Sulzberger: Disinformation is the “Most Existential Problem” Facing the Planet Today

There has been much coverage over the resurfacing of former CNN host Brian Stelter as the host for a panel at the World Economic Forum on alleged disinformation and “hate speech.” Stelter previously called for censorship under a “harm reduction model” and led a panel at a conference where Democrats discussed how to shape the news. He was confronted over his own dissemination for false stories targeting Republicans on CNN. Yet, I was most struck by a statement from New York Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger who described “disinformation” as the “most existential” problem the world is facing today. Sulzberger insisted that disinformation is the reason why there is a loss of “trust” today. He ignores his own history in eroding that trust in the media through flagrantly biased decisions at the New York Times.

Former  NYT editor Jill Abramson also slammed the participation of Sulzberger and the New York Times at Davos, denouncing it as a “corrupt circle-jerk” between media and business. She said that “the coverage was a sweetener to flatter the CEOs by seeing their names in the NYT.”

The panel was titled, “Clear & Present Danger of Disinformation” included panelists: New York Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger, Vice-President of the European Commission
Vera Jourová, CEO of Internews Jeanne Bourgault, and Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass. The entire conference was notable in its omission of free speech advocates while inviting long advocates for censorship like Stelter.

Stelter asked his panel, “How does this discussion of disinformation relate to everything else happening today in Davos?”

Sulzberger responded:

“Well, first, thanks for having me is as part of this conversation. As you can imagine, this is something I really care deeply about. So, I think if you look at this question of disinformation, I think it maps basically to every other major challenge that we are grappling with as a society, and particularly the most existential among them. So, disinformation and in the broader set of misinformation, conspiracy, propaganda, clickbait, you know, the broader mix of bad information that’s corrupting information ecosystem, what it attacks is trust. And once you see, trust decline, what you then see is a society start to fracture, and so you see people fracture along tribal lines and, you know, that immediately undermines pluralism. And the undermining of pluralism is probably the most dangerous thing that can happen to a democracy. So I really — I think if if you’re spending this week thinking about the health of democracies and democratic erosion, I think it’s really import to work your way back up to where this starts.”

It was a telling statement. Sulzberger suggested that allowing some opposing views undermines “trust.” Indeed, allowing opposing views on Covid or election or global warming does erode trust in the media and the government. Society would be so less “fractured” if information is controlled and consistent.

There is a perfectly Orwellian element to Sulzberger’s words. Democracy is being threatened because there is too much “disinformation,” “misinformation,” “bad information,” and other harmful views being expressed.  After all, without such views, there was be less “fracture” and more “trust.”

That was precisely the point of the earlier conference.

What is most notable about the comment, however, was the date. This is after many of those censored and blacklisted in the media and social media have been seemingly vindicated in raising questions over masks or vaccines.

Among the suspended were the doctors who co-authored the Great Barrington Declaration, which advocated for a more focused Covid response that targeted the most vulnerable population rather than widespread lockdowns and mandates. Many are now questioning the efficacy and cost of the massive lockdowns as well as the real value of masks or the rejection of natural immunities as an alternative to vaccination.  Yet, these experts and others were attacked for such views just a year ago. Some found themselves censored on social media for challenging claims of Dr. Fauci and others.

Likewise, the New York Times was one of those newspapers suppressing stories like the Hunter Biden laptop. It only admitted that the laptop was authentic roughly two years after the election.

Some of us have been raising concerns over the emergence of a “shadow state” where corporations carry out censorship the Constitution bars the government from doing. Leading Democrats have been open about precisely this type of corporate manipulation of political speech on social media. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) called upon these companies to use enlightened algorithms to protect users from their own bad reading choices.

Even President Joe Biden called for such regulation of speech and discussions by wise editors. Without such censorship and manipulation, Biden asked, “How do people know the truth?

The last year has shown how media censorship resisted scientific debate and buried legitimate stories. Yet, Sulzberger is still unrepentant and views disinformation rather than censorship to be the problem…Indeed the world’s most existential problem.

Sulzberger’s position is nothing if not consistent. He was involved in one of the lowest moments in modern media when the newspaper turned not only on a U.S. senator but its own editor to yield to the mob.

Former New York Times editorial page editor James Bennet recently said Sulzberger “set me on fire and threw me in the garbage” in the Cotton column controversy.

