[guest post by JVW]
Here is thus far the best political news of the week:
After a wave of backlash, the Department of Homeland Security is considering shutting down its just-created Disinformation Governance Board, which was officially tasked with combatting false narratives around domestic terrorism and human trafficking along the border, but which was widely interpreted as having a much broader brief to monitor and possibly curtail disfavored political speech.
Just three weeks after its inception, the disinformation board’s operations have been “paused,” multiple anonymous DHS officials told the Washington Post. DHS reportedly decided to shut down the board entirely on Monday and its director, Nina Jankowicz, tendered a voluntary resignation letter on Tuesday. But DHS officials quickly called Jankowicz to give her the option to stay on while the Homeland Security Advisory Committee determines whether to shut down the board entirely.
Beyond the potential for Orwellian behavior from a government board tasked with determining what is legitimate political opinion and what comprises “disinformation,” the selection of Ms. Jankowicz as director was a completely avoidable error that the White House nevertheless blundered straight into. A fellow (but not a fella) at the Wilson Center, an ostensibly nonpartisan research center but one which receives almost a third of its funding from the taxpayer, and an alleged expert on Russia and Ukraine, Ms. Jankowicz has also distinguished herself for her insider dismissal of the Hunter Biden laptop story, her weird feminist musings which require her to concoct largely implausible scenarios of male boorishness to make her points, and her curious penchant for making up really weird songs and sharing them with the public.
The collapse of this ill-considered initiative has naturally disappointed the Biden Administration’s amen corner in the media, with the increasingly-shrill Taylor Lorenz of the Washington Post taking to her keyboard to huff about the unfairness of it all:
[W]ithin 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.
[. . .]
Jankowicz’s experience is a prime example of how the right-wing Internet apparatus operates, where far-right influencers attempt to identify a target, present a narrative and then repeat mischaracterizations across social media and websites with the aim of discrediting and attacking anyone who seeks to challenge them. It also shows what happens when institutions, when confronted with these attacks, don’t respond effectively.
Odd that Ms. Lorenz never bothers to cogitate on why Ms. Jankowicz, with her background in what Ms. Lorenz characterizes as “multiple nonpartisan think tanks and nonprofits,” would have drawn particular ire from “far-right influencers.” Could it be because Ms. Jankowicz’s online presence indicated nothing so much as a committed Democrat who viewed her mission as promoting the conventional center-left Washington wisdom, no matter how staid and fetid it has become? It’s not as if Bidenism, a less confident and thus more malleable version of the smug assuredness of Obamaism, has distinguished itself at all over the past sixteen months.
Ms. Lorenz argues that the board which Ms. Jankowicz was appointed to lead would have had no authority to declare any news stories as “true” or “false” and would have no regulatory power to threaten ISPs or media outlets, yet it’s a certainty that the board would exert an influence similar to that of a Politifact or any of the other gate-keepers who get to determine why a mostly true claim from a conservative source is wrong about some picayune item while a mostly incorrect claim from a progressive source has yet to be disproven. Since when has a Washington DC board hewed strictly to its mandate and not instead attempted to increase its reach well beyond its charter?
In any case, we are left to hope that this “pause” is actually the death-knell for the Biden Administration’s “disinformation governance board.” Like so much of what this Administration has proposed, it’s an idea that might sound vaguely practical in theory — at least to the media/academic/bureaucratic axis that runs the Democrat Party these days — but is so clearly open to manipulation and abuse that any thinking American who prizes personal liberties and a humble role for government would immediate recognize as a colossally bad idea.
ADDENDUM: I see that over at Powerline Steve Hayward points out a few more peculiarities in the WaPo’s coverage that I overlooked, like the standard reliance upon unnamed “experts” and the typical headline which announces what the paper really thinks about all of this. Indeed, as with most Taylor Lorenz pieces there is no shortage of elements to criticize.