Watersportsgate: who’s post-truth now?
Why liberal hacks are going wild for the dodgy dossier on Trump.
If there were an award for double standards, a Golden Globe for double standards perhaps, the Trump-fearing, Brexit-loathing chattering class would win it hands down. For months now, these people have been fretting over ‘fake news’, warning we live in a ‘post-truth’ era, sneering at the little people for buying into the lies of any demagogue that promises them a simpler, more immigrant-free life. And yet now these same people are publishing and sharing and snarking over a document that is utterly unverified, its source unknown, its claims unproven, and its tales about as tall as you can get. The dodgiest of dossiers. But it’s okay to push this fantastical ‘news’, these rumours, because their target is Trump, and we all hate Trump, right?
Buzzfeed, being the youthful, somewhat hip mouthpiece of every middle-of-the-road liberal platitude, has for months been tut-tutting over Western society’s descent into ‘post-truth’. In December it castigated US Congress for failing to stand up to ‘fake news’, to do something about ‘the rampant conspiracies that were shared widely during the presidential election’ and all the ‘disinformation and propaganda’ about Hillary. And yet yesterday, it published conspiracies of its own, which have now been widely shared, and which could very easily be given the name ‘disinformation’ or ‘propaganda’, or certainly ‘utterly unsubstantiated claims’: the intelligence document that says Trump is up to his neck in Russian contacts and once hired prostitutes to piss on a bed the Obamas had slept in.
Yes, this is the dossier, allegedly compiled by a former British intelligence worker – and British intelligence people never lie, yeah? – which says Trump has ‘deep ties’ with Russia. It runs through, or rather alleges, various points of contact. One story in particular has caught Twitter’s and the media’s attention: the claim that Trump hates the Obamas so much that he travelled to a Moscow hotel they once stayed in and hired Muscovite prostitutes to urinate on their actual bed. All while being filmed by Russian intelligence, who had put cameras in the room, and who then blackmailed Trump and basically said to him: ‘Do as we say and wreck America for us or your anti-Obama piss party with hookers will be revealed.’ If you believe this, you’ll believe anything.
It’s being called Watersportsgate. Of course it is. And this rumour – remember, the source of the rumour is unknown, its documenter unnamed – taps beautifully into the liberal-left’s increasingly conspiracy-theory idea that Trump is in essence a Manchurian Candidate, a puppet of Putin, doing his master’s bidding. And now we know why the president-elect is so dutifully poisoning America on behalf of Evil Russia: it’s at least partly because Russia has the anti-Obama piss prostitute film. This is how out-of-control the pro-Hillary, pro-EU set feels now, how unhinged they have become – that they will engage in a leftish rehash of 1950s McCarthyism, pushing the notion that Russia controls Trump, and hugging every dossier, whatever its lack of veracity, that confirms their view that they didn’t lose, that the EU didn’t fail or Hillary wasn’t rubbish, but rather that wicked foreigners, blackmailers from beyond the Black Sea, invaded our computers and minds and souls and screwed up everything.
Of course there’s a discussion to be had about whether and why Russia hacked the Democratic Party’s emails. But we’ve moved way beyond that into classic conspiracy-theory territory, where a) you become convinced some awesome, terrible, foreign force is controlling your politics, your society and your fellow citizens (not you, though, because you’re super-clever); and b) you latch for dear life on to every claim and tale that confirms your otherwise bonkers view. Buzzfeed admits there is ‘serious reason to doubt the allegations’ in the dossier. Indeed, other Western media outlets have had this dossier for months but didn’t publish it because their exhaustive efforts to verify its source and its more outrageous claims proved fruitless. Buzzfeed’s attitude is in essence: ‘So what if we can’t prove it? It will be a hit on Twitter.’ And it has been. It’s the No1 trending topic, and getting retweets is far more important than being objective these days.
Fifteen years ago, many media people were agitated by Tony Blair’s ‘dodgy dossier’ on Iraq. It looked to them like a collection of unverifiable facts, from unnamed or unreliable sources. Fast forward to 2017, and sections of the media are happy to publish dodgy dossiers of their own. They eschew scepticism, renege on their task of verification, ditch objectivity, in favour of peddling rumour and getting people chatting. Friends of mine who aren’t even interested in politics have messaged me today saying, ‘Trump got prostitutes to piss on Obama’s hotel bed?’ One said: ‘Trump pissed on prostitutes?!’ – it’s in the nature of rumours that they will sometimes shift and warp and become something else. Buzzfeed has behaved, not like a serious journalistic outlet, but like those pre-modern rumour-stirrers, who’d tell stories or share documents about people they didn’t like – witches, bishops, Jews – in order to make them more hated. And the mainstream media that didn’t publish the dossier’s claims doesn’t get off scot-free here: much of them are now secretly pleased Buzzfeed has done what their dusty but still existing guidance on objectivity prevented them from doing, because now they can repeat the stories and join in the whispering game.
If this isn’t ‘post-truth’, or at least post-objectivity, post-journalism – pre-verification – I don’t know what is. We now have a situation where mainstream media outlets call on Facebook to punish people who post links to stories that say ‘Hillary’s advisers operated a paedophile ring in a pizza restaurant’ while simultaneously spreading stories that say ‘Trump travelled to Moscow so he could get prostitutes to piss on Michelle Obama’s pillow’. But it’s only ‘fake news’ when other people do it, right? This is really serious. Objectivity is gone, truth and veracity now take a very far second place to partisanship. On all sides. Right now, many are allowing their hatred of Trump to win out over their commitment to fact-gathering and to being sceptical of intelligence agencies seeking to set the political agenda – witness the demands that the FBI/CIA do more to expose Trump’s alleged Russia links. In their increasingly desperate efforts to prevent Trump from undermining Western liberal values, Western liberals are destroying those values all by themselves.
Brendan O’Neill is editor of spiked.
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