The treatment of the Cotton column shocked many of us. It was one of the lowest points in the history of modern American journalism. During the week of June 6, 2020, the Times forced out Bennet and apologized for publishing Cotton’s column calling for the use of the troops to restore order in Washington after days of rioting around the White House.

While Congress would “call in the troops” six months later to quell the rioting at the Capitol on January 6th, New York Times reporters and columnists denounced the column as historically inaccurate and politically inciteful. The column was in fact historically accurate, even if you disagreed with the underlying proposal (as I did).

Reporters insisted that Cotton was endangering them by suggesting the use of troops and insisted that the newspaper should not feature people who advocate political violence. Writers Taylor Lorenz, Caity Weaver, Sheera Frankel, Jacey Fortin, and others also said that such columns put black reporters in danger and condemned publishing Cotton’s viewpoint.

Critics never explained what was historically false (or outside the range of permissible interpretation) in the column.

In a breathtaking surrender, the newspaper apologized and not only promised an investigation into how such an opposing view could find itself on its pages but promised to reduce the number of editorials in the future:

“We’ve examined the piece and the process leading up to its publication. This review made clear that a rushed editorial process led to the publication of an Op-Ed that did not meet our standards. As a result, we’re planning to examine both short term and long term changes, to include expanding our fact-checking operation and reduction the number of op-eds we publish.”

Bennet reportedly made an apology to the staff.  That however was not enough. He was later compelled to resign for publishing a column that advocates an option used previously in history with rioting.

Bennet recently told the new media outlet Semafor that Sulzberger

“blew the opportunity to make clear that the New York Times doesn’t exist just to tell progressives how progressives should view reality. That was a huge mistake and a missed opportunity for him to show real strength. He still could have fired me…I actually knew what it meant to have a target on your back when you’re reporting for the New York Times.

None of that mattered, and none of it mattered to AG. When push came to shove at the end, he set me on fire and threw me in the garbage and used my reverence for the institution against me,. This is why I was so bewildered for so long after I had what felt like all my colleagues treating me like an incompetent fascist.”

These controversies are the reason why trust in the media is at an all-time low. However, figures like Sulzberger still blame too much free speech as opposed to his own role in biased coverage that has undermined that trust.

That is why, in 2023, it is so glaring to see Sulzberger is being interviewed by Stelter on how disinformation is the greatest existential threat to the planet. Not nuclear proliferation, over-population, war, famine. It is the danger of allowing too much free speech that undermines “trust.”

The key however is that there was no “fracturing” at the World Economic Forum. It was the same figures voicing the same criticism of free speech as the scourge of our time. The problem is the vast global unwashed who fail to put their trust in the right people and sources. Fortunately, all the right people are gathered at Davos to show the way.

90 thoughts on “Sulzberger: Disinformation is the “Most Existential Problem” Facing the Planet Today”

  1. A proposal to Professor Turley and his close staff:
    Stepping back and reviewing the words of many “commenters” on this site, I sense the need for more visibility and opportunity to “vent” more balanced opinions that are contrary to the political ideology domination of media, academia, and institutional sources. Wasn’t it “Voice of America” that spread around the world during WWII to combat propaganda? (yes, that was before my time) But who follows VOA today and what has it become? Do we even know what kind of messaging VOA spreads today?
    Media Bias FactCheck says the following:
    “Voice of America has been called a propaganda arm of the US Government, and perhaps it was at the start. Today, it is a straightforward journalism outfit that might lean slightly left but is mostly least biased on a whole.”
    (<it"'slightly left?????” Is that the best we have to offer the world?) If VOA incorporates the likes of NPR or PBS and their political takes, we are in deep kimchi (pickled and fermented in the ground). Why do we not have an overwhelming presence of truly center-based mass communication? We need a proud, truthful, and truly neutral media source in America.
    Jonathan Turley’s posts fit that description, but, despite millions of views, that is not enough, and the vehicle (Internet blog) is more esoteric than mainstream.
    What will it take? I just want the facts/nothing but the facts, ALL of the facts-from both/multiple sides, thank you ma’am. (Sergeant Joe Friday on “Dragnet”). WE need a new television show starring Sergeant Jonathan Friday.

    1. (–Not to say that the good professor does not express opinions; I merely mean that when he criticizes, it can be either side, both sides, or multiple sides.

