It is probably redundant to accuse an employee of Vox Media of having committed treason against the journalistic practice. Exceedingly and worryingly popular among American adolescents, Vox Media specializes in producing news commentary for the inattentive, analysis that is so cursorily composed and intellectually threadbare, the audience requires more time to read it than the authors needed to put it all together. It is coverage that is dismantled, stripped down, and ablated until it is ready to be consumed by the lowest common denominator, no matter how lazy the reader may be. This sophomoric approach could, in other instances, convey a deliberate attempt to capture and to promote the vox populi, populistic journalism, but in the case of Vox, it is just a cavalier marketing scheme, the simplest way to cast the broadest of nets, and subsequently to ensnare anyone gullible enough to accept the authors’ words as fact.
Vox is not the lowest of the low-hanging fruit, but it does dangle dangerously close to the ground, lacking even a veneer of respectability, a la CNN. The trouble with their work is so obvious, I just haven’t been tempted to tear them apart, believing I should aim at higher targets. But today, I came across a piece so wholly dishonest, I cannot and will not let it pass me by. The author of this piece is a man named Aaron Rupar, an “associate editor” of politics and policy, and it focuses on Tulsi Gabbard’s criticism of the Democratic National Committee’s polling system, a subject to which you probably do not need an introduction.
You may, however, need an introduction to the politics of Vox, but only if you have had the good fortune never to have read the website before. Vox, like Bill Maher, is unabashedly left-wing, and also like Bill Maher, it baselessly prides itself on its alleged penchant for hard, straight talk; indeed, on its constitutional intolerance to anything but. Unsurprisingly, the truth is that Vox—again, like Bill Maher—is actually a cesspool churning out neoliberal propaganda. Progressivism, according to Vox, is whatever position the Democratic Party has taken on any particular issue, and those who refuse to toe the party line are recalcitrant malcontents, useful idiots for any number of dastardly organizations, including the Russian government.
Surely you see where I’m going with this: Vox strengthens the neoliberal-neoconservative duopoly by captivating leftists, most of whom are probably well-meaning, and redirecting them, channeling their energies away from legitimate causes and towards frivolous, self-destructive rituals, not the least of which is rooting for the Democratic Party. Think of Vox—or Bill Maher, or any one of the many pseudo-progressive media entities—as Honest John, the filthy fox who uses crude sophistry to persuade Pinocchio to do precisely the wrong thing. Each individual writer for Vox is Gideon, the dopey cat who lends his clumsy hands to Honest John’s schemes.
Aaron Rupar is one such Gideon, and he has laid his hopeless gullibility bare in dozens of sloppy essays. When he isn’t taking potshots at Fox & Friends (talk about low-hanging fruit), he is busy defending the journalistic integrity of The New York Times, often before congratulating himself on having “explained” the central issue to his poor benighted readers. Graciously, he has “explained” for us Tulsi Gabbard’s controversial assertion that the Democratic National Committee conspired against her presidential campaign, and in fidelity to his role as an apologist for the DNC, he has rephrased and restated its rebuttal, all in the hope that his readers will be discouraged from listening to Gabbard and drawn toward the mouthpiece of the DNC instead.
Rupar begins his piece with a veiled, though rather unsubtle, and certainly unoriginal, ad hominem attack, implying that we cannot trust anything Gabbard said because she said it on Fox News, and on Tucker Carlson’s program, to boot! This argument (“Only a scoundrel would defile herself by appearing on Fox News”) betrays Rupar’s own political and historical ignorance: three years ago, it was standard practice for Democratic presidential candidates to appear on Fox. They wanted to, hence why Cory Booker sat down with Fox & Friends, why Bernie Sanders defended his platform on The O’Reilly Factor, and why Andrew Yang stopped by the Fox Business Channel earlier this year. While it has become much more uncommon in the Trumpish Age for Democrats to speak on Fox, there is nothing preventing them from doing so, nothing but Rupar’s reactionism.
Still, I will propose a compromise: if we must reject what Gabbard said because she said it on Fox, then surely we can dismiss the claim that Russia hacked into the DNC’s computer system, since it was during an interview on Fox that Hillary Clinton made the first such allegation. Fair is fair, eh?
If Rupar has a specific problem with Carlson, it is that he “introduced [Gabbard] by framing the situation in the most conspiratorial manner possible”. That is quite the hypocritical complaint by Rupar, who begins his own article by insisting that there is “a very straightforward explanation for Gabbard’s exclusion”, and whose byline accuses Gabbard of having argued “unconvincingly” that she was the victim of, as he later puts it, “some sort of DNC conspiracy”. Putting that aside, let us examine this “framing” that Rupar finds to be so troubling:
“You would think the Democratic Party would be eager to hear from Tulsi Gabbard: she’s young, she’s progressive, she’s an Iraq war veteran . . . but she stands alone among the Democratic candidates in opposing starting wars, like Iraq or bombing Syria. Therefore, the Democratic Party appears eager to sideline her. Gabbard has done well in a number of recent polls but the Democratic Party does not recognize those polls and may use that to keep her off the debate stage next month.”
