The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

It’s Not a Disinformation Campaign if the Facts Are True

Senator Kamala Harris, D-Calif., addresses Capitol Hill reporters in Washington, D.C., November 27, 2018. (Leah Millis/REUTERS)

Making the click-through worthwhile: new reports of Russian-amplified “disinformation” about Democratic presidential candidates that . . . doesn’t really sound like disinformation, potential Republican presidential candidate William Weld finds a fan, Senator Marco Rubio offers a more Constitutionally sound way to fund more border-fence construction, a new podcast, and one of our greats moves on to a new horizon.

Is It Really a Disinformation Campaign If It Uses Verified Facts?

Politico reports that certain Democratic presidential candidates are already the target of “wide-ranging disinformation campaign” with “signs that foreign state actors are driving at least some of the activity.”

You have to go pretty deep into the story to find examples.

One widely seen tweet employed racist and sexist stereotypes in an attempt to sensationalize Harris’ relationship with former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown. That tweet — and subsequent retweets and mentions tied to it — made 8.6 million “potential impressions” online, according to Guardians.ai, an upper limit calculation of the number of people who might have seen it based on the accounts the cluster follows, who follows accounts within the cluster and who has engaged with the tweet.

There’s no excuse for racist and sexist stereotypes, but as the well-informed audience of this newsletter knows, Harris and Brown did have an extramarital affair (he was married, she wasn’t) starting in 1993, he appointed her to two well-paying state positions during their relationship, and he was no doubt a key connection as she began her career, introducing her to California’s political movers and shakers. It’s completely fair to ask the candidate hard questions about this nepotism, and the fact that some Russian bot is tweeting about it doesn’t mean the topic transmogrifies into “disinformation.”

The article discusses the fringe attacks on Elizabeth Warren:

Among the fringe platforms Storyful identified were 4Chan and 8Chan, where messages appeared calling on commenters to quietly wreak havoc against Warren on social media or in the comments section under news stories.


“Point out that she used to be Republican but switched sides and is a spy for them now. Use this quote out of context: ‘I was a Republican because I thought that those were the people who best supported markets,’” wrote one poster on the 4Chan message board.

That is indeed out of context, from a 2011 interview discussing her political shift to the Left, and the notion that politicians switch parties to “spy” on the other side is the sort of thing believed by conspiracy theorists. But again, as you likely know, Warren was indeed a registered Republican from 1991 to 1996, she used to be a regular welcome guest of Lou Dobbs in his CNN days, and her 2003 book, The Two-Income Trap, got a fairly positive review from National Review. Warren was at one point, if not conservative, then in opposition to several arguments of progressives and feminists. All of that is completely fair game in what is likely to be a hard-fought Democratic primary.

Later in the story:

“All the infrastructure we’ve seen in 2016 and 2018 is already in full-force. And in 2020 it’s only going to get worse,” Kellner said, pointing to negative memes attacking Warren on her Native American heritage claims and memes surrounding Harris’s relationship with Brown.

Except . . . Warren really did make an implausible claim of Native American heritage!

The memes may be negative, harsh, tasteless or beyond the pale of acceptable discourse, but . . . most of the listed examples have at least an element of truth to them. (The one exception is a tale of Beto O’Rourke leaving a message using racist language on an answering machine in the 1990s. I searched Twitter and found . . . two tweets about this. Either the old bad tweets have been removed, or the scope of this disinformation is greatly exaggerated.)

The global nature of the Internet means we’re never going to be able to completely stamp out foreign governments attempting to surreptitiously send and amplify messages to influence the American public. Twitter, Facebook, and social-media companies can watch for this stuff and shut down accounts when they do, but the intelligence services will probably just move and set up new accounts. The technology is new, but the motive and methods are familiar to us. Back during the Cold War, Russia used to create fake racist letters from “ordinary Americans” and send them to African diplomats at the United Nations and hired goons to deface Jewish cemeteries.