    2. Lin,
      Good observation.
      I think the good professor started this blog as a means to not only highlight the assault on the 1stA, the insanity that has gripped the Democrat party, but to point out the bias within the majority of MSM.
      I stated previously, we need more alt-/independent media more so than ever. Support Glenn Greenwald, Matt Taibbi, Bari Weiss and others.

      I like me some good kimchi!

      1. Yes, you did say that! Unfortunately, while your comments were being posted, I was scanning media bias sources, so I didn’t see yours and others, sorry! Either way, Greenwald, Taibbi, and Weiss are small in visibility compared to/with MSM. We need Elon Musk to get off Twitter and create/buy out MSM source!

  2. From the late, great Michael Crichton’s last book, “State of Fear”:

    “If you study the media, as my graduate students and I do, seeking to find shifts in normative conceptualization, you discover something extremely interesting. We looked at transcripts of news programs of the major networks—NBC, ABC, CBS. We also looked at stories in the newspapers of New York, Washington, Miami, Los Angeles, and Seattle. We counted the frequency of certain concepts and terms used by the media. The results were very striking.” He paused.

    “What did you find?” Evans said, taking his cue.

    “There was a major shift in the fall of 1989. Before that time, the media did not make excessive use of terms such as crisis, catastrophe, cat­aclysm, plague, or disaster For example, during the 1 980s, the word crisis appeared in news reports about as often as the word budget. In addition, prior to 1989, adjectives such as dire, unprecedented, dreaded were not common in television reports or newspaper headlines. But then it all changed.”

    “In what way?”

    “These terms started to become more and more common. The word catastrophe was used five times more often in 1995 than it was in 1985. Its use doubled again by the year 2000. And the stories changed, too. There was a heightened emphasis on fear, worry, danger, uncertainty, panic.”

    It’s all about social control.

  3. Kinda(?) related:
    “I feel that — we were talking about work development, I think indeed we don’t need, like, growth or development,” Nicole Keller, managing director of GreenUp, a Swiss non-governmental organization that promotes a “resource-light” lifestyle. “I really think less is more.”

    Now, she likely drove to the meeting.
    But a whole bunch of her fellow elites got there via private plane.
    I wonder if they will be eating bugs like they want the rest of us to?
    If they were really serious about going “green,” saving the planet, they would be endorsing reducing everyone’s carbon footprint, to include their own, to something more like the mid to late 1800s.
    But you never hear them say that. Just, “you will own nothing, and be happy!” while renting a slightly larger than a coffin sleeping pod, eating high protein bug bars, walking or taking public transportation everywhere, and on some kind of drug to keep you comfortably numb, and not question them.

  4. Maybe a “Ministry of Truth” is in order with broad powers to censor and combat “disinformation”? Give this “Ministry of Truth” power to deplatform, doxx, seize bank accounts and arrest, what could possibly go wrong?

    Maybe one our our morally superior and intelligent s@@tlibs could provide details on how this would all work.


  5. “Biden asked, “How do people know the truth?”

    There is no such thing as “the truth.” It is subjective and able to be manipulated. However, when governments resort to censorship, we know they are not truthful and are afraid of the truth.

    In the case of Biden, he is unconcerned about the truth. He cares about personal gain. In the case of those searching for utopia, they lack knowledge of the truth and do not wish it to interfere with their dreams.

    1. S. Meyer– The “truth”, as you say, is subjective. When I meet litigation clients for the first time, most are very anxious to assure me that what they tell me is the truth. My typical response (in a very gentle way) is to explain that what they think is the truth does not much matter to me. In a lawsuit, I am concerned only with what I can prove and relying on a client’s “truth” to develop the facts of a case is a pretty fast track to losing the case. It is not that people want to lie; instead, I think it is that people perceive things through their own, unique mental filter, built up over years, that shapes what they see and hear. I realize that this is a pretty harsh test, but I am finding increasingly that it needs to be applied to many “facts” delivered to us by various sources. If a reporter, for example, says that an office holder said _____ in a speech, if you go back and read the speech, frequently it will turn out that the reporter’s report is misleading, at best, and sometimes just plain false.

  6. I have come by direct experience to believe that unless a person has been defamed in/by the corrupt media and taken one of its mouthpieces to court with a defamation suit, that person has no concept of the power of the corrupt press and its relationship with corrupt judges who fear retribution by/from the corrupt press more than they fear being held accountable by a higher court.

