The Atlantic last week hosted a conference titled “Disinformation and the Erosion of Democracy” at the University of Chicago, where I’m a student. Barack Obama, Amy Klobuchar, Anne Applebaum, Jeffrey Goldberg, Ben Smith, Brian Stelter, and other boldface names studded the program, alongside many lesser-known members of the prestige press. They would gather, as a news release put it, to explore “the organized spread of disinformation and strategies to respond to it.”

The Atlantic gabfest was billed as a space for rigorous dialogue, where the light of truth would scatter the darkness of disinformation. But the dialogue and criticism, it turned out, didn’t extend to the blue-check media’s own role in proliferating disinformation.

Even before the event got underway, I was skeptical. The conference struck me as one more chance for America’s corporate class to collect fat honorarium checks in exchange for addressing obedient students keen to join that class. My suspicions were soon confirmed. Given the opportunity to ask questions, most of my fellow students lobbed softballs at the speakers, in worshipful tones more befitting a royal audience than a university.

I wondered if I would be able to ask at least one critical query and receive an honest, meaningful response. As it happened, I got a chance to question Anne Applebaum, the Pulitzer-winning historian and Atlantic staff writer, following her session with Obama consigliere David Axelrod. For nearly an hour, Applebaum had effused about how important it is to fight disinformation. So I asked her if she thinks the media acted inappropriately in immediately dismissing the New York Post’s reporting on the Hunter Files as Russian disinformation—a claim we now know to be completely false.

“The Atlantic gabfest was billed as a space for rigorous dialogue, where the light of truth would scatter the darkness of disinformation.”

This wasn’t meant to be a gotcha. Yet Applebaum gave a stupefyingly arrogant (and borderline incoherent) answer: “My problem with Hunter Biden’s laptop,” she said, “is I think [it’s] totally irrelevant. I [mean], it’s not whether it’s disinformation, or I mean, I don’t think the—Hunter Biden’s business relationships have anything to do with who should be president of the United States. So, I didn’t—I don’t find it to be interesting. I mean, that would be my problem with that as a major news story.”

In 2020, two tech giants, Facebook and Twitter, had throttled the Post’s exposé on Hunter’s business dealings, which implicated one of two major-party presidential nominees, and the media had uncritically echoed the false assertion of 50 former spies that this reporting was a Russian information operation. And yet here was Applebaum, nearly two years later at an event dedicated to combatting disinformation, claiming she didn’t find any of this to be “interesting.”

Daniel Schmidt, a freshman at the University of Chicago, is senior editor of The Chicago Thinker, an independent student-run newspaper.


Get the best of Compact right in your inbox.

Sign up for our free newsletter today.

Great! Check your inbox and click the link.
Sorry, something went wrong. Please try again.