The Most Self-Discrediting Partisan Attack of 2012

Even retweets don't equal endorsements, making this conservative media attempt at Twitter guilt-by-association based on who a flack follows hard to beat.

twitter full.jpg

Flickr user Richard Scott 33


When Matthew Continetti launched the Washington Free Beacon, he titled his mission statement Combat Journalism. "What picture of the world would one have in mind if the morning paper read like the New York Times--but with the subjects of the stories and the assumptions built into the text changed to reflect a conservative, not liberal, worldview?" he wrote. "What would happen if the media wolf pack suddenly had to worry about an aerial hunting operation? You are about to find out."

A couple months later, you may be wondering how many bloodied wolf carcasses the self-styled combatants have stuffed and mounted as trophies on the walls of their K Street barracks. I can't provide an exact count, but Matt Yglesias did draw my attention to their latest merciless onslaught:

washington free beacon  new full.jpg

To summarize their story, an Obama campaign staffer, Lis Smith, has been on Twitter calling attention to the fact that a recent public opinion poll shows Mitt Romney behind among female voters. Her Tweets went out to fewer than 4,000 followers. In a sane world, even Republican partisans would react to this by ignoring it. They'd say to themselves, "This single poll taken in April of an election year is basically irrelevant, and an Obama campaign staffer Tweeting about the poll to fewer than 4,000 followers is basically the biggest nothing story ever." Or they wouldn't even say that to themselves, because it's so obvious they'd just know it without mulling.

But The Washington Free Beacon is a rapid response operation that does some journalism in hopes that an aura of credibility will permeate its unbylined attacks; its staffers are being paid to turn inconsequential nothings into partisan zingers; and it all adds up to a new low point in someone's Washington, D.C., experience: he or she arrived ready to change the world, and eventually wound up scrolling through the people that an Obama campaign staffer follows on Twitter in order to discredit her by asserting that by virtue of following them she condones their worst behavior. 

Or as the Washington Free Beacon put it (emphasis added):


Lis Smith, team Obama's director of rapid response, has been tweeting derisive messages at Romney press secretary Andrea Saul, accusing the candidate of not appealing to woman voters. Smith also charged that Romney does not fully back the Lilly Ledbetter fair pay act, and accused Saul of fabricating job loss numbers pertaining to women. Smith, however, appears to have no problem with a coterie of noted male misogynists who regularly belittle women and, in some cases, physically abuse them.

On Twitter, Smith follows the disgraced boxer and convicted rapist Mike Tyson, as well as the woman-beating singer Chris Brown. She also seems to be a fan of the coke-sniffing, prostitute pugilist, Charlie Sheen. Smith also follows the notorious womanizer and former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, as well as the actor Alec Baldwin, who has been known to refer to his daughter as a "thoughtless little pig."

To state the obvious, this sort of thing is despicable. Does any of us want to live in a world where we're presumed to have no problem with the personal behavior of people in our Twitter stream or the celebrities whose careers we follow*? Aren't we all worse off if everyone who works in politics is subject to this sort of cynical nonsense, which steadily drives people with integrity out of the industry until a disproportionate number of the folks left are shameless jerks?

But this isn't just embarrassing for the people who wrote and published it because it's despicable -- it's extra embarrassing because they've compromised their character for such inconsequential, poorly executed hackery. 1) Precisely no one thinks following a celebrity is tantamount to endorsing their personal behavior. Just who do they think the average American voter is? 2) Elsewhere on the Web conservatives are trying to claim that the left alone cynically uses identity issues to discredit political opponents. This was never plausible, but it's even less so with The Washington Free Beacon staff unapologetically publishing this kind of attack. 3) Insofar as this item spreads, what people are going to remember is, "Mitt Romney has a woman problem, and Obama's staffer follows Mike Tyson and Arnold Schwarzenegger on Twitter."

So there you go, conservatives. Aren't you glad your elites inside the beltway have decided to finance this "combat journalism"? How would you possibly compete in the public arena without paying twenty and thirty-somethings better-than-journalist salaries to do this kind of work? It's just like "if the morning paper read like the New York Times--but with the subjects of the stories and the assumptions... changed to reflect a conservative, not liberal, worldview" -- as long as we ignore the actual New York Times, and act as if conservatives earnestly believe that Twitter-following is endorsing.

-------

*To the inevitable commenter who thinks of scrolling through Matthew Continetti's Twitter feed to see who he follows: stop. You're better than that. And hypocrisy is the least of what's wrong with this.


Presented by

Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

Things Not to Say to a Pregnant Woman

You don't have to tell her how big she is. You don't need to touch her belly.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Things Not to Say to a Pregnant Woman

You don't have to tell her how big she is. You don't need to touch her belly.

Video

Maine's Underground Street Art

"Graffiti is the farthest thing from anarchy."

Video

The Joy of Running in a Beautiful Place

A love letter to California's Marin Headlands

Video

'I Didn't Even Know What I Was Going Through'

A 17-year-old describes his struggles with depression.

Video

Google Street View, Transformed Into a Tiny Planet

A 360-degree tour of our world, made entirely from Google's panoramas

Video

The Farmer Who Won't Quit

A filmmaker returns to his hometown to profile the patriarch of a family farm

Video

Riding Unicycles in a Cave

"If you fall down and break your leg, there's no way out."

Video

Carrot: A Pitch-Perfect Satire of Tech

"It's not just a vegetable. It's what a vegetable should be."

More in Politics

Just In