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NYTimes' Farhad Manjoo recounts his moment "in the mud" with Kennedy—but only ends up spattering himself
Unanimously screaming that debate is DANGEROUS, and using lies and smears to put that point across, "our free press" is now one big, loud conspiracy against American democracy (or what's left of it)
Recently the New York Times enhanced its daily dump on RFK, Jr. with a new hit-piece by Times columnist Farhad Manjoo: “It’s Not Possible to ‘Win’ an Argument With Kennedy.” That title is, of course, no compliment. It means that no one can best Kennedy in a debate—not because the latter knows his stuff, has all the pertinent data at his fingertips, and argues with extraordinary clarity (and civility): on the contrary. According to Manjoo, Bobby does not win debates for real, through such forensic skill and intellectual ability, but only seems to win them (or, as the headline puts it, “win” them) by fogging everybody’s minds with sophistry, intermingled craftily with bits of truth. This is good enough for him, because he doesn’t really care about the issues, claims Manjoo: “Conspiracy theorists don’t care about facts, just attention.”
That crack about the “facts” is pure projection—as I’ll show here, by telling the whole story of Manjoo’s attacks on Bobby in the summer of 2006; but let’s begin with Manjoo’s version of that story. Here I’m going to paraphrase, and gloss, his version in detail, both because (unlike Manjoo) I want to get it absolutely right, and—what matters more—because it perfectly exemplifies the propaganda that’s been used to smear the candidate since he declared his run, and that’s been used against him (and others) for many years. In other words, this op ed perfectly exemplifies the gaslighting technique that’s been deployed relentlessly—and catastrophically—by the “free press” throughout the West since 1967, when the CIA first weaponized the phrase “conspiracy theory” (and coined the phrase “conspiracy theorist”), urging journalists to use that mocking language to discredit critics of the Warren Report.
News from Underground by Mark Crispin Miller is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Since then, that dismissive tactic has been used to maintain one Official Story after another, from the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy in 1968 (both, like JFK, killed by “lone gunmen”), to Ronald Reagan’s landslide victory in 1980 (not enabled by a secret deal with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, to keep the hostages locked up through the election), to Iran/contra (not overseen by George H.W. Bush), to the Oklahoma City bombing (carried out by two angry amateurs, using a truckload of fertilizer), to the 2000 election (not stolen), to 9/11 (the staggeringly lucky work of nineteen Saudi jihadists), to the 2004 election (not stolen), to Ukraine’s “Maidan Revolution” in 2014 (not another coup run by the CIA), to Bashar Assad’s two “gas attacks on his own people” in 2017 and 2018 (the first not perpetrated by the “rebels,” the second not accidentally caused by the explosion of a rebel arsenal); and so on—a history far richer even than this paragraph suggests, since comprehensive treatment would take much more space than I have here.
Throughout those years, the tactic largely worked, as dissident analyses were kept out on the margins, so that most people couldn’t know them in detail, and/or figured that such counter-narratives were just as loony as “our free press” always claimed; but now the tactic doesn’t work so well—the COVID crisis having variously broken it (though millions are still falling for it, and all too many always will). “Our free press” has called too many truths “conspiracy theory,” and too many have been proven true, for the tactic to keep working as it did before “the virus” started stressing it. Thus (certain) millions have been disenchanted at long last— an awakening that’s made this Kennedy campaign a bid far likelier to go the distance—and even, possibly, to win—than they’re all bellowing throughout the media, while also struggling otherwise to make the rest of us not hear, or not believe, what Bobby Kennedy is saying.
