Not just Russia: America has a problem speaking truth to power, too

Not just Russia: America has a problem speaking truth to power, too. By Glenn Reynolds.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in trouble in Ukraine, and it’s because people lie to him.

That’s the story put out by US intelligence officials, and it has the ring of truth. Apparently, Putin wasn’t told of the miserable state of readiness of Russian troops, the unavailability of spare parts and repair facilities, the shortage of transport, the inefficiency of the Russian air force, the lack of trucks needed to haul ammunition, food and fuel to the front or the surprising effectiveness of the Ukrainian military.

Putin’s “senior advisers are too afraid to tell him the truth” about “how badly the Russian military is performing and how the Russian economy is being crippled by sanctions,” according to the White House’s Kate Bedingfield.

Certainly, this has been the pattern in Russia — and before that, in the Soviet Union — for decades. Andrew Cockburn’s book on the Soviet Army, “The Threat,” noted these issues almost 40 years ago: poor morale, massive theft of spare parts, food and other items and sunny, faked-up reports sent to superiors.

This is a problem in any enterprise to some degree: Underlings tend to tell higher-ups what they think the higher-ups want to hear. Even in the best organizations, it takes constant effort to ensure that bad news makes it up the chain of command. And Putin’s Russia is not the best of organizations.

Putin has been in power for a long time, and making him happy has been the way to get ahead. And on a day-to-day basis, it works: People get good fitness reports, leaders feel happy, everyone wins.

Until, you know, it’s time to perform. Then reality comes crashing in. That’s the price of suppressing the truth in favor of the party line. …

But this problem is also crippling America:

When news of Hunter Biden’s laptop, and the evidence of collusion with Ukrainians and Chinese it contained, was broken by The Post before the 2020 election, it was denounced, ironically enough, as “Russian disinformation.” Dozens of former US intelligence officials loudly pooh-poohed the story. Social-media outfits like Twitter and Facebook blocked it entirely. (Twitter even barred sharing it with individuals by direct message.)

Now The Washington Post and other establishment media outlets are admitting the laptop reporting is true. Had the news gotten out fairly, the election might well have gone the other way, sparing us the shambolic Biden administration, currently flirting with runaway inflation and World War III. And had Biden won the election anyway, at least voters wouldn’t feel cheated.

Likewise, we’ve seen all sorts of truthful information — questioning the effectiveness of lockdowns, mask mandates, etc. — censored as “dangerous misinformation.” …

Which is why a return to free speech is needed:

But it’s worth talking about why free speech is important. In short, it keeps us from being Putinized.

Censors always claim they’re shutting down lies in defense of the public. The trouble is that the censors in America are no more trustworthy than Putin’s bureaucrats are. They tend to silence things that make them look bad in favor of things that make them look good.

Analysis: true.