The Story Of Our Age

Jeffrey Goldberg is the editor of the Atlantic, one of the more credible and informative publications I read, and he recently transmitted an email to subscribers titled “Notes from the Editor-in-Chief.” I am going to take the liberty of quoting large portions of that message, because I entirely agree with him about the nature and extent of the danger we face.

Last week, a Michigan congresswoman whose existence had not yet entered the rest of the country’s consciousness credited Donald Trump with having “caught Osama bin Laden,” among other terrorists. It is difficult to forget that night in 2011 when Barack Obama told the world that, on his orders, a team of Navy commandos had killed the al-Qaeda leader. But Representative Lisa McClain, a first-term member of Congress, showed that, with effort, and with a desire to feed Trump’s delusions and maintain her standing among his supporters, anything is possible.

In ordinary times, McClain’s claim would have been mocked and then forgotten. But because these are not ordinary times—these are times in which citizens of the same country live in entirely different information realities—I put her assertion about bin Laden on a kind of watch list. In six months, I worry, we may learn that a provably false claim made by a single unserious congressional backbencher has spread into MAGA America, a place where Barack Obama is believed to be a Kenyan-born Muslim and Donald Trump is thought to be the victim of a coup.

Disinformation is the story of our age. We see it at work in Russia, whose citizens have been led to believe the lies that Ukraine is an aggressor nation and that the Russian army is winning a war against modern-day Nazis. We see it at work in Europe and the Middle East, where conspiracies about hidden hands and occult forces are adopted by those who, in the words of the historian Walter Russell Mead, lack the ability to “see the world clearly and discern cause and effect relations in complex social settings.” We see it weaponized by authoritarians around the globe, for whom democracy, accountability, and transparency pose mortal threats. And we see it, of course, in our own country, in which tens of millions of voters believe that Joe Biden is an illegitimate president because the man he beat in 2020 specializes in sabotaging reality for personal and political gain. This mass delusion has enormous consequences for the future of democracy. As my colleague Yoni Appelbaum has noted, “Democracy depends on the consent of the losers.” Sophisticated, richly funded, technology-enabled disinformation campaigns are providing losers with other options.

The Atlantic has joined with the Institute of Politics at the University of Chicago, and the two entities staged a conference focusing upon disinformation of all sorts. (The conference is available online.) The Institute of Politics was founded by David Axelrod, who has expressed his opinion that the “future of this country—and of our democratic allies around the world—depends on the ability and willingness of citizens to discern truth from falsehood.”

Goldberg was forthright in admitting to the nature of the challenge disinformation poses for “big-tent” magazines like the Atlantic.  He reiterated his belief that citizens of democracies require  a wide variety of views and opinions, and insisted that

We strive for nonpartisanship at The Atlantic, and we aim to publish independent thinkers and a wide variety of viewpoints. But this most recent period in American history has presented what might be called “both-sides journalism” with serious challenges—challenges that have prevented this magazine from publishing many pro-Trump articles. (After all, our articles must pass through a rigorous fact-checking process.)

Long-term, the emergence of our citizens from the Tower of Babel we currently inhabit will require a co-ordinated effort. My own repeated calls for more and better civics education–leading to greater levels of civic literacy– obviously point to an important part of that effort, but civics education alone cannot address the economic and psychological insecurities that make so many Americans receptive to the lies and hatreds being promoted by would-be autocrats and their enablers.

I don’t know what it would take–what policies could impose at least a minimum of coherence and integrity to the Wild West that is our current information environment without sacrificing the First Amendment– but as Goldberg  and Axelrod clearly understand, figuring that out is obviously job number one.

I’m on vacation without reliable Internet access, but when I get home, I intend to click through and watch that conference….


  1. Politicians spouting outright lies is a maneuver to gain and retain power, and thus money. Feeding the ignorant and stupid what they want to hear that satisfies THEIR need for delusional power has been with us for all known history about the human condition. Nothing really new here. BUT now we have almost 8 billion humans clamoring for shrinking resources and money.

    The money is being funneled to the top power brokers has quickly as they can bribe the politicians to allow them to do it. There WILL be a breaking point, of course, and it will be, perhaps, an uglier episode than WW II. The same sorts of lunatic “leaders” are there. Their toadies are in power. Greed runs rampant. The safety rails have been removed by corruption. And screeching damned fools have access to nuclear weapons.