Here, then, is how Fahrad Manjoo—the New York Times behind him (and, no doubt, the usual players behind them both)—attempts (again) to tell us not to listen to this Kennedy, or (by implication) anyone except himself, and all the other “journalists”:
So, while Kennedy “lacked expertise” on the “important issue” of election theft, Manjoo himself knew all about it, and so heroically, if naively, “jumped into the ring for a few rounds of debate” with the “conspiracy theorist,” to help the public see that there was no truth whatsoever to the latter’s “reckless claims” that the 2004 election “had been stolen from John Kerry”—a claim as false and dangerous as Kennedy’s “conviction that several common, widely used vaccines are harmful” (as Manjoo goes on to say). Noble though his effort was, Manjoo only fed the bonfire of Bobby’s crackpot grandiosity, by trying manfully to stick to facts and logic in the red haze of that conflagration; and so he’s here to offer some hard-won advice:
What got Manjoo thinking back on Kennedy’s performance “in the mud” those many years ago—that demagogic menace trying just to call attention to himself, by spouting “views” based on no facts? “I got to thinking about all of this recently,” when Kennedy, on Joe Rogan’s podcast, “served up a helping of misinformation” on vaccines. That outrage prompted Peter Hotez, the “well-known vaccine researcher,” to strike a counter-blow for “science”: He “tweeted a link to a Vice story critical of Rogan’s anti-vaccine statements and Kennedy’s appearance on the show,” whereupon (as we all know) they challenged him to come on and debate the issue, Rogan offering to donate $100,000 to a charity of Hotez’s choice—a sum by now bumped up to over $2.6 million by “an avalanche of Twitterati” [sic] keen for a debate; but Hotez has resisted that temptation to jump “in the mud” with that attention-grabbing bullshit artist.
So that “well-known vaccine researcher”—and multimillionaire vaccine investor—who’s popped up on countless TV broadcasts pushing COVID “vaccination” for the last three years, with reassuring “scientific” claims that all turned out to be dead wrong, and whose idea of correcting Bobby’s vaccine “misinformation” was to tweet an article in VICE, is somehow too meticulous a “scientist” to stoop to any public argument with that confusing charlatan—or, presumably, with any other “skeptic.” According to Manjoo, that “vaccine expert” simply knows too much, and has too much integrity, to argue publicly with anyone who disagrees with him. While some (or most) may think that Hotez won’t debate because he’s scared to face someone who knows enough to crush him like a bug, Manjoo sees that abject refusal as “courageous,” an indication of high principle; and, as well, a sign of wisdom, since, as Manjoo also knows, any such debate “wouldn’t prove anything” (although it certainly would prove at least that Hotez has some grounds for his position, while his refusal to debate is proof enough that he does not).
“Anyway,” Manjoo adds weirdly, debate “is not scientists’ method” [sic]. Their way of “assessing empirical questions” is through “lab experiments and clinical trials”—not “owning an interlocutor on a popular podcast.”* That claim is idiotic on its face. “Assessing empirical questions”—concerning, say, the risks of using mercury in vaccines , or the safety and effectiveness of COVID “vaccination”—requires “lab experiments and clinical trials”? By that argument, “scientists” may not be held accountable, or “assess empirical questions,” in any public forum, whether it’s a “popular podcast,” a courtroom, or a congressional hearing. But if it’s such a scientific no-no to take stands outside the lab, in “popular” venues, how was it appropriate for Hotez to appear on TV time after time, telling everybody to get jabbed, then boosted, then boosted yet again; or to trash Kennedy and Rogan publicly, by tweeting a hit-piece in that leading scientific journal, VICE?
Having thus absolved the “expert” Hotez from debating the inexpert Kennedy, because it “wouldn’t prove anything” (even if the former “owns” the latter), Manjoo tries to illustrate that murky point by harking back to his experience debating Kennedy on the theft of the 2004 election. As a reporter at Salon back in 2004, he tells us, he mastered all the technical arcana of elections, having “cultivated many sources in the insular, nerdy world of election administration.” Now as “expert” as Hotez, Manjoo was “well prepared for what happened after Election Day—a barrage of theories from people on the left that, due to electronic voting machines or other problems, the election had been stolen” (emphasis added). Without noting how he dealt with that “barrage of theories” in late 2004, Manjoo skips ahead to the summer of 2006, when Rolling Stone (a solid magazine back then) ran Bobby’s article, “Was the 2004 Election Stolen?” Although that piece deals only with what happened in Ohio, Manjoo treats it as a summary of all the arguments concerning that election nationwide. “By consulting the sources I’d cultivated,” Manjoo determined that, though there were certainly “irregularities” in that election, as well as efforts to disfranchise votes, none of that was any major deal, since “pretty much every expert I talked to said it was unlikely” that such wrongs kept Bush/Cheney in the White House.
