NOEL ROONEY attempts to summarise the improbable and somewhat hilarious affair of the US Government’s short-lived new ‘Ministry of Truth’ and its singing director
Every so often, a government does something so palpably silly that it deserves everything it gets. A few weeks ago, the Conspirasphere erupted at the news that the US Government – specifically the Department of Homeland Security – was setting up a new body called the Disinformation Governance Board. The outrage and derision spread well beyond the boundaries of the C-sphere; in fact, commentators on all points of the political spectrum piled in.
The Orwellian resonance of the new board’s name meant that it was a matter of milliseconds before people started calling it the Ministry of Truth; a natural reaction, I think, but one that missed an opportunity. The original name was quite creepy and Orwellian already, and allowed the interpretation that the new body would be regulating, or producing guidelines for, the proper dissemination of disinformation; but, sadly, that comic slant got lost in the noise. And there was a lot of noise.
The furore only increased when it was announced that the head of this new organisation would be one Ms Nina Jankowicz. Ms Jankowicz has form when it comes to disinformation, and conspiracists were quick to point it out. She also has a penchant for song and dance routines, lending new lyrics to old musical favourites; her TikTok account includes a version of “Supercalifragilisticexpealidocious” aimed at purveyors of what, from a certain point of view, looks like disinformation.
Jankowicz has also, we gather, advised the UK Government on matters of information and its opposites. And she was an advisor to the Government of Ukraine for a while, advising them on strategic communications.
Odd how many conspiratorial themes these days lead back to Ukraine.
And there was the rub. The DHS had handed care of the DGB (sounds kind of Soviet, doesn’t it?) to someone who, so the conspiracists and right-wing pundits claimed, was anything but impartial. As evidence, they noted: her many tweets casting the Hunter Biden laptop story (now being investigated by the FBI and the New York Times, which originally echoed Ms Jankowicz’s opinion) as a Russian plot; a CNN segment where she worried about Trump supporters turning up armed to polling stations (they actually didn’t); and publicly praising Christopher Steele as a paragon of veracity, some considerable time after his Russiagate dossier had been blown out of the water and shown to be a concoction of lies and rumours.
There were also dark murmurings about her possible connection to the CIA. In 2013 she married Vincent Michael Stein, and the new couple moved into a house in Arlington, Virginia, which, as everyone in the C-sphere knows, is the suburb closest to the CIA headquarters at Langley. And Vincent worked for Harvard Business Services, a company that sets up other companies with Delaware licences; in other words, creating front companies for spooks to pose as kosher business people.
Some C-sphere historians also pointed out that the US Government has been down this road before. During World War I, a three-line executive order from President Woodrow Wilson decreed the creation of the Committee for Public Information, a body with a similar remit (more on that anon) to the DGB. The CPI was headed by the “pyrotechnic, muckraking journalist” George Creel, and quickly morphed into a purveyor of propaganda, as Creel himself acknowledged in a book he wrote shortly after the war, How We Advertised America.
Ah yes, the remit thing. No one in the administration, including the DHS official responsible for setting up the DGB, Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, seemed very clear on what its purpose might be. In fact, his attempt at clarification seemed to make matters worse. The Washington Post weighed in with some negative definitions to help him out: “What the board is not tasked to do is to establish what is true and what is false, or to push Internet services or anyone else to take a tougher line on expression in general. Indeed, the board has no operational authority at all.” Quite.
So, there we had it; a new government body, working under the auspices of homeland security, with no specific function, but a name that smacks of propaganda, and with a leader whom many, especially but not exclusively on the Republican right, believed was a Democratic Party activist if not a CIA
She also has a penchant for song and dance routines
operative, was rolled out ready for action. It would seek out disinformation (and maybe misinformation too) and tell folks what to do with it – or something. What could possibly go wrong?
Everything, apparently. As the ridicule mounted, the DHS announced that the DGB had suspended operations (that is, it had stopped working before it started). Ms Jankowicz announced her resignation from the board (someone may have misinformed her that it still existed) to return to “the public sphere” – so more TikTok fun; personally I’m hoping for a rendition of “Send in the Clowns”. And the Conspirasphere went back to its ongoing obsessions, presumably with a smug sense of job well done.
When the dust began to settle, there was a certain amount of hand-wringing from the liberal media, though it was hard to hear over the crowing of its right-wing and C-sphere counterparts. More than one outlet posed the question: what would the liberal media have done if the Donald had announced the creation of a disinformation board? Crowing aside, that’s a valid question.
Is there a lesson to be drawn from this farrago? Well, one obvious point is that, in an adversarial political system, it is very difficult, if not criminally counterproductive, for one side or other to claim a monopoly on the truth. Twitter’s putative new owner may have something to say about that.
https://rense.com/general96/ bidens-wicked-witch.php; www. readtangle.com/disinformationgovernance-board-alejandromayorkas/; www.nationalreview. com/corner/there-is-no-ministryof-truth-minister-of-truthconfirms/; www.conspiracy. news/2022-05-20-bidensdisinformation-had-part-disinfooperations-europe.html