Establishment Disinformation Is Killing Western Democracy

A few years ago I participated in a national security workgroup on disinformation. I was the only one in the group of about 20 people who had openly supported Trump in 2016. The other attendees were smart and professional, but there was a noticeable imbalance in partisan representation. 

Since then, I’ve followed the disinformation community and have studied these issues. I take them seriously. My conclusion? Establishment disinformation, more than any other form of disinformation, is killing Western democracy. Disinformation from our own political and media establishment has caused more harm to Western democracy than any other force in the last two decades.

Consider the fallout from the sweeping information operations promoting lies about weapons of mass destruction. Remember how difficult it was to question these claims at the time? The WMD narrative created the pretext for wars that cost $6.4 trillion and 801,000 lives, according to a Brown University study. And we continue to pay the price. The suicide rate among veterans remains double that of the nation as a whole, and we’re still not out of Afghanistan after nearly 20 years. 

Consider also the impact of the fake Russian collusion narrative—the lives ruined, loss of public trust, increased polarization, and damage to the peaceful transfer of presidential power, a cornerstone of a healthy democracy. 

It is now a proven fact that Hillary Clinton and her Democratic National Committee stooges initiated a coordinated, multimillion-dollar disinformation campaign to undermine Donald Trump and detract from her email scandal. Establishment media breathlessly amplified false, paranoid, and circular narratives, many of which were greased by actual Russian disinformation laundered through the Steele dossier. Where are the calls from establishment media to identify journalists paid by Fusion GPS?

The FBI knew the Steele dossier and collusion narrative were false, just as they knew Hillary Clinton had weaponized these issues to cover up her email scandal—and they still used it as a predicate to spy on Trump’s campaign and launch the Mueller investigation, falsifying documents along the way. The FBI’s actions represent the greatest abuse of law enforcement power in half a century, and they were largely fueled by establishment disinformation. 

Now consider the destruction and real-world harm caused by narratives about police racism following the death in May of George Floyd. Many of these narratives were based on falsehoods, anecdotes, and incidents where full information was suppressed to advance Black Lives Matter and Antifa mobilization efforts. The vandalism and looting that took place caused $1 billion to $2 billion in damages. Homicides are up 24 percent from last year in America’s 50 largest cities. 

Of course, the looting and riots took place against the backdrop of the pseudo-academic “1619 Project,” an establishment journalism disinformation effort that subverts the history of America’s founding in a way Russia Today or People’s Daily could only dream of doing. It would be tempting to dismiss the “1619 Project” as a fringe polemic by radical journalists, except it was sponsored by the New York Times, won the Pulitzer Prize, and now shapes public school curricula. That’s as established-endorsed as one can get. But the project is so factually flawed that there is now a movement to revoke its Pulitzer by the National Association of Scholars.

Then there’s the most destructive event of 2020: the pandemic. Establishment disinformation around COVID-19 is hard to pinpoint, but anyone paying attention can see the wreckage of attempts to advance certain narratives and suppress others. Remember when the U.S. Surgeon General said masks weren’t effective and then flip-flopped? Or how anyone questioning lockdowns was persecuted? Or how Facebook and Twitter banned posts downplaying COVID’s deadliness? Now even the World Health Organization has moderated its position on lockdowns, which have caused unprecedented job losses, business closures, and economic damage. 

Establishment disinformation comes from both sides of the political aisle, but the “woke” radicalization of the Left combined with Trump derangement and a left-leaning media have given it a far-Left flavor. Thus, fake attacks against Jussie Smollett and Althea Bernstein go unquestioned by the same media that slanders the Covington kids and Brett Kavanaugh. Leaks targeting Trump are not scrutinized or censored in the same way they are when targeting Biden or his son Hunter. Dictionary definitions are conveniently changed to enforce establishment narratives. 

It may be a cliché, but Orwell didn’t write 1984 as a playbook. Yet here we are. As a friend quipped recently: “I thought we were becoming more like Brazil. Instead we’re looking more like East Germany.

Establishment disinformation becomes tyrannical when false establishment narratives are combined with the active suppression of authentic dissenting discourse, which has been made highly efficient by the consolidation of discourse on social media platforms. Instead of state persecution and social credit scores, citizens of Western democracies face deplatforming, job losses, and character assassination by power-crazed, petty hall-monitor journalists and Soros-funded NGO researchers. Today’s Hester Prynne is the person who says all lives matter or gender is real. Woke narratives are our Xi Jinping Thought.