Thus tutored by his “sources” (or “pretty much” all of them), Manjoo “wrote a point-by-point debunking of Kennedy’s breathless claims. Then Kennedy wrote a rebuttal to my rebuttal, which I, again, rebutted.” His efforts to assert the truth against those groundless “claims,” and the wishful thinking of the Democrats, made life unpleasant both for him and his embattled magazine:
From that heroic self-portrait Manjoo moves on to the precautionary moral of his story—that “it’s not possible to ‘win’ an argument with Kennedy,” so honest characters like Peter Hotez and Joe Biden shouldn’t try. When he debated Kennedy, or tried to, on “The Brian Lehrer Show” (on New York’s WNYC), he was thwarted by the verbal trickery that Bobby uses when discussing any of his lunatic ideas:
According to Manjoo, that demagogic “swirl” of truth and quasi-falsehood forced him to spend all his time on-air “correcting Kennedy’s misstatements”—which, although he did it “handily,” made him “sound like the boring, persnickety nerd stuck in the weeds.” With seeming ruefulness, he doubts “that much of anything had been clarified for the audience,” who probably drew this conclusion: “One side says X, the other says Y, but whoever is right, it sure seems like this is a debate we should be having.” So it’s a bad thing that the listeners felt that “this is a debate we should be having”? Manjoo seems to think so, ending with a peroration so unclear that I’ve now spent about a half-hour trying to paraphrase it, so I’ll just reproduce it. All it means, essentially, is that the listeners’ befuddlement was not just Bobby’s fault, but Bobby’s purpose.
Before we take a close look at that paraphrase, let’s pull back and note the larger context in which Manjoo decided, or was assigned, to write this latest piece. His self-portrayal as a doggedly objective journalist—painfully recalling how, back in 2006, he did his level best to counter Kennedy’s disinformation with the facts—is itself an obfuscation of the fact that Manjoo is, again, performing as a propagandist, just as he did back in 2006 (as we shall see).
To demonstrate the propaganda function of this piece, it is enough to note how neatly it fits in with all the other pieces that the media has recently pumped out against debating Kennedy—a propaganda mini-drive required to justify the fact that neither Peter Hotez nor “Joe Biden” could debate the agile Kennedy. Thus, with all the stridency and unanimity that we associate with Dr. Goebbels’ press, “our free press” has, since early June, come out—astoundingly— against the fundamental democratic process of debate, because it’s dangerous.
Why Ever Could It Be That Joe Biden Doesn't Want to Debate RFK Jr. and Marianne Williamson?
Of course Democrats won't put him on stage with a raving antivaxxer and the Woo-Woo Queen of the Fields of Love.
June 5, 2023
Joe Rogan wants a debate on vaccines. That’s just the problem.
June 20, 2023
Joe Rogan wants a “debate” on vaccine science. Don’t give it to him.
June 22, 2023
Robert F Kennedy Jr. Is Dead Wrong About Vaccines
June 22, 2023
Hotez is right not to take the bait. Rogan is unqualified to moderate such a debate, and has himself peddled disinformation about vaccines. Debating anti-vaccine conspiracy theorists like RFK Jr. is a fool’s errand, which always backfires, as history has demonstrated repeatedly. These debates give the false impression that there are “two equivalent sides,” and therefore can cause real public health damage.
