Have you ever wondered what it would feel like to attend a fire prevention speech delivered by an arsonist? Or perhaps a child safety seminar led by a pedophile? Well, that’s exactly what it felt like Wednesday during the University of Chicago’s “Conference on Disinformation and Erosion of Democracy,” featuring some of the greatest promulgators of disinformation and illiberalism in American history.
Former President Barack Obama had the nerve to help open the event, although his administration famously spied on the Donald Trump campaign with a secret court warrant backed by the Hillary Clinton campaign-funded Christopher Steele dossier which, in an ironic twist, was the product of Russian disinformation. Democrats used this disinformation to repeatedly smear President Trump and undermine the integrity of the 2016 election.
Former chief advisor to the Obama administration David Axelrod moderated two of Wednesday’s discussions. To this day, Axelrod still has the gall to repeat the debunked Russian collusion hoax. He even repeated it Wednesday.
To make matters worse, The Atlantic’s Anne Applebaum joined the stage to share her “expert knowledge” on Russian disinformation. When asked pointedly by my Chicago Thinker colleague Daniel Schmidt about whether she thought the media acted inappropriately by dismissing the Hunter Biden story, Applebaum condescendingly responded that she didn’t “find it to be interesting.”
What did she really mean? The Hunter Biden scandal (now even reluctantly acknowledged by the partisan New York Times) didn’t fit Applebaum’s narrative. So it was better left censored and unreported.
And just in case UChicago’s “disinformation” conference couldn’t get more laughably hypocritical, this Thursday and Friday will feature a swath of dishonest left-wing hacks like Brian Stelter, Christopher Krebs, and Amy Klobuchar. There will also be a few non-leftists deemed useful by leftists, like Jonah Goldberg and Adam Kinzinger.
The speaker lineup makes things clear: the conference seeking to combat “disinformation” does just the opposite. It celebrates some of America’s biggest liars as they spread more lies.
Who Are the Arbiters of Truth?
During his Wednesday address, Obama self-righteously claimed that “You have to fight to provide people [with] the information they need to be free and self-governing.” The catch is, who gets to decide which information is good and which information is bad? Obama does. Or, at least, he thinks he and his partisan peers are the special “chosen ones” who should decide what is “disinformation.”
Let’s take a look at the specific “disinformation” Obama is concerned about.
“In our society, you have currently roughly 40% of the country that appears convinced that the current president was elected fraudulently and that the election was rigged,” Obama told his audience, making no mention of the fact that larger percentages of Democrats believed the same thing after 2016.
Americans are entirely justified in questioning the results of the 2020 election. Tech oligarch Mark Zuckerberg spent $419 million to interfere in key states’ election processes. At the same time, Big Tech consistently censored conservative thought leaders. The corporate media, Democrats, and Big Tech all conspired to suppress the Hunter Biden laptop scandal. And we now know that 16% of Biden voters say they would not have voted for Biden had they learned about Hunter’s laptop before election day.
Obama proceeded to lament that “You have 30% to 40, 35% of the country that has chosen not to avail itself of a medical miracle. The development of a vaccine faster than anything we’ve ever seen before, which by the way now has been clinically tested by about a billion people and yet, are still refusing to take it despite extraordinary risks to themselves and their families.”
Once again, Obama used his powerful platform to mock Americans’ genuine concerns. Americans‘ legitimate reasons for questioning Covid injections include vaccine-induced heart issues, the questionable federal approval of the Pfizer vaccine, and rapidly declining vaccine efficacy.
The leftist disinformation police fail to address the concerns of those who distrust the results of the 2020 election and make the personal health decision to reject Covid vaccines. This “disinformation” is simply information they don’t like, so perhaps a better phrase for disinformation is simply inconvenient information. Leftist elites like Obama don’t want to thoughtfully consider ideas they disagree with.
An Elite Power Grab
If the “Disinformation” conference speakers aren’t actually interested in combating disinformation, then you’re probably wondering what their true aims are. Combating “disinformation” is actually code for America’s elite recapturing the gate-keeping powers it lost during the advent of social media.
Maria Ressa, a Filipino-American journalist and recent Nobel Prize recipient, told her Wednesday audience that a destructive change to the “information ecosystem” happened when information started being distributed via social media, resulting in “journalists los[ing] the gatekeeping powers.”
In a similar vein, Applebaum contended that today’s disinformation problem is rooted in Americans’ diminished trust in elite institutions like academia, government, and journalism. According to Applebaum, something needs to be done about this. Namely, she wants average Americans to stop disputing elite narratives:
There’s a whole ecosystem, here at universities, you know, there’s a scientific method. And there are peer-reviewed papers and there are arguments among colleagues. And there is a conversation that leads people to conclude that something is true and you arrive at it through a series of institutions. And that’s true in journalism, it’s true in academia, it’s true in government… and you reach conclusions based on these networks. If you disrupt those networks and make people feel no sense of faith in those networks, they hate universities, they hate journalists, they hate the government, they hate bureaucrats, then you suddenly find that what is true and what is not true is disputed.
Applebaum goes on to claim that these elite institutions need to “recreat[e] communities of trust.”
Many of the regular, “distrustful” Americans Applebaum is describing wouldn’t dispute that they are skeptical of elite institutions. The problem is that Applebaum is not interested in genuinely considering Americans’ reasons for that distrust. Academia is overrun with woke crazies. Journalists repeatedly lie to the American people. And our government agencies and bureaucrats have spied on and abused Americans.
Yet Applebaum somehow can’t even imagine these are valid reasons Americans distrust our institutions. Instead, she wants the government to regulate the algorithms of social media platforms to diminish those inconvenient voices.
One might ask: how is controlling the narrative, as suggested by Applebaum, not a suppression of free speech? Well that’s exactly what it is, but Ressa wants you to believe otherwise.
According to Ressa, “This is not a free speech issue. Don’t believe the lie,” she said (while lying). “This is actually [about] algorithm[s] and the data. This is tech and data. That’s what we need to look at. Look, I can turn to my neighbor and tell a lie, right? You can tell your neighbor a lie, but it won’t get amplified to 10 million people. Right? It’s the distribution that’s the problem… It’s a freedom of reach issue, not a freedom of speech issue.”
Silicon Valley leftists already wield a frightening amount of control, but Ressa doesn’t think it’s enough. Our elites already ban content, people, and even entire platforms. Can you imagine how much the censorship will skyrocket if our government amplifies algorithmic control over our speech? This is undeniably a freedom of speech issue.
Ultimately, Obama perfectly summarized the problem with this entire “disinformation” conference. “It is difficult for me to see how we win the contest of ideas if, in fact, we are not able to agree on a baseline of facts that allow the marketplace of ideas to work,” he said.
Allowing one side to decide what is and isn’t true will turn the digital world into a deceptive mouthpiece for today’s leftist elites. But of course, Obama, Applebaum, Axelrod, and their colleagues aren’t interested in creating a free public square of ideas. What they want, as Obama said, is to win.
*The views expressed in this article solely represent the views of the author, not the views of the Chicago Thinker.