For my readers who feel that the negatives attached to Hillary Clinton are too strong for you to give her your vote, I want to propose an experiment. Don’t do this for me or for Hillary Clinton; do it for yourselves. Make a list of every reason you can think of why you can’t vote for Clinton. Take your time, and include everything, no matter how trivial. Now remove from your list anything Donald Trump doesn’t agree with. If your list didn’t shrink much or at all, that should scare the hell out of you. How could this happen? The answer is that, if you trace all of your reasons to the root source, you are relying on the same media sources as Donald Trump. At this point, you may tell me that there is no way Trump gets his information from, say, Bipartisan Report, and you might tell me that they are reliably progressive. Yes and no. There are many sites like this, whose owners are truly progressive, but the stories they publish had their start in the right wing media. Even if they don’t, the key is understanding how to tell fact from fiction.
To illustrate this point, let me show you an article a friend of mine posted recently. She proclaimed that this was a deal breaker for her, why she could never support Hillary Clinton. The article was from a site I had never heard of before, True Activist, and the provocative headline was: ”Future Clinton Treasury Secretary Announces Plan To Privatize Americans’ Retirement Savings” . Something didn’t seem right about this, so I tried to find out who was behind this website, and what their agenda was. There is no “About Us” page, so I looked at the submission guidelines for new writers, and I learned that True Activist wants to “expose false or misleading events that are misrepresented by the mainstream media, etc.” Now that could be a rallying cry from the left or the right, and the home page presents a hodge-podge of articles that reflect this. This site seems to have no overarching point of view at all, except for the premise that everything in the mainstream media is suspect. That assumption creates an environment where outright lies can flourish, but I did not have a smoking gun at this point. So I went back to the article itself, and I noticed something I had missed before: the text in red, which I had thought was simply for emphasis, was actually a set of links. Follow the link for “most likely pick for Treasury Secretary”, and you will find an article on Politico that says the subject of the True Activist article, Tony James, is “sometimes mentioned as a possible Treasury secretary in a Clinton administration.” That hardly makes him the future Treasury Secretary proclaimed in the headline, so now I have caught True Activist in a lie. But what about James’ proposal? The article on True Activist never says that his plan privatizes Social Security, but it stokes those fears, saying “Americans’ retirement savings would be lumped together under Wall Street control, allowing them to gamble with the massive sum and make a killing from the bets. However, any “misplaced” bets would be the problem of everyday Americans invested in the system, not the hedge funds who made those bad bets.” So I followed the link that reads, “revealed his plan”. It turns out that Tony James isn’t proposing any changes to Social Security at all. He is actually concerned about how people who do not have traditional pensions save for retirement to supplement the benefits they will receive from Social Security. 401(k)s, IRAs, Keough Plans and more are all completely at the mercy of market gyrations, and these plans are already “under Wall Street control”, as the True Activist writer puts it. What James is proposing is to replace all of this with a Retirement Savings Plan that would be guaranteed by the government to return at least 2% in any year, no matter what the markets did. He also wants to change the tax treatment for this plan, so that lower income workers would get a tax benefit from their contributions that is only available now to more affluent workers. At this point, the True Activist article has collapsed completely, and I feel comfortable saying that they are an unreliable media source, one of many. The author of the article may be a well-intentioned progressive or not, but she read her sources for this article expecting to find a smoking gun. Because the right wing media had spread the idea that Hillary Clinton wanted to privatize Social Security, our hapless author found that, even though it wasn’t actually there.
The point of all this is that we must all become smarter media consumers. A major reason Donald Trump became the Republican nominee in the first place was the development over a long period of time of a system of right wing media outlets that have a blatant disregard for facts. Fox News and Breitbart are two of the best known, but there are many others. This year, they learned that they could create a website that seemed to be engaged in reasoned discourse, and people on the left would spread their stories, ostensibly to support Bernie Sanders. I saw this in Sanders groups throughout the primary season. People avoided the harder task, perhaps, of making the positive case for Sanders, and instead spread anything and everything they could find that attacked Hillary Clinton. This served to legitimize websites that did not deserve it, which only made things worse.
I understand how this can get started. It is true that mainstream media sources will neglect to cover a story that might not sit well with an important advertiser, for example. This does not mean that they are lying in what they do cover, but it does mean we need additional sources of information. I also understand the thrill of discovering a story that no one else has heard of yet, or a new source of information. That is exactly why I went into such detail about the True Activist article, and how I debunked it. It is also why I list fact checkers and trusted media sources on the sidebar of this blog. I don’t pretend that either list is complete, and I welcome suggestions for inclusion, but I intend to be very careful in making any additions; this is just too important. In my example, I mentioned the importance of trying to find out who is behind the website you are using, and determining their agenda. You can also sometimes check the credentials and agenda of the author of the article. If you are still not sure, use your fact checkers; in my example, that was not necessary, but it often is. Finally, understand that no one has an exclusive for long without a reason. If a story has substance, you should be able to find more details and reports in other places within a day’s time.
With all of this in mind, I invite you to return to your list of negatives about Hillary Clinton. Take the time to subject each and every one of them to this test. I guarantee you will have to drop some of them. I don’t agree with everything she wants to do, but I always have a small list of negatives about any candidate for president I decide to vote for. That happens when you have to form a consensus with millions of your countrymen to select your next leader. It’s called Democracy, and I would never be willing to give it up. If your newly fact-checked and smell tested list of Clinton negatives still persuades you to withhold your vote from her, I respect that. But I hope you will do the work first, and know that you are making your decision based on facts.