In the thin air of Aspen, a solution worse than the problem

November 27, 2021

First, some housecleaning.  In last week’s column about John Kass and George Soros, I wrote “the Chicago Tribune Guild (the union representing reporters and editors) fired off a letter to management accusing Kass of anti-Semitism and promoting the “old trope that Jews foment civil unrest”.  The Guild claimed, “It’s racist and antisemitic, and it should never have been published in the Tribune.”

While the Guild signatories did submit their letter to management with those remarks, the specific quotes were from 47th Ward Alderman Matt Martin and were used along with others to support the Guild’s position against Mr. Kass.

I take you, the readers of this column seriously.  For without you, it’s nothing but keystrokes in the ether.  If I left any of you with the wrong impression, I sincerely apologize.

Now, on to matters at hand.

In a column published last Monday, “Drawing a bead on disinformation” David Shribman wrote of a recent report of the Aspen Institute’s Commission on Information Disorder.

As one who won his 1995 Pulitzer Prize the old-fashioned way (a beat reporter for the Boston Globe covering Washington politics) and was executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for sixteen years, in this columnist’s opinion he’s a  journalist of the highest order.  His elite status not bestowed by like-minded academics but earned through decades of practicing the profession as it was meant to be professional, objective, and truthful.

As such, seeing that he took the time to write about it, I felt obliged to read it.  And while his observation that there are some good recommendations is spot on, there are also, in my opinion some very large red flags.

Considering the makeup of the Commission (academia, elites and liberal philanthries are by far the prominent voices)  it’s not surprising that the recommendation veer to the political left.  The theme of “civil discourse” implied as discourse our side approves and a critical need for “transformational and sustainable change” in society runs throughout the report.

There’s plenty of negativity to remind us just how terrible we all are as a society: “Mis- and disinformation are not the root causes of society’s ills but, rather, expose society’s failures to overcome systemic problems, such as income inequality, racism, and corruption, which can be exploited to promote false information online.”

Perhaps the most truthful sentence in the entire report is when it cites Deen Freelon and Chris Wells book Disinformation as Political Communication “”Mis- and disinformation do not exist in a vacuum.  The spread of False and misleading narratives, the incitement of division and hate, and the erosion of trust have a long history, with corporate, state actor, and political persuasion techniques employed to maintain power and profit, create harm, and/or advance political or ideological goals.”

Hmmmmm, I wonder if there are any recent examples of such?  Of course there’s the “Big Lie” about the 2020 election, but are there any others?

Would the Michael Brown “Hands up Don’t shoot” narrative classify as false or just misleading?

What about years of pushing a false Russian collusion hoax and destroying what little trust and unity was left in this country?

Does refusing to acknowledge that there are other sides to the Climate Change debate rather than a top down forcing of policies on the American people qualify as a “misleading narrative” or a lust by some for “profit and power” to advance their own “political or ideological goals.”?

When a man who announces his candidacy for the Presidency using a lie that the sitting President said that white supremacists were “very fine people” or later in the campaign includes the face of a seventeen year old kid in a video implying he’s a white supremacist for defending himself against rioters does that incite “division and hate”?

Then there’s a sitting Vice President’s comment on the jury’s verdict in the Kyle Rittenhouse case with “My impressions about the verdict is that the verdict really speaks for itself. As many of you know I’ve spent a majority of my career working to make the criminal justice system more equitable and clearly there’s a lot more work to do,”.  Call me crazy, but in my simple mind that seems to be eroding trust in the judicial system for political points.

But it’s this call for a Comprehensive federal approach that should raise the eyebrows of every American no matter political party: “The Administration should establish a comprehensive strategic approach to countering disinformation and the spread of misinformation, including a centralized national response strategy, defining roles and responsibilities across the Executive Branch, and identifying gaps in authorities and capabilities.”

If this Republic is to survive for future generations, the absolute last thing it needs is  a “centralized national response strategy”, especially one dreamed up in the thin air of Aspen.

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