Pushing Total Nonsense Isn’t ‘Healthy Skepticism’


There’s a bizarre misconception pushed by the right-wing commentary and MAGA politicians that the mainstream media, government, and other gatekeepers are inherently unreliable – which is why even the worst purveyors of actually robbed garbage are “valuable” to public discussion. , because they serve as a necessary check on ‘the powerful’.

The theory has even been used to profitably praise Alex Jones as a brave dissident, a bulwark in the resistance against “the cathedral.” The anti-democratic, neo-reactionary writer Curtis Yarvin credits himself for coining the phrase, which he defines as follows: “‘The cathedral’ is just a short way of saying ‘journalism plus academia’ — in other words, the intellectual institutions at the center of modern society, just as the church was the intellectual institution at the center of medieval society.”

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Simply put, adherents believe the cathedral is “the enemy of the people,” and anything the cathedral believes inherently discredits itself.

New Twitter boss Elon Musk kicked off his worst week ever tweeting a link (at Hillary Clinton) from a low-traffic fake news site propagating a baseless conspiracy theory about the near-fatal attack on Paul Pelosi — adding condescendingly: “There’s a Chances are there’s more to this story than meets the eye.”

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To demonstrate his courageous skepticism about “the story,” Musk was completely skeptical of the false information being spread by a fringe website.

Twitter account of Elon Musk/TBEN via Getty

Musk is not an outlier. Megyn Kelly said she “smelled a rat.” Tucker Carlson said, “We’re not the crazy people; you are the liars. There’s nothing wrong with asking questions, period.” The big adult son of former President Trump shared homophobic memes to cast doubt on the ‘official’ story of Paul Pelosi who was nearly killed.

For the self-proclaimed enemies of the ‘regime media’, it doesn’t matter how infamous your source is, the most important thing is that you declare your opposition to ‘the present’. It’s the MAGA/faux-heterodox-centrist version of 9/11 Trutherism: If the “institution” tells you the sky is blue, you must assume they’re nefariously hiding something from you about teal and gray.

The anti-“corporate media” vlogger Glenn Greenwaldduring a segment on Carlson’s TBEN News show about the “glaring holes and doubts” in the Pelosi story, rhetorically asked, “How many millions of people have been conditioned to believe it’s immoral — or even some kind of reflection of mental illness, like you are a conspiracy theorist – if you do not immediately and without question accept every story told to you by authorities?”

That’s about as thin as a straw man argument gets. But it’s helpful if your only requirement in a discourse ally is the “enemy of my enemy.”

To be clear, I fully subscribe to the principle that the press in general should be hostile to institutions of power – both public and private. Journalists should not just take bosses at their word, they should demand as much transparency as possible and follow the facts wherever they lead – even if it conflicts with their own political leanings.

As a journalist who is often disappointed in the way editorial boards handle “stories” irresponsibly and draw bold conclusions before doing basic fact-checking (think Jussie Smollett, Covington Catholic, and the Steele Dossier), I also believe that not everything “legitimate” news broadcasts are to be immediately believed and never questioned. I absolutely do not reflexively accept government officials, law enforcement, or political pundits as purely unassailable sources — nor do I think anyone else should.

But that doesn’t mean I’m going to look to Alex Jones for that necessary check on the “cathedral” story. Just because the “media” and other institutions can blame themselves for inviting many of today’s levels of skepticism – the solution is not to replace healthy skepticism with unhealthy conspiratorial improv sessions.

And yet many of the “rational skeptics” think this is exactly what we should be doing.

Anti-cancellation culture commentator Salomé Sibonex defended Jones’ worth of discourse on a podcast shortly after a jury ruled against him for knowingly and continuously defaming the parents of Sandy Hook victims. “I like where he directs his anger, for the most part, which is on political elites and institutions… we need that. You need people who are wildly suspicious of power. That is good. That’s healthy…It’s good to have a thorn in the side of your leaders, even if he goes off track and even if he’s mostly wrong,” said Sibonex.

That’s a pretty sad commentary on how much value the “skeptics” place on the integrity of their sources. It’s as if there’s no great middle ground between “the story” and a despicable opportunist like Alex Jones.

And it’s not just Jones and other reckless sellers of disinformation not by providing a balance to ‘the powerful’, their ‘just asking questions’ attitudes are not perceived as such by their audience. The sellers of disinformation plant their own stories, which are almost impossible to deprogram.

Take Joe Rogan. He is insanely rich and popular. His fan base is legion. He is described by admirers as “the Walter Cronkite of our time.” And yet, after Rogan regularly makes fun of himself by propagating falsehoods, he retreats to the defense of the “clown nose” – that he’s just an idiot comedian, don’t take him so seriously. And five minutes later, he’s back on track and postulates as the unbiased beacon of skepticism people need to resist the tyranny of the “cathedral.”

In October, Rogan spoke with MAGA’s favorite former Democrat, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, about a school that “had to install a litter box in the girls’ room because there is a student who is a hairy.”

The story is, of course, complete bullshit. Rogan even admitted this recently. But it’s already stuck in the brains of the intended audience. It’s even being pushed by a Republican US Senate candidate who has a more than zero chance of winning.

Wharton professor Ethan Mollick this week tweeted on the ‘illusory truth effect’, in which he shares several studies on the phenomenon, which he summarized as: ‘If you see something repeated often enough, it seems more true. Multiple studies show it works in 85 percent of people. Worse, it still happens even if the information is not plausible and even if you know better.” Evidently, even silly sayings like “George Washington was born in China” can become believable after only being repeated five times.

That’s why it’s dangerous if Kari Lake, the likely next governor of Arizona, goes on TBEN News and makes cryptic allusions that she will be surreptitiously assassinated by Hillary Clinton — echoing a three-decade-old conspiracy theory that the Clintons murdered (and successfully concealed) dozens of political opponents and problematic allies.

People believe this shit just like they believed Trump’s lies that the 2020 election was stolen. And the true believers internalize these deceptions as a call to arms. After January 6, we would be foolish to believe that “it can’t happen here.”

That’s why — no matter how much the mainstream media, government, and other institutions screw up, cover it up, or honestly lie — the solution isn’t: “Believe and promote every psychotic conspiracy theory and trust every con man disapproved of by ‘the cathedral.'”

You can maintain a healthy skepticism of the powerful without lowering yourself to the point of clinging to a “must hear both sides” mantra when it comes to pink slime websites or sadistic performance artists like Alex Jones.

Around the . to paraphrase legendary Drill tweet on ISIS/ISIL – when it comes to professional liars against the establishment, “don’t ‘give it’ to them under any circumstances.”