We expect such dissembling from dictatorships, which control the media and extinguish discordant voices.

We all remember Saddam Hussein’s feckless pitchman, “Baghdad Bob.”

The country’s information minister (real name: Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf) made frequent television appearances, repeating the mantra that everything was going according to plan. His most memorable appearance came amidst the rubble of his capital city, where he continued to spew delusional nonsense.

We expect such dissembling from dictatorships, which control the media and extinguish discordant voices. That’s what Vladimir Putin is doing right now, hoping to prevent the Russian public from learning his army was demolished by Ukrainian’s counteroffensives in Kharkiv (in the northeast) and Kherson (in the south). Controlling information is essential to regime security.

In democracies, such deceit is much harder to pull off. Free speech and private ownership of media make it much harder for the government to control information, but not impossible. Take the story of Hunter Biden’s corruption and its links to Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

They were detailed on Hunter’s laptop computer, which he left at a Delaware computer repair shop and then forfeited when he didn’t pay the bill. The information on that computer hard drive is devastating, but it was suppressed before the 2020 election by an ardently partisan media, which feared voters would link the pervasive insider deals to Joe Biden himself.

Except for the New York Post, which exposed the laptop and vetted the information on it, the media marched in near lockstep to kill the news.

When the laptop story emerged, some 51 former leaders of the U.S. intelligence community circulated a letter, widely covered by the press, asserting that the New York Post’s story had “all the classic earmarks of a Russian disinformation operation.” Their stature and presumed access to secret information gave weight to their claim, but it shouldn’t have. It was made without any evidence and turned out to be flatly untrue. How effective was this disinformation blitz by federal bureaucrats, the Democratic Party and their friends in the media? Very effective, according to polls reported by Tom Bevan of RealClearPolitics. Fully half of Democrats and 47% of independents still believe the Hunter Biden laptop story was simply “Russian disinformation.” It wasn’t.

Since this deceit worked in the election, why not keep it up? That seems to be the White House’s P.R. strategy to deal with soaring inflation and record numbers of illegal immigrants.

Strategy won’t work again

The current disinformation strategy is unlikely to work for two reasons.

First, the public didn’t have direct knowledge of Hunter’s computer, but it has plenty of firsthand knowledge about inflation and some about illegal immigration. Voters can see rising prices all around them. They know their incomes are falling behind those prices. They don’t need a newspaper or newscast to tell them.

Immigration problems are harder to see unless you live near the border, but the bad news has gradually seeped out, even on progressive outlets. Busing some of those immigrants to “sanctuary cities” such as New York, D.C., and Chicago, and now flying some to Martha’s Vineyard has underscored the problem.

And it is a big problem to which the Biden administration has no solution.

Media less protective of Biden

Second, many media outlets are less protective of Joe Biden as president than they were of Joe Biden as Donald Trump’s opponent. He is an inept speaker – he shouts but cannot rally the crowds – and he’s even worse when he strays from his speechwriters’ script on the teleprompter.

The administration continues to sweep bad news under the carpet and congratulate itself over cherry-picked news about inflation and the economy. Last Tuesday, in a spectacularly ill-timed event, the White House held a major celebration of the recently passed “Inflation Reduction Act.” That was also the day the government reported its latest inflation numbers: a painful 8.3%.

Yet the Biden administration keeps telling the public “All’s well. Nothing to see here.” The public isn’t buying it. They can see with their own eyes that it isn’t true. And they’re beginning to wonder if Biden is morphing into Baghdad Bob.

Charles Lipson is the Peter B. Ritzma Professor of Political Science Emeritus at the University of Chicago. This column was provided by RealClearWire.

We expect such dissembling from dictatorships, which control the media and extinguish discordant voices.

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Charles Lipson

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