Esquire‘s Charlie Pierce is easily one of the most insightful, entertaining writers in politics. Absolutely one of my favorites, and one of my first stops during my daily blog rounds. But I noticed yesterday that he attacked a recent post I wrote — and me personally — regarding The Atlantic‘s Conor Friedersdorf’s assertion that it’s valid to question whether President Obama wiretapped Mitt Romney in order to win the 2012 election.
Charlie began by quoting a Friedersdorf question about Nixon’s abuse of power:
“Most Americans have a strong intuition that spying and electoral manipulation of that kind could never happen here. I share that intuition, but I know it’s nonsense: the Nixon Administration did spy on its opponents for political gain. Why do I worry that an unreformed surveillance state could put us in even greater jeopardy of such shenanigans?”
And then Charlie accused me of not answering the question. However, my post wasn’t specifically about the above question. My post focused on a Friedersdorf question which Pierce didn’t quote at all, specifically, “Did the Obama Administration ever spy on Mitt Romney during the recent presidential contest?”
Based on my series of articles about Alex Jones and others, I’m clearly not a fan of wild conspiracy theories, and so I shredded Freidersdorf’s question accordingly, just as I would with other theories marketed by Alex Jones, Rand Paul or Glenn Beck. I argued that even raising the question, while claiming it’s not loony to ask it, effectively fuels the theory. It’d be like asking, “Is Barack Obama a Muslim? I don’t think he is, but shouldn’t we as Americans ask the question?”
I understand Charlie’s broader point that the debate circulating around Edward Snowden and NSA surveillance is caught in an insufferable Möbius strip of nonsense. But in the process of batting down Friedersdorf’s ridiculous question, I thought I was making an effort to cut through the nonsense, not to contribute to it.
Charlie then wrote that if Friedersdorf is off the rails with his question, then, likewise, I’m nothing more than an NSA and Obama “brown-noser” — a cheap attack that I’ve heard before and have debunked several times.
He concluded that while the Obama administration leaves office in 2017, NSA is forever and so we should be diligent. Personally, I never suggested we ignore NSA or any other government agency. But should that include indiscriminately leaking classified documents, or spreading conspiracy theories without any evidence whatsoever? I don’t think so. It’s possible, and I would argue mandatory, to support reforms and oversight without spreading half-baked conspiracy theories that only serve to undermine that effort.
Charlie, you’re awesome. But you’re flat out wrong about my post.