Journalists don’t tend to think of themselves as playing an active role in national security—they report on events rather than participate in them. But the director-general of the Latvian security police made a long-time Washington Post correspondent reflect on her professional role. “The media are a strategic asset, just like oil and gas,” the Latvian official told Dana Priest, as she writes in The New Yorker.
Authoritarian governments, of course, have always seen media control as important, but Latvia is a young democracy, and the security chief meant something different: Having a free, fair, functioning press can be an important tool in the battle against disinformation campaigns like those Russia wages from Warsaw to Washington.
Deceiving the enemy has been around since the Greeks sailed away from Troy, leaving a giant wooden horse as a parting gift. But every new communications technology opens up new possibilities, and in more recent years, Moscow has attacked a slew of democracies using hardware, software, hacking skills, and the internet to steal information and spread lies.
Latvia—and other small democracies fighting foreign meddling—may understand that fact-based journalism is a weapon in their defense. Unfortunately, as Priest suggests, the current US president doesn’t seem to see the press as a strategic asset at all, but rather, as an enemy of the state.