Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is an investigative journalist and writer focusing on the radical left and Islamic terrorism
Politico, the media outlet of choice for flacks and hacks, has declared that Ron DeSantis, the conservative Republican running for Governor of Florida, against the media’s favorite new socialist, suffered his “fifth race-related” controversy.
That fifth “controversy” is about something that somebody who isn’t DeSantis tweeted. The fourth controversy also involved a DeSantis donor. The third controversy falsely smeared the David Horowitz Freedom Center’s Restoration Weekend attended by DeSantis (and Medal of Honor winner Clinton Romesha). The second involved a GOP official who also isn’t DeSantis. And the first was that DeSantis had been added without his knowledge to a Facebook group where other people said racist things.
And the media actually dares to get offended when people call it, ‘Fake News’.
What the five “race-related” scandals have in common is that none of them involve DeSantis. They’re all guilt by association. Even by the loosest possible association, a donor, a GOP official, someone on the same Facebook page or someone in Florida.
These fake news scandals aren’t being generated because there’s any basis to the racism smear. It’s a strategic campaign decision made because DeSantis’ opponent, Andrew Gillum, is African-American. Since Gillum is black, the Democrats decided to accuse DeSantis of racism. (If DeSantis were running against a woman, he would be accused of sexism.) And the media decided to advance the smear by inventing “race-related” scandals based on the flimsiest of premises to help the Democrats win.
The fake news template is to find somebody in Florida who said something controversial, then to demand that the DeSantis campaign disavow it. And presto, there’s another “race-related” controversy.
But the DeSantis fake news blizzard is mild compared to the campaign against Brett Kavanaugh.
Like DeSantis, the Kavanaugh smear was a purely tactical decision. Once the Democrats had decided to narrow the focus of their campaign to abortion, accusations that played on sexism were inevitable.
The shoddiness of the accusations were equally inevitable.
NBC News decided to go with a Facebook post by a classmate of the Kavanaugh accuser, which she later pulled. “Kavanaugh Accuser’s Classmate: ‘That It Happened Or Not, I Have No Idea’”, became a headline. Giving NBC a run for its money, The Guardian ran with a claim that a professor, who is not Kavanaugh, had advised students who wanted to clerk for Kavanaugh to dress attractively.
Third degree hearsay is what the media does now.
This isn’t just bad because the media is turning the political culture into a toxic pool of poison, destroying anything that smacks of civility or ethics (while trashing its own reputation in the bargain.)
There is a human cost to fake news.
The media took up the banner of fighting fake news after the election (by banning opposition media outlets and embedding its own fact checks into social media) as a threat to democracy. Fake news is bad for democracy. And the media ought to know that since there isn’t an election anywhere in the country for a position higher than town dog catcher that it doesn’t try to hijack with smears and lies.
But fake news hurts its human targets more than it wounds some abstract concept of civil society.
Politics has always been a dirty business. And any open political system ought to be able to survive the worst of what political campaigns and their media allies dish out. (Eavesdropping, FBI investigations and prosecutors doing the dirty work of political campaigns is another matter. And that’s why the Clinton campaign’s ability to inject its opposition research into the DOJ and the FBI, is a serious threat.)
Individuals are another matter.
Brett Kavanaugh is an individual. He isn’t running for public office. Republicans confirmed both of Obama’s justices without demanding FBI investigations going back to when they were 17. (Sotomayor might have survived such an investigation, Obama wouldn’t have.) Accusing him of being a rapist based on a claim so flimsy that if it were put forward against an inner city youth would have every ACLU member up in arms, has a real, individual human cost.
It doesn’t end with Kavanaugh or DeSantis. With no meaningful material against their target, the media is forced to drag in all sorts of unrelated third parties. When all you have is guilt by association, then all sorts of random people end up being collateral damage in the politics of personal destruction.
To get to DeSantis, the media has to smear all the attendees of the Restoration Weekend, including a Medal of Honor winner, as racists. It has to jump on anyone who can be used against DeSantis.
The human cost of fake news isn’t limited to the two targets. It can be almost anyone.
The monstrous disease eating our political system, known colloquially as the Mueller investigation, began in the same way, with campaign opposition research injected into the media to create fake news. It then ballooned into eavesdropping, raids, arrests, show trials and a pile of convictions on unrelated charges, all with the aim of bringing down President Trump.
The havoc wreaked on our political system by a piece of Clinton opposition research developed by a covert media smear firm is severe. But the price has been paid by the individuals who became collateral damage in the campaign to undo the results of a free and open election by any means necessary.
Politico, the same site behind DeSantis’ fifth “race-related” controversy, ran a smear piece targeting Chabad Chassidim, an Orthodox Jewish denomination, as “Trump’s kind of Jews”. Collateral damage for that one included a Rabbi in Long Island who had previously been in the news for the way that his synagogue had weathered the damage from Sandy, but was now deemed to be one of the “shortest routes” between Trump and Putin.
The Rabbi was forced to issue a statement denying that, “I nor any of our staff know, or have been in contact with, any current or former members of the Ukrainian parliament.”
Politico, the BBC and the rest of the media quickly moved on, but the fake news damage was done.
That’s what life is like in the age of fake news where some media outlet (with a campaign’s opposition research team whispering suggestions in its inbox) may decide at any moment that you are one of the shortest routes between Trump and Putin, between Ron DeSantis and racism, or between Brett Kavanaugh and its smear of the moment.
Fake news is hard on its victims. It’s even harder on the random people who become collateral damage.
The media’s fake news destroys trust, it poisons the culture and rewards unscrupulous behavior. (There’s a reason the #MeToo movement found plenty of grist for the mill in the media.) But it also harms real people. It turns a husband and father into a rapist, and a friend into a racist.
It can also make a Rabbi on Long Island seem like a Russian spy.
Its fake news techniques rely on hearsay, implication, rumor, gossip, and innuendo. These techniques are rarely subject to the media’s fact checking. They don’t make definitive statements. Instead they misleadingly connect the dots into a blizzard of conspiracy theories that can never be pinned down.
There’s no way to stop them, except by calling them what they are. Fake news.