On April 27, the Department of Homeland Security trumpeted the creation of a Disinformation Governance Board, which will supposedly battle disinformation.
But why should a government that lies constantly take on the task of deciding what information is true or false? As the Supreme Court noted in Thomas v. Collins, in the realm of political debate,“‘every person must be his own watchman for truth, because the forefathers did not trust any government to separate the truth from the false for us.’”
False factual claims in the political realm are often protected by the First Amendment, as the Washington State Supreme Court ruled in striking down a law against lying in political campaigns, in Rickert v. State Public Disclosure Commission (2007). The First Amendment protects such speech because politicians and their allies will typically view speech critical of them as “false,” based on their own subjective, self-interested notions of what is “true” or “false.”
As Jack Shafer notes at Politico:
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 Post that even Joe Biden can’t handle simple truths! (We don’t need to reassess the Donald Trump presidency here, do we?)
As Foster pointed out when Obama proposed curbing “disinformation,” lying is practically in politicians’ job description: “The job of politicians, Obama very much included, is to spread misinformation, strictly defined. Every single day of his presidency Obama told lies that he knew were lies.”