood Reporter.

“[T]o prevail on a claim that YouTube is violating the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution,” Gardner writes, “Prager will probably need to convince the judge that YouTube has transcended its private ownership to be a public forum with at least some guarantee of access.”

There’s also pesky ol’ Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, Gardner adds, “which explicitly gives an ISP immunity from ‘any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected.'”

Gardner gave Google heck for not getting back to him with a comment on the PragerU suit, and the company later responded with a statement, which THR published in full:

YouTube is an open platform and, to make it a great place for users, creators and advertisers, we provide different choices and settings. Restricted Mode is an optional feature used by a small subset of users to filter out videos that may include sensitive or mature content.

Giving viewers the choice to opt in to a more restricted experience is not censorship. In fact, this is exactly the type of tool that Congress has encouraged online services to provide for parents and others interested in a more family-friendly experience online.

Prager is jiggling his virtual tin cup online, pleading for donations to help in its fight against YouTube — a curious pose for a pundit who likes to preach self-reliance, moral responsibility, and the primacy of private property.

About Stephen Lemons

Stephen Lemons is an award-winning investigative journalist with more than 20 years of experience covering everything from government corruption to white-supremacist gangs. In addition to Front Page Confidential, his work has appeared in Phoenix New Times, the Los Angeles Times, Salon.com, and the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Report magazine.