What are the historical antecedents to contemporary disinformation campaigns? If we now live in a “post-truth” world, what role have domestic organizations such as think tanks and partisan political organizations played in creating it? While a great deal of scholarship has sought to delineate the various types of disinformation or the mechanisms by which it operates to corrupt public discourse, less research has been devoted to tracing the conditions that have made the United States susceptible to information disorder in the first place.

To support research on the conditions that have made the US vulnerable to present-day disinformation campaigns, the Media & Democracy program at the Social Science Research Council convened a research development workshop at George Washington University on December 13–14, 2018. The workshop invited scholars from the social sciences and humanities to consider how innovations in media technology have disrupted the delicate balance between markets, regulation, and the provision of public goods such as trusted news.

The workshop was complemented by an expert panel discussion featuring Yochai Benkler (Harvard University), Naomi Oreskes (Harvard University), Paul Starr (Princeton University), and Jane Mayer (The New Yorker). The panel was moderated by Frank Sesno (The George Washington University).

Media & Democracy research development workshops give participants the opportunity to receive in-depth feedback from their peers on in-progress research, to give feedback to other workshop participants, and to meet fellow scholars working on similar topics from across disciplines. To learn more about past workshops and current opportunities, please visit our Research Workshops page.

Read a full summary of the themes of this workshop and plenary roundtable on SSRC Items.


Lance Bennett
Professor of Political Science & Ruddick C. Lawrence Professor of Communication
University of Washington
Paper: “Remedies for the Domestic Origins of Disinformation: An Opening Suggestion for Restoring Democratic Institutions”

Steven Livingston
Professor of Media and Public Affairs & Professor of International Affairs
George Washington University
Paper: “Remedies for the Domestic Origins of Disinformation: An Opening Suggestion for Restoring Democratic Institutions”


Ben Epstein
Associate Professor of Political Science
DePaul College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences
Paper: “The Stabilizing Window is Closing: How the History of Media Regulation Can Shape the Future of the Internet”

David Karpf
Associate Professor of Media and Public Affairs
George Washington University
Paper: “Norms, Incentives, and Digital Change in Media/Politics”

Heidi Tworek
Assistant Professor of Media
University of British Columbia
Paper: “What We Can Really Learn from Comparisons with Weimar Germany”

Mark Major
Associate Teaching Professor of Political Science
Pennsylvania State University
Paper: “Priming Trump’s Attack on the Press: Jim Crow’s Contribution to Fake News”

Nancy MacLean
William H. Chafe Professor of History and Public Policy
Duke University
Paper: “Since we are greatly outnumbered”: Why and How the Koch Network Uses Disinformation to Thwart Democracy”

Naomi Oreskes
Professor of the History of Science
Harvard University
Paper: “The Historical Roots of Free Market Fundamentalism”
Plenary Roundtable Panelist

Patricia Aufderheide
University Professor of Communication Studies
American University
Paper: “Public Media in the Fake News Era: How U.S. Public Broadcasting’s Past Affects the Evolution of Public Media 2.0”

Paul Starr
Stuart Professor of Communications and Public Affairs & Professor of Sociology
Princeton University
Paper: “Media Degradation”
Plenary Roundtable Panelist

Victor Pickard
Associate Professor of Communication
University of Pennsylvania
Paper: “The Public Media Option: Confronting Policy Failure in an Age of Misinformation”

Yochai Benkler
Jack N. and Lillian R. Berkman Professor for Entrepreneurial Legal Studies
Harvard University
Paper: “Origins of Institutional and Epistemic Crisis: Material, Political, and Cultural”
Plenary Roundtable Panelist


Frank Sesno
Director, Professor of Media and Public Affairs and International Affairs
George Washington University
Plenary Roundtable Moderator

Jane Meyer
Staff Writer
The New Yorker
Plenary Roundtable Panelist

Seth Denbo
Director of Scholarly Communication and Digital Initiatives
American Historical Association

Trevor Davis
Research Professor
George Washington University