There are constructive ways we could address establishment disinformation, but you are unlikely to hear the disinformation community talk about it as an issue. That’s because much of the disinformation community consists of partisans who operate as arms of the DNC and left-wing foundations. While the Right has stupidly ignored these issues, the Left has weaponized “countering disinformation” as a DNC strategy backed by millions of dollars. The term has become so abused that a friend now jokes that “disinfo researcher” in someone’s Twitter bio is code for “DNC hack.” As you can imagine, the partisan weaponization of disinformation has done untold damage to the civic unity needed to address these issues in good faith.

There’s still a segment of disinformation researchers who are earnest, fair, and professional. But these folks almost all lean Left and exist in institutional environments that prevent pushing back on establishment narratives. This is why we haven’t seen reports on the Steele dossier or WMDs as disinformation case studies. This is why the skewed narratives, fear-mongering, and online mobilization efforts behind Black Lives Matter are never given the same scrutiny as, say, QAnon, despite the former causing significantly more offline harm. Meanwhile, challenging the First Amendment has become part of the zeitgeist for many of these people, an argument Emily Bazelon articulates in a recent New York Times Magazine essay.

My focus on establishment disinformation is not meant to underplay disinformation from foreign adversaries and bad actors. Those remain important issues. But there’s something particularly insidious about coordinated false narratives from authority figures and institutions in our own democracies. It’s even more insidious when the legitimate threat of foreign disinformation is instrumentalized to advance establishment narratives, as we saw in Russiagate and as we’re seeing again with the Hunter Biden leaks. 

There are legitimate issues to discuss in the broader realm of disinformation. How we approach hack-and-leaks, how we regulate social media, and how we protect authentic democratic discourse against coordinated, inauthentic activity are valid, complex issues. But at the very least we should strive to apply neutral principles evenly and consistently. That’s not what we’ve seen.

Establishment disinformation abuses public trust. It too often goes unchecked. No one in the disinformation community talks about it. Until we confront the problem of establishment disinformation, Western democracy will suffer and the rise of a new, networked form of tyranny will condemn those who step out of line.

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28 responses to “Establishment Disinformation Is Killing Western Democracy

    • How do we as regular middle class citizens help turn things around there has to be something that we everyday, hard-working, fair citizens can assist in communities to assist fix this growing, dangerous problem!
      Truly concerned,
      GStokes

  • Great article, Mr. Giesea. One must note how fast and and complete the media claimed the current Hunter/Joe Biden scandal was Russian disinformation, literally compounding prior disinformation about Russian collusion to justify their universal “nothing to see here” and “Trump is in Putin’s pocket” campaign. The media, in my opinion is the fundamental engine for these savages of public trust (and I suppose I’d be labelled a ‘conspiracy nut’ to suggest that the US intelligence services have infiltrated and manipulated American media for decades — but for the facts and evidence supporting such a nutsy claim).

    The left seems better at it and more committed and, where I expect the right’s motives are based in financial oligarchy, the left seeks social tyranny – and they are quite far along.

    • Thank you for taking the time & knowledge writing such an informative, honest piece. It’s shocking that the Right has become complacent w/what is the acceptable norm! I’m afraid that if we ALL don’t step up demanding fairness & accountability, we will most certainly lose our democracy to the relentless, lawless, resistant, progressive, socialist groups! These reoccurring tragic events resulting from disinformation is forcing ppl to hide their choices bc of the fear of intimidation and/or retaliation. America bn overran by tyrannical movements, we have to fight back!

      • WMDs and COVID-19 misinformation driving expensive and hurtful policy seem eerily similar.
        Both were fear-based.
        If ONLY we had a media that was fair and reported all sides…then America could weather the storms of life better.

    • Russia collusion is such an exhausted fable they must really think we’re stupid.

  • Okay, you sold me. So what does the body where we can solve issues like this do about it?

    As a start, let’s bring back the investigative committees of the U.S. House of Representatives, namely the misunderstood House Committee on Un-American Activities. The Senate investigative committees also need to be reestablished. We have not had a real check on subversive hard Left activities affecting the security of the United States since 1975.

