Tulsi Gabbard vs. Liberal McCarthyism (2)

The New York Times, covering Hillary Clinton’s reputation-destroying claim that Tulsi Gabbard is being “groomed” by the Russian government to undermine the Democrats in the 2020 election.


Tulsi Gabbard Lashes Back at Hillary Clinton After Claim of Russian Influence

Why not “Hillary Clinton Floats Unverified Conspiracy Theory About Tulsi Gabbard?” Never mind that she did it while criticizing Donald Trump’s reliance on unverified conspiracy theories (the relevant segment is about 35 minutes into the interview).

First two paragraphs:

Hillary Clinton waded into the Democratic primary on Friday by suggesting that Russia was backing Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii for president and that Republicans were “grooming” her as a third-party candidate.

In response, Ms. Gabbard lashed out late in the afternoon with an extraordinary series of tweets in which she called Mrs. Clinton “the queen of warmongers, embodiment of corruption, and personification of the rot that has sickened the Democratic Party for so long.”

So Clinton’s conspiracy theory is a suggestion, but Gabbard’s response is a lash out. How is Gabbard’s response any more “extraordinary” than Clinton’s claim? Do former Secretaries of State ordinarily describe former military combat veterans who are congressional representatives as agents of foreign powers?

A few paragraphs later, quoting Clinton, then a Clinton spokesperson:

“I’m not making any predictions,” she [Clinton] said, “but I think they’ve got their eye on somebody who is currently in the Democratic primary and are grooming her to be the third-party candidate. She’s the favorite of the Russians. They have a bunch of sites and bots and other ways of supporting her so far.”

She did not name Ms. Gabbard in that interview, but her target was clear. Nick Merrill, a spokesman for Mrs. Clinton, told NBC News, “if the nesting doll fits,” when he was asked to confirm that Mrs. Clinton had been referring to Ms. Gabbard.

No, Hillary Clinton is not “making any predictions”; she’s offering up an unverified, reputation-destroying conspiracy theory about what she claims is happening right now. Neither Plouffe (her interviewer) nor Maggie Astor (the Times’s reporter) poses a single question about the basis of Clinton’s claim. Evidently, association with the “Clinton” name assures one’s veracity. Come on, she’s a Clinton. Would she lie?

In neutral terms, what Clinton has done is: insinuate that Gabbard is a foreign agent while refusing to offer any evidence for the claim, and refusing even to name Gabbard as the target of the accusation. The spokesman’s contribution is to intensify the accusation without clarifying the evidence for it, or even to make explicit that Gabbard is the target. With home-grown conspiracy theorists like this at work, we don’t need to fear Russian “interference.” And with reporting of this quality in play, is it any wonder that some people prefer RT to the NYT? Pause a moment on the “nesting doll” comment. The claim implies that Gabbard is a “nesting doll” for the Russian government–eagerly willing to do their bidding, but passive with respect to the role they intend for her. How does that differ from the defamations engaged in by Joseph McCarthy? Who wouldn’t “lash out” at a claim so outrageous?

A few paragraphs later:

Disinformation experts have noted frequent mentions of Ms. Gabbard by RT, the Kremlin-backed news agency, and apparent Twitter bot activity amplifying pro-Gabbard messages and hashtags.

Which experts? What did they say? Where? The hyperlink for “have noted” doesn’t answer any of these questions. It goes right back to the New York Times article I criticized here a few days ago. Like this article, that one cites unnamed and unsourced experts, expecting readers to take the relevant claims on faith. Behold the liberals at work, the partisans of facticity over fideism.

Never mind that even if true, the claim does nothing to confirm Clinton’s conspiracy theory. Suppose that RT makes frequent mentions of Tulsi Gabbard and that Twitter bots are amplifying pro-Gabbard messages and hashtags. None of that even begins to suggest that Gabbard initiated either thing, much less that Gabbard is being groomed by the Russians to wreck the 2020 election. An equally plausible explanation for both facts is that RT has unilaterally decided that they like Gabbard’s message, and that the people in control of the Twitter bots in question have their own motivations for doing what they’re doing. You don’t need to cite a single act of Gabbard’s to explain either phenomenon. The existing, non-conspiracy-theory-based evidence is more than sufficient to explain everything that needs an explanation.

This obvious fact doesn’t seem to have “infiltrated” the minds of the Clinton camp. Here is Nick Merrill again, the Clinton spokesperson:

Mr. Merrill told CNN earlier in the day: “If the Russian propaganda machine, both their state media and their bot and troll operations, is backing a candidate aligned with their interests, that is just a reality. It is not speculation.”

On Twitter, Mr. Merrill mocked Ms. Gabbard by referencing President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, whom Ms. Gabbard has defended.

Clinton’s claim was not simply that Gabbard and the Russians shared certain interests (itself a tendentious misdescription of the facts). It was that the Russians were actively “grooming” Gabbard. You can’t be groomed by a state agency without willingly being groomed. The latter implication implies complicity on Gabbard’s part.

Having insinuated complicity, Merrill then cleverly backpedals and conditionalizes it. Translated into honest English, he’s saying: “If evidence materializes that my boss’s conspiracy theory is taking place, well then,  my boss’s conspiracy theory has currently been confirmed whether the evidence has materialized or not. That’s just a reality, not a speculation.” Actually, it’s just Orwellian nonsense being passed off as the height of intellectual sophistication.

Note, finally, the casual, unquestioned addendum by the reporter, thrown in as though it had so thoroughly been substantiated that we could all take it for granted as common ground: “…President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, whom Ms. Gabbard has defended.” Um, citation needed. Where has Gabbard “defended” Bashar al-Assad? Surely the Times can’t mean that when a person argues that Bashar al-Assad is not an “enemy” of the United States, and therefore ought not to be overthrown by military force, we’re to infer that she’s defending Bashar al-Assad? Besides being a blatant non-sequitur, that’s the kind of thing that partisans of George W. Bush used to say about opponents of the Iraq war. (Anyone remember Scott Ritter?) It obviously needs more substantiation than a casual toss-off.

Is this impartial reporting or is it journalistic acquiescence in a concerted, systematic campaign of defamation? It’s starting to look like the latter.

10 thoughts on “Tulsi Gabbard vs. Liberal McCarthyism (2)

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