    What could possibly go wrong…or right?

  2. Powerbrokers control the stock market and allow short trades when you don’t own the stock, it was meant to hedge against your stock losses not outright use machines to steal. the corporate media sponsored the Russian Hoax for three years and finally The New York Times came iut and said the Hunter Biden laptop story that was cancelled wasnt disinformation, will they mention that as a problem at this conference, if they don’t the those who aren’t there, those on the right will claim the conference is disinformation itself.

  3. I wouldn’t call the Atlantic a major example of independent journalism, especially with Goldberg’s bullshit statement, “Disinformation is the story of our age. We see it at work in Russia, whose citizens have been led to believe the lies that Ukraine is an aggressor nation and that the Russian army is winning a war against modern-day Nazis.”

    If you’re going to tackle “disinformation,” why in the hell would you make an illiterate statement like that?

    Anybody with a shred of research skills could disprove that even with the CIA whitewashing Wikipedia’s account of the Euromaidan in 2014. Ukraine has been hostile toward Russians in Ukraine ever since.

    The Azov Battalion within the Ukrainian Army today proudly displays Nazi symbols.

    The US of A used them to overthrow the government of Ukraine in 2014. While these truths are uncomfortable to the world, they are facts. Denying them IS DISINFORMATION.

    What cracks me up about Americans is they’ll allow the purveyors of disinformation (The Atlantic and Barack Obama) to lead the campaign to clean up disinformation.

    Why on Earth would you trust propagandists to lead the campaign to clean up propaganda?

    The only term that comes to mind is “INSANITY.” LOL

  4. We have the Bill of Rights which, among other rights, gives us the right to freedom of speech, the right to bear arms, the right to worship as we please. Perhaps we also need a Bill of Responsibilities that compliments the Bill of Rights. Along with the right of free speech, we also have the responsibility that our speech should be true; we have the right to bear arms, but we should bear those arms responsibly.
    Ben Franklin famously said something akin to “what we have made is a Republic, if you can keep it”. If we cannot keep it, we do not deserve it.

  5. The lies need to be called out as loudly as possible, by everyone who knows they are lies and has the material to prove it.

  6. James,

    Good points. I think the crafters of the Bill of Rights and the Constitution felt that the citizens would assume the responsibilities associated with their rights. Of course, back then the nation had just fought for its independence and responsibilities were inherent in the culture. That is most certainly not the case today. The “me first” culture brought to us by Madison Avenue and Republican lies has destroyed the noble concept of responsibility almost across the board. Only a few of us who remember how to be responsible remain.

  7. I would ask the question of “What do many/most people want?” and “What are they willing to do to get what they want?” (which also correlates with what are they WILLING to do in various situations). We face HUGE threats – as Goldberg speaks of . We also are fed lies and biases – strongly – as Todd S – above referenced – in his example related to Ukraine. We are all for “democracy” for white people we are sympathetic with. We have no similar feelings for Palestinians or for many Third World non-white People. Many, if not a majority of us – live in a world of Fears and Emotions. It feels threatening to be white (particularly male) in a world – where we no longer are “the normal people”. We have politicians who are the pawns of a few people who have extreme wealth – as well as people who crave power. They play on the fears of people. We have often hapless Democratic Party politicians – including a President – who often don’t see “the bigger picture” and are also owned largely by other monied interests. It is much, much, much more challenging – for those on “the left” to – listen – really listen – to the concerns of Americans – AND to – help them see how they are manipulated – when such voices are: 1. Often lost in their own – issues and 2. are with little money – and little voice – being drowned both by the voices of the Right – and secondarily – helped kept passive – by the words of MSNBC and CNN – who strive – for a profit – which necessitates – NOT digging too deeply – sticking to – a lot of – simple messaging – while they may not dwell on words like: “CRT” or “Black Lives Matter”- they also never or almost never – listen to voices like I hear through Jewish Currents and others – who invite disagreement/controversy – and go deeply into major issues – without being owned by monied interests. Most people – don’t want to be Challenged and seemingly most of us – who are Privileged and white – and particularly male – who are “liberal” or “leftist” – don’t seemingly see, or take seriously, the serious Threat(s) that we face – particularly – as we/they – will be the last of the “good germans” – as we face a difficult future.

