I’m not much of a conspiracy theorist.
I believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. I believe Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. I believe Barack Obama was born in Hawaii.
For me, at least, the “Clinton body count” is a different story. Just kidding. Maybe. If you read my obituary soon, you’ll know Bill and Hillary were not amused.
Nonetheless, sometimes a confluence of events makes you pause, as I have recently, about weighing conspiracy against coincidence.
Recall that in mid-October Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg spoke at Georgetown University and testified before Congress. Each time he strongly defended free speech and the First Amendment, which was both welcome and long overdue for people in his industry.
Liberals were not amused and demanded Zuckerberg police political speech by rejecting ads they consider misleading. Top Democrats thrashed him, as did the online thugs at Media Matters for America, which actually argues that one of the most liberal companies in America, headquartered in the most liberal precinct in America, is infested with a pro-Republican bias.
Then last week our national media - unbelievably - whirled into action after President Donald Trump tweeted.
Trump circulated The Daily Wire’s rendition of a 2017 photo of the president presenting the Congressional Medal of Honor to James McCloughan, an Army medic and bigtime war hero credited with saving 10 fellow soldiers in Vietnam. In McCloughan’s place, the conservative news website had substituted Conan, the heroic military dog that helped dispatch ISIS goon Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to the nether world. Lefties on Twitter went nuts, and intrepid reporters from The New York Times, The Washington Post and USA Today, among others, explained Trump had retweeted a “faked” or “altered” picture - apparently not getting, or not caring, that the original tweet was a joke.
Finally, Richard Stengel, a former editor of Time magazine and once a high-ranking official in the Obama State Department, called for America to adopt hate speech laws. Writing in the Post last week, Stengel argued hate speech “diminishes tolerance” and “enables discrimination.” He noted the mass murderers Dylann Roof, Omar Mateen and Patrick Crusius had been rabid consumers of hate speech before gunning down innocent people - in each respective case, blacks, homosexuals and Mexican immigrants.
But Stengel also pointed out that the First Amendment “protects any bad actors who hide behind it to weaken our society.” There, Stengel specifically referred to Russian trolls who “planted false stories” and “spread lies” on social media during the 2016 election - which liberals believe benefitted Trump. “All speech is not equal. And where truth cannot drive out lies, we must add new guardrails,” Stengel maintained.
I don’t believe Zuckerberg’s critics, the Woodwards and Bernsteins probing the Conan photo and Stengel colluded to surface almost simultaneously. Still, their ideas tie together - and conservatives should pay attention.
Arguably, America’s media landscape is more fragmented than at any time since the creation of the Associated Press and the inverted pyramid in the 19th century.
Fed up with long-standing media bias that has been exponentially exacerbated in the Trump age, conservative news consumers now have options beyond Rush Limbaugh and others on talk radio and Fox News.
Right-leaning media has sprouted on the web in recent years - with old-time magazines like National Review and The American Spectator offering daily reporting, their fodder augmented by sites such as The Daily Wire, the Blaze Network, the Washington Examiner, The Federalist, Breitbart and others.
In short, the leading liberal lights running our major media have lost control of the message.
So their response is to shoot the messenger - that is, to assert news reports and opinion commentary on those right-wing sites is bogus, manipulated, doctored, outright falsehoods, hate speech or the fevered dreams of conspiracy theorists - the latter of which is becoming quite common as news trickles out about the Bidens’ involvement in Ukraine, and as U.S. Attorney John Durham moves closer to revealing what the Obama administration did to undermine Trump’s 2016 campaign.
Don’t fall for it. Under Trump, the major media and their allies have gotten so much wrong, and shucked all objectivity, that they’ve forfeited their right to be arbiters of truth, or even what qualifies as “news.”
Still, they seem to realize this genie ain’t going back into the bottle. So, they must discredit, deflect and demean their conservative tormentors - and, as shown by the examples of Zuckerberg, Conan and Stengel, lobby powerbrokers to shut them up, or down.
Bill Thompson (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the editorial page editor of The Ledger in Lakeland, Florida.