Conspiracy theory fails for many reasons, but first because it always assumes a man’s motives are much more complicated than they actually are. A conspiracy theorist responds to something like 9/11 by disregarding completely the decades long history of third world savagery that lead to attacks around the world, choosing instead to concoct a combination of political malfeasance, greed, and ambition that is simply impossible to produce in the real world.
Oh sure, you can believe that fire caused the structural steel of the World Trade Center towers to weaken and bow, thus leading to their collapse. Or you can believe the Bush administration had the Trade Center walls caked with thermite paint, rigged both buildings with explosives, and brought them down in a controlled demolition so that Afghanistan could be conquered and a pipeline built across the country, to the untold financial benefit of Bush’s evil oil buddies.
And so it goes, for whatever the reasons things like that get started: mental illness, boredom, a search for meaning, needing to keep your audience interested (e.g. Alex Jones). Even something better rendered harmless, like a political ideology, can be warped and shaped into black helicopters and boogiemen if you’re not levelheaded enough to remember that the simplest answer is oftentimes your best bet.
As evidence, the last ten days of Anthony Weiner’s life, an exercise in embarrassing behavior exceeded only by his most dogged defenders. As the scandal developed, those who so desperately wanted the liberal firebrand to be the victim of a nefarious plot stumbled all over themselves to make it so, ignoring the logical assumptions that should have overtaken them.
The most forthrightly comical of these came courtesy of The Raw Story, which after noting credibility problems with Andrew Breitbart’s various websites, inexplicably linked to an amateurish “error level analysis” of the original tight underwear picture. The accompanying text explains what error level analysis is and apparently cleared Congressman Weiner to the satisfaction of The Raw Story, because a post was updated to say the analysis “suggests that the screen-grab Breitbart’s site posted as ‘proof’ is a fraud.” (We trust that the editors of The Raw Story, as well the other websites who fell for this, will not worry themselves into sleeplessness about their newly damaged credibility.)
We now know this was a joke, and to the extent things like this make their way around the Internet and are taken seriously by unserious people, no one should be surprised. But at the end, error level analysis at least has the feel of something legitimate. From the beginning, the bald claims of conspiracy coming from some corners of the Left were enough to make you question their mental fitness.
Virtually every liberal website created and reposted its favorite conspiratorial narratives, though none stretched farther than those put forth by anonymous contributors to The Daily Kos, a website that also demands spotless integrity from Andrew Breitbart, but which will not hold its own members accountable for the lunacy they invent. (Someone called Stef is responsible for perhaps the most intellectually egregious piece of trash the scandal has yet produced, but there is no reason to believe he / she will be reprimanded.)
Elsewhere, Salon.com editor-at-large Joan Walsh not only suggested Dana Loesch and Dan Wolfe committed the computer hacking first blamed for the leak, she also falsely accused Breitbart’s Big Government of leaking the name of the twenty-one-year-old girl who received the unfortunate attempt at flirtation that started this mess. In Walsh’s way of thinking someone had to be blamed, but it couldn’t be the man common sense (and every real fact in evidence) suggested was actually responsible – it was more logical to create an elaborate myth than to accept what should have been obvious.
Weiner’s supporters leapt blindly to his defense, forgetting that a married congressman has a lot more to lose than their simple, childish admiration. And now that the shoe has dropped, one cannot help but wonder whether those who fought so valiantly and thought so creatively on Congressman Weiner’s behalf know and understand the depths of their mistakes. Or are they just preparing themselves for the next self-induced crisis?