A colleague of mine today, sharing this story about the Global Disinformation Index’s (GDI) incorrectly listing well-known historian Anne Applebaum as part of their advisory board, put it very well:
“The Global Disinformation Index did a disinformation!”
It couldn’t have happened to a nicer disinformation flack. And I mean that literally.
Applebaum is widely regarded as estimable historian, and has made a career being thoughtful — if not always apolitical — on foreign policy issues, But regarding this new fad of disinformation and its existential threat to democracy? Well, she’s been a bit disinformation-y herself.
When University of Chicago student Daniel Schmidt had the chance to ask her a question at a conference titled “Disinformation and the Erosion of Democracy” back in April, he wrote about her non-answer in Compact Magazine.
I wondered if I would be able to ask at least one critical query and receive an honest, meaningful response. As it happened, I got a chance to question Anne Applebaum, the Pulitzer-winning historian and Atlantic staff writer, following her session with Obama consigliere David Axelrod. For nearly an hour, Applebaum had effused about how important it is to fight disinformation. So I asked her if she thinks the media acted inappropriately in immediately dismissing the New York Post’s reporting on the Hunter Files as Russian disinformation—a claim we now know to be completely false.
This wasn’t meant to be a gotcha. Yet Applebaum gave a stupefyingly arrogant (and borderline incoherent) answer: “My problem with Hunter Biden’s laptop,” she said, “is I think [it’s] totally irrelevant. I [mean], it’s not whether it’s disinformation, or I mean, I don’t think the—Hunter Biden’s business relationships have anything to do with who should be president of the United States. So, I didn’t—I don’t find it to be interesting. I mean, that would be my problem with that as a major news story.”
WATCH The Atlantic’s @anneapplebaum refuse to answer @RealDSchmidt‘s🔥🔥 question about Hunter Biden’s laptop during @UChicago’s “Disinformation and the Erosion of Democracy” conference! pic.twitter.com/1OgXBBiiI0
— The Chicago Thinker (@ThinkerChicago) April 6, 2022
Applebaum’s haughtiness perfectly encapsulates why so many Americans are distrustful of the corporate outlets that claim to defend truth against “post-truth” disinformation. Figures like Applebaum don’t actually seem to care about disinformation. They just use the word as a tool to advance their own class and political interests.
The GDI, by the way, is a British-based blacklist that had worked with a State Department-funded nonprofit to target conservative news sites for spreading disinformation. Gabe Kaminsky of the Washington Examiner has an entire series on the group (start here and go down the rabbit hole) and his reporting has led that same State Department nonprofit to finally distance itself from the dirty, secret work of censorship.
The National Endowment for Democracy, a group funded almost entirely through congressional appropriations, granted $545,750 between 2020 and 2021 to the Global Disinformation Index, which is feeding conservative website blacklists to advertising companies. Amid GOP lawmakers raising concerns, the National Endowment for Democracy is taking steps to distance itself from the purported “disinformation” monitor and will no longer be providing it future grant money, the nonprofit group told the Washington Examiner.
The Global Disinformation Index, as the Washington Examiner has continued to detail, compiles a “dynamic exclusion list” of the biggest “disinformation” peddlers among websites and feeds it to advertisers. It has said that the 10 “riskiest” outlets are the American Spectator, Newsmax, the Federalist, the American Conservative, One America News, the Blaze, the Daily Wire, RealClearPolitics, Reason, and the New York Post.
Applebaum, it seems, was listed as an advisor on GDI’s website, something that piqued the interest of Reason‘s Robby Soave because Reason was among those targeted.
“I have asked to have my name taken off their website, which they agreed to do.” – Applebaum
— Robby Soave (@robbysoave) February 28, 2023
“The Global Disinformation Index (GDI)—a British nonprofit that smeared Reason as an unsafe news website using dubious criteria—might want to take a closer look at newly uncovered disinformation being spread by… the website of the Global Disinformation Index,” Soave wrote.
Sophocles and Shakespeare would have had rich material to pull from in the digital age in crafting poetic versions of those caught in traps of their own making. Applebaum is a character fit for such a tale. The jury’s still out on whether the story would be a comedy or tragedy.
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