The best defense against this is a less credulous and better-informed public, that doesn’t automatically believe everything they read on the Internet and doesn’t gleefully share any information they encounter that reaffirms their preconceived notions. I recently encountered a chain email, allegedly from a couple who had visited Paris and found the city overrun by awful, criminal migrants. No one who forwarded it found it strange that the pictures of anti-social behavior on the Paris metro had New York City subway maps in the background.

But this Politico article represents a bit of sleight-of-hand. The fact that Boris Badinov has a server farm churning out heavy-handed memes about a topic does not change the truth or falsity of an accusation, nor does it automatically make a topic out of bounds for discussion during a presidential campaign. We will see if the Democratic candidates seize upon this Politico article and the data within to dismiss these less-flattering topics as “Russian disinformation.”

All’s Well That Ends Weld

Who in the world might be interested in voting for William Weld in a GOP presidential primary? It turns out, libertarian-leaning GOP consultant Liz Mair:

The bottom line for people like [RedState founder Eric] Erickson is this: Mr. Trump has terrible character flaws and has eroded norms and worsened our system of government. But Democrats seem to have responded to the election of Mr. Trump not by pushing forward sensible, moderate candidates who understand the fundamentals of government and policy but rather far-left legislators in Congress (like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib) and policy like the late-term-abortion laws in Virginia and New York.

This is true. For those of us who find Trump’s character abysmal, his rhetoric unworthy of the office he holds, and his judgment erratic at best, his defeat by the Democratic nominee in 2020 would end up reversing some serious policy gains and most likely move the country fast and far in the wrong direction. Continuing Trump’s presidency is going to cost conservatives quite a bit in terms of respect for the Constitution; traditional cultural values; our established military alliances; our already seriously degraded standards for public discourse; and expectations of respect for all Americans of all races, creeds and colors. But the price of not continuing the Trump presidency keeps increasing even higher.

Mair writes:

As things stand right now, I’m inclined to vote my conscience and back Mr. Weld. I voted for him when he ran on the Libertarian Party line in 2016. He had a solid fiscal conservative rating as governor. He’s more capable than Mr. Trump of doing the job of commander in chief. He is likable and funny, and I can see him working well with other world leaders.

Your mileage may vary. As I wrote in 2016, Weld was surprisingly friendly with Hillary Clinton, dismissed her entire email scandal, is an outspoken defender of legal abortion, had only middling success in controlling state spending in a heavily Democratic state, backed gun control, and endorsed Obama in 2008. For a Republican, Weld spends a lot of time talking up the virtues of traditional Democratic party positions and candidates.

Hey, Guys, We Might Not Need that National-Emergency Declaration Fight

Senator Marco Rubio with a much simpler and much more Constitutionally sound way to generate significant amounts of funding for more border fencing: Start with the $1.375 billion appropriated in the most recent spending bill, add $601 million from Treasury Forfeiture Fund and move $2.5 billion from Department of Defense’s Counterdrug fund. Neither of the latter moves require Congressional approval; “Section 8005 of the most recent Defense Appropriations bill allows up to $4 billion to be moved around in the defense operating budget.”

That would add up to something in the neighborhood of 200 miles of new fencing, which I suspect a lot of Trump fans would see as significant progress towards keeping his campaign promise.

ADDENDA: Our Reihan Salam will soon be moving to become president of the Manhattan Institute. This is fantastic news for him, the institute, conservative ideas, and New York City as a whole, and bittersweet news for those of us who have benefited from his editorial judgment and wisdom.

Mickey and I found time to record a podcast yesterday, and a variety of political, media, and pop-culture news have put us in a dyspeptic mood: The willful blindness that drove much of the credulity around Jussie Smollett, the fact that Ralph Northam is still our governor, the endless drama surrounding outgoing Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown, and the unstoppable growth of Goop — not generic slime, but Gwenyth Paltrow’s luxury brand. It’s all covered in the episode entitled, “The Dumbest Week Since Last Week.”

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