On Biden’s Anti-Misinformation Drive, Orwell and Monroe Have It Right
It’s an interesting irony that covert censorship should be undertaken enthusiastically by those who call themselves ‘liberal’ or progressive.’
George Orwell, call your office. That’s my initial and slightly out-of-date response to news stories about the Biden administration’s efforts to stamp out “misinformation.” It’s an interesting irony that covert censorship should be undertaken enthusiastically by those who call themselves “liberal” or “progressive” and who claim the opposition would threaten the survival of liberal democracy.
Yet Democrats seem unembarrassed by his re-election campaign’s program for blocking “misinformation” on outfits like Facebook and Google. It’s being run, as my Washington Examiner colleague Byron York points out, by the same folks who systematically pressured social media “to curb the spread of misinformation” during the Covid pandemic.
Some of that pushback is designed to improve President Biden’s dreadful job rating on the economy, and many in the press are happy to help. As radio talk host Erick Erickson writes, “Every major news organization except Fox News has done multiple stories on how great the economy is.”
Yet as number cruncher Nate Silver points out, citing an egregious Washington Post story co-authored by reliable liberal cheerleader Taylor Lorenz using an apples-and-oranges comparison of McDonald’s, the administration line is contradicted by voters’ own eyes and government statistics: inflation is up 16 percent and personal consumption expenditures up 25 percent since Mr. Biden took office. No American younger than 60 has experienced such inflation in their adult lifetimes, and they reasonably conclude that Mr. Biden’s gusher of government spending is at fault.
One reason is people have had some experience with the administration’s suppression of “misinformation” on Covid. Health officials Anthony Fauci and Francis Collins, for example, set about suppressing the theory that the pandemic resulted from a Covid virus leak from the lab at Wuhan, China, that their organizations had lavishly funded.
For a while, that suppression worked. The lab leak explanation was labeled a “conspiracy theory,” and no one went back to examine Mr. Fauci’s support of Wuhan’s virus-strengthening “gain-of-function” research. Only in the past year have intelligence agencies and some science reporters determined that the lab leak is the likely, though not proven, source of the pandemic.
The government also clamped down hard on “misinformation” about mandatory masking and extended lockdowns initiated in this country. Once again, inconvenient truths were suppressed.
Thus, in February 2023, a leading research institution, Britain’s Cochrane Library, released a study of 78 randomized control trials with 610,000 participants that concluded, as the lead researcher put it, “there is just no evidence” that masking “made any difference” in the transmission of Covid.
Similarly, “there was never any science behind lockdowns — not a single study had ever been undertaken to measure their efficacy in stopping a pandemic,” as Joseph Nocera and Bethany McLean write in New York magazine, in an excerpt from their new book “The Big Fail.”
Lockdowns originated in Communist China — whose captive press reported them as successful — and were imposed after hospitals were swamped with elderly patients at Bergamo, Italy. Initially designed to prevent hospital overcrowding, they soon got extended indefinitely.
There was little or no reporting on the ancillary results — undetected cancers, postponed surgeries, increased depression, and alcohol and drug abuse. Mr. Nocera and Ms. McLean point out that “excess deaths,” as compared to recent years, were up just 4 percent in no-lockdown Sweden, compared to 19 percent in America.
Most negatively affected were children. Though it was clear from the beginning that Covid posed almost no risk to children, pressure from the teachers unions that staff and fund the Democratic Party resulted in extended school lockdowns and unenforceable mask mandates in Democratic constituencies.
These were hailed — perhaps at the urging of administration “misinformation” operatives — by writers in the New York Times: solidarity forever. Yet last week, as the New York Post gleefully notes, a New York Times editorial admitted, “the startling evidence on learning loss is in.”
Startling, that is, to press reporters and opinion writers who toed the line of administration “misinformation” apparatchiks, but painfully apparent for three years to angry conservatives and dissenting epidemiologists who were dismissed as “conspiracy theorists,” and to anguished liberals like the New Yorker’s Alec MacGillis.
Orwell showed how the truth can be suppressed when the government seeks to stamp out “misinformation.” Yet the lesson was taught much longer ago in antique prose by James Monroe, who crossed the Delaware with George Washington in 1776 and retired from the presidency in 1825. “The people being with us exclusively the sovereign, it is indispensable that full information be laid before them on all important subjects, to enable them to exercise that high power with complete effect. If kept in the dark, they must be incompetent to it.”
Orwell and Monroe got it right. The Biden Democrats, by enthusiastically suppressing “misinformation” on outlets channeling a huge share of information, are headed in another direction.