Briefing

What the right is saying about Biden's 'Orwellian' disinformation board

The sharpest opinions on the debate from around the web

The Department of Homeland Security is creating a "Disinformation Governance Board" in order to combat the spread of misleading information coming from Russia and human smugglers. Here's everything you need to know:

'Orwellian'

The Biden administration's plan to create a Disinformation Governance Board is a "shockingly unconstitutional assault on freedom of speech," says Mike Huckabee at The Stream. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas last week announced his department would be establishing this "Orwellian 'Ministry of Truth,'" which seems torn from the pages of 1984, ostensibly to "police 'disinformation' and 'misinformation' before the 2022 elections." As if the concept alone wasn't scary enough, Mayorkas said the board would be headed by so-called "disinformation expert" Nina Jankowicz, who last year "promoted the lie that the Hunter Biden laptop story was Russian disinformation," Huckabee writes.

"The concern isn't that the board will spy on Americans," says The Wall Street Journal in an editorial. It's that this board could "choose to play the role of national fact-checker, a kind of government PolitiFact" that sits on "Mt. Washington" and tells "the masses what is true and what is false." Sorry, but "refereeing political debate isn't the government's job." 

A 'lightning rod' for culture warriors

Of course the right is alarmed at the idea of assigning someone the task of fighting back against disinformation, says Alex Shephard at The New Republic. Its whole political movement is "built on a firehose of lies and falsehoods." The right-wing tantrum over the Homeland Security plan is a case in point. Republicans depict it "as a kind of cancel culture tribunal, where ordinary citizens will have to answer for their thought crimes before a panel of humorless woke drones." Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) tweeted that the Biden administration was making "policing Americans' speech its top priority." Please. This board is unlikely to "do anything other than produce documents and media aimed at quickly countering disinformation," Shephard adds. The real danger in creating a Disinformation Governance Board is that it will become "a lightning rod for conservative culture warriors" trying to show the federal government is too "woke." And the next time Republicans win the White House, they will be able to transform the panel into a "QAnon Two Minutes Hate Machine."

Somebody's got to do it — but who?

Somebody has to fight the disinformation being fed to voters, migrants, and others, says Jack Shafer at Politico. Details on Mayorkas' plans are hard to come by, but "the press did pry out of DHS the board's goal to contest disinformation crafted by Russia as well as the general disinformation (authors unstated) that had deceived immigrants from Haiti and other places that the U.S. southern border was open."

These are worthy goals. But that doesn't mean we should give the job to a federal government that has lied to the American people about everything from the Vietnam War to a president's sex life, and that used "faulty intelligence" to steer us to war in the Middle East. The horrible name alone is reason enough to "pull the plug" on the Disinformation Governance Board "and never speak of it again," says Eugene Robinson at The Washington Post. Calling it "Orwellian is an insult to George Orwell," who understood the importance and power of language. The government absolutely should counter disinformation campaigns by foreign powers. "Nothing is more important to the future of our democracy than the fight against disinformation." But this bumbling effort "only promises to provide aid and comfort to the enemies of truth."

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