More than 300 audience members turned out Monday night at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., for the first event of the Michael V. Hayden Center for Intelligence, Policy, and International Security at George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government. The 90-minute panel discussion, “Truth Tellers in the Bunker: Evidence-Based Institutions in a Post-Truth World,” focused on how those committed to delivering fact-based information are under attack around the world, and intentionally so.
“[President] Trump is emblematic of something going on around the world,” said James Clapper, former director of national intelligence. “There is a general resentment of traditional government.”
The news of the day influenced the conversation as panelists put into context what the federal indictments of those close to Trump mean to the institutions of law enforcement, media and academia when the president himself demeans the investigation by calling it a hoax.
“I am shocked at the attack of the special prosecutor,” said NBC News political analyst and former White House communications director Nicolle Wallace. As for the small margin for error in modern journalism, “I would posit journalism has never been truer or more accurate” despite constant negative questioning, Wallace said.
The idea of Russian collusion was addressed as well; Clapper noted that the Russians’ plan was to “sow discord, discontent and doubt.”
“What the Russians are doing is called a ‘covert influence campaign,’” added center founder Hayden, former director of the CIA and NSA. Russia enhanced “fractures in society” on all sides of ideologies that led to the cultural chaos that now is apparent in the United States. “A covert influence campaign does not cause fractures but exploits existing fractures.”
Now that “norms” in society have been corrupted, said former U.S. Assistant Attorney General Jack Goldsmith, “it will be hard to recover.” He added that repairing society will be all the more difficult because the president is “the primary norm-breaker.”
As for the impact of a “post-truth” society on academia, George Mason’s Mark J. Rozell, dean of the Schar School, acknowledged that “we are also under attack, and the division is being driven by the populist movement. … We have to accept the reality of it and acknowledge the frustrations in society.”
But, he added, when he meets prospective students who are hesitant to study public policy and government, “I tell them, ‘You are more important now than ever before.’”