Thursday, November 3, 2016

The Biggest Conspiracy Theory of My Lifetime? Saddam has WMDs

The New York Times is bemoaning "conspiracy theories" generated by the Internet Age. It is true that technology makes it easy and cheap to spread the fraudulent and the half-baked. Trouble is, the NYT and other establishment media spreads steady misinformation too, and even uses the Internet to do it (Tom Friedman has a Twitter account, need I say more?).

The Iraq Invasion was built on conspiracy theories promulgated by esteemed outlets like the NYT (plus WaPo, WSJ, the Economist, etc.). Did the NYT's Tom Friedman, Bill Keller, and David Brooks or WaPo's Richard Cohen, or any of the other conspiracy spreaders get fired once everything they said was proven untrue? No. Other than the NYT's Judith Miller, no one took a fall. 

Joe Scarborough was on MSNBC then, is still there now, and is probably a bigger celebrity today than he was when he was spreading conspiracies about Iraq's weapons program. The list of misinformers is long enough to fill six Wikipedias. I think Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert owe much of their success to the spectacular failure of the "respectable" media with respect to Iraq.

The legacy media loved social media and the Internet in '08 when it helped their candidate win. The very idea that Obama was an "outsider" organically foisted to prominence via grassroots Internet support is itself misinformation spread by outlets like the Times

The mostly imaginary "Arab Spring," with its goofy narrative of a grassroots, democratic Mideast revolution largely ignited by social media - was another Internet-focused conspiracy theory spread by the establishment press. I am not aware of any establishment hacks getting the boot for promoting that turkey-on-wheels.

Amazingly (but unsurprisingly), the traditional press was too clueless to recognize that the same tools they claimed were behind their preferred brand of popular movement could also be used to abet popular movements anathema to them. Such anopia might help explain why so many of them have been unprofitable for years.

On Twitter: @greatmikepayne

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