Skip to main content

The Conspiracy Theory Vortex Sucks Down Another One

The way it breaks down is simple, and that's that the more outlandish your claim, the more evidence you need to have to back it up before you deserve to be taken seriously. The fact that there's a report saying that DARPA has the technology to hack cars proves that DARPA actually crashed Michael Hastings' car the same way that the fact that I own a gun means I killed Biggie Smalls.
Screen Shot 2013-06-28 at 10.59.45 AM

tinfoil hat

When it comes to the topic of conspiracy theories and their believers, I could, were I so inclined on a Friday, simply pop up a now-famous quote from the late, great Christopher Hitchens and let that be the end of it: “That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.” This simple, brilliant take on the ease with which anything offered without a shred of proof can be disregarded out of hand is what frees up anyone who even thinks about trying to get into the ring with a conspiracy theorist to go do something more productive with his or her day. I've said it before but it bears repeating: The thing about a conspiracy theory is that it's akin to religion in that it's often a self-reinforcing delusion that simply cannot ever be fully eradicated in the mind of the lunatic who believes it because there are complex systems built into the thing designed to keep it immune from notions like logic and reason. The more you argue against someone who believes nonsense like the kind peddled by Alex Jones as a career, the more you prove that person's deeply ingrained fear that there are agents working specifically against him or just mindless sheep who don't understand what's really going on. It's a figure-eight knot: the harder you pull on it, the tighter it gets.

Today in a column here at the Banter, Ben picks apart the new career path of former CNN correspondent Amber Lyon. For those who don't remember Lyon, she had a brief run over at CNN and became known mostly for local TV-style stunts like ambushing Craigslist founder Craig Newmark over his site's unwitting contribution to sex trafficking. She did some good work, certainly, but it all kind of blew up in her face after she returned from reporting on the social media angle of the Arab Spring in Bahrain and started making accusations that the reason the documentary she'd shot there wasn't running on CNN International -- it ran intact on CNN -- was that CNNi was in bed with the Bahraini government and was taking pay-offs from it in exchange for positive content. She enlisted the help of -- surprise, surprise -- Glenn Greenwald and together, as the Wonder Twins of Journalistic Integrity, they filed a series of reports detailing alleged pressure put on Lyon by CNN and CNNi's management to keep the Bahrainis happy. According to Lyon, CNNi never did give her a straight answer about why it didn't run the doc, but she concludes the fact that the government of Bahrain buys advertising on the network speaks volumes.

Now, is it possible that Lyon's report was quashed at the behest of the admittedly none-too-pleased officials in Bahrain, who knew in advance that the documentary featured a segment on the government's crackdown on dissidents? Sure -- anything's possible. Is it just as likely, if not more so, that some programming decision was made somewhere up the food chain of dolts in management that had literally nothing at all to do with the content of the piece that ended with it just being bypassed? No conspiratorial, nefarious undercurrent -- just a really dumb decision? Absolutely. The news business is one fucking giant tale of good stories being buried by short-sighted suits and the reporters and producers of those stories -- often pain-in-the-ass narcissists in the best possible way -- screeching about how the brilliance of their work is being inexcusably overlooked. Lyon had actually been laid off in a standard shuffling of CNN personnel -- unfair maybe, but standard stuff -- before she really began speaking out about what she felt had gone on with her documentary and when she did, her management got an entirely predictable phone call from CNN saying that if she continued to talk, she'd risk losing her severance. I assume she took this to mean that she was on to something and they were trying to shut her up, rather than simply accepting that she was still being paid by CNN and they didn't want her, you know, talking shit about the network. (Not defending CNN here by any means, but their reaction is to be expected.)

The thing about corruption at most news networks is that it's a little like the kind of corruption you find in U.S. politics. The fanciful would love to have you believe that there's some kind of Star Chamber in an undisclosed penthouse at the top of the Time Warner Center in Manhattan making deals with world governments and money interests just like they'd love to have you believe that there's a secret cabal at work behind the scenes within our government that pits the Illuminati, the U.N. and the Disney Company against the interests of every man, woman and child on the planet. It's fun to imagine. It's also horseshit. Corruption within a newsroom is typically the kind borne from incompetence and lethargy, not cunning. It's forgetting to do shit; overlooking important news stories because everybody suddenly succumbs to the tunnel vision of groupthink without even knowing it; picking one story over another for a show or a schedule because the former's reporter has a higher Q-Score or because you just happen to have a hard-on for her or him, or excluding someone from a show because you think that person's an arrogant little shit who needs to be knocked down a peg. It's the kind of petty, stupid nonsense you thought you left behind in high school and can't imagine still being subjected to as an adult.

But here's the thing specifically about Lyon: Rather than trying to prove that she's a journalist of substance by taking her complaints about what she claims is really going on behind the scenes at places like CNN to a real, respected news organization -- and there are many legitimately terrific muckraking outlets out there -- she's decided to go down the Alex Jones rabbit hole, thereby shooting her credibility completely to shit and undoing any good work she's done in the past. Her new thing, as Ben comments on today, is circulating the ridiculous conspiracy theory, through InfoWars, that Rolling Stone contributor Michael Hastings was "assassinated" by the U.S. government, via a car-hacking system that DARPA has developed and now has the power to use. It's shocking at face value that it's easier to believe there's a massive conspiracy at work in the tragic, untimely death of Hastings than the possibility that he was simply one of the hundreds of people who die in car crashes in this country every day. Again, maybe it's "fun" to believe that life is like Enemy of the State and there's a room full of hacker kids somewhere taking out nosey reporters with the push of an "enter" key (and as we know, the world of the conspiracy theorist is where ignorance and arrogance mix, since the idiots who believe this garbage often revel in the idea that, ironically, they're the smart ones and the rest of us are just sleepwalking through life). But the reality is generally a hell of a lot more boring.

The way it breaks down is simple, and that's that the more outlandish your claim, the more evidence you need to have to back it up before you deserve to be taken seriously. A bunch of YouTube videos created by stoned college kids that throw a shitload of ominous-sounding, entirely unrelated events together then draw a big circle around them -- the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy -- doesn't prove that the government was behind 9/11. It's conjecture, imagination, and entertainment -- nothing more. The fact that there's a report saying that DARPA has the technology to hack cars proves that DARPA actually crashed Michael Hastings' car the same way that the fact that I own a gun means I killed Biggie Smalls. Correlation isn't causation. And if you can't offer evidence to prove your assertion, guess what? Just like Hitch said, you can -- and should -- be dismissed without evidence.

It's too bad. Amber Lyon used to have a pretty promising career as an investigative journalist. Smart, tough, a lot of awards to her credit, a pain-in-the-ass but not necessarily in a terrible way. Now, though? Forget it. You align yourself with the unconscionable nonsense InfoWars injects into the media bloodstream -- even contributing to it, I suppose, in the name of keeping yourself at least somewhat culturally relevant -- you don't deserve to be taken the least bit seriously. You're no better than a Dan Bidondi.

Just another ranting idiot. Just another lunatic conspiracy theorist.