A couple of months ago, a woman named Louise Mensch showed up on my Twitter timeline. A connection between Trump National Security Adviser Carter Page and Russia that she had written about a few months prior had panned out, and though the details as reported in the mainstream media weren’t exactly the same as the details she had originally provided, Mensch’s reporting proved somewhat prescient. In the days that followed, I began to see her name more and more frequently on my timeline, retweeted by various political journos and people I respect. Hell, Laurence Tribe was hyping Louise Mensch, and Tribe is a ConLaw professor at Harvard who has argued in front of the Supreme Court 36 times.
I started to follow her, and based on the credibility afforded her by the retweets of other political reporters and the fact that she sort of kind of got one story right, I started paying closer attention to Mensch. In that week or two, mostly what I read was Mensch repeatedly retweeting other people retweeting her. All she seemed interested in at the time was bolstering her own credibility, as in, “Look! This person said I was right, therefore I was right!” It had a very Trumpian quality about it.
Still, given the following of respected folks on the left that she had cultivated, I thought, “Huh. Maybe Mensch knows her stuff!” Hell, just last month, she was published in the NYTimes. The patina of credibility stuck for a while to her subsequent tweets and articles, most of which were about these very circuitous connections between Donald Trump and other Republicans to Russia. Some of these theories sounded crazy, but hey! She was right once, and what’s going on in the Trump White House is pretty insane right now, so this is something that we really should pay attention to, right?
And she had the goods. Confirmations of the pee tape; a report that Carter Page carried with him to Russia a pre-recorded tape of Donald Trump offering to change U.S. policy in exchange for Russian hacking; suggestions that the Russians had compromising material on Mitch McConnell and Jason Chaffetz; that Russia was behind Ferguson; and more recently, that Jon Ossoff didn’t win 50 percent of the vote in Georgia because of … Russia.
Somewhere along the way, Louise Mensch lost the thread.
Based on my own uneducated diagnosis, it felt like Mensch — a former conservative member of Parliament in the UK who had moved to NYC and turned to investigative reporting — had gotten a whiff of relevancy here in the United States and, in order to maintain it, began mixing fact with fiction and drawing her own increasingly wild conclusions by connecting her own made-up dots.
I mean, look: I get that there may be a few treasonous actors in the Trump Administration, but at a certain point, it started to get ridiculous.
.@Snowden @TheRickWilson @TrueFactsStated @RVAwonk @TrickFreee @xtrixcyclex @funder @pwnallthethings @justin_kanew @MarlaMHughes @twistopherrobin See, if I were @SethAbramson I might be anxious that American Traitor @Snowden approved of my ranting on #TrumpRussia, but that's just me :) pic.twitter.com/zrRqa5MBnq— Louise Mensch (@LouiseMensch) April 25, 2017
Snowden disagrees with her, ergo she’s right? That’s not how reporting works.
Indeed, in a span of a few months, Louise Mensch went from someone who I thought was ahead of the mainstream media to the Alex Jones of the Left (speaking with the Brits who write for this site, however, I learned that Louise Mensch had long been regarded as a garbage person in the UK).
It wasn’t just Mensch, either. There’s something called the Palmer Report that has been showing up in my timeline with increasing frequency of late, as well. They post these salacious headlines that give liberals a quick adrenaline high, like “Report: foreign intel has incriminating recordings of multiple members of Donald Trump family,” but examination of those articles typically reveal that they are poorly sourced and/or rely mostly on speculation.
It’s Fake News. And while Fake News was widespread on the right side of the political spectrum before the election, Donald Trump’s victory has given increasing rise to it on the left. Respectable people are buying into it, retweeting headlines before reading the articles, or sharing these stories because it feels good to believe that they are true.
Obviously, I don’t need to offer a refresher on Fake News to our readers — we all know the damage made-up stories caused to the Clinton campaign. But be careful out there on the left, anyway. If you’ve never heard of the source, or if the story sounds way too good to be true, then it probably is. View it with skepticism. Check the sourcing. Don’t believe it just because John Cusack or Debra Messing retweeted it; they’re as eager as the rest of us to want to believe in something.
Maybe impeachment is around the corner. Maybe there’s some truth to some of the wild conspiracy theories being reported. Maybe the Russians do have compromising intel on Jason Chaffetz and Mitch McConnell. Maybe 210 people have committed treason, so far. But just because someone wrote it and someone you like or respect retweeted it doesn’t make it true. Just because we think we’re smarter than Trump supporters doesn’t mean that we’re not vulnerable to the same manipulation. Louise Mensch and her increasingly large following are proof.
Look: If fake news starts proliferating social media on the left, it’s going to give Trump a reason to say FAKE NEWS. It’s going to make it even more difficult to use actual facts against Trump and his campaign if it’s mixed up in a lot of fiction. It’s dangerous to buy into it, so if you see an article by Louise Mensch or patribotics or The Palmer Report or even a theory being floated by former Treasury Secretary Robert Reich, take it with a bath full of salt. If it’s legit news, it will eventually show up on a legit outlet, so wait until then before you share it on social media.