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What was the point of Ted Cruz tweeting this fake news anyway?

Nine years ago I worked for a website called The Wire, which had recently been renamed Atlantic Wire. It served as a kind of news blog that cohabited with Atlantic magazine, and when the Wire finally closed, its archives were moved under the broader Atlantic brand.

This is, I suppose, why one of my former Wire colleagues – having himself left this institution a little less than ten years ago – suddenly appeared as the author of a screenshot of a bogus article from The Atlantic that has been making the rounds in the conservative social media universe this week.

A bizarre series of job changes and brand reshuffles led to someone seeking to cast the media as a bunch of woke liberal losers, seizing on that Atlantic name and logo as a vehicle for their misinformation. . They probably didn’t care who the author was; they probably only cared slightly more about using the Atlantic as a foil. All they really cared about was stirring up outrage against one of the countless enemies of the right – the media – and if my colleague, my friend, took a bit of heat, so be it.

After all, it worked. The screenshot has been picked up widely, including by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.). Although it is fully and quickly proven wrong.

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I reached out to my friend after seeing Cruz tweet the fake story – which he did with a tongue-in-cheek statement that “the left is beyond travesty”. I’m not naming my friend here because, one, you can easily find the fake article on your own with a quick search and because, two, they’ve gotten enough negative attention in the past 30 hours approx.

“I woke up very early on Thursday and got more DMs than usual, including those calling me a ‘groomer’ or other slurs,” they wrote in an email in response. at my request how they had learned that they were the unwitting “author” of the false story. “I was a little confused, because the story I had just published – an important article for our magazine on whole body donation research and education – was not necessarily the kind of thing I I expected to receive this kind of abusive messages.” Note the qualifier here, which is probably familiar to anyone writing about politics: you expect abuse, but within limits. A regular at it all, my friend dug in and figured out how they had been selected for the dubious honor of being the media punching bag of the day.

“As the day wore on and the image spread, I started to receive more explicitly anti-Semitic harassment and tweets,” they told me. “I was hoping it would turn off this morning so I could lift the watch, then Cruz tweeted the screenshot.”

“After Cruz,” they added, “my mentions skyrocketed.”

So let’s stop and consider that for a moment. The bogus article — purportedly a cover story for the magazine, which was generally beyond the purview of Wire’s writers — was titled “The Evolution of White Supremacy.” A caption explained the alleged thesis: “In Dearborn Michigan, Muslim parents who oppose teaching children porn are emerging as the new face of the far right. Aside from issues of punctuation and framing, the concept makes little sense. Someone “teaches pornography”? It’s an evolution from when I was in school, certainly.

But Cruz, who has a solid balance sheet of sharing incorrect information online, couldn’t resist getting involved. Here’s another leftist media loser trying to confuse white supremacy with the far right! Cruz was exactly the kind of person the fake article was meant to serve as bait, and he was biting.

That he thinks it’s useful is a phenomenon in itself. Much of the political right in the United States sees online memes and jokes as part of political debate. It’s a space in which cultural supremacy is still evolving – or, really, it’s big enough that one can perceive broad success even if you only carve out a small objective part of the conversation. The left can’t meme, the rallying cry goes, and the expectation is that the right can. That the most effective voices are those that can play in the social media space.

Cruz is always eager to prove his stance on the right and so eagerly engages in the conversation on social media. It doesn’t always work — for him or, certainly, for those unwittingly involved in his efforts to curry favor with the GOP base.

When his mistake became obvious (after it was pointed out to him, it seems, not after he decided to see if the article was too good to be true), he deleted the tweet. And then he rationalized having shared it in the most cliched way possible.

“I didn’t know that was wrong,” he said. wrote in a later tweet, as if he shouldn’t be expected, as a US senator, to verify the information before sharing it with his 5 million Twitter followers. And then: “You guys are so crazy, this could easily have been real.”

And There you go. The defense “it’s not my fault that I believed it, given what I already think of you”. A defense that is itself the subject of a famous social media post in some circles. His office had no immediate comment on Friday.

In the abstract, it’s embarrassing for Cruz, as it should be. He will recover. But he is not the victim.

One victim in this case is my friend, who got sucked into this silly avalanche of nonsense because of a long-standing connection to a former employer. They are the ones who have become the face of the ridiculous liberal media, the drywall is now waking up.

This is an underrated element of the media’s elevating rush for criticism. The right has long pushed back against perceived biases by trying to make it painful for journalists to cover the right critically. It is a strategy of “working the referees”. With the advent of sites like Twitchy, and then with social media, that evolved. Now, there is a rush not only to embarrass reporters, but also to harass and abuse them. Part of it is public, its own competition for attention with the most aggressive denunciation. Much of it – often the worst – is private. Reflecting the broader tone change in the public debate, this feedback is not just “Your coverage is flawed”, but “You are bad”.

This is all more acute in part because the target this time is my friend. But their experience is instructive. My friend was attacked because people think my friend did something my friend didn’t and because they want, like Cruz, to believe that someone like my friend would do something like that.

This is our last lesson here. It seems that, in this particular moment, the alleged actions don’t even need to have taken place to be hailed as iconic. Residents of Martha’s Vineyard may respond with near-universal hospitality to the unexpected arrival of a plane loaded with immigrants, but they are still described by Fox News as horrified and fired-up liberals.

After all, the left is so crazy could have arrived, right? And it’s quite good.