I don’t know when their desire for control and need to feel virtuous robbed so many progressives of their common sense and critical thinking skills. But so many now seem so willing to believe almost anything as long as it supports their views. Consider the recent hullabaloo regarding “fake news.” In their unhinged effort to blame Hillary Clinton’s loss on anything other than her and President Obama’s dismal record, Democrats have cast the claims of obscure websites as a grave threat to the republic.
Our politics were not edified by anonymous bloggers tying the Clinton campaign to cannibalism and pedophilia. But the real fake news here is the relentless reports suggesting that vast swaths of Americans believed such nonsense.
Less ridiculous false claims – such as the idea that President Obama is a Muslim or that he banned the Pledge of Allegiance– did gain more traction. But these are not, as Democrats and the media pretend, solely yes or no questions of fact. They are also a way for some to express their view that Obama does not share their values.
They are akin to the admittedly more general yet far more scurrilous charge that Donald Trump is an anti-Semitic white supremacist. All are more properly understood as statements of identity and belief rather than of facts. These are not on the Bible declarations; they are avenues for saying Trump doesn’t share my values.
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The pivotal difference is that right-wing fantasies are repeatedly debunked by the mainstream media, while left-wing nonsense is not only echoed but created by those powerful organizations.
Consider this small sampling of ugly smears peddled by some of our country’s most distinguished news outlets:
• The Newsweek reporter, Kurt Eichenwald, who alleged that Donald Trump was “institutionalized in a mental hospital in the 1990s.”
• The Politico reporter, Julia Ioffe, who “joked” that Trump was sleeping with his daughter.
• The Slate reporter, Michelle Goldberg, who stated that Trump “is going to turn our country into a racist police state.”
• The New York Times’ front page story about a woman who claimed - without a shred of hard evidence – that Trump had sexually assaulted her on an airplane three decades ago.
Yes, fake news on bogus websites is troubling. But anyone with an iota of common sense can see that the corruption of our mainstream news sources is a far greater peril.
The most recent example of this dangerous trend happened in this very space, with the publication of an op-ed claiming North Carolina is no longer a democracy. In it, UNC professor Andrew Reynolds states that he and other scholars have determined that our state’s “electoral integrity” is on a par with that found in “authoritarian states and pseudo-democracies like Cuba, Indonesia and Sierra Leone.”
Think about that for a second.
As the Wall Street Journal noted: “More remarkable still is that North Carolina isn’t the worst preforming state on the Electoral Integrity Project’s scoring system. Some 11 states are allegedly less free. Democracy in New York (which scored a 61) and Virginia (60) is supposedly more imperiled than in Rwanda (64), though Rwanda is controlled by an autocrat. The worst-performing state, Arizona (53), is outranked by Kuwait (55), Ivory Coast (59) and Kyrgyzstan (54).”
I have repeatedly criticized our GOP legislature for its ruthless use of gerrymandering. But to pretend that what is going on here, and in other states, puts us on a par with the dictatorship in Cuba, is, quite frankly, ludicrous. It is beyond disturbing that this comes from a university professor, whose profession rests on making fine distinctions.
This piece was not just published in this newspaper, it was rebroadcast by major outlets. In a second piece for The N&O, Reynolds boasted: “There were features in the New York Times, Washington Post, The Atlantic, Slate, Huffington Post, Politico, even PerezHilton.com. Paul Krugman, Howard Dean and Fareed Zakaria tweeted it out to their millions of followers. The story ran around the world. On Christmas Eve the op-ed became the lead on the Twitter home page.”
It is not helpful to have anonymous bloggers making false claims. But it is dangerous when people who are supposed to know better - and whose views are granted legitimacy through the institutions they work for – peddle obvious nonsense for partisan advantage. The threat grows as so many Americans are happy to suspend their judgment and accept this.
Contributing columnist J. Peder Zane can be reached at jpederzane @jpederzane.com.