Culture Wars/Current Controversies

Tablet’s Grand Opus on the Anti-Disinformation Complex

Interview with Jacob Siegel, author of “A Guide to Understanding the Hoax of the Century”

Years ago, when I first began to have doubts about the Trump-Russia story, I struggled to come up with a word to articulate my suspicions.

If the story was wrong, and Trump wasn’t a Russian spy, there wasn’t a word for what was being perpetrated. This was a system-wide effort to re-frame reality itself, which was both too intellectually ambitious to fit in a word like “hoax,” but also probably not against any one law, either. New language would have to be invented just to define the wrongdoing, which not only meant whatever this was would likely go unpunished, but that it could be years before the public was ready to talk about it.

Around that same time, writer Jacob Siegel — a former army infantry and intelligence officer who edits Tablet’s afternoon digest, The Scroll — was beginning the job of putting key concepts on paper. As far back as 2019, he sketched out the core ideas for a sprawling, illuminating 13,000-word piece that just came out this week. Called “A Guide to Understanding the Hoax of the Century: Thirteen ways of looking at disinformation,” Siegel’s Tablet article is the enterprise effort at describing the whole anti-disinformation elephant I’ve been hoping for years someone in journalism would take on.

It will escape no one’s notice that Siegel’s lede recounts the Hamilton 68 story from the Twitter Files. Siegel says the internal dialogues of Twitter executives about the infamous Russia-tracking “dashboard” helped him frame the piece he’d been working on for so long. Which is great, I’m glad about that, but he goes far deeper into the topic than I have, and in a way that has a real chance to be accessible to all political audiences.

Siegel threads together all the disparate strands of a very complex story, in which the sheer quantity of themes is daunting: the roots in counter-terrorism strategy, Russiagate as a first great test case, the rise of a public-private “counter-disinformation complex” nurturing an “NGO Borg,” the importance of Trump and “domestic extremism” as organizing targets, the development of a new uniparty politics anointing itself “protector” of things like elections, amid many other things.


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