Sacha Baron Cohen, Rudy Giuliani, and the Death of ‘Disinformation’ As a Useful Term
By now, it seems unlikely that the Hunter Biden story will change the outcome of the 2020 election: Even Sen. Ted Cruz (R–Texas) doubts that revelations about the younger Biden’s attempted influence-peddling will change the mind of a single voter. But the story’s lack of punch hasn’t mattered much to the mainstream media—or to large tech platforms—who have mostly treated it as so dangerous to former Vice President Joe Biden’s electoral chances that it must be branded “disinformation” and suppressed at all costs.
“We must treat the Hunter Biden leaks as if they were a foreign intelligence operation—even if they probably aren’t,” wrote Thomas Rid in a characteristic column for The Washington Post. “In the likely continued absence of certainty either way, the Biden leaks deserve the full potential-disinformation treatment.”
Rid, a professor at Johns Hopkins University, echoed the views of countless commentators, journalists, and social media comms staffers who branded the New York Post‘s Biden story as disinformation even before any evidence had emerged that the underlying information—emails sent from Biden to business associates and foreign lobbyists—was fake.
Given subsequent reporting about how the story came to be, the public now has every reason to presume the underlying emails—which, by the way, are not really damaging to Joe Biden’s candidacy at all—are real, despite some murkiness surrounding the issue of how, precisely, pro-Trump operatives acquired them.
“At this point we can posit with some certainty that The Post’s story was not some sort of sweeping Russian disinformation plot but a more normal example of late-dropping opposition research, filtered through a partisan lens and a tabloid sensibility, weaving genuine facts into contestable conclusions,” notes Ross Douthat in The New York Times. “It was, in other words, analogous to all kinds of contested anti-Trump stories that various media outlets have run with across the last four crazy years—from the publicity around the Steele dossier’s wilder rumors to the tales of Michael Cohen’s supposed Prague rendezvous to the claims that Russians hacked Vermont’s power grid or even C-SPAN.”
But the New York Post is still locked out of its Twitter account because it tweeted the story—supposedly violating the social media company’s prohibition on publishing illicitly obtained information. Facebook also took action against: Spokesperson Andy Stone, a former Democratic staffer, announced that its distribution would be reduced “as part of our standard process to reduce the spread of misinformation.”
We appear to be arriving at a regrettable standard. Politically motivated acts of journalism are deemed “misinformation” or “disinformation” by the mainstream media if they are harmful to the Democratic establishment—an especially worrying tren
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