What was the point of Ted Cruz tweeting that fake news anyway?


Nine years ago, I worked for a website called Wire, which recently changed its name from Atlantic Wire. It served as a kind of breaking news blog that sat alongside Atlantic magazine, and when The Wire eventually closed, its archives moved under the broader Atlantic brand.

I guess this is why one of my former colleagues at The Wire, who left that institution a little less than a decade ago, suddenly appeared as the author on a screenshot of a fake Atlantic article that circulated on conservative social networks. universe this week.

A bizarre series of job changes and rebranding resulted in someone looking to cast the media as a bunch of awakened liberal losers who seized on that Atlantic name and logo as the conduit for their misinformation. They probably didn’t care who the author actually was; they probably cared a bit more about using the Atlantic as a contrast. All they really cared about was being outraged at one of the myriad enemies of the right, the media, and if my colleague, my friend, got a little angry, so be it.

After all, it worked. The screenshot was widely accepted, including by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.). Despite being completely and quickly demonstrably false.

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I reached out to my friend after seeing Cruz tweet the fake story, which he did with a tongue-in-cheek statement that “The left is beyond parody.” I’m not naming my friend here because, firstly, you can easily find the fake news article for yourself with a quick search, and secondly, because it’s been the focus of enough negative attention in the last 30 hours or so. less.

“I woke up very early Thursday to more direct messages than usual, including some calling me ‘hairdresser’ or other insults,” they wrote in an email in response to my question about how they found out they were the “author.” involuntary. of the fake story. “I was a bit confused, because the story I had just published, a great feature of our magazine on whole body donation research and education, was not necessarily the kind of thing I expected to get these kinds of abusive messages about.” . Notice the qualifier there, one that is probably familiar to anyone who writes about politics: You expect abuse, but within limits. An expert on all of this, my friend dug around and discovered how they had been selected for the dubious honor of Media Punching Bag of the Day.

“As the day went on and the image spread, I started getting more explicitly anti-Semitic tweets and harassment,” they told me. “I was hoping it would calm down this morning so I could pick up the clock, and then Cruz tweeted the screenshot.”

“Post-Cruz,” they added, “my mentions exploded.”

So let’s stop and consider this for a moment. The bogus article, purportedly a cover story for the magazine, not usually the purview of Wire writers, was titled “The Evolution of White Supremacy.” A subtitle explained the supposed thesis: “In Dearborn, Michigan, Muslim parents who oppose teaching children pornography become the new face of the far right.” Putting punctuation and framing aside, the concept makes little sense. Is someone “teaching porn”? That’s an evolution from when I was in school, certainly.

But Cruz, who has a solid track record of sharing incorrect information online, she couldn’t resist the implication. Here was another loser from the left-wing media trying to conflate white supremacy and the far right! He was exactly the kind of person the fake item was meant to serve as bait for, and he bit.

That he thinks this is useful is a phenomenon in itself. A large segment of the political right in the United States sees memes and online prank as part of the political debate. It’s a space in which cultural supremacy is still evolving or, in fact, is large enough that one can perceive great success even if one is only forging an objectively small part of the conversation. The left can’t meme, goes the battle cry, and the expectation is that the right can. That the most effective voices are those that can play in the space of social networks.

Cruz is always eager to prove his position on the right and so eagerly participates in the social media conversation. It doesn’t always work out, for him or, indeed, for those unknowingly involved in his effort to curry favor with the Republican base.

When his mistake became apparent (after it was pointed out to him, apparently, not after he decided to see if the article was too good to be true), he deleted the tweet. And then he rationalized sharing it in the most cliche way possible.

“I didn’t know it was fake,” he said. wrote in a subsequent tweet, as if he, as a United States Senator, is not expected to verify the information he shares with his 5 million Twitter followers before doing so. And then: “You guys are so crazy, it could easily have been real.”

And there it is. The “it’s not my fault I believed it, given what I already believe about you” defense. A defense that is itself the subject of a famous social media post in some circles. His office had no immediate comment Friday.

In the abstract, this is embarrassing for Cruz, as it should be. He will get over. But he is not the victim.

The victim in this case is my friend, who was sucked into this stupid flurry of nonsense through a long-dormant connection with a former employer. It was they who became the face of the ridiculous liberal media.

This is an underrecognized component of the rush to elevate the media into criticism. The right has long pushed back against perceived bias by trying to make it painful for reporters to critically cover the right. It is a strategy of “working the referees”. However, with the advent of sites like Twitchy, and later with social media, that has evolved. Now there is a rush not only to shame reporters, but also to harass and abuse them. Some of this is public, their own competition for attention by issuing the most aggressive denunciation. Much of this, often the worst, is private. Reflecting the broader shift in tone in the public debate, this feedback is not just “your coverage is flawed” but “you are evil.”

All of this is sharper in part because the target this time is my friend. But his experience is informative. My friend has been targeted because people think my friend did something my friend didn’t and because they, like Cruz, want to believe that someone like my friend would do something like that.

That is our final lesson here. It seems to be the case that, at this particular time, the alleged actions need not even have occurred to be hailed as iconic. Residents of Martha’s Vineyard may respond with near-universal hospitality to the unexpected arrival of a planeload of immigrants, but Fox News still portrays them as horrified and provoked liberals.

After all, the left is so crazy that could it happened, right? And that’s good enough.


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