Less than a month after its creation, the Disinformation Governance Board – conceived amid an inappropriate relationship between the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the establishment media – is being “paused.” Conservatives are chalking this up as a temporary victory, having labeled the new body The Ministry of Truth, à la George Orwell’s 1984. Supposedly the guardians of free speech, the left-wing media have cried foul. One famous Washington, DC, newspaper is none too happy. Always proud to remind its readers that within its pages democracy dies in darkness, the paper in question, rather than raising a cheer for the survival of free speech, decided to publish some nonsense about mean old right-wingers bullying the woman who had been selected to run the board. Talk about missing the point entirely.
On May 18, the said newspaper published an opinion piece from one of its columnists, Taylor Lorenz, bemoaning the idea that this new DHS project is tragically misunderstood and its head, Nina Jankowicz, has been subjected to vicious and entirely unwarranted attacks from the right. Lorenz’s piece was not marked as opinion and that, in itself, is a problem. The columnist makes several statements within her article that are not absolute, but open to dispute and, therefore, opinion. “[Jankowicz] has been subject to an unrelenting barrage of harassment and abuse while unchecked misrepresentations of her work continue to go viral,” Lorenz wrote. That’s an opinion, using loaded words such as “unrelenting,” “harassment,” and “abuse.” That her work has been misrepresented is also a matter of perspective, rather than a fact.
The media’s blurring of the lines between news (recorded fact) and opinion is what plunged America into this great debate about “disinformation” in the first place. And the whole idea of a government-appointed board tasked with exploring the limits of free speech in the name of national security is at once terrifying, ludicrous, and endlessly vulnerable to abuse.
Lorenz points out that this “disinformation” board was endowed with no authority to actively police speech. But governments are sneaky – shocking as that may sound – and creating an entity that has no regulatory power does not mean that body cannot influence the creation of laws or regulations that infringe upon constitutional rights. What point would the board serve if it was not intended to produce studies, white papers, or other vehicles for recommending certain actions to counter or mitigate the issues it deemed worthy of attention? Thus, it could still be instrumental in the curbing, for ideological reasons, of the rights protected by the First Amendment.
The entire purpose of the Disinformation Governance Board, according to one DHS spokesperson quoted by Lorenz, was “to ensure that freedom of speech is protected.” The online version of the Encyclopædia Britannica defines irony as:
“[A] linguistic and literary device, in spoken or written form, in which real meaning is concealed or contradicted. That may be the result of the literal, ostensible meaning of words contradicting their actual meaning (verbal irony) or of a structural incongruity between what is expected and what occurs (dramatic irony).”
The very fact that an organization with the words “disinformation governance” in its title is supposed to “ensure that freedom of speech is protected” is classic verbal irony.
Hacking one’s way through the almost impenetrable jungle of vague and often contradictory statements coming out of the Biden administration is quite a challenge. “Neither Nina Jankowicz nor the board have anything to do with censorship or with removing content from anywhere,” Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre claimed as the White House tried to defend the new DHS entity. But if that were true, then the board would have no reason to function. Not to mention the fact that Jean-Pierre is, in effect, contradicting the DHS spokesperson’s claim about the board’s role.
And then there’s how DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas characterized the board’s purpose: “The goal is to bring the resources of [DHS] together to address this [disinformation] threat.” That sounds like much more than the passive role others have claimed the board will have.
Jankowicz has been described as something of an expert in disinformation. That certainly seems to be the case. After all, she has enthusiastically participated in the spread of much of it herself. So much so, in fact, that an appropriate moniker for her might be Miss Information.
Of concern is that, in a June 2016 tweet, Jankowicz casually described Republicans in general as “disinformers.” So, the woman tasked with heading the DHS’ effort to quantify disinformation has already made up her mind that Republicans spread disinformation. Immediately, then, her selection as head of the board dispels any notion of political impartiality.
Also in 2016, this master of distinguishing truth from “disinformation” tweeted and extensively shared other tweets about the now-debunked Trump-Russia conspiracy theory. She did not say, in any of those tweets, what you might expect from a supposed disinformation expert. None of those social media posts were caveated with “if this is true” or “it is being reported.” Not at all. Jankowicz spread allegations that were at the time unsubstantiated and that have since then been discredited. She also made her own contributions to a barrage of false claims that the Hunter Biden laptop story was either a Russian deception or a fabrication of then-candidate Trump’s presidential campaign. The laptop has since been verified and the emails retrieved from it posted online.
The operation of the Disinformation Governance Board has been suspended, pending a Homeland Security Advisory Council (HSAC) review. Mayorkas has requested the review be concluded within 75 days. Jankowicz tendered her resignation but, according to Lorenz, has been asked to stay on at DHS. Though only speculative, it would seem hard to believe she will continue as head of the board if it is revived. Her appointment seemed about as appropriate as asking Beto O’Rourke to run a firearms training school.
Misinformation, disinformation, malinformation; these are new words now being bandied about in editorial offices and the halls of power. That the federal government is devising a bewildering array of ways to categorize speech should be deeply concerning. Freedom of speech includes no obligation to only speak the truth – or whatever those in power call truth. Anyone who doesn’t understand that the Biden administration has launched a full-scale assault upon the First Amendment must surely be either not paying attention or the world’s most unperturbable optimist.