So much for Joe Biden’s Ministry of Truth. The Washington Post’s Taylor Lorenz reports this morning that DHS has decided to “pause” the rollout of its Disinformation Governance Board, and that its activist executive director Nina Jankowicz may take a powder too. Lorenz is clearly none too happy about it either, blaming “right-wing Internet” attacks:
On the morning of April 27, the Department of Homeland Security announced the creation of the first Disinformation Governance Board with the stated goal to “coordinate countering misinformation related to homeland security.” The Biden administration tapped Nina Jankowicz, a well-known figure in the field of fighting disinformation and extremism, as the board’s executive director.
In naming the 33-year-old Jankowicz to run the newly created board, the administration chose someone with extensive experience in field of disinformation, which has emerged as an urgent and important issue. The author of the books “How to Be a Woman Online” and “How to Lose the Information War,” her career also featured stints at multiple nonpartisan think tanks and nonprofits and included work that focused on strengthening democratic institutions. Within the small community of disinformation researchers, her work was well-regarded.
But within hours of news of her appointment, Jankowicz was thrust into the spotlight by the very forces she dedicated her career to combating. The board itself and DHS received criticism for both its somewhat ominous name and scant details of specific mission (Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said it “could have done a better job of communicating what it is and what it isn’t”), but Jankowicz was on the receiving end of the harshest attacks, with her role mischaracterized as she became a primary target on the right-wing Internet. She has been subject to an unrelenting barrage of harassment and abuse while unchecked misrepresentations of her work continue to go viral.
Now, just three weeks after its announcement, the Disinformation Governance Board is being “paused,” according to multiple employees at DHS, capping a back-and-forth week of decisions that changed during the course of reporting of this story. On Monday, DHS decided to shut down the board, according to multiple people with knowledge of the situation. By Tuesday morning, Jankowicz had drafted a resignation letter in response to the board’s dissolution.
Lorenz, who just wrapped up a hypocritical doxxing effort on an anonymous TikTok user after lamenting the impact internet trolling has on her life, is a curious choice for a news report on this topic. Byron York skewered it on Twitter:
— Byron York (@ByronYork) May 18, 2022
Lorenz pulled a journalistic John Kerry — she was for it before she was against it, and she was against it before she was for it before that, and … well, you get the idea.
Furthermore, while Lorenz promoted her “scoop” on Twitter, Washington Post editors let her bury the lede under three paragraphs of background and editorializing. The spin literally starts before the scoop. Lorenz complains about “harshest attacks,” “unrelenting harassment and abuse,” and “misrepresentations of her work” before reporting the actual news that DHS seems ready to pull the plug on her and the board. Is that the approach taught in journalism schools? It appears to be the approach taken by the Post and its editors, and that’s not just limited to Lorenz, although she’s certainly part of the problem.
One would be hard-pressed to see the news approach to this story, and absolutely no reader would mistake Lorenz’ sympathies on the Disinformation Governance Board or Jankowicz. In fact, they’d never know that either were legitimately controversial. Had this appeared in an opinion column, it wouldn’t have been remarkable at all, but this appeared as a news story in the Post’s “Internet Culture” subsection of their Tech arena. The Post would have been better advised to assign the breaking-news scoop to a reporter rather than their in-house activist.
Anyway, Jankowicz hasn’t left yet. DHS officials have tried to talk her out of leaving, but in truth her hiring was an avoidable political error. No one apparently vetted Jankowicz outside of her resumé by checking her social-media output, where she billed herself as “the Mary Poppins of misinformation.” Her activism was partisan enough to send up red flags over her appointment to an ill-defined “disinformation governance board,” a curious appendage for an executive branch to create — especially without checking in with Congress first. It was curious enough, and the decision to hire Jankowicz such an indicator of where the board would head, that it prompted Congress to debate prohibiting the use of any DHS funding for its use.
It didn’t help matters that niether the incompetent and bumbling Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas nor the White House itself could explain what the DHB’s purpose or necessity was. But the issue ran deeper than that, as Politico’s Jack Shafer wrote when the board was first announced. It’s not government’s business to identify “disinformation,” and in fact they’re usually the worst purveyors of it:
Who among us thinks the government should add to its work list the job of determining what is true and what is disinformation? And who thinks the government is capable of telling the truth? Our government produces lies and disinformation at industrial scale and always has. It overclassifies vital information to block its own citizens from becoming any the wiser. It pays thousands of press aides to play hide the salami with facts.
This is the government that lied about winning the war in Vietnam, that said the Watergate affair was a “third-rate burglary,” that fought a secret war in Nicaragua, that lied about a clandestine love affair in the White House, that used faulty intelligence to force a war in the Middle East. Even President Barack Obama shortchanged the truth. Of 600 Obama statements PolitiFact checked during his administration, a quarter of them fell into the “red zone” of being false, mostly false, or “pants on fire” false. Not so long ago, 50 intelligence officials — each of them smarter and better informed than any DHS brainiac — assured the nation that the Hunter Biden laptop story bore “all the classic earmarks of a Russian information operation.” How did that work out? The idea that Covid could have come from a Chinese lab was similarly dismissed as disinformation; now it’s considered a legitimate possibility by the Biden administration. Meanwhile, we have documented proof from the Washington Postthat even Joe Biden can’t handle simple truths! (We don’t need to reassess the Donald Trump presidency here, do we?)
Making the federal government the official custodian of truth would be like Brink’s giving a safe-cracker a job driving an armored car. On top of that, who is going to accept DHS’ determinations? Not reporters, who are accustomed to government lies. Not the man in the street. Certainly not the so-called low-information voters the government would like to diaper and stuff into an escape-proof playpen. By conjuring the Disinformation Governance Board into existence, the Biden administration will give itself a referee’s power to declare some things completely out of bounds. …
If DHS so badly needs a paperwork project, it can address a problem closer to home: set up a bureau to study and eradicate U.S. government disinformation.
Unless Shafer morphed into a “right-wing Internet” figure when I wasn’t looking, that shows that the criticism of this board was much more substantive than Lorenz or the Post allows in its cooked and crooked “reporting.” If the DHS shuts down their Ministry of Truth, we’re all the better for it.