Conservative media lost it over Biden’s efforts to combat rampant disinformation

Right-wing media figures melted down after the Department of Homeland Security announced the creation of the Disinformation Governance Board, which conservative personalities falsely portrayed as an “Orwellian” attempt by the Biden administration to control the public's access to information.

On Wednesday, April 27, the DHS released a statement announcing the newly formed Disinformation Governance Board, which will tackle predominately Russian disinformation and disinformation aimed at migrants headed to the United States. DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas had said in September that “Haitians who are taking this irregular migration path are receiving false information that the border is open.” The board will be led by Russian disinformation expert Nina Jankowicz, who previously focused on disinformation and technology at the Wilson Center.

After the DHS announcement, right-wing media predictably called the board an “Orwellian” project, likened it to “Ministry of Truth” in George Orwell’s dystopian book 1984, and suggested that the Biden administration created this board to control the flow of information after billionaire Elon Musk bought Twitter. But there is no evidence the board will target ordinary citizens, and the examples the Biden administration has given so far specifically point to Russians and smugglers. The Trump administration took similar measures to combat misinformation, and White House press secretary Jen Psaki said this new board would be “a continuation of the work of the former president” during an April 29 press conference.

Right-wing media also directed attacks at Jankowicz, largely because she referred to the Hunter Biden laptop that the right latched onto in fall of 2020 as the “laptop from hell” in a tweet that appears to actually be a live tweet of a presidential debate and not her opinion on the laptop itself. In October 2020, Jankowicz said that the laptop should be treated as a “Trump campaign product” and that there were red flags regarding the authenticity of the narratives surrounding the laptop. Two years later, only some of what was on the laptop has been authenticated, as The Washington Post noted in an investigation, while “an enormous amount of the material on the drive couldn’t be validated as legitimate.”

Here are some examples of right-wing media’s ongoing meltdown:

  • During the April 28 edition of One America News Networks’ Real America with Dan Ball, host Dan Ball compared the board to 1984’s “Ministry of Truth” and ripped the administration for allegedly not wanting people to hear about “the efficacy of the vaccine or rigged elections or the truth about how new voting laws in states like Texas, Florida, and elsewhere are not racist, that there are stricter voting laws in Jo-Jo’s home state of Delaware.” Ball went on to say the Biden administration wants to “control everything that you read, see, and hear, folks. This is what they will do with this.”
  • Fox prime-time host Tucker Carlson said the board’s creation foreshadowed the “coming of the new soviet America” during the April 28 edition of his Fox News show. Carlson went on to fearmonger about the board because the DHS has not formally defined disinformation before concluding that the Biden administration wants to “identify and punish people who think the wrong things.” Throughout his rant, Carlson repeatedly — and bizarrely — claimed that the creation of this board meant that the administration may use “men with guns” to force people to comply with so-called censorship.
  • During the April 29 edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Ainsley Earhardt baselessly asserted that “the government has decided, because [Elon Musk] is taking over Twitter — or we’re assuming that’s why, the timing is pretty suspicious — they’re going to start this board.” Co-host Steve Doocy went on to call Jankowicz “a disinformation spreader” herself because of her comments about Hunter Biden’s laptop. Co-host Brian Kilmeade managed to slip in that “she’s eight months pregnant. I mean, if you’re going to take over a brand new bureau, shouldn’t you not need maternity leave the first few weeks in? Just saying.”
  • During the April 28 edition of Fox News’ Outnumbered, co-host Kayleigh McEnany tried to tie the board’s announcement to Musk’s purchase of Twitter, saying, “Some critics are calling the timing Orwellian. You think?” She went on to suggest it’s a mistake to have the government decide what is and is not disinformation. Co-host Harris Faulkner added that if the government wants to tackle disinformation, it should “start no further than what’s happening on the Hill right now with Secretary Mayorkas.”
  • During the April 28 edition of Fox Business’ Kudlow, host Larry Kudlow, who was director of the National Economic Council under Trump, falsely claimed that Jankowicz has “got to be a lefty” and “said the Hunter Biden story was complete disinformation.”
  • During the April 28 edition of Fox Business’ Kudlow, Fox contributor Jason Chaffetz said Jankowicz is “problematic because she automatically, reflexively said, ‘Oh this Hunter Biden story is wrong. It’s disinformation. It must be from Russia.'” Host Larry Kudlow went on to ask if the disinformation board was created in response to Musk buying Twitter, and Chaffetz responded that the timing is not a coincidence and Democrats “want to control the flow of information.”
  • During the April 28 edition of Fox News’ Hannity, host Sean Hannity called the board “1984ish” and said that Democrats “don’t seem to care about the First Amendment.” He then called Jankowicz “a far-left individual” and accused her of calling the Hunter Biden laptop a Trump campaign product. (In reality, Jankowicz said the laptop story should be treated as a campaign product while it was being authenticated.) He also attacked her for saying unchecked speech on social media platforms leads to unchecked harassment, pulling an excerpt from a larger NPR interview about Jankowicz’s book on online harassment many women endure. Hannity then claimed the board was created to “silence conservatives.” Later in the same show, Hannity interviewed former member of Congress Tulsi Gabbard and asked her what she thought about “this Ministry of Truth.” Gabbard responded that the board was “the kind of thing that you see in dictatorships.”
  • On the April 28 edition of Jesse Watters Primetime, guest host Brian Kilmeade called the board a “state-led censorship division” and said it was an attempt by Biden to control narratives and win the midterms. He also attacked Jankowicz, calling her “the biggest misinformer of truth.” Kilmeade claimed that Democrats created the disinformation board in part because Elon Musk bought Twitter and they no longer control Big Tech. He did not acknowledge that DHS has been openly concerned about misinformation since last September, predating Musk’s purchase of Twitter.
  • The National Review article “New DHS Disinformation Head Dismissed Hunter Biden Emails as ‘Trump Campaign Product’” attacked Jankowicz for casting doubt on the laptop story.
  • The Washington Examiner attacked Jankowicz for expressing doubt about the laptop story and for being a “fan” of Christopher Steele -- the former British intelligence officer who put together the anti-Trump dossier published by BuzzFeed in 2017 -- because she once tweeted a clip of a Steele interview in which he discussed the evolution of disinformation.
  • During the April 28 edition of Fox Business’ Fox Business Tonight, host Dagen McDowell referred to the board as “the Ministry of Truth, or a censorship bureau.” Guest and former Trump administration official Marc Lotter rhetorically asked, “What business is it of the government to be deciding what is disinformation and information? I mean, I thought we were protected by the First Amendment that the government wouldn’t be dictating our free speech.” McDowell went on to question whether the DHS is “abusing the First Amendment, or trampling on it.” Lotter responded, “There’s no question about that.”
  • On April 28, Rep Jim Jordan (R-OH) appeared on Special Report with Bret Baier and claimed, “The person in charge of the Disinformation Governance Board is the same individual who told us the dossier was real and the Hunter laptop story was false.” Even though Jankowicz never endorsed the Steele dossier or definitively debunked the laptop, Baier does not correct him.

Correction (4/29/22): This post originally stated that the new DHS program focused on combating Russian disinformation aimed at migrants heading to the United States. In fact, the program focuses on both Russian disinformation and disinformation aimed at migrants.