I am no fan of Tucker Carlson, but is there anything inflammatory or fallacious in these comments of his? I see nothing problematic within here, nothing even indirectly controversial. Truly, I am at a loss to determine what disquiets Rupar so. Does he disagree that the Democrats’ utter disinterest in Gabbard is (at least seemingly) at odds with their professed progressivism? Surely an “associate editor” for a publication as proudly left-leaning as Vox would have noticed this Hindu woman of Samoan descent who serves in the Army and whose platform could be described, especially by a Fox News commentator such as Carlson, as “far-left”? If it isn’t this, then perhaps he is baffled by Carlson’s claim that the Democratic Party promotes a hawkish foreign policy. That may be so, but if that’s the case, then Rupar should probably do his research on the imperialist agendas of the last two Democratic presidents alone. But then again, I have no idea if this is his objection, either: he is so inarticulate and his writing so haphazard, it’s impossible to know what he’s addressing, even.
Nor was he any more diligent on Twitter. In his essay, Rupar links us to one of his own tweets, in which he poorly paraphrases Gabbard’s conversation with CNN’s Jim Sciutto. Childishly and inaccurately, he reduces Sciutto’s line of questioning to a facetious, “So what gives?” before going on to slander Gabbard by claiming that she asked which polls were used, when, in reality, she was asking why certain polls were favored over others. He then claims, falsely, that Sciutto responded to his imaginary statement by stating that the choice of polls has been known for months. Finally, he slanders Gabbard again by accusing her of refusing to answer the question. He claims Gabbard refused to answer the question by saying, “I don’t think we have time to get into it,” but let’s take a look at what she really said:
“We could get into a bunch of details about, you know, demographics and where exactly these polls are taking place and, more importantly, where they’re not taking place—I don’t think we’ve got the time to get into that here, but I’ll tell you: there’s a lot of questions that have come up . . .”
So, in other words, there are questions about the integrity of the polling system, and the evidence for Gabbard’s argument cannot be summarized in a ninety-second clip. Unfortunately, this proves to be much too advanced for Rupar to grasp, and in his confusion, he has mistaken her reasoning, which is completely legitimate, for a cowardly dodge. Perhaps the problem is that I have wrongly given Rupar the benefit of the doubt, and I have assumed that he completed his research before he offered comment on this issue. Alas, my suspicion builds that he really is as ignorant as he appears to be, that he truly lacks even the slightest understanding of the background to this controversy. In sympathy, I will attempt to educate him here.
Towards the end of the last presidential debate, Tulsi Gabbard was silenced as soon as she began to tell the American people how their government’s foreign policy empowers groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS. Since then, her more attentive supporters have observed that her name did not appear on many of the “legitimate” polls authorized and condoned by the DNC. Naturally, it would be tough for a candidate to record polling numbers, let alone numbers that rise above a certain threshold, if that candidate is not listed as one of the choices. This is suspicious, and it is also suspicious that the University of New Hampshire, whose polls the DNC accepts as “legitimate”, declined to record a single poll in the aftermath of the last debate, especially when New Hampshire holds the first of the nation’s primaries. This, compounded by the media blackout surrounding her campaign, plus the Democratic Party’s conspicuous refusal to acknowledge her candidacy despite the litany of appealing factors enumerated above, raises questions as to the integrity of the polling process.
Furthermore, the DNC has a history of tilting the field to favor one candidate over another. Rupar is good enough to acknowledge this history, one which is recent enough to call the integrity of the entire 2020 primary process into question, but his interpretation of this history is intriguing. Rupar dismisses the accusation that the DNC conspired against Bernie Sanders in 2016, his evidence being: if Sanders received fewer votes than Clinton, then of course no funny business occurred! He seems to know quite literally nothing about that scandal, this ignorance being consistent with the rest of this piece.
Rupar’s concern is that this controversy could provide Donald Trump with ammunition as he prepares for his own re-election campaign. What he fails to observe is that Trump has never acknowledged Gabbard, not even after she accused him directly of supporting al-Qaeda during a televised debate. Isn’t it telling that a man as sensitive as Trump would overlook such a shocking accusation, one that is far more serious and damning than anything that is alleged about his nocturnal misadventures with Stormy Daniels? Alas, that subject is as untouchable to Trump as it is to Rupar, who demands that we disregard the evidence and support the eventual Democratic nominee without comment or complaint, and certainly without question. The irony, of course, is that if the eventual nominee—who, in Gabbard’s absence, will be another opportunistic neoliberal with authoritarian ambitions—fails to vanquish Trump, then the blame will be placed on Gabbard and her supporters, on those of us who were supposedly too small to qualify for the polls, but who are more than sizeable enough to tilt an entire election.
Ah, but who needs to question the polls? That is the work of a lesser journalist, a mediocre journalist, a journalist like . . . Aaron Rupar, who disputed the polling that placed Donald Trump’s approval rating at 51%? Oh, but that was probably a long time ago, right? Rupar has changed his ways since then, since he made that disputation . . . eight days ago.
P.S. Isn’t it time we placed those who refuse to acknowledge what the DNC did to Sanders in the same category as those who deny that the Sandy Hook shooting ever took place? Why is it socially acceptable, even occasionally noble, to promote the former lie, but not so to lend credence to the latter?