Old and busted: Mainstream media’s war on “fake news.” New hotness: Airing baseless rumors on air in order to feed the narrative. Mediate’s Alex Griswold highlights this bizarre exchange between former Clinton Cabinet member Robert Reich and CNN’s Don Lemon, in which Reich explains away the riots in Berkeley that prevented Milo Yiannopoulos’ speech at the university as a false flag by … Breitbart?
“I was there for part of last night, and I know what I saw and those people were not Berkeley students,” Reich said. “Those people were outside agitators. I have never seen them before.”
“There’s rumors that they actually were right-wingers. They were a part of a kind of group that was organized and ready to create the kind of tumult and danger you saw that forced the police to cancel the event,” Reich insisted. “So Donald Trump, when he says Berkeley doesn’t respect free speech rights, that’s a complete distortion of the truth.”
“You think it’s a strategy by [Milo Yiannopoulos] or right-wingers?” asked host Don Lemon.
“I wouldn’t bet against it,” Reich said. “I saw these people. They all looked very– almost paramilitary. They were not from the campus. I don’t want to say factually, but I’ve heard there was some relationship here between these people and the right-wing movement that is affiliated with Breitbart News.”
Griswold says he’s heard some rumors on the street, too:
I've heard a rumor that Robert Reich killed JonBenet Ramsey. Just a rumor, but I'm going to repeat it on-air anyway. https://t.co/18PzjSanfv
— Alex Griswold (@HashtagGriswold) February 3, 2017
Is it possible? Er … sure, in a theoretical, paranoid-conspiracy construct, I suppose. We’d have to believe that Breitbart.com is using its money to fund roving bands of thugs that only seem to appear when conservatives go to speak on campuses or when Republicans get inaugurated as presidents. And if you believe that, you can also believe that our friends at Breitbart have figured out how to travel through time to stage the 1999 WTO riots in Seattle, which featured similar tactics by people dressed and acting in an almost identical manner:
Whether or not the violence came from university students or “outside agitators” or one kind or another will be established, hopefully, from police and university investigations. What’s of more interest in this exchange is the glib manner in which Reich uses the time-honored journalistic method of repeating unsourced rumors indiscriminately, and Lemon fails to call him out on it. Frankly, we could the same level of enlightenment by navigating the fever swamps of the “fake news” sites on the Internet. Maybe we should check in with Neil Gorsuch’s Fascism Forever Club to see what they’re hearing on the street, too.
Robert Schlesinger has a smarter take on the riots at US News:
Really Berkeley? The hallowed home of the free speech movement has become the face of curtailing speech? And it did so while playing its assigned role in a Breitbart provocateur’s performance art project? Oh well played, Berkeley. Really. Well done. …
I don’t have much to add to these trenchant sentiments other than to note that the whole idiotic affair couldn’t have played more into Yiannopoulos’ hands if he had scripted it himself. His shtick is to provoke with offense; he’s on a college speaking tour for that purpose. The masked vigilantes who got the event canceled have provided him boundless publicity, further raised his profile and credibility with the alt-right troll movement – he was chased out of Berkeley by left-wing ninjas! – and thereby no doubt guaranteed another dozen speaking engagements. Even Twitter-Troll-in-Chief Donald Trump got involved, floating the idea of revoking federal funds for the school. (He can’t.)
In the age of social media and instant communications, Berkeley protesters gave Yiannopoulos precisely what he was looking for. They played their assigned role in his show, giving he and his ilk video ammunition for their case that progressives oppose free speech. This must have made his year.
Setting off Reich’s ranting and CNN’s refusal to call it out certainly will make Yiannopoulos’ year, if the riot didn’t.
Update: Our old friend Zombie covered the riots from the ground, and notes that the political leanings of the instigators is no great mystery to anyone other than Reich:
Left-wing campus groups had been planning the riot for months, as detailed in “The Official Anti-Milo Toolkit,” a comprehensive strategy document prepared by a coalition of leftist organizations outlining exactly how to get Milo’s Berkeley appearance canceled, and providing shockingly fascistic rationalizations as to why free speech should not be allowed for conservatives.
Several Milo supporters and presumed Trump voters were also assaulted before and during the riot; although none of these assaults were witnessed by me personally, they are documented and described in some of the many news articles written about the incident. Here is a small sampling of the extensive media coverage detailing the anti-Milo Berkeley riot.
Be sure to read it all, and watch all the videos as well.