  8. You have a disinformation troll in the comments, and he shows up every day. Is he paid, or is he just bizarre? All I know is that he’s full of sh*t. But propagandaists like him know – sometimes showing up every day is the best way to win over the weak- minded. When the battle is truth vs lies, any muddying of the waters is a victory for the liars. So he shows up every … damn… day.

  9. Representative Lisa McClain obviously doesn’t trust Trump enough to have injected Clorox bleach to protect her against the Pandemic because she is still among the living…and lying Trumpsters.

    Has Trump upended himself and bared his genitals to the sun to increase his testosterone levels or has he just used the spray-tan he used on his face? Which Texas politician claimed that all of the solar panels being used would drain the energy from the sun and does he believe these bared Republican balls would add to the depletion of the sun’s energy? Another Texan claimed the wind towers would cause the earth to spin too fast; could that be why we have had so many wind advisories the past few years? If Marjorie Taylor Greene can’t remember what she has said or done the past two years, after viewing videos and hearing tapes; should the hearings be recessed till her cognitive levels can be tested?

    Vernon; you are on target with your response to James but I believe citizens are taking more responsibility associated with their rights than the elected officials are about upholding their own Oath of Office which put them in power.

    And Todd; for God’s sake…please take the rest of the day off!!!

  10. I was unaware till this morning that Elon Musk also owns paypal. I canceled paypal years ago after using it one time then began getting warnings of suspicious activity on my account. This morning I received (on SPAM) a paypal bill for $699.00 for weapon and ammunition I did not order. Evidently Musk needs help paying for Twitter; I am wondering if he also owns Norton or QuickBooks who billed me last week for $349 for an unidentified item or service? Just askin’

    Of course those are scams but; what happens when people respond to those billings and provide their financial and personal information? Is Elon Musk at the end of those billings?

  11. How is that only Todd is aware of the corruption of everyone. I read about the Azov Battalion. More than a decade of fighting has seemingly been the norm in Ukraine. Chris Hedges wrote last week that the butchery in Bucha was perpetrated by Ukrainian militias, not Russians. Where can we find facts. I’m put off by Todd’s continual diatribes that all is corruption and evil doing. After reading about Azov and thinking of Qanon, etc. my cynicism index is spiking. Is it possible Representatives Raskin, Schiff and others are equally corrupt?

  12. I thought you people were educated, but I suspect, “comfortable” is the more appropriate term.

    The last place I would seek info on Ukraine is from The Atlantic. Even the whitewashed Wikipedia has more factoids than our establishment media:

    Gee, maybe the Washington Post doesn’t talk about “worker’s rights” for a reason? LOL

    1) Comfortable = Turn off your TV.

  13. New York University professor of social psychology Jonathan Haidt says that one thing we can do “is change the architecture of social media so that it doesn’t take stupid, nasty stuff and blow it up to a huge audience,” making it hyperviral.

    “Viral dynamics is not a constitutional right.”

    And the most important things we can do is …
    – Identity authentication:
    o Verify that a poster is a real person, but still allow anonymity when posting.
    o Age
    o In a particular country
    o UK and California are doing this.
    – Citizens can create a referendum on voting reform to get this enacted.
    – The way to extinguish bad behavior (disinformation) is to ignore it: Do not respond, react, or protest it. Extinguish it.

    Seems like a clear path.

  14. Our country’s failure to create a system of enforceable accountability that requires members of Congress and state legislatures to at all times be truthful and to only pass legislation that can be legally proven to serve the best interests of the general population and our country.

  15. The story of media delivery is almost exclusively the story of advertising. We want information and we want it free right to our senses so we accept diluting it with advertising in order to get what we want.

    I like the terms overt and covert advertising.

    Overt advertising is readily identified as such and as much as we try to tune it out, and as often as we claim not to be affected by it, advertisers know that it works. Enough people buy what’s being sold to make paying for the content that opens the doors of our attention to it is a good business case.