And as if to “prove” to the truth of that position:
It’s Not Possible to ‘Win’ an Argument With Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
by Fahrad Manjoo
June 23, 2023
Then re-echoing Manjoo’s point:
Anti-Vaxxers Don’t Want a Debate; They Want a Spectacle
June 24, 2023
Social Media Has Collapsed Good Debate
June 24, 2023
Why Peter Hotez Should Not Debate RFK, Jr. on The Joe Rogan Experience
June 26, 2023
Los Angeles Times
RFK, Jr.’s townhall showed the folly of trying to fact-check quackery in real time.
June 29, 2023
America’s cable news networks seem determined to prove that old adage defining insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
Case in point: The 90-minute town hall appearance that News Nation, an upward-scurrying cable news wannabe, granted Robert F. Kennedy Jr. on Wednesday night. Kennedy says he’s running for the Democratic nomination for president.
The program served largely to underscore a lesson that the media world should have absorbed from CNN’s misbegotten May 10 town hall with Donald Trump: Trying to fact-check anyone who pumps out misinformation and disinformation via a verbal fire hose is a fool’s errand.
Sorry RFK Jr.: COVID vaccines work. What is there to debate?
July 5, 2023
On and on “our free press” goes—and so could we. But these examples surely are enough to show that Manjoo’s piece is only one of many blasts within the recent propaganda symphony; though it’s the only one that claims to prove the point from personal experience. And now, having pulled back for that larger glimpse of many outlets hammering away in brainless unison, let’s look back at that paraphrase with which Manjoo purports to show how slippery a debater Bobby is. Here it is again, with the full paragraph preceding it, about the “McFlurry of doubt” that, according to Manjoo, Bobby raised deliberately in order to mislead the audience:
Manjoo then seeks to prove his point with a pastiche of seeming quotes:
Had Bobby said that “arguments over facts are ‘almost a side issue”? Had he conceded that “each side has their own numbers”? Had he said that “we’ll never know what actually happened,” as if it the truth was quite beside the point?
Here’s what Bobby said, according to the audio of that debate. (There’s no transcript online; I’ve excised the stammers.) You be the judge:
Well, what you agree on is that neither of you think the way the election in Ohio was conducted was our democracy’s finest hour. But, Robert Kennedy, do you want to start in and uh, make your case? What are the biggest pieces of evidence that you would start out with?
Well, the biggest issue here is that there was a deliberate, concerted effort by the Republican Party—and this is indisputable—to steal the 2004 election. Whether or not they actually succeeded, you’ll never be able to prove one way or another, because the Republicans illegally derailed the legally mandated recount of the ballots. But the indications are, from looking at the numbers, that they did in fact succeed.
There was over 350,000 Ohio citizens who never got a chance to vote, most of them Democrats, or whose votes weren’t counted. In addition to that, in 12 western counties, there were 80,000 votes that were cast for John Kerry that ended up being switched to George Bush. And Bush only won the state by 118,000 votes according to the official tally.
So that alone, that number alone would have been sufficient to give him the election. In addition to that, there were at least six other counties where tens of thousands of Ohio voters, of Democratic voters, had their votes switched from Kerry to Bush.
But you know, Brian, the real issue here is that, and you’ll never be able to dispute the numbers til the end of time [sic]. And you know, Mr Manjoo, who's on the show too, has made kind of a cottage industry of reciting the Republican talking points about this issue.
You know, it's saying that [i.e., reciting those talking points], and disputing numbers. I can't dispute each of these numbers. The numbers are correct. I urge your listeners who read the Salon piece by Mr Manjoo to also go to my reply … in which I reply to him point-by-point on each of these issues. But the arcane dispute is really, is really almost a side issue. The real issue is that there were hundreds of different efforts by the Republicans to suppress the Democratic vote, illegal efforts, unethical and illegal; and they probably succeeded, or they may or may not have succeeded, in shifting the vote to President Bush, but they certainly tried.
And the press has not covered this issue, given this attempted theft of American democracy, [with] the kind of coverage that it really deserves.
