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Rep. Chris Stewart: The biggest threat to our country is misinformation

No free nation can survive when its citizens no longer know what to believe or who to trust.

Utah’s 2nd District Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart speaks during an Utah Republican election night party Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Sandy.
Rick Bowmer, Associated Press

Access to the most sensitive intelligence on earth has given me a unique perspective of the threats facing America. My six years of service on the House Intelligence Committee has allowed me to travel the world, from Moscow to Western China. Because of this, I’m often asked, “What is the greatest threat facing our country?” People expect me to list China, Russia, North Korea, perhaps even socialism.

Actually, it is none of these. The greatest threat facing our country? No one knows what is true anymore.

Free nations require an informed citizenry. No free nation can survive when its citizens no longer know what to believe or who to trust. Broken trust weakens our nation in unimaginable ways. Every time we learn we’ve been duped, our distrust grows.

I adamantly support a free and unfettered press. But like every foundational organization upon which our democracy depends, the press has to be held accountable. Not only are they not exempt from criticism if they fail in their responsibilities, but they should be held to a higher standard, not a lower one. My concerns are far greater than just the behavior of our press — it’s the politicization and manipulations of respected institutions: the FBI, CIA, DOJ and other government agencies, universities, Big Tech and other institutions that are critical to public trust.

In our modern world, our quest for truth requires constant work. Content shoots at us like water through a firehose, blending bias, opinion and facts that are nearly impossible to differentiate, leaving us pinned against a wall of doubt. Many people tell me they have given up on network news, major newspapers and especially the internet. (As it turns out, social media is great for keeping in touch with your kids, but not for getting the facts.)

This problem isn’t new, but it is increasing. As a young man, I remember listening to a Dan Rather report and thinking, “This is not true. He is not telling the full story.” This was the first time I remember questioning the intentions of a news anchor. But simple bias is old-fashioned and basic compared to what we have now. Media has gone from bias to propaganda, to open deception and suppression. And yes, it is suppression when social media and traditional news not only ignore facts but actively suppress things they don’t want you to know, making it impossible to share information they don’t agree with — for example, Hunter Biden’s connections with Burisma.

There are several possible explanations for this war on truth. Some of those explanations are fairly benign. The immediacy of content has created an urgent race to be the first to reach our eyes. Big Tech and Big Media have also learned that anger is a powerful motivator to hold attention, thus distorting stories to generate a fire of addictive rage. Fact-checking has become increasingly unreliable, rarely more accurate or unbiased than those who are supposedly ‘fact-checked’.

But the core reason for the lack of truth is really fairly simple. And also frightening.

Those who control the narrative see our nation, our culture and our future in a very different way than most Americans do. They think our nation is so deeply flawed, so racist, oppressive, imperialistic, unfair and arrogant that it should not be defended, and in fact, needs to be torn down and fundamentally rebuilt. They think that half of Americans are rubes; backward, racists, homophobic, sexists, anti-science, closed-minded religious zealots who are too dumb to know what’s good for them. So, they have to tell us. No, not just tell us — they publicly shame those who don’t fall in line until we join them or cry for mercy.

And truth dies in the process of forcing us to convert to their “better” vision of America.

This list of such distortions is far beyond what can be addressed here. Indeed, the list could fill a landfill. But to make the point, I will mention just a few.

Remember the guy who went to rescue trafficked kids from a pizza parlor in D.C.? He was reacting to what he was reading and believing on social media.

For more than three years we were told that President Trump had committed treason by conspiring with the Russians to steal the election and put himself in office. Thousands of news stories and TV interviews, hundreds of classified leaks, and Intelligence Committee hearings told the same story. Yet not a word of it was true. And many individuals who originated these claims knew that everything they were saying was pure fiction.

One would think that the damage to the credibility of those who perpetuated this fraud would be substantial as well. But it’s not. None of those who carried water for these lies have been held accountable. Not the FBI, CIA or DOJ officials. Not the members of Congress who lied to the American people. And certainly not the press.

Beyond the substantial damage done to reputations and careers, the greater concern is the damage to our democracy, which is unimaginable.

Another example shows the personal costs of the lies the media is willing to put forward in order to promote an agenda.

Nine months ago, a four-minute video clip of high school junior Nick Sandmann went viral. Sandmann, wearing a MAGA hat while attending the March for Life, was a poster boy for the backwards America the media loves to hate. The video showed Sandmann smiling while a Native American beat a drum near his face. Media outlets lashed out, calling Sandmann a racist and a kid with a “punchable face.” In the words of Sandmann himself:

“The mainstream media revved up into attack mode. They did so without researching the full video of the incident, without … ever asking me for my side of the story. And do you know why? Because the truth was not important.”

When the longer video Sandmann talks about was finally examined, the truth unfolded, telling a very different story. But once again, Americans had been deceived.

More recently, citizens have been forced to examine the chasm between election polling and what turned out to be real.

Nearly every national poll predicted a huge blue wave election, followed by down-ballot Democrat party wins across the nation. But when Americans finally had a chance to vote, no blue wave appeared. 27 House races were considered too close to call. Republicans won every single one of them. Seven were considered “lean Democrat.” Republicans won these as well. Up and down the ballot, from state legislators to U.S. Senate races, Republicans won, proving that the polls were fabulously wrong … again, and in the same way as in 2016.

All of this begs a simple question. If polling just gets it wrong, why do they always get it wrong against the same side? A simple explanation is that pollsters are just incompetent. And yes, that is possible. But I think a more plausible explanation is they didn’t want you to know the truth. Most of these polls are paid for or published by the same organizations that manipulate information every day, Big Tech/Big Media with deep pockets. They understand the power of controlling the vote. They understand the potential impact of convincing a group of people that it’s over, their candidate is going to lose, their vote doesn’t matter, and the outcome is assured.

This is nothing but a subtle form of voter manipulation.

After such a colossal breakdown, is it any wonder people would say, “I don’t know what is true anymore”? Once again, we are left shaking our heads while the trust that is necessary for a free nation to survive is chipped away.

An informed citizenry and our collective trust in our most treasured institutions are crucial for our form of government to survive. The process of rebuilding starts with acknowledging the problem, by digging deeper, by recognizing there is so much to gain by hijacking truth and very little to gain from telling the truth. We must reject those who manipulate, mislead and malign. Never has this been more important.

Chris Stewart represents Utah’s 2nd Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.