    Most disinformation is covert. That is it’s mixed with and disguised as the content rather than being distinguishable as separate.

    Is covert political advertising a strong enough force considering the role of media in modern lives to bring down nations either as an unintended or intended consequence?

    It certainly seems so.

  16. Jeffrey Goldberg? The prison guard? A zionist? Zionism is a supremacism. Who knew being a prison guard within an apartheid state would qualify one to be in tune with the truth.

  17. Another fine missive Sheila; always enjoy your objectivity and balance. Openly calling out overt partisan disinformation is an absolutely critical issue of our time and moving forward more formal measures to address it must come to the fore and be implemented.

    Yes, censorship is a double-edged sword. It can be misused to hide truths (eg Russia) or properly used to minimize the dissemination of falsehoods/hate speech etc.

    Accountability is the crux of the matter – until real penalties (financial and/or incarceration ) are explicitly defined, properly charged, and judged and then levied nothing will change and it will continue to mushroom out of control.

    What a sad state of affairs… longing for more of the likes of honorable journalists like Dan Rather, Huntley/Brinkley, Cronkite backed up by proper vetting. Mind you, there are still some today: Amanpor and her ilk are like an oasis to me.

  18. Let’s just forget about Stepan Bandera. It makes the comfortable uncomfortable.

    Let’s just stick to delusions,approbations to one another,status markers,virtue signaling and shallow aesthetics.

  19. EVEN I, a fairly uninformed casual reader, know THAT guy Jumped The Shark today – reading him no more!

  20. Oops – here is my entire comment:

    Our country’s failure to create a system of enforceable accountability to require members of Congress and state legislatures to at all times be truthful and to only pass legislation that can be legally proven to serve the best interests of the general population and our country has enabled the extremely wealthy individuals and large corporations to control this country and ensure it serves their interests. Since our government was created by (almost all) wealthy white males it is easy to understand why such a system of accountability was never even contemplated.

    Our current extreme income/wealth inequality has far surpassed that of the Robber Barron era and must be remedied. If the members of Congress refuse to pull their heads out of the sand to rectify this problem it will get worse. Returning to progressive taxation and eliminating the ability of wealthy individuals and corporations to avoid paying taxes by hiding their fortunes offshore is necessary.

    Too many media sources are owned by oligarchs that purposely mislead their followers with propaganda that points the blame for wealth inequality away from them. As long as people continue to believe this propaganda I believe we are heading toward more frequent violent uprisings across the country and January 6th was just a small preview of what is likely to come.

  21. Even IF, and that’s an impossible IF, everything that Todd and his new cohorts on this site spew out daily are true how does that excuse the atrocities being committed by the Soviet military in the Ukraine? They don’t appear to bother Todd. Todd has his agenda and he is well practiced in his selective condemnations.

  22. Stop and read Pete’s comment again.

    It’s about ignorance, poor critical thinking, and the power of persuasion.

    Advertising, the American Art.

  23. “The information, the content, or, if you will, the ‘stuff’ that makes up what is called ‘the news of the day’ did not exist – could not exist – in a world that lacked the media to give it expression. I do not mean the things like fires, wars, murders and love affairs did not, ever and always, happen in places all over the world. I mean that lacking a technology to advertise them, people could not attend to them, could not include them in their daily business. Such information simply could not exist as part of the content of culture.” “Amusing Ourselves to Death”, Neil Postman, 1984 writing about the impact of TV.

    Layer over this the Web and “commentary/interpretation” of the news of the day…how we got here….

  24. One of the requirements on the road to authoritarianism is the creation of chaos, as Trump has openly admitted. A society immersed in chaos (which, inter alia, includes as a prerequisite zero trust in our governing, social and economic institutions) is rendered easy prey for authoritarians to ride in on their white horses a la Scott’s poetry and rescue the damsels and others from those who have breached the castle’s walls. (Enough metaphors.)

    So how to beat the propaganda rap by (take your choice, i.e., evil white men lusting for power,
    the Kochs and Musks, disinformation geeks, capitalism, socialism, whatever)? Refuse to be Good Germans. Save the poor me – it’s over attitude (lest such surrender helps it happen). Understand that any ism collectively practiced by humans is conceptual and will have its shortcomings in practice, as Todd is wont to note and deplore.

