The term "conspiracy theory" is often associated with kooks and panic peddlers who see nefarious secret forces leading us all to our doom. It's linked to people pushing transparently silly-sounding tropes — like the QAnon clan, who claims Hillary Clinton is running a satanic global sex trafficking ring out of pizza parlors.
It's sad that anyone falls for feverish gunk like this.
The press is extremely unhappy with President Donald Trump for poisoning the political waters with conspiracy theories. It expressed disgust with Trump's recent stream of suggestions that a dramatic increase in mail-in voting will inevitably lead to the most fraudulent election in American history. The "fact-checkers" insist this prediction is a lie, when it hasn't even happened.
This is an odd pose for people who have spent the entire Trump presidency filling the gaping cable-news hole with wild-eyed speculation about the future. Their "investigative journalism" began with anti-Trump conspiracy theories. Even when they can't prove them, they still hang the clouds over Trump's White House.
It's been a constant refrain for liberal TV pundits to suggest that Trump will never leave office peacefully if he loses. Some, like former Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat, energetically summoned the cinematic vision of Trump unleashing military deployments and seizing ballot boxes.
In February, Politico predicted Trump would sabotage the transition of power if Joe Biden were elected...and journalists somehow overlook how their forces sabotaged the 2016 Trump transition. Former FBI Director James Comey was playing power games to destroy Trump's former national security adviser Michael Flynn. There were other assorted "Obamagate" shenanigans in the FISA courts and in the protective liberal bubbles around oppositional anonymous sources.
Most of Trump's term in office has been dominated with wild talk of the 2016 Trump campaign's collusion with the Russian government, a conspiracy theory that former special counsel Robert Mueller's team of angry Democrats and Clinton donors helpfully dragged out until the 2018 midterms were over, even though they knew early on they didn't have any collusion to prosecute. It's a sick joke that prosecutor and top Mueller deputy Andrew Weissmann asserts in his new book that the Mueller team was impaired, as the Washington Post puts it, "by their own reluctance to be aggressive."
In July, Hillary Clinton emerged on MSNBC to offer her conspiracy theory on why Donald Trump commuted Roger Stone's prison sentence.
"I think it's pretty clear that Stone threatened him," she said. "He probably threatened him privately, but he also threatened him publicly about what he would say if he had to go to prison."
It's always hilarious to hear the Clintons charge someone else with obstructing justice or playing games with pardons.
In August, Ted Koppel — who spent years chasing the baseless "October surprise" theory that Ronald Reagan messed with the release of American hostages in Iran to beat incumbent President Jimmy Carter — popped up on CBS' "Sunday Morning" to allege that Trump might suspend the Constitution through so-called "presidential emergency action documents." Former Democratic Sen. Gary Hart called them a "blueprint for dictatorship."
Throughout this president's term, we've witnessed a long-running garbage barge of claims that Trump is an authoritarian who is mentally unfit and should face a righteous 25th Amendment removal from office by his own Cabinet. How many times have we been told that the "walls are closing in" and Trump will never finish his term?
Conspiracy theories have a use in political communication. Trump uses them to whip up his support. Our desperate, conspiracy-prone press uses them to make Trump sound as dangerously unglued and criminal as it can to turn out the Democrats.
The press doesn't exist to extinguish conspiracy theories. It often attempts to make them sound as distinguished as possible.
Tim Graham is director of media analysis at the Media Research Center and executive editor of the blog NewsBusters.org.