Welcome back to Can't Handle the Truth, our Saturday column looking at the past seven days of fake news and hoaxes that have spread thanks to the internet.
The situation is dark for Democrats right now. Early Saturday morning, the Senate passed a rushed-through tax bill that disproportionately benefits the wealthy and corporations, the first major legislative achievement for Donald Trump and the Republicans. This bill will have to be reconciled with a House version of tax reform before it becomes law, but thanks to GOP majorities in both chambers of Congress, Democrats are utterly powerless in these negotiations. What's a liberal to do in the face of such adversity?
The good news for the anti-Trump camp came Friday, when it was announced that former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn was being formally charged with lying to the FBI as part of a deal to cooperate with Robert Mueller's investigation. It quickly became clear that he was planning to implicate members of the Trump transition team, who apparently told him to make his controversial contact with the Russian ambassador before Trump took office. (Those conversations, when revealed in February, led to his abrupt resignation.) This may eventually result in to charges against White House officials, possibly including Trump, and more possibly including Trump's preppy son-in-law Jared Kushner. This brings Democrats a baby step closer to their dream of impeaching the president, and liberals like Joy Behar popped the champagne and yukked it up:
While Trump clearly has fresh reasons to worry, and Democrats clearly have new reasons to be optimistic, that optimism should be tempered. Early reports saying Flynn was directed to contact the Russians "as a candidate," were apparently off base. ABC News later amended (or, arguably, retracted) that story, clarifying that Flynn says Trump directed him to chat with Russia during the transition—when the election was over and done with. That's a far cry from the smoking gun of collusion during the campaign that Democrats so crave.
But never mind all that if you're a committed member of the #Resistance. In all likelihood, I lost your attention somewhere in the middle of that last paragraph, because the idea of Trump's personally being a pawn of Russia is too tantalizing to pay attention to fine-grained details. That's a problem on the left—though there are plenty of serious critiques of Trump and the GOP, there's also a lot of very silly nonsense out there spread by people who will believe anything as long as its unflattering to Trump or his subordinates.
Here are a few more examples of liberals jumping the gun:
Melania wishes you a scary Christmas
There's a real news item here, and don't get me wrong, it's funny. The first lady's communications director did tweet about Melania Trump's Christmas decorations, and there was an extremely grim photo attached.
So for a while, Twitter acted like the first lady had revealed herself to be Queen Bavmorda, and all was levity and mirth. There were also goofs about a video posted around the same time of the first lady imperiously taking in a ballerina performance. It was weird but true, and a good time was had by all. Then the humorous troll account Pixelated Boat tried a more subtle brand of satire, later calling it "a fake tweet that a depressing number of people think is real."
Most people got the joke, but a ton of people apparently thought this was real. One Twitter user pointed out the religious contradictions. Another was mad that Republicans tolerate her paganism but smeared Barack Obama as a secret Muslim. Some even criticized her for doing paganism wrong. The idea that the first lady was making Christmas pagan again even jumped from Twitter to Facebook, where the notion of Melania's "hallway of great darkness" continued to pop up days after the fake Boat post.
It's not clear that everyone passing this notion off as true actually believes it, but some certainly do—or at least didn't think too much about it.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders tried to pass off a stock photo of a pie as her own
Just as there are plenty of real reasons to denounce the first family, there are real criticisms to be made of White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who turned the Thanksgiving press briefing into an angry, dysfunctional family dinner. She also made what appears to have been an exquisite chocolate pecan pie for her family.
The pie photo was taken against a white backdrop, and the pie itself was lovely, so yes it did look a little like a stock photo. No one could find the photo in any stock photo databases, so it's safe to say the simplest explanation is that Sanders is a capable baker.
That didn't stop her detractors from filling the reply thread on her tweet about the pie with stock photos—the implication being that Sanders's pie was fake. Many of the responses went semi-viral.
Consequently, it might be considered a little intrusive of April Ryan of Urban Radio Networks to press Sanders to demand evidence that the pie was real while Sanders was probably in the middle of serving it to her children or something. The White House falsely accuses the press of lying all the time, even though quite often it's the administration (especially the president) creating and spreading hoaxes. But in this case, the pie seems real, and those getting hysterical about it look unhinged.
The pee tape has been found
This transparently fake tweet about "the Trump Pee Tape" was an experiment, according to its creator, the mysterious lefty troll known as Respectable Lawyer. The whole saga is fascinating, and worth your time, but I'll try and sum it up:
In an effort to ask, "Are nominally information literate centrists any better than pizzagaters at the end of the day?" Respectable Lawyer (RL) lifted a clip from Kanye West's "Famous" music video (that's the one with the fake, naked celebrities in a giant bed). Then, in a long tweetstorm written in the style of left-leaning twitter conspiracy theorists—the crew VICE contributor Paul Blest once called "The Infowars of the left"—RL tried to sell the clip as a section of Trump's infamous Russian blackmail tape, which supposedly includes Trump paying prostitutes to pee on a Russian hotel bed.
It was retweeted hundreds of times, and while I'd love to say no one believed it, it's my sad duty to inform you that there are extremely gullible people on Twitter:
To be clear, RL didn't make much of an effort to pass this pathetic fakery off as the truth, and just about everyone who responded got the joke. But when something is this fake, it's discouraging when anyone shows so much as a hint of credulity, and RL got much more than a hint. It was discouraging when many people seemed ready to believe it, but had doubts. It was also discouraging when others, including left-Twitter conspiracy theorist Louise Mensch, responded in ways that saw through the video itself, but hinted that it the joke tweets were part of some larger conspiracy theory.
In short, it was a good snapshot of a desperate, tragic crowd that's hungry for hope. Some of them will eat fake hope, and depressingly, some will even eat bullshit with the word "hope" written on it.
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