    In summary: If you really want to know about the press in America, wait for them to write an adversarial story about you and try to get them held accountable in a court of law for their intentionally-damaging misrepresentations. No matter how the case turns out, you will be permanently relieved of any delusions you may have had about the press and courts in America.

  7. The world is going Bonkers! Publicists of all persuasions calling for Word control, that’s quite a large straw to carry, and indeed the Camel may collapse from the added weight of Tyranny.

    The utter Conceit to think that one or another party should have the right to say what is and isn’t an acceptable word, phrase or thought must be wrenched tight into the box of stupidity. This movement of censorship may be the grease necessary for a quick slide into the dangerous territory of TYRANNY.

    1. Upstate– Agreed. As one white supremacist to another, it seems to me that the good news is that the WEF has the symptoms of an organization that is on its way out as a serious event: note that only one of the leaders of the G7 countries is attending; George Soros who has done more to destabilize the US than any other individual is not attending (reason unknown), and the organization selected the serial liar Brian Stelter to moderate a panel on disinformation which included the NYT, a repeated publisher of serial liars, among others. If behind the scenes they are in control, we are in very deep trouble.

      1. honestlawyermostly,
        First, thank you for the laugh.

        Secondly, unfortunately I think we have to clarify the, “As one white supremacist to another,” inside joke, as there are some who would read that and then scream, “THEREAREADMITTEDWHITESUPREMACISTSONTHETURLEYBLOG!!!!!!! HE/THEYMUSTBECANCLED!!!!!”

        So, to those Karens/Kens, please read the comment by honestlawyermostly and my follow on comment under his before your head explodes:

        Third, I have read about the WEF/Davos crowd for some time. Seems to me, they are not as all powerful as we are lead to think. Take 2016 and the election of Trump. They all thought the fix was in, Clinton would be their creature in the WH and they could do as they pleased. But the electorate gave them the big middle finger and it was not to be.
        Hence 4+ years of “Get Trump! By any means!”
        Then there was the pandemic. Despite the “You want to kill grandmaw!” a sizeable section of America refused the jab.
        The failing trust in traditional institutions and government is also an sign of what little power they actually wield. Many in alt-/independent media have larger, paid, following than some entire MSM news outlets.
        We have also seen some of their policies blowup in their face. Defund the police, rising crime in deep blue ran cities, no cash bail. Anyone with a degree of common sense can see how poor this policies are.
        What power they do still have is force as we have seen.
        The rest, seems to be an illusion.

  8. Brian Steltzer…from CNN who lied about the Fake Russian Hoax that Hillary paid for, for over 5 years. That liar is lecturing everybody about disinformation?? What a joke he is, the WEF is and the idiots OVER there that flew on private planes are.

  9. If someone says that questioning them erodes trust, that clearly means that the speaker does not deserve to be trusted. It is only when a person or institution survives scrutiny that we know they can be trusted. Stifling opposing views is the quickest way to erode trust. These anti-free speech advocates do not care if you trust them or not. All they really care about is preserving and expanding their power and authority.

  10. “Yet, I was most struck by a statement from New York Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger who described “disinformation” as the “most existential” problem the world is facing today. Sulzberger insisted that disinformation is the reason why there is a loss of “trust” today. He ignores his own history in eroding that trust in the media through flagrantly biased decisions at the New York Times.”
    Misinformation is the “most existential problem”? I thought is was global warming? Or a nuclear showdown with Russia in Ukraine? Or, most likely, cancleing Trevor Noah?

    In a way, Sultzberger is right. Misinformation charges to silence critics is an existential threat to democracy but misinformation well that’s just the Times’ stock in trade..

  11. Pictured below:
    The panel at the World Economic Forum taking a well-deserved break from an exhausting afternoon of heroically and unashamedly speaking freely, criticizing free speech as the scourge of our time.

  12. Thank you, Jonathan, for writing this extremely important article. The speed with which the anti-free speech movement in the United States has accelerated ion the past few years is almost breathtaking now. Mr. Sulzberger and Brian Stelter would feel right at home in Communist China.

    1. Yet for reasons they don’t wish to say out load, neither show any desire to move and live among their own, political, kind. Just one of those things that makes you go, ‘hmmm’, I guess.

