The war on “disinformation” is now one of the highest priorities of the political and media establishment. It has become the foundational justification for imposing a regime of online censorship. Around the world, new laws are being enacted in its name to empower the state to regulate discourse. Exploiting this cause, a small handful of billionaires are working in unison with Western security state agencies — under the guise of neutral-sounding names like The Atlantic Council — to set the limits of permissible thought and decree what is true and false. Corporate media outlets are attempting to rehabilitate their shattered image by depicting themselves as the bulwark against the rising tide of disinformation.
It is an understatement to say that this righteous cause is a scam. That its motive is power and control over speech and thought — to eliminate dissent and discredit competition — rather than a noble quest for truth is almost too self-evident to require explanation. No human institutions should be trusted with the inherently tyrannical power they seek to arrogate unto themselves: to decree truth and falsity with such authoritative power that views they have decreed “false” become prohibited, off-limits, even worthy of punishment.
A foundational view of the Enlightenment was that truth and falsity are best discovered by humans engaging in free inquiry and appealing to reason and persuasion, rather than being captive to the whimsical decrees of centralized authority dictating to citizens what they are and are not permitted to believe. That is why I believe, as I wrote at length in a 2013 Guardian article, that at the heart of every censor lies hubris: the belief that they are so evolved, enlightened and superior that they have risen above the eternal human propensity to err, enabling them to ascertain universal truth whose validity is so unassailable that nobody should be permitted to question it let alone dissent from it.
All that said, there is a core truth — an unintentional one — that lies at the crux of this elite war on “disinformation.” It is absolutely true that U.S. political discourse is drowning in deliberate disinformation campaigns and lies. It is also true that this disinformation epidemic is a serious menace, a toxic plague on our democracy and society. That part they have right.
Where they have gone wrong — very, very wrong — is how they have identified the most harmful sources of this disinformation. It does not emanate primarily from Trump boomers on Facebook or dark web QAnon groups or mischievous and transgressive teenagers on 4Chan. Ordinary citizens are obviously as capable as anyone of believing and spreading false assertions. But the far more damaging, destructive, organized and coordinated disinformation campaigns come from major corporate media outlets themselves and their security-state partners — particularly the corporate outlets that most vocally and flamboyantly claim to be so profoundly concerned about disinformation that they want to censor the internet in the name of stopping it. They are the ones who spent the last five years flooding the country with demented CIA-constructed conspiracies about a Kremlin takeover of the U.S. using clandestine sexual blackmail over the president and hallucinating Russian agents hiding under every bed; so many fabrications were disseminated under the rubric of that fairy tale that it is genuinely hard to choose the worst.
Arguably the most pernicious and prolific disseminator of organized disinformation campaigns is NBC News, which includes its cable unit MSNBC. We have spent the last several months working on a mini-documentary demonstrating how most of the coordinated lies from the U.S. security state were spread by a tiny handful of pundits, three of whom — Rachel Maddow, all-but-official CIA spokesman Ken Dilanian, and former Bush/Cheney spokesperson Nicolle Wallace — work for NBC News. That report will be published shortly.