February 10, 2020

There's never a bad day to stir up a little outrage online. I'm not a fan of Chuck Todd, I think he's a dreadful bothsider who doesn't really understand that politics is more than a horse race, and he has me blocked on Twitter because I am a rotten thorn in his side most of the time.

So when I saw that the hashtag #FireChuckTodd was trending, I went to see why there was such a fuss. If Twitter was to be believed, Chuck Todd had just called Bernie supporters online "brown shirts," which would be a dreadful thing to say to a person who was Jewish and had parents who survived the Holocaust. Dreadful.

Except, it turns out not to be true. There's a place to aim anger about this, but it's not at Chuck Todd, who merely read a quote in The Bulwark by Jonathan Last. Here is the entire quote in context, referring to what happened online after the Working Families Party endorsed Elizabeth Warren instead of Bernie Sanders:

This is, as everyone else has pointed out, not very different from Trump’s social network army.

By which I mean that it’s morally different, but functionally the same. Unlike Trump, Sanders does not encourage online bullying himself—he only employs some people who do. That’s a big difference in terms of the moral framework!

But as a functional matter, the end result is the same: An army of people (or bots or Russians or whoever) hounding opponents, enforcing discipline, quashing any sort of dissent—and trying to preempt anyone else from taking sides against the Dear Leader.

Whether or not Bernie is personally coordinating this effort makes absolutely no difference to the facts on the ground.

No other candidate has anything like this sort of digital brownshirt brigade. I mean, except for Donald Trump.

The last line in bold there is what Chuck Todd read in his question to Ruth Marcus. And he read it, because there is a fundamental question that follows: What if you can’t win the presidency without an online mob?

That's a great question. I don't have an answer for it. I also don't think it was tremendously great judgment for Chuck Todd to read a quote like that aloud and put the question to Ruth Marcus without regard to what kind of a loaded term brown shirts are. I have used that term to refer to the online mobs that Trumpers and Republicans in general like to use to silence us...I have all too often been the target of them.

But what Chuck Todd did there was to quote someone. He neither endorsed the quote, nor agreed with it. He simply quoted it.

Raw Story's headline -- "Chuck Todd ‘should apologize and resign’: MSNBC anchor blasted for Nazi smear on leading Democrat" -- helped light the Twitter fire, which then lit the misinformation brigade ablaze.

Here are a few screenshots of the misinformation spreading around:

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Here it is from a candidate for Congress primarying Debbie Wasserman Schultz:

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Here are others, full of rage over That Thing Chuck Todd Did Not Say:

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screen_shot_2020-02-10_at_6.51.47_pm

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In all of these cases, the outrage should be directed at Jonathan Last, who actually wrote the damned thing that Chuck Todd quoted. This is a classic case of online misinformation and mobbing, and it was what Russia used to divide and conquer. Republicans have learned to do this too.

Jonathan Last should not have called online Bernie supporters brownshirts for obvious reasons. There were other ways to describe the dogpiles that happen all day, every day by people to people, regardless of whom they're supporting. I've gotten it from Pete people and Amy folks, occasionally Biden people, too and yes, Bernie people. The only candidate whose supporters haven't done it is Elizabeth Warren.

Dogpile or not, there are other ways to describe the online pushing and shoving which do not include likening a Jewish candidate's supporters to Nazis. Chuck Todd used marginal judgment in reading it, but he didn't endorse it. He asked about it.

It would do that same candidate's supporters some good to actually see what Chuck Todd said before they react. It looks silly for them to be blowing out over a thing which did not happen.

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