    1. And the Pulitzer Committee has continued it’s tradition of giving the award to the NYT (and WAPO) for publishing articles which are themselves DISINFORMATION. Maybe it’s time for them to change the award to honor publishers as the ‘Most effective disseminators of disinformation’.

  13. First, it must be said that the Malthusian WEF is the poster child for a totalitarian state, so anything coming out of Davos will be imprinted with the WEF agenda. “One world and one unelected government” sums up their goal, and draconic “green” changes — for the masses, not for the elites — is their approach. They will couch their “green” totalitarianism in shades of humanism, racial justice, and existential imperatives, but totalitarianism by any other name is still…you get the idea. Central to their plot is the capture of minds, and that’s where the slavish mainstream media comes in. It may seem shocking to many that the NYTimes, which robotically fostered every hoax the government created — from WMDs to Russiagate to Ukraine is a democracy — should be front and center at Davos pontificating about “misinformation,” but once you see the real totalitarian agenda behind the curtain, it all makes complete sense. A more honest description of the “disinformation” campaign would be called “tactics to silence the opposition.” The WEF needs the likes of Stelter and Sulzberger for their invaluable experience in lying, distorting and twisting facts in the service of the state.

  14. A.G. Sulzberger decrying disinformation is truly the “Pot Calling the Kettle Black”. If he was that concerned with disinformation he would shutter the New York Times and take up a useful occupation like working with Habitat for Humanity so he could help Mayor Adams build all those shelters for the “asylum seekers” who are “horribly stressing” The City and it’s services. In most other places hypocrisy is small letters but in NYC it’s HYPOCRISY.

  15. Disinformation and misinformation, or LYING as simple people understand it, has been a feature of politicians and the media for a long time, but it’s protected under the 1st Amendment, unless it’s criminal. Furthermore, there’s no such thing as hate speech; only speech that some people hate.

      1. If the makeup of the court changes that may not happen. I have always believed that the federal hate crime legislation that LBJ signed was the beginning of the end for freedom of speech in the U.S. When you determine sentences for crimes based on a person’s thought or speech during a crime, rather than just the crime you are in fact punishing thought and speech.

  16. To be honest, disinformation is how tyrants and rulers have controlled their populations sincethe beginning of recorded history. Just who are they trying to fool here? What these minions are afraid of is the exposure of their own misinformation campaigns. And what hubris for them to believe we would not doubt one word of their proclamations as disinformation in their best interest? The trouble is that if you offer enough diversions such as sports, video games and netflix series, a fairly good sized portion of the human race is mentally dull enough to succumb to the distractions and that says much about the future of the human species.

    1. Alma Carman,
      Well said.
      I would only add it is those who blindly accept the Davos/WEF narrative blindly, without question are some of the greater threats to a democracy.
      This is yet another example of why we need alt-media/independent media more than ever. Those who are bold enough, have the intestinal fortitude to ask the real, hard questions.

      1. While that is true, my worry is about the “80 million” who blindly voted for a known grifter because they did not want to, or could not even, understand the serious issues involving the prog/left’s continuing efforts to destroy this government and western culture in general. But they could tell you what Kim Kardashian had on at the latest awards show.

        1. AC,

          I think at the core of what you are getting at is education. The progressives have controlled all levels of education for at least a couple of generations now. Their system is and has turned out an assembly line of non-thinking, uninspiring drones who pretend to “care”. The problem is, even if we take back the education system tomorrow, it will most likely take a lifetime to right this ship.

    2. Better rulers use knowledge rather than disinformation to control the population.

      The Egyptian Pharos used their knowledge of the seasons to make themselves necessary. They would tell the populace when to plant.

      The ship’s captain maintained control over a rowdy crew because only he and perhaps one other had the maps and knowledge necessary for returning home.

      Today, we see stupid leaders looking only for short-term personal gain (Biden) and those looking for a utopia that will never arise. They are destroying the nation and future wealth.

  17. There was an old sarcastic saying when something extremely obvious was reported as breaking, New news…It was “STOP THE PRESSES”, the meaning of course was with this new news, all previous editions of the paper would have to be redone.

    I thought of that when reading this article, EXCEPT, now I’m saying it LITERALLY… Please… just “Stop The Presses”

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