    Next, we need a real check on political power, and placed in the local (county) level: reestablishment of the militia system authorized in Art. 1, Sec. 8. This organization will need its own court system, established by Congress as entirely separate from today’s Art. 3 judiciary, much like the US Armed Forces have the UCMJ, but have jurisdiction over all American citizens and removed from SCOTUS review. This one has been missing since 1916 by Congress’s (aka, Establishment) deliberate neglect.

    There’s my two, Mr. Giesea. What are yours? Blue-ribbon commissions are for cowards. Come up with something real.

  • When Twitter & Facebook block content they don’t agree with, it doesn’t mean it isn’t true. PT was reluctant to take Savanna’s word for what NBC believes about QAnon, what is the truth, even conservative websites don’t research or publish anything about the group,

    • I think you missed the point of the article. “What NBC believes about QAnon” is disinformation itself. It is not difficult to find out what the ACTUAL belief system is in the “Q” universe, yet NBC & Guthrie both choose to misrepresent it. WHY? If you pose this one question to most disinformation queries the answer will not be comforting.

  • And the Europeen establishment, politics and msm, are as “guilty” as in America. I think this must be a contagious disease, probably a virus with WHO-approval as pandemic, and undoubtable negatieve effects for the whole population! Vaccin must be 100% efficiënt without any relapse possible🙏

    • “We will no longer surrender this country, or its people, to the false song of globalism,” the billionaire stressed. “Under a Trump Administration, no American citizen will ever again feel that their needs come second to the citizens of foreign countries.”

  • Gisea’s piece article is disinformation, defined as “false information which is intended to mislead”.
    The poor intelligence on WMDs in Iraq wasn’t disinformation, it was substandard intel. The Senate report on the matter concluded that most of the assessments were “generally substantiated by the intelligence”.
    “Fake Russia collusion narrative” is disinformation. The Mueller report stated that there was evidence of a criminal conspiracy between Trump people and Putin people, but insufficient to conclude with confidence.
    Hillary was a corrupt dishonest politician, so disinformation from her was expected.
    Trump is a corrupt dishonest politician, spewing disinformation every single day, multiple times a day. Trump is president and therefore Establishment, all the more so because he’s the top 1% of the top 1% in wealth, not to mention a whole media and social media apparatus (like American Greatness) willing to defend his lies at every stop.
    Steele’s sources may have been giving him disinformation, but it wasn’t all false. His sources knew about email hacks, Manafort’s skulduggery and Carter Page’s trip to Russia.
    There is lots of disinformation on CV19, all too much of it coming from Trump, and partial thanks goes to his sherpa, Scott Atlas. The Surgeon General made a mistake on masks, then the CDC recommended masks on April 3rd as an effective way to prevent the spread of the virus. People seem to forget that “novel” comes before “coronavirus”, and that scientists have been trying to figure it out for months.

    • Dr. Fauci also said many times that masks were not helpful at stopping the spread of a virus before he changed his tune when democrat mayors and governors started pressing for masks. The only parts of the Steele dossier that you point to that you say wasn’t disinformation was open source information! Amazing that it was well known that Hillary had a private server, Manafort had been involved in Ukraine politics (along with many democrat operatives) and Carter Page had helped the FBI arrest Russian spies and was an informant for the CIA. He had been coordinating with US intelligence agencies for decades! Mueller didn’t find a conspiracy because there was none, and if he had tried, his house of cards filled with half truths and innuendo would have come tumbling down. You have either been successfully brain washed by mainstream media, or you are purposely continuing to spew well debunked lies in order to further your own political beliefs. Either way, until you can be honest with yourself about the reality of DC’s corruption machine, we will remain on a very precarious precipice. I pray that you and the multitude who agree with your assessment, will open your eyes to the truth before you take us all down into madness.

    • But the DC establishment and political elite clearly loathe Trump and want him gone. That’s precisely because he’s outside their control, wants to drain their swamp, and is obviously the greatest anti-politician we’ve ever seen. Get a better theory.

