While I've been wondering how long it would be before the Old Boys Club in Hollywood found some desperate starlet to lie about being sexually assaulted in order to strangle the infant "Believe Women" movement in its crib, Brain Beutler at Crooked has turned his attention to a more likely abuse:
Imagine it’s September or October 2020, and out of nowhere multiple women accuse the Democratic presidential nominee of sexual abuse, but instead of surfacing in a meticulously sourced story in a news outlet with a healthy tradition of careful reporting, it runs in a blind item on Breitbart.com. Or imagine such a story about a current Democratic candidate or leader landed in such an outlet tomorrow.
The question of whether or not Breitbart or Sean Hannity actually had the goods on anyone would become subsumed into factional fighting and epistemological crises. The believe-women effort would be undermined, potentially twice over. First, because many people will understandably distrust allegations of misconduct if they’re ginned up by the bottom-feeders of Breitbart. Second, because if the accusations unravel, the believe-women movement will have sustained a terrible blow by failing on its own terms. (If you think Breitbart would be above framing a debunked sex abuse scandal they themselves fabricated as a reprising of the UVA or Duke lacrosse controversies, you are blissfully unacquainted [sic] Breitbart.)
It would be a win-win for Breitbart and Fox News. Neither has any journalistic integrity to speak of and suffers little to no consequences for being propaganda outlets. Occasionally, one of Fox's hosts is sacrificed to uphold the appearance of being "fair and balanced" but only after they've gone so off the wall that advertisers pull their money and the host becomes a massive financial liability. Breitbart, on the other hand, is backed by the billionaire Mercer family and doesn't actually need advertisers to continue pumping out mindless right wing propaganda. One will fabricate the story and they will feed off of each other in an escalating fit of hysteria until the regular media picks it up.
In a healthy democracy with a healthy press, such a tactic would be ripped to shreds. But we have neither:
The broader media, by contrast, would be as fixated upon the factual question as on the superficial similarity between knee-jerk conservative defenses of Roy Moore and liberal misapprehensions about the trustworthiness of right wing propaganda. Both sides aren’t the same, but the false parallel will be too delicious for many journalists to ignore.
And that's the entire problem right there. Right wing media has become extremely adept at manipulating the legitimate press into doing what they want. Not that the "liberal" press puts up much of a fight. They're more than happy to go along with the lies when it lets them "prove" their neutrality by blaming "both sides" no matter how ridiculous the equivalence. In the case of the 2016 election, they put so much effort into normalizing Trump and abnormalizing Clinton, they quite literally changed the outcome but have yet to acknowledge that fact in even the slightest way. That means they'll be ripe for the picking again in 3 years.
We'd like to believe that forewarned is forearmed but we knew going into the election that the press was going to be out for Hillary's head and it still didn't stop the worst case of journalistic malpractice in our lifetimes (and that's including the run-up to the Iraq War!). Knowing that the misogynistic pigs at Breitbart are inevitably going to attack with fake news about sexual assault won't be a defense. We'll watch the car crash in slow motion as the press promotes a story they know is almost certainly false but lets them burnish their "Above the fray" credentials at the expense of the truth.
Even if the movement and the candidate survive, they'll be scarred and proof of concept that weaponizing sexual assault accusations work. Let's hope Breitbart does such a poor job of faking it that even the right wing propaganda machine can't sell it. It's not much to hang our hopes on but it's better than hoping for the press to do its job instead of chasing ratings.
There are 357 days left to the 2018 elections.
- This article kills fascists
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