The US Senate quietly passed a measure last week to establish what it calls a “Global Engagement Center” as part of the annual National Defense Authorization Act which specifies the budget of the Department of Defense. The Center, which will be run by the Secretary of State, is intended “to expose and counter foreign propaganda” and “proactively advance fact-based narratives that support United States allies and interests.”
The measure was initially introduced by Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Chris Murphy (D-CT). Senator Portman states that this bill would help confront what he calls an “extensive, and destabilizing, foreign propaganda and disinformation operations being waged against us.”
The measure raises many flags, but the most concerning of all is the authority of the Center “to provide grants or contracts of financial support” to journalists, private companies, academic institutions and possibly media outlets. This type of behavior conflicts with the journalistic ethics of independence and impartiality.
While the Center may try to paint itself as a Center to counter propaganda, it’s nothing but a form of government sponsored propaganda to advance narratives that are friendly to the interests and goals of the United States. Journalists and independent media outlets that are critical of the government’s policies may be targeted by the soon-to-be-established “Correct The Record” type of center at the federal level.
The legislation passed with overwhelming bipartisan support (92-7). Some of the notables that objected to the legislation include Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR).
This legislation is also a response to the so-called rise of fake news. “Congress has taken a big step in fighting back against fake news and propaganda from countries like Russia,” states Senator Murphy after the passage of the bill. Since the election in November, there has been a form of hysteria over “fake news,” with some even suggesting that Trump won the election because of it. In a rare speech since her defeat to President-Elect Trump, Hillary Clinton called fake news an “epidemic” that is a “danger” to US democracy.
But the real danger is how dissenting views can be characterized as fake news. As we have seen with an article published in the Washington Post citing a debunked report by PropOrNot, respectable independent outlets that are critical of US policy or its closest allies can be labeled as propaganda or fake news.