Slate columnist Michelle Goldberg explained how an unfounded accusation spread throughout conservative media, claiming that Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign team tried to force Laugh Factory to take down a video about her.
According to the right-wing organization Judicial Watch, “Hillary Clinton's campaign is going after five comedians who made fun of the former Secretary of State in standup skits at a popular Hollywood comedy club.” Judicial Watch claimed that a Clinton staffer called Jamie Masada, the comedy club's founder, asking for the names of the actors and for the video to be taken down.
In her November 19 Slate post, Goldberg explained that the threat to Masada came from an anonymous call that was not confirmed to be from Clinton's campaign and detailed how the unfounded accusation spread through right-wing media, despite the fact that Masada could not verify that anyone from Clinton's campaign had actually contacted him:
In short order, right-leaning sites including NewsBusters, NewsMax, Mediaite, the Daily Caller, and the Daily Mail aggregated the accusation.
This seemed bizarre. Even if you buy the most grotesque right-wing caricatures about Clinton's humorlessness and authoritarianism, it's hard to believe that the campaign would be so clumsy, especially at a time when it's going out of its way to make the candidate seem fun. Such a demand would only reinforce the worst stereotypes about Clinton while ensuring that the offending video went viral. Besides, there's nothing in the video itself to attract the campaign's notice: It's less than three minutes long and is mostly stale cracks about Hillary's clothes and age, along with familiar insinuations that she's a lesbian. One of those insinuations is even admiring: “I would love if you become president, divorce Bill, and then you marry a bitch,” says Tiffany Haddish.
Yet there was Masada--a man who has won awards from the American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP, and has no discernable right-wing agenda--quoted as saying, “They threatened me. I have received complains before but never a call like this, threatening to put me out of business if I don't cut the video.”
Masada doesn't actually know that the call came from the Clinton camp.
How does Masada know that John was actually from the Clinton camp? He doesn't. “I'm glad I'm not in politics or any of that stuff; you might know more than I do,” he says. “Maybe it was a prank, I have no idea. Was it real? Not real? I have no idea. He didn't call back, that's all I can say.” Nor is Masada sure how Judicial Watch even heard about the call. “The way I understand it, it's because one of the [Laugh Factory] employees told a couple of people,” he says.
What we have here is a small-scale demonstration of how the Hillary smear sausage gets made. It starts with a claim that's ambiguous at best, fabricated at worst, and then interpreted in the most invidious possible light. The claim is reported in one outlet and amplified on Twitter. Other outlets then report on the report, repeating the claim over and over again. Talk radio picks it up. Maybe Fox News follows. Eventually the story achieves a sort of ubiquity in the right-wing media ecosystem, which makes it seem like it's been confirmed. Soon it becomes received truth among conservatives, and sometimes it even crosses into the mainstream media. If you watched the way the Clintons were covered in the 1990s, you know the basics of this process. If you didn't, you're going to spend the next year--and maybe the next nine years--learning all about it.