Stacey Abrams, who narrowly lost the Georgia governor’s race last year, is scheduled to give the official Democratic Party response speech after President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address tonight, and then Senator Bernie Sanders is scheduled to give a speech of his own, as two different and complementary parts of the broad-based political effort to oppose and rebut a corrupt, dishonest, and destructive right-wing presidency.
That sentence goes first because, ever since the Trump campaign began, experts on disinformation have been saying that the crucial thing to do in response to falsehoods is to open by stating the truth, rather than by repeating the falsehood, even if your aim is to knock down the falsehood. Let the reader get the facts clearly before you describe the effort to muddy the facts.
So, also, before we go any further: the Hill is a shifty and untrustworthy publication, and if you get mad about something you’ve read in a story in the Hill, or about a tweet about a story in the Hill, you are a chump.
Got it? Two response speeches, by two politicians, in harmony. One website, which is bad. Some indefinite number of angry chumps, ideally zero, but at least not you.
Now here’s the thing the Hill did yesterday, shiftily, to try to make you an angry chump: it published a story saying that Bernie Sanders “will be delivering his response at the same time that former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams delivers the official Democratic Party response.”
Terms like “sensationalist” and “clickbait” get thrown around a lot, most of the time by people who refuse to believe that a writer might vigorously and honestly disagree with them. But the Hill really does traffic in sensationalist clickbait—under cover of its boring, wonk-journal name, it chases attention for attention’s sake, with the political sensibility of bunch of seventh-graders rooting for a fight in the cafeteria.
The cafeteria troublemaking works because seventh-graders are a mass of insecurity and hormonal aggression and grudge-laced certainty. So is political Twitter. All the old fights are right there waiting to be re-fought as soon as someone throws a soggy french fry. Of course Bernie Sanders was arrogant enough to think he could just talk over a woman, and a woman of color at that; of course, as a socialist, he was undermining the goals of the official Democratic Party. Of course people on Twitter were ready to say of course about it all.
As ever, no one can escape from the loop of amplified resentments left over from the 2016 information wars, because no one ever knew where the real resentments began or ended, and so the whole thing remains its own reality. It scarcely mattered whether the Hill was operating on the nihilistic Macedonian-teens model of disinformation or the malicious Russian-operatives model, or whether the angry chumps were being augmented by trolls in the present day. Bernie vs. Abrams was effective. It worked.
Who cared that it wasn’t true? About two hours into the turmoil, the Hill quietly took back the key claim in its story, rewriting it to say Sanders “will be delivering his response after former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams delivers the official Democratic Party response.” Rather than calling it a correction, it tacked “Updated 7:55 p.m.” at the bottom, with no explanation of what had been changed. People stayed mad.