September 22, 2004
Conspiracy theoriesBy Thomas Lifson
Rathergate has opened wide the floodgates for conspiracy theorists. No less a figure than the chairman of the oldest political party in the world, Terry McAuliffe, is sticking by his guns, claiming that Rathergate is, or least could be, a product of the Vast Republican Conspiracy.
McAuliffe's latest flight of fancy points an accusing finger at Roger Stone, a sometime campaign consultant who — get this! — refuses to deny the charge that he set—up Rather and the Democrats.
Now, I don't know Mr. Stone, but I have to wonder if he isn't having a bit of fun with Terry. You know, feed him just enough raw meat to keep him snarling and clawing at the cage bars.
But if one were take Terry at face value, here are a few of the things you would have to believe:
—The VRC knew in advance that CBS would take seriously an obviously word—processed document purporting to have been produced in the early 1970s.
—The VRC would choose the Bush—obsessed Bill Burkett as the conduit for this transparent forgery, because he would believe anything bad about Bush, with whom he was obsessed, and not worry about his tendency to fall into fits when speaking with journalists.
—The VRC knew that CBS would pay attention to Bill Burkett, who has widely published his hatred for Bush and the Republicans on the internet (available to anyone on google), and lend credibility to his obviously word—processed document.
—The VRC knew that CBS would not only take the forged memo on air, they would also unhesitatingly involve the Kerry campaign, by calling up Joe Lockhart.
Meanwhile, there is another conspiracy theory, a bit more plausible, making the rounds: that CBS's pre—broadcast call to Joe Lockhart, and Lockhart's call to Mary Beth Cahill, and Mary Beth Cahill's call to Kerry himself, mean that the Kerry campaign was colluding with CBS to damage Bush less than two months before the election.
In order to lend at least some weight to this conspiracy theory, you have to believe the following:
—Rather, CBS, Kerry, and his campaign staff all share the goal of defeating George W. Bush in November.
—CBS would not follow the proper journalistic ethical guidelines, which would forbid tipping off a campaign about damaging information about their opponent prior to broadcast.
—Lockhart would want to inform his superiors in the campaign organization about hot new information which they could use in their own advertising, right after the CBS story broke, thereby leveraging the negative effects on Bush.
—Lockhart, who used to work for ex—President Clinton as his spokesman, would never lie to the press when denying that improper communications took place when he spoke to Burkett and Cahill.
Hmmm, which set of propositions strikes you as more unlikely?
Of course, we all know that conspiracies rarely take place in real life. Conspiracies have to be organized, and have to anticipate first—, second—, and third—stage reactions. And everyone has to keep their mouths shut forever. The omniscience and control required strain the credulity of all but the most gullible.
Collusion, on the other hand, merely requires that people work illicitly and covertly, to exploit events to their own advantage. So the question arises: is one theory of the events a conspiracy, while the other is merely collusion?
Time will tell.