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?”
“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.