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Watch for a return of the ignominious Disinformation Governance Board

WASHINGTON — The Department of Homeland Security’s announced “pause” of its Disinformation Governance Board, 21 days after creating it as a “national security” measure, probably is itself disinformation. DHS

realizes that its 10-thumbed debut of this boneheaded idea almost doomed it, so the “pause” feigns deliberation while the department plots the DGB’s resurrection.

Government pratfalls such as the DGB are doubly useful, as reminders of government’s embrace of even preposterous ideas if they will expand its power, and as occasions for progressives to demonstrate that there is no government expansion they will not embrace. Progressives noted approvingly that DHS was putting a disinformation “expert” — a “scholar” — in charge, so science would be applied, including the “science” of sorting disinformation from real information.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas’s short-lived choice as DGB executive director was Nina Jankowicz. Before becoming, for three weeks, head of the “nonpartisan” (so said the president’s press secretary) disinformation board, Jankowicz had a colorful career chastising “Republicans and other disinformers.” The contents of Hunter Biden’s laptop? “A Trump campaign product,” she decreed. Her certitudes are many.

To assuage the anxieties of those uneasy about government bestowing the imprimatur of truthfulness on contested propositions, DHS officials said the disinformation board had no “operational authority or capability,” and denounced as a “great misperception” the idea that the board’s mission would involve dispelling what it deems unhelpful statements. The White House said the DGB would “prevent” the circulation of disinformation, yet without trying to “adjudicate” truth or falsehood.

Barack Obama, commenting on disinformation and offering a sample of it, recently called himself “pretty close to a First Amendment absolutist” while fondly remembering the Fairness Doctrine (1949-1987) as part of the “framework” that made broadcasting “compatible with democracy.” That doctrine allowed the federal government to require broadcast entities — all dependent on federal licenses — to be what government considered fair and balanced.

Using radio spectrum scarcity as an excuse, even before the Fairness Doctrine was created, Republicans running Washington in the late 1920s pressured a New York station owned by the Socialist Party to show “due regard” for other opinions. What regard was “due”? The government knew. So, it prevented the Chicago Federation of Labor from buying a station, saying all stations should serve “the general public.”

In 1939, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration conditioned one station’s license renewal on ending anti-FDR editorials. (Tulane Law School professor Amy Gajda’s new book, “Seek and Hide: The Tangled History of the Right to Privacy,” reports that earlier, FDR had “unsuccessfully pushed for a code of conduct for newspapers as part of the Depression-era National Recovery Act and had envisioned bestowing on compliant newspapers an image of a blue eagle as a sort of presidential seal of approval.”) John F. Kennedy’s Federal Communications Commission harassed conservative radio, and when a conservative broadcaster said Lyndon B. Johnson used the Gulf of Tonkin incident in 1964 as an excuse for Vietnam escalation, the Fairness Doctrine was wielded to force the broadcaster to air a response.

As the Disinformation Governance Board floundered in ignominy, Mayorkas, the DHS secretary, said, “We could have done a better job of communicating what it is and what it isn’t.” It is ever thus: No progressive ideas are foolish or repellant, although a few are artlessly merchandized.

But to be fair to DHS, it has more employees (240,000) than Richmond, Va., has residents, and there is enough disinformation in circulation to preoccupy all of them. The Manhattan Institute’s Brian Riedl offers some examples from the administration that conceived the DGB:

President Joe Biden said the $2.4 trillion Build Back Better spending bill “costs zero dollars.” Biden calls today’s inflation, which ignited a year before the invasion of Ukraine, “Putin’s price hike.” Speaking in 2021 about his American Rescue Plan, Biden said, “According to Moody’s . . . this law alone will create 7 million new jobs.” Moody’s actually said the law would add 4 million jobs to the 3 million that would be created without the law. Last year, the Biden administration said Moody’s predicted “19 million jobs” would be created by the American Jobs Plan. Moody’s actually predicted 2.7 million jobs over a 10-year period, with the other 16 million representing the baseline of expected job growth.

If — when — the DHS’s “pause” ends and a resuscitated disinformation board buckles down to protecting Americans from falsehoods, it will of course concern itself with only disinformation of foreign origin, the theory being that only this sort threatens national security. The theory will, of course, be disinformation.

* George F. Will is a syndicated columnist for The Washington Post. He can be reached at georgewill@washpost.com.

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