Along time ago in a country far, far different—the United States of America in October 1964, to be exact—as many as 77 percent of Americans trusted the federal government to do the right thing almost always or most of the time.
No, don’t get nostalgic. This was a uniquely gullible time for the American public.
The FBI was busy spying on Martin Luther King, Jr. Congress had just passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which effectively authorized the dumbest war in U.S. history on false pretenses. (Sorry, millennials: Vietnam, which left over 58,000 Americans dead thanks to our much-trusted government, was even dumber than Iraq, with 4,431 killed in action.)
Nowadays, Americans have a much better grip on reality. Only 24 percent are so foolish as to trust the government to do the right thing at least most of the time.
So this was not exactly a good environment for the Biden administration to try to stand up a “Disinformation Governance Board” at the Department of Homeland Security. Indeed, the backlash was swift and the project is now “paused” at DHS. Nevertheless, it’s a cautionary note on how dangerously out of touch Washington is.
In our polarized country, the least-credible entity to try to correct disinformation would probably be the federal government. Then again, the Biden administration lives in a partisan echo chamber; 68 percent of Democrats have a “great deal” or “fair amount” of trust in the media to report news fairly and accurately, compared to 11 percent of Republicans. These figures nicely capture the fact that the media is overwhelmingly on Democrats’ side.
Consider the individual the Biden administration had in mind to head the short-lived disinformation board, one Nina Jankowicz. In the weeks before the 2020 election, the New York Post reported on the damning contents, including evidence of corruption and worse, on a laptop abandoned by Hunter Biden. Other media ignored the story except to assert, without evidence, that it was likely Russian disinformation. Facebook ruthlessly suppressed the story, and Twitter even suspended the Post‘s account.
Disinformation “expert” Jankowicz was fully on board with Team Biden, dismissing the laptop story in an interview with the Associated Press: “We should view it as a Trump campaign product.” While live-tweeting a presidential debate, Jankowicz again derided the laptop story, repeating Joe Biden’s evidence-free allegation of Russian disinformation.
Needless to say, the laptop and contents turned out to be genuine, as even the rabidly pro-Biden, anti-Trump Washington Post and New York Times safely acknowledged after the election. The only disinformation being spread was the Biden campaign’s accusation of disinformation.
In Joe Biden’s America, anything that isn’t a Democrat talking point is deemed disinformation. So why not set up a government entity staffed by people beholden to its worldview and give it authority to denounce claims that run counter? The Twitter censors eagerly await instructions.
The idea of the DHS housing this Orwellian Ministry of Truth was especially rich, since DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has himself been a fountain of disinformation about what is going on at our southern border. At a time when encounters between Border Patrol agents and would-be illegal entrants is at an all-time high, Mayorkas blithely assured Congress under oath that “We do” have operational control of the border.
If by “We do” he meant “we do not,” he was exactly right. Who better to oversee a government effort to counter disinformation?
Don’t worry, Mayorkas assured us the board was going to be just a “small working group” that wouldn’t monitor U.S. citizens. But here is a quick thought experiment: Imagine if the Trump administration tried to establish such a board. From the New York Times to the halls of Congress, it would have been condemned—rightly—as an authoritarian crackdown on free speech and dissent.
The fact is, we have excellent reason to fear a “disinformation governance board,” regardless of who is promoting it. We do not need “governance” of speech. We need government to protect it. That is a basic responsibility of our American form of government, as the First Amendment attests.
No one’s disputing the fact that false information proliferates online. People make all kinds of claims about a wide variety of topics, from Covid vaccines and election results to moon landings and the JFK assassination. Yes, error mingles with truth in our marketplace of ideas. That is one of the prices of liberty.