Breaking News: Anybody can say anything about anybody else. And in the age of social media, they probably will.
Time was when all professional journalists understood that. Not that there was ever a Golden Age of what Superman called “Truth, Justice and the American Way.”
Anyway, does it really matter anymore what journalists understand?
Social media have blurred the lines between fact, fiction and sheer, malicious slander to the point where a large portion of the public feels free to indulge any venomous fantasy that suits them.
I know of a woman whose personal physician offered her a list of Hillary Clinton’s many murders. I believe there were alleged to be 54. Lock her up! Instead of offering a short tutorial in elementary logic — “show me persuasive evidence of just one,” for example — she found a new doctor. You do want a physician capable of critical thinking.
Anyway, as the 2020 presidential election proceeds, we’re all but certain to experience a veritable avalanche of make-believe scandals and imaginary conspiracies that will make the GOP’s 25-year War on Hillary look restrained.
We’re fixing to find out how many gullible True Believers there are.
When histories of the decline and fall of American democracy are written, they’re apt to begin by examining Donald J. Trump’s Twitter feed. But he really got started much earlier, by endorsing the “birther” conspiracy about Barack Obama’s supposedly being born in Kenya.
Way back in 2011, ABC News’ Meredith Vieira asked Trump if he actually had investigators researching Obama’s birthplace in Hawaii.
“Absolutely,” he answered. “And they cannot believe what they’re finding.”
Subsequent events, of course, made it clear that either there were no investigators or they’d found nothing. He’d made it all up. Every bit of it. Then after Obama publicly released his birth certificate, Trump took credit for solving the non-mystery he’d promoted.
So today it’s Ukraine, and the preposterous fiction that its beleaguered government, rather than Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin, interfered in the 2016 presidential election. It’s this crackpot notion Trump leaned on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to endorse in their infamous July 25 phone call — urging him to probe CrowdStrike, which Trump depicted as a Ukrainian company hiding long-lost DNC computer servers.
This must have confused Zelensky. CrowdStrike is a California-based cyber-security firm having no ties whatsoever to Ukraine. Also, no missing DNC servers exist. Both the FBI and the Mueller investigation had total access to evidence establishing that Russian operatives hacked the DNC emails subsequently obtained and published by Wikileaks. Those aren’t opinions, they’re facts.
Trump also urged Zelensky to consult Rudy Giuliani.
As usual, he was talking out of his … Well, he didn’t understand the situation. It’s all there in Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s recently released report on the origins of the FBI’s Russia investigation.
Trump’s own FBI Director Christopher Wray made a point of underlining it. “We have no information that indicates that Ukraine interfered with the 2016 presidential election,” Wray said, adding that “there’s all kinds of people saying all kinds of things out there. I think it’s important for the American people to be thoughtful consumers of information and to think about the sources of it and to think about the support and predication for what they hear.”
Thoughtful consumers of information? It’s hard to be optimistic.
Anyway, Trump will likely fire Wray for that.
Already, spineless Republicans are finding ways to endorse Trump’s imagined conspiracies. Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz — whose wife Trump once called ugly and whose father he implicated in the JFK assassination — jumped in on “Meet the Press” to affirm Ukrainian skulduggery.
See, after candidate Trump said that most Ukrainians would rather be Russians, the country’s ambassador to the U.S. wrote a newspaper column about it. To Cruz, this constituted election interference.
Former White House national security aide Fiona Hill made her view of this line of thinking clear during recent congressional testimony: “This is a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves.”
But it’s Trump’s “personal lawyer” and power-broker-for-hire Giuliani whom he’s counting on to deliver the goods where Ukraine’s concerned. The international man-of-publicity has been touring Eastern Europe lately, collecting tales from exiled and disgraced Ukrainian politicians and assorted money launderers and washed-up oligarchs. Trump’s natural constituency.
The obvious plan is to “Clintonize” the president’s feared rival Joe Biden, through his son Hunter’s ill-advised work with a Ukrainian gas company.
Here’s how it’s apt to go. Remember this exchange from last September?
“Did you ask Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden?” asked CNN host Chris Cuomo.
“No,” Giuliani replied. “Actually I didn’t.”
Fewer than 30 seconds later, Cuomo asked again. “So you did ask Ukraine to look into Joe Biden?”
“Of course I did,” Giuliani replied.
So now Trump says Rudy will soon “make a report” to the attorney general and Congress.
“I hear he has found plenty,” Trump said.
We’ve heard that song before.