Seder’s firing was met by many valid charges—against Cernovich, and also against MSNBC—of “bad faith.” Both figuratively (The A.V. Club: “MSNBC has now fully bought into that smear campaign … whose openly stated goal is the destruction of news outlets just like it through the use of blatantly manipulative trolling techniques”) and literally: “The entire culture and our politics are now dominated by people who have weaponized bad faith and shamelessness,” the MSNBC host Chris Hayes tweeted. (Hayes added: “Also, I reiterate my longstanding position that people shouldn’t be fired for a tweet, *particularly* one that is obviously being read in manifestly bad faith.”)
Bad Faith. Bad faith. Bad faith. Not just in regard to Seder’s story, but also, recently, in regard to the removal of Peter Strzok, who led the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private email server, from Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference. And to Twitter, in the BuzzFeed writer Katie Notopoulos’s account of being locked out of the service for days as the company capitulated to trolls. And to Twitter’s more general failures to write and enforce meaningful rules against such trolling. And to the recent—and spectacularly failed—attempt by Project Veritas, James O’Keefe’s stunt-sting operation, to induce The Washington Post to report on a false story about Roy Moore. “Maliciously bad faith,” Martin Baron, the Post’s executive editor, termed it. As my colleague Conor Friedersdorf summed it up, “There is perhaps no better illustration of the bad faith that prevails today on the populist right than the actions of O’Keefe as he solicits donations for Project Veritas.”
Bad faith is a term with legal valences: Contracts, in particular, demand bona fides for their execution, and can be terminated when bad faith is revealed on either side. As it’s used among the American media, though, the term generally implies a contract of a different sort: the kind that evokes notions of citizenship and civility and—the old idea remains with us, despite all the buffeting it has taken of late—honor. While good faith is a stand-in for trustworthiness, which is also to say for norms that are both commonly understood and commonly shared, bad faith suggests the opposite: the erosion of commonality itself. It suggests a flaw that affects—infects—all of us by social association. Not just intellectual dishonesty, not just hypocrisy, but something even more pernicious: Bad faith is cutting because it suggests a foundational kind of failing. Without faith in the individual sense, after all, what faith can we have in the collective?
In that sense, bad faith, in Seder’s story—and Strzok’s, and Notopoulos’s, and the Washington Post’s—works as a revealing shorthand: not just for the weaponization of lies, but also for the expansive effects of the war itself. It suggests how easily, as truth loses its moorings, the world can be manipulated: jobs lost, compromises made, the language of contract law suggesting the breaching of the American social contract. Bad faith in the most immediate way suggests both-sides-ism at its most insidious—MSNBC fired Seder, it seems painfully clear, out of a capitulation to Cernovich and the alt-right, assigning equal weight to their views and to Seder’s—but it also suggests a broader struggle for truth and authority. “I agree with this fully. Main Stream Media has done exactly that for decades but the people have finally caught on and aren’t buying the BS anymore.” That was Donald Trump Jr., quoting a tweet from Chris Hayes and, in an attempt at a rope-a-dope, accusing the “Main Stream Media” of being, collectively, the bearer of bad faith.