(Manjoo’s attack is here: https://www.salon.com/2006/06/03/kennedy_39/. Kennedy’s reply is here: https://www.salon.com/2006/06/06/rfk_responds/. Anyone who wants to read the article in Rolling Stone will have to find a copy of that issue, since Rolling Stone took down that piece in 2010.
(Those interested in my critique of Manjoo’s piece—in which he claimed, preposterously, that Kennedy had cribbed his entire article from my book Fooled Again—may find it here, on HuffPost, after Salon’s editor, Joan Walsh, refused to publish it: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/some-might-call-it-treaso_b_23187.)
Now, we can argue—as we should—about the (overwhelming) evidence of theft, and/or attempted theft, in that election, just as we should be arguing about the (overwhelming) evidence of theft in 2020, instead of demonizing those who dare to talk about it. (If “our free press” had properly reported on the theft back in 2004, there might have been no theft, or less of it, in 2020.)
While we can surely argue about all of that, however, I doubt that anyone, except, perhaps, Manjoo himself, would argue that his “paraphrase” is not a gross distortion. “If you do read the Kennedy article,” sniped Manjoo in Salon, “be prepared to machete your way through numerous errors of interpretation and his deliberate omission of key bits of data.” Having now machete’d my way through Manjoo’s fake “paraphrase,” I’d call that slander a prophetic glimpse of his own work in this campaign; for Bobby did not say, or imply, that “arguments over facts are ‘almost a side issue,’” or that “each side has their own numbers,” or that “my story could be right,” as if it didn’t really matter, as long as he could use it to confuse the issue; nor did he say that “We’ll never know what actually happened,” as if it doesn’t matter, but that it was now impossible to prove “one way or the other, because the Republicans illegally derailed the legally mandated recount of the ballots.” (Nor did he say, “You’ll be able to dispute the numbers till the end of time,” but that “you’ll never be able to” do so.) Nor did he ask, with a conspiracist wink, “isn’t it suspicious that no one is talking about it?” What he forthrightly—and correctly—said was that “the press has not covered this issue, given this attempted theft of American democracy, [with] the kind of coverage that it really deserves.”
In short, what Bobby said was true; yet Manjoo treats it all as demagogic fiction. There were over 400,000 Ohio citizens, mostly Democrats, who either “never got a chance to vote,” or whose votes were electronically flipped in Bush/Cheney’s favor (sometimes right before their eyes). Manjoo did make his case by parroting “Republican talking points” (which “our free press” too recycled—with no pushback by the Democrats, except some few intrepid mavericks like John Conyers and Stephanie Tubbs Jones). That’s not quite the same as saying that “this guy sounds like a Republican.” The sad fact is that Fahrad Manjoo was but one, albeit the most pervasive one, of many leftist scribes and sages who waved off the theft of that election as “conspiracy theory,” and thereby helped keep We the People in the dark about it, thus maintaining the corruption of America’s voting system. Manjoo’s cohorts in that “leftist” propaganda drive included David Corn and Alexander Cockburn (in The Nation), Michael Moore, Noam Chomsky, Mark Hertsgaard (Mother Jones), Russ Baker (TomPaine.com) and Al Franken (who, preparing for his own political career, refused to go there), while Rachel Maddow was conspicuously silent when the subject publicly came up (as it did, twice, on panels that I did with her).
I will say more about that sorry chapter in a separate post, as a corrective to Manjoo’s self-serving story as an “expert” on election theft, and the reception of his hit-piece in Salon. In short, his version of that history is just as honest as his paraphrase of the debate with Bobby Kennedy. Now that (once again) he stands among the propagandists organized to trash this Kennedy (just as, decades ago, “our free press” was organized to spread, and then maintain, the Big Lies about the murders of his uncle and his father), we need to set the record straight at last—not just about Farhad Manjoo per se, and his own propaganda efforts vis-a-vis the theft of that election, but about the propaganda used by “our free press” to keep us ignorant of all the crimes against us, and unaware of all the crimes to come.
News from Underground by Mark Crispin Miller is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.