In the first White House press conference held with President Joe Biden, many noted that the second question was given to “PBS NewsHour” correspondent Yamiche Alcindor who has been previously criticized for breathless accounts of Biden and what she called “the super heros” of his cabinet. Alcindor raised the issue of the crisis at the border with a massive increase in unaccompanied minors. However, she framed her question as to whether Biden can resolve the “tension” of having people come to the United States because he is such a “moral” and “decent” person. One critic however objected that the question was unfair to Biden and based on disinformation. That of course was Jennifer Rubin, who has been repeatedly criticized for false postings from congressional hearings to court decisions to even Shakespeare. She even once attacked me for a theory that I did not agree with in a column that I did not write. However, during the week of the House hearing on calls for expanded censorship on the Internet of “disinformation and misinformation,” the ensuing disagreement between Alcindor and Rubin shows how fluid these concepts have become where Alcindor could be accused of spreading misinformation for just asking the question.
Biden was challenged for his statistical claims and even NBC News found that he was incorrect.
Alcindor prefaced her question by first giving Biden’s stated defense and then emphasizing the appeal of this moral character as the reason why parents are “trusting” him with their children:
“You’ve said over and over again that immigrants shouldn’t come to this country right now … That message is not being received/ Instead, the perception of you that got you elected — as a moral, decent man — is the reason a lot of immigrants are coming to this country and are trusting you with unaccompanied minors. How do you resolve that tension and how are you choosing which families can stay and which ones can go … and is there a timeline for when we won’t be seeing these overcrowded facilities run by CBP when it comes to unaccompanied minors?”
For critics, the question (and mild treatment of Biden by the media) was a continuation of the cushion of protection offered by the media. Indeed, before the press conference, both Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan and Rubin publicly discouraged reporters from being too tough on Biden in the press conference.
Even Alcindor’s fawning, convoluted question was too much for Rubin who objected that “Yamiche makes the statement unproven that his words set off the surge. This is factually wrong.” The problem for Rubin is that Alcindor made any connection at all between Biden and the surge. Rubin apparently believes that the media should have refused to make any such connection — unless it was to declare that such connections are factually wrong.
That led Alcindor to fire back that Rubin was ignoring widespread reporting that families are coming due to Biden: “Perhaps you haven’t interviewed migrants & asked them this Q, but reporting bears out what I said, which is that some migrants are coming because of the perception that Pres[ident] Biden is more humane & is allowing unaccompanied minors to stay. So unfortunately, you’re factually wrong.” (In addition, many immigrants are wearing teeshirt with Biden’s name on it and the Mexican President also said that Biden is the draw for the surge).
My interest in the squabble is how it captures the seemingly endless flexibility of the terms “misinformation” and “disinformation.” Rubin believes that Alcindor was spreading false information, the basis for calls for increased censorship on the Internet. She fired back the Alcindor needs to read the news: “Perhaps you haven’t interviewed migrants & asked them this Q, but reporting bears out what I said, which is that some migrants are coming because of the perception that Pres[ident] Biden is more humane & is allowing unaccompanied minors to stay. So unfortunately, you’re factually wrong.”
The latest hearing followed the same pattern, as was evident in the prior hearing in which I testified.Prior hearings have shown that censorship is now a touchstone for Democratic politicians. That was evident in the Senate hearing with the Big Tech CEOs. Rather than addressing the dangers of such censoring of news accounts, Senator Chris Coons pressed Dorsey to expand the categories of censored material to prevent people from sharing any views that he considers “climate denialism.” Likewise, Senator Richard Blumenthal seemed to take the opposite meaning from Twitter, admitting that it was wrong to censor the Biden story. Blumenthal said that he was “concerned that both of your companies are, in fact, backsliding or retrenching, that you are failing to take action against dangerous disinformation.” Accordingly, he demanded an answer to this question:
“Will you commit to the same kind of robust content modification playbook in this coming election, including fact checking, labeling, reducing the spread of misinformation, and other steps, even for politicians in the runoff elections ahead?”
“Robust content modification” now includes “disinformation and misinformation” on a wide variety of subjects from climate change to election fraud to immigration to gender issues.
The difference is that objections to statements by figures like Alcindor are likely to be confined to Twitter while others are subjected to cancelling campaigns. Such “friendly fire” incidents however show the subjectivity of such labelings in our cancel culture.