Paste is a progressive outlet, but we’ve been watching in something like mute horror while conspiracies plague the minds of fellow liberals and leftists whose brains were clearly broken, in some way, by the election of Donald Trump. We get it—it was terrible, and our country is suffering. There should be no higher goal than getting this guy out of office. But that’s not an excuse to fall down the political rabbit hole that was previously the sole habitat of the Infowars mollusks.
We thought things wouldn’t get worse this week than the widespread theory that a half-Mexican, half-Jewish woman named Zina Bash was flashing a white power symbol on TV during the Kavanaugh confirmation hearing. Make no mistake—Bash is an awful person, and it goes beyond the weird smirks and eye-rolls she performed while flanking Kavanaugh. Beyond serving Justice Carpool Dad, she has worked for Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, and she had a hand in crafting the latter’s disgusting immigration policy. But she’s also firmly ensconced in the establishment, filthy rich, and—along with her U.S. attorney husband—reasonably powerful and influential. The idea that she took it on herself to broadcast a white powerful symbol is absurd, and the notion would be funny if it wasn’t so alarming. It was the latest incarnation of the #GameTheory! mindset that has swept the left in the aftermath of the election, and man, was it strange. You’d think it would be enough that she supports and even creates terrible, discriminatory policy, but nope—some liberals need to feast on the succulent meat of arcane intrigue. Because life is more comforting, you see, if you think it’s a bad movie.
The Bash incident was the peak of this week’s liberal paranoia, we thought. But this is the year 2018, which meant we weren’t getting through the week without something at least equally stupid. Yesterday, the New York Times ran an op-ed by a senior administration official basically saying that even though they wouldn’t ever have the courage of their convictions in a more public, lasting way, some self-styled right-wing #resistance figures in the White House try to subtly sabotage Trump so he doesn’t really screw things up. It was self-serving and ultimately hollow, and though it may undermine trust in Trump further, it will probably have a more immediate effect of getting the sensible people kicked out of the White House and replaced by Stephen Miller-esque zealots.
That said, there was one part of the op-ed that was seized on by the Game Theory crowd:
We may no longer have Senator McCain. But we will always have his example — a lodestar for restoring honor to public life and our national dialogue. Mr. Trump may fear such honorable men, but we should revere them.
That word, “lodestar,” is pretty unique. It essentially means a “guiding light,” and it’s not a word that I’ve ever used in speech or writing before today. You know who has, though? Get ready to gasp, folks: It’s none other than the man who sleeps next to a woman he calls “mother.” That’s right: Vice President Mike Pence:
Now, there are three conclusions to draw from this, and three only.
1. Mike Pence is the author of the op-ed, because he likes saying “lodestar” and it's a unique word.
2. It's a coincidence.
3. Whoever wrote the op-ed knew that Mike Pence said “lodestar” a few times, and wanted to make readers think it was Pence.
Number two is the most likely, number three is the most hilarious and also vaguely possible, and number one is impossible because Mike Pence is a spineless jellyfish who doesn't even have the courage to talk to a woman if his wife isn't present. I mean, sure, in the comic book version of this story, Pence benefits by Trump leaving office, but again, that requires a brain that can only understand life through the lens of two-dimensional pop culture.
Also, the intro to the op-ed noted that the author's job would be in jeopardy if his name became public, and the vice president can't be fired. Case closed, end of story.
Except, no, this case was not closed, and the story had just begun. Anyone who has witnessed the increasingly deranged cabal of liberal Twitter knew we were about to descend into the depths of the tinfoil caverns for some honest-to-god batshit theorizing. Any time a chance like this presents itself, there is always an opportunistic confidence man ready to step on the digital soapbox and lure the shallow and unthinking masses. In this case, it was Dan Bloom, an audio producer for a podcast company. It began in accordance with the template: A breathless introduction about a small detail that just couldn't help but catch his eye, inevitably leading to grand epiphanies and unleashing torrents of shocking truth:
(Quick note here: Ashley Feinberg is a kick-ass journalist who finds out real shit, and this man should take her name out of his mouth.)
We move on:
It goes on from there—Mike Pence has used “lodestar” a bunch. The annoying thing about Twitter threads is that they can make it seem like you're gradually getting more (and more illuminating) information as the narrative continues, when in fact, you are learning nothing. This is why it was so embarrassing when people like Clara Jeffery—who, as the EIC of Mother Jones, should know better—getting duped into calling hokum like Eric Garland's “game theory” thread “a Federalist Paper for 2016.” It shows how easily duped they are, and the format disguises repetition as revelation.
It's not revelation. At the end of Bloom's spiel, we're back to the same three possibilities: It's Pence, it's coincidence, or it's a false flag. We don't need 30 tweets to tell us this, and we shouldn't feel that 30 tweets somehow brings us closer to the truth or bolsters the argument that it's Pence. But Bloom clearly sensed that his argument needed more bona fides, so he introduced a source:
“Works in politics at a high level” is hilarious phrasing, because all it really means is that this person is probably not connected to the major players, and Bloom is trying to make him sound important. And what do we get from this source?
Ehhh, sure, it might be Pence.
But here's the thing: It's not Pence. It's obviously, evidently not Pence. It's beyond out-of-character for him, and even if there's no reason to trust the guy on any other topic, this denial only makes sense:
Look, if somebody wants to get their Twitter hustle on, that’s their business, and we should acknowledge that Bloom admitted the whole thing could be a coincidence. Way below the glamorous stuff, and also after he tried to brush by the fact that Pence can’t be fired—which goes against the language in the op-ed’s introduction—but, sure, it’s there. Nor was Bloom alone in jumping on the lodestar bandwagon.
However, we think it’s worth the call-out. This snake oil is not harmless. It’s fundamentally sensationalist and wrong, and it continually erodes the way we consume news. Someone coming across this thread could easily assume from all the likes and retweets that there is substance here, when in fact it’s idle speculation based on paltry evidence. Remember when Reddit thought they found the Boston Marathon bomber, but it turned out it was just some Internet dorks playing detective, and it actually hurt people’s lives? This is on a wayyyy different order of magnitude, and the consequences are not nearly as severe, but it’s the same brand of quackery. And it contributes to the creeping, pervasive notion that we should actually listen to these people, and that they should enjoy the same status as an actual journalist.
It’s really bad. So let’s stop listening to conspiracy-minded dilettantes, even if their drivel is propagated by the depressingly credulous ranks of keyboard acolytes. Even Mike Pence doesn’t think these people should be our lodestars. And to the conspiracy-minded dilettantes themselves: Please do us an enormous favor and shut up.