Dezinformatsiya and the War on Truth
On Jan. 21, the White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer read a scripted statement to the press. Echoing the Trump administration’s resentment towards the media in general, Spicer characterized the media’s reporting on inauguration crowds as a “misrepresentation.” Mr. Spicer also stated that he planned “to hold the press accountable.”
Spicer then proceeded to state, “no one had numbers [on the crowd], because the National Park Service, which controls the National Mall, does not put any out.” He then told the press room that “this was the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration -- period -- both in person and around the globe.”
Hypocrisy notwithstanding, Spicer also claimed that it was the first time magnetometers and floor coverings had been used on the mall. According to Politifact, a highly credible, nonpartisan fact- checking website, magnetometers were not used where Spicer said they were, and his “overall assertion that Trump’s inaugural drew the ‘largest audience’ ever [was] flat-out wrong.”
Following press conference on Jan. 21, former Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway attempted to defend the embattled administration. During the course of her interview with Chuck Todd, Conway asserted that the media was unfairly representing Trump, which is why she and others in the administration “feel compelled to go out and clear the air and put alternative facts out there.”
Ironically, United State’s Cold War opponent, Russia, also specializes in alternative facts. According to the New York Times, the Russian government often uses “a flood of distorted and false information,” bewildering “public perceptions of the issue.” Trump’s active employment of the Russian disinformation tactics has likewise fazed not just Americans, but people around the world.
Regardless of the strategic differences between the Trump administration’s fallaciousness and those of the Russian government, the utilized techniques are awfully similar. While Spicer delivers so-called “alternative facts” from the White House podium, Russian government spreads dezinformatsiya via companies such as RT and Sputnik.”
Government endorsement of false claims has effects far beyond the scope of normal politics. The easily refuted statements promoted by both the Russian government and the Trump administration undermine the trust and confidence the people have in their representatives. “The fundamental purpose of dezinformatsiya, or Russian disinformation… is to undermine the official version of events — even the very idea that there is a true version of events — and foster a kind of policy paralysis,” states an expert to the New York Times.
Whether the Trump administration is employing a disinformation campaign or simply lying is another debate. Regardless, disinformation and its effects have existential implications far beyond the United States. As an expert at the Times attests, when a country cannot trust that truth exists, that country cannot function.
Spicer’s comments on crowd size are not the harmless drivel that they appear to be. When a speaker is given the West Wing podium, they speak for the nation, its values, and its people. And when leaders lie from that same podium and insist they are correct, it not only erodes their credibility, it erodes the notion of a representative government and democracy. Trump has not only declared a war on media, but also truth.