When cameras at Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court hearing caught sight of a woman named Zina Bash, a Republican lawyer, with her arm resting in a position that allowed her index finger and thumb to almost touch—a purportedly racist gesture—a conspiracy theory broke out on social media, accusing Bash of signaling her white nationalist support.
As it turned out, Bash’s background is both Mexican and Jewish, and more importantly, as far as we know, she’s never uttered a prejudiced word in her entire life, much less participated in an alt-right signaling scheme. Of course, even if Bash had been a blue-eyed, blonde protestant, the accusation would have been completely bananas.
In an another incident, a picture of Kavanaugh allegedly declining to shake hands with Fred Guttenberg, the father of a girl murdered at Parkland, Fla., went viral. The belief —this one spread not only by Resistance activists, but also by pundits, reporters and senators—was that Kavanaugh, a heartless corporate elitist stooge of the gun industry, refused to demonstrate even a perfunctory kindness towards a gun victim’s parent.
In reality, a video shows that Kavanaugh was approached by a stranger in a room filled with protesters griping at him all day, so security quickly intervened. Guttenberg, though, went on CNN, and other networks, and asserted that Kavanaugh recognized the bracelets he wears to commemorate his daughter and called security to avoid the interaction. This is seems highly unlikely, and yet no one, as far as I know, even challenged the contention.
In the hyperactive imagination of people who think the Russians have stolen their free will and vote, anyone supporting Trump, and by extension anyone supporting his Supreme Court nominee Kavanaugh—an establishmentarian who worked not only for the suddenly-admired President George W. Bush but also the future Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan at Harvard—is merely in league with bigots who’ve taken power in an effort to knock off poor children for the oligarchy.
And if you think the previous sentence is an exaggeration, you’ve not been paying attention.
Now, Bash was able to effectively repel libel against her due to her background. For many Americans who are accused of bigotry because they’ve made an inopportune O.K. gesture, or have sported too-short a haircut, or hold conservative ideological positions, or support one of the two major political parties, or use words like “monkey” in the proximity of an African American, there’s no real defense against these accusations. If the former legal clerk behind Kavanaugh whose fingers touched had been a 30-something white dude, it seems likely that we’d still be debating whether he was a secret Klansman, while destroying his reputation.
Even now, think of the juxtaposition in coverage. “Brett Kavanaugh avoids shaking hands with father of Parkland shooting victim,” might be a factual headline, but it insinuates something completely untrue.
You’ll remember that when some numbskulls showed up at a Trump rally with “Q” signs (a conspiracy theory so convoluted I won’t attempt to explain it, because I can’t), it was blown into a national story; a stark and undeniable reflection of the corrosion of conservatism. “A deranged conspiracy cult leaps from the Internet to the crowd at Trump’s ‘MAGA’ tour,” The Washington Post informed its readers.
Fair enough. On the other hand, the same Washington Post offered a piece, spinelessly headlined, “That was no white-power hand signal at the Kavanaugh hearing, Zina Bash’s husband says,” laden with qualifiers that explain the Left’s descent into madness (italics mine): “A few liberal-leaning accounts with large followings who do not work for traditional news media outlets had noticed that Bash had been making an ‘okay’ sign with her hand as it rested on her arm as she sat behind Kavanaugh at the hearing.”
Well these few liberal-leaning blue-checked stars like Seth Abramson, Amy Siskind, Eugene Gu, Eva Golinger, and the Palmer Report, among other others, each have hundreds of thousands of followers, reaching many millions of Americans. They are conspiracy mongering in much the same way Alex Jones is conspiracy mongering. We’re talking about a significant number of people. The only difference is the treatment they receive from the media—and from social media.
The paranoia that drives people who sport “Handmaid’s Tale” bonnets or believe America is teeming with white nationalists is stoked, to some extent, by a media that offers outsized attention to the few dozen sad Nazi types who gather for protests or fringe hate-mongering “candidates” who would be virtually anonymous otherwise. It is fueled by a political movement and pundits who inject race and sex into every single issue—whether it belongs there or not. All of it, in many ways, merely diminishes and obfuscates the real problems we face with bigotry.
And with apologies to Chuck Todd, this dynamic in coverage only works in one direction. The Women’s March, the heart of resistance, is led by a bunch of conspiracy theorizing friends (or worse) of anti-Semites, who, just like many other stars of the anti-Trump opposition, aren’t afforded a fraction of the coverage. It doesn’t mean that most liberals agree with these people. But it does show that irrational beliefs and ugly behavior isn’t confined to any political party. Yesterday’s outbursts are just one example.