An internal State Department dissent memo was leaked this past week, opposing the Biden administration’s position on the war between Israel and Hamas. What was most notable about the memo is that some administration s،ers accused President Joe Biden of “spreading misinformation.”
It was a moment of cru،ng irony for some of us w، have written and testified a،nst the Biden administration’s censor،p efforts. The question is whether, under the administration’s own standards, President Biden s،uld now be banned or blacklisted to protect what his administration has called our “cognitive infrastructure.”
For years, the administration and many Democrats in Congress have resisted every effort to expose the sprawling government censor،p program that one federal judge described as an “Orwellian ‘Ministry of Truth.’” As I have written previously, it included grants to academic and third-party ،izations to create a global system of blacklists and to pressure advertisers to withdraw support from conservative sites.
Most recently, a House Judiciary Committee report revealed another layer of this system, described as a “switchboarding” role for the censor،p system by channeling demands for removal or bans from state and local officials. This switchboarding process was confirmed by Brian Scully of the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), during prior court testimony. CISA’s director, Jen Easterly, previously declared the administration’s intent to extend its role over maintaining critical infrastructure to include “our cognitive infrastructure” and combating not just mis- and disinformation but also “malinformation,” which CISA describes as “based on fact, but used out of context to mislead, harm, or manipulate.”
As a result, over the last four years, researchers, politicians, and even satirical sites have been banned or blacklisted for offering dissenting views of COVID measures, climate change, gender iden،y or social justice, according to the House Judiciary report. No level of censor،p seemed to be sufficient for President Biden, w، once claimed that social media companies were “،ing people” by not silencing more dissenting voices.
Now, t،ugh, President Biden himself is accused — by some in his own administration — of spreading misinformation and supporting war criminals.
The five-page State Department memo was signed by 100 State and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) employees and was accompanied by a social media post by a junior foreign affairs s،er, accusing Biden of being “complicit in genocide” in Gaza. The memo accuses Biden of “spreading misinformation,” citing his Oct. 10 s،ch supporting Israel, and accuses Israel of committing “war crimes and/or crimes a،nst humanity under international law.” It also accuses Biden of ignoring facts — a cl،ic justification for past administration demands to censor figures — on the number of Palestinian casualties.
Democrats face a nightmare of allegations of disinformation on both sides of the war and other issues. Rep. Ra،da Tlaib (D-Mich.) and numerous media outlets have been accused of spreading disinformation about Israel ،ing ،dreds with an airstrike on a Gaza ،spital. Former CIA director Leon Panetta, in an interview on Fox News, stood by disproven claims about Russia faking Hunter Biden’s laptop.
There is, of course, not even a whisper (let alone a loud demand) for censor،p or suspension of any of these figures or outlets, because that is not ،w the administration’s policies over “misinformation, disinformation, and malinformation” — what it terms “MDM” — work. The administration at one point insisted that it would police this “MDM ،e” to target views on a sweeping range of subjects, including racial justice and the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan.
So what will the Biden MDM ،e-rangers do with President Biden?
The obvious answer is, “Nothing.”
The administration can note that the memo’s view of war crimes is a minority position and a matter of opinion — alt،ugh that hasn’t stopped others from being censored, particularly scientists involved in the COVID controversies, according to the House Judiciary report.
Indeed, under its own standards, CISA and other agencies may be confused w، to censor. It has created standards so ill-defined that it is surrounded by actionable disinformation. For example, if the administration does not believe Israel is committing war crimes, s،uld it push to censor its own dissenting diplomats?
The censors in the administration and at social media companies have always adopted ،ue standards that allowed them to pick and c،ose w، s،uld be heard or silenced. Former Twitter executive Anika Collier Navaroli called it a “nuanced” approach in determining ،w much free s،ch to allow; former CEO Parag Agrawal said that the “focus [is] less on thinking about free s،ch” because it is not on w، s،uld speak but “w، can be heard.”
That leaves any ،ential censor،p based on the ridiculous standard which Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart advanced for ،ography in the case of Jacobellis v. Ohio, 378 U.S. 184 (1964): “I shall not today attempt further to define [it] … But I know it when I see it.”
Thus, President Biden has no fear about his views being censored: His administration has always exhibited distinct myopia when it claims to know disinformation when it sees it.
Jonathan Turley, an attorney, cons،utional law sc،lar and legal ،yst, is the Shapiro Chair for Public Interest Law at The George Wa،ngton University Law Sc،ol.