    It is not “over” unless by will or lack of will we allow disinformation and propaganda to triumph and our democracy (tattered as it may be) to come crashing down as we Good Germans descend into authoritarian rule. We can survive if we use our time and energy to challenge every attempt to drown our democratic voices out by those who by whatever means are attempting to bring us an environment of chaos – and persevere in such challenging – openly and loudly proclaiming the defense of our conceptual democracy, our most precious asset held in common and one of the last few things left worth dying for. To arms!

  25. Alfred proposes an interesting question, or more precisely a conundrum, how does one know what is actually happening in Ukraine?

    Do you believe the oligarch/advertising model of media that Einstein debunked in 1949 later followed by Chomsky in the 80s?

    Do you believe the Public Relations firms hired by the Military-Industrial Complex for the stand-up comedian, Zelenskyy?

    If we follow the money trail and motive, it is clear the MIC has the motive to mislead everyone in the Western/Atlantic viewership. Selling weapons en masse means profits galore.

    Outside that viewership, everyone already knows the USA are hypocrites so they don’t listen to the rubbish.

    Folks, read the SIGARs report and you’ll know that 95% of the media lied about Afghanistan and is now lying about Ukraine. You’d have to be insane to believe otherwise.

  26. Over half of Americans read at a grade six level .No wonder masses of Americans fall for disinformation.

  27. I saw a sarcastic video clip about right wing voters why they might vote against their own interests. It closed with a line “don’t try to confuse me with facts or logic because you can’t tell me how I feel.”.

  28. “…consent of the losers.” Our democracy depends on the conviction of Trump on almost any charge, IMHO.

  29. Have y’all noticed how Todd and Tucker Carlson operate?

    It’s pretty standard “fear mongering by scary question”:
    “Is that a monster under the bed?”

    What is the SIGAR report? Is it written by Todd?

    See? Scary question.

    Microsoft burnished this technique until they owned it.
    Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt.

    It’s based on the evolutionary dilemma of the bush:
    IF the bushes rustle, you can run or not.
    If it’s a tiger and you run, you’re more likely to live and breed.
    If it’s a tiger, and you don’t run, no passing of genes.

    So we believe the FUD.
    It’s our wiring.

    Civilization gives us the time to think about the rustling
    in the bushes, but the Tuckers, Todds and Trump like to
    play pretend tiger, to spook our fears. It works.

    We have many other manipulable wirings.
    Todd’s also an acolyte of Steve Bannon, who advocates
    Disinformation en masse to confuse people.
    You’ll pardon me if I quote Bannon, who calls it
    “Flooding the zone with shit.”

  30. From Sigar Q1 2022:

    1. Establish a clear purpose for the aid.
    2. Insist that any organization receiving U.S. funding is fully transparent, so we
    know where our money went and how it was used.
    3. Set a tolerable level of risk, and be ready to end an activity if that risk
    becomes too great.
    4. Keep track of how money is used and regularly reassess to see if activities
    are actually helping people.
    5. Determine clear, relevant metrics that measure actual outcomes, not
    just how many dollars were spent or how many people participated in
    some program.
    6. If an activity is going poorly, make course corrections and be prepared
    to pull the plug.
    7. Third-party monitors are necessary, but the U.S. government should be
    diligent in evaluating them and their standards.
    8. Adapt to the evolving situation on the ground, where one size does not fit
    all situations.
    9. Seek smart opportunities to condition aid.
    10. Look for activities that Afghans can eventually sustain without
    outside support.

    I wonder how much has been spent to generate these verities…

  31. Ormond; being curious, I Googled the SIGAR report. It is the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). Per feedback on Wikipedia it has not been updated since 2014; it of course contains no information about the withdrawal from Afghanistan so how and why would we compare it to Ukraine today? That would be like comparing Reconstruction with the Civil War; putting the cart before the horse, comparing apples with turnips.

    You might want to Google “Voice of Muncie” to read Todd’s CV; his self-proclamation as authority on media qualification in a small, troubled mid-west college town. That IS written by Todd.

  32. Take A tip from Sheila and others, including this commenter, and “Scroll, Baby, Scroll!” Don’t needlessly ruin your day!

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