    • Well sir your whole worldview is based in disinformation you are another deluded lefty; what us your gold standard the congenital liar and source of more lies than Lucifer that is none other than Adam Schiff?
      LOL

  • STILL not getting it, 4 years later: the real disinformation campaign was the very concept of “election interference.”As if people trolling around on Facebook and Hillary staffers falling for phishing emails stops people from voting or changes anyone’s ballot. “Collusion” was a distraction, putting Trump on the defensive and ensnaring his team in contrived process crimes.

    Could you imagine BARACK OBAMA allowing the FBI to investigate his campaign for ANY reason, let alone over some trolls who mocked Mitt Romney on Facebook?? Could you imagine Obama allowing the DOJ to prosecute his own campaign because Romney staffers were incompetent???

    If Trump ever realizes just how badly he *allowed* himself to be worked over, he’ll never sleep again at night.

    PS – It’s also pathetic how conservatives continue to inadvertently dignify the Steele Dossier by crying “discredited” and trying to find out just who was behind it. It was ALWAYS, OBVIOUSLY a petty conspiracy theory. Public knowledge mixed with educated guesswork and vivid raunch. Steele could’ve written it in his underwear and a tinfoil hat. Even if it were true, the premise is silly: there’s no such thing as “kompromat” on Trump. lol

  • STILL not getting it, 4 years later: the real disinformation campaign was the very concept of “election interference.” As if people trolling around on Facebook and Hillary staffers falling for phishing emails stops people from voting or changes anyone’s ballot. “Collusion” was a distraction, putting Trump on the defensive and ensnaring his team in contrived process crimes.

    Could you imagine BARACK OBAMA allowing the FBI to investigate his campaign for ANY reason, let alone over some trolls who mocked Mitt Romney on Facebook?? Could you imagine Obama allowing the DOJ to prosecute his own campaign because Romney staffers were incompetent???

    If Trump ever realizes just how badly he *allowed* himself to be worked over, he’ll never sleep again at night.

    PS – It’s also pathetic how conservatives continue to inadvertently dignify the Steele Dossier by crying “discredited” and trying to find out just who was behind it. It was ALWAYS, OBVIOUSLY a petty conspiracy theory. Public knowledge mixed with educated guesswork and vivid raunch. Steele could’ve written it in his underwear and a tinfoil hat. Even if it were true, the premise is silly: there’s no such thing as “kompromat” on Trump. lol

  • Nice try, apologist. No coherent argument , just your opinion on each item he brings up. Unlike this author who makes a strong case that disinfo is organized and planned by same actors – not the cut and paste fallacies you provide.

  • Another phenomenon that has happened and you somewhat touch on us the robbery of the treasury by the two sides cooperation on appropriations/regulations that benefit cronies in a handful of economic sectors. They divide and distract up while the borrow money and rob the treasury!

  • I don’t agree with your premise about Weapons of Mass destruction. I think the average person on the street thought that Iraq had something to do with 9/11 and that’s why we were going after Saddam. If there was any disinformation, it was that it wasn’t made clear to the public that Saddam had nothing or little to do with 9/11. I’m reasonably well informed, and I didn’t even know until many years later that WTC-7 had also fallen. (After all, all they keep talking about is the twin towers.)

    Yes, Bush lied, but not about WMD. He lied by omission, allowing the majority of people to continue to think that we were hitting back at the people responsible for 9/11.

  • Mockingbird media is finished. Every politician, NGO, reporter and publication will be looked upon with suspicion ,and questioned henceforth

  • CNN..FBI..CIA..USMilitary..NSA…NYT..PBS…ABC…NBC…MSNBC…NPR…WAPO…DOJ…FDA…CDC…Google…Facebook…Twitter…Antifa…BLM…….Democrats….RINOs… are more Dangerous to America/Constitution/Liberty/Freedom than Fascist China, Obama’s Mullahs in Iran and Putin put together. If they win in November, there is no coming back….It is over for the country.

    • How can anyone think this many people are colluding to lie and take over the country and are able to keep it all secret while a known liar and cheater is some kind of source of truth?

  • This is all just a part of the Hegelian dialectic that will eventually end with the American people in a cesspool of totalitarian government. It all started with Woodrow Wilson, an “intellectual”. Kiss the Constitution and the Bill of Rights goodbye.

  • See Tomas Schuman’s “Love Letter to America” to see that we are dealing with a Hegelian dialectic that is designed to eventually put us in a cesspool of totalitarian tyranny.

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