REBUNKED? The Debunked Stories Keep Coming Home to Roost | Steve Berman

As recently as late May—2023, this year—polls show that six in ten Republicans believe the 2020 election was illegitimate, which is about the same as it was in the fall of 2022. That has fallen from over 70 percent back in 2021, so at least some Republicans have grown tired of believing in empty fantasies like “2000 Mules.” Yet the underpinnings of these conspiracies refuse to die.

Blaming the people who believe them (or who refuse to reject them) is very popular in political circles. But many of these people are not acting on some unflappable faith in what Donald Trump says (though, sadly, some are fully baptized into his cult). They simply don’t believe the narratives presented as “this is what happened” as truth. And they have good reason to doubt.

In October 2020, rated Trump’s assertion that Joe Biden pressured Ukrainians regarding corruption and shady deals with Hunter, “false.” This went along with the narrative at the time regarding Hunter Biden’s laptop story that the New York Post broke, and was immediately pounced upon by everyone claiming the story was Russian disinformation.

But as that was going on and Twitter was expunging all mentions of the laptop story, the FBI told Twitter that the laptop was real. That is, if you believe the testimony of Laura Dehmlow, who is currently with the FBI as section chief of the agency’s Foreign Influence Task Force. The FBI isn’t responsible for what Twitter did. but those who think the election was unfairly influenced by the suppression and “debunking” of the Hunter story while early voting was happening can be forgiven for refusing to put away their doubts.

If you asked any Democrat activist what lengths they’d go to to prevent Trump from winning a second term in 2020, you wouldn’t be surprised if “we will follow the truth and the law to a T” was not the top answer. Trump had been pursued on the Russia allegations for four years, using sketchy evidence and the fabricated Steele dossier to begin the Crossfire Hurricane investigation. Democrats falsely claimed Postmaster General Louis DeJoy was conspiring to slow the mail to prevent ballots from being counted.

Democrats like Stacy Abrams claimed elections were “rigged”—she famously refused to concede her 2018 loss to Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp. In 2020, she lost again, bigger, despite the fact that Joe Biden took the state’s electors by over 12,000 votes. These results have been confirmed again and again (and by hand), yet the double-standard that Democrats get to claim election interference and “rigging” but Republicans don’t doesn’t sit well with many voters.

And now, the Burisma story, which was really the genesis of Trump’s first impeachment—his “perfect call” with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in which Trump threatened to withhold congressionally-allocated aid if Zelenskyy would not investigate—is back in the news. Sen. Chuck Grassley released a “Form 1023” interview summary that the FBI conducted with a confidential source regarding bribery attempts by then-Vice President Biden. It was debunked, but won’t stay debunked.

Is there enough doubt to believe what Rudy Giuliani said in 2020? “Joe Biden has been blatantly lying about his involvement in his son’s corrupt business dealings.” Perhaps, if you don’t give Biden the benefit of the doubt. To say that Joe Biden never lies is provably wrong, so we’re just arguing about metrics here. Again, there’s scant evidence that Biden was behind the Burisma appointment, but we can easily believe that Hunter would not have been appointed to its board of directors were his last name not Biden. It’s not hard for many voters to hold this story to a degree of doubt that won’t let them leave it debunked.

Another area many Trump apologists claim victory these days is the Wuhan lab leak theory. Michael Shellenberger (who is a real investigative reporter, though he has migrated to the fringe laterly), along two other journalists, and help from Matt Taibbi, has released a whole boatload of Slack conversations among the researchers who penned the seminal debunking of the lab leak theory.

Shellengerger claims that these researchers knew they were suppressing a theory they could not definitively debunk, even in their own minds, and going with a theory of origin they could not provide a preponderance of evidence to prove. Whether that’s true or not is a matter for historians and other researchers to judge. The Chinese are not saying. But I think there was a societal and cultural pressure to disprove the lab leak—for a variety of reasons—by the “higher ups” mentioned in the Slack threads.

For one thing, many of these, like Anthony Fauci, were very familiar with Wuhan’s work, and their own involvement in some of the lab’s projects. Some of the impetus came from avoiding embarrassment, or preemptively distancing in the case that some breaking story confirmed a lab leak scenario. But there was certainly more than a hint of bias on where the paper would lead, and games were played with reporters who might have asked inconvenient questions.

Like so many debunked theories, the COVID-19 origin lab leak won’t stay debunked.

The combination of all these stories rising again—is rebunked a word?—adds doubt to the minds of many that the stories coming out of the mainstream media, the government, and both political parties, just isn’t true. We know propaganda abounds, but I don’t think the public realizes just how much institutions we’re supposed to trust rely on it. Citing each other provides sufficient cover and plausible deniability when these stories come back and certain elements are determined to have been false.

Even the prosecutions against Trump have their own political agenda, though the crimes he’s been charged with are thoroughly researched and constructed. David French wrote in the New York Times that in “roughly 30 months — light speed in legal time — the American legal system has built the case law necessary to combat and deter American insurrection.” That may be true in the legal sense, but the timing of the indictments, and which ones have not yet fruited, is not unstained by politics. Prosecutors do collaborate, at the state and federal level, because they have to avoid conflicting with each other.

But that collaboration can also include an unspoken agreement to keep the pressure on, and flood the zone, at just the right time, to sway public opinion. Trump is experienced at delaying legal actions against him. He’s experienced at using negative news to generate positive buzz among his supporters. He’s experienced at turning a legal threat into reason for some to doubt the motives and facts associated with these cases. It’s not surprising that these debunked stories keep coming back.

I think there will be more rebunking as time goes on. Biden may not be immune to it, and if he is protected by the media and his party, we may find that trust in those institutions, including the Supreme Court, which is under biased attack for things liberal justices took for granted but conservatives are under a microscope for, wanes to a dangerous level.

As French wrote:

We can’t ask for too much from any legal system. A code of laws is ultimately no substitute for moral norms. Our constitutional republic cannot last indefinitely in the face of misinformation, conspiracy and violence. It can remove the worst actors from positions of power and influence. But it cannot ultimately save us from ourselves.

It’s not just the legal system. It’s the media, political parties, and the courts themselves that are providing the gunpowder for their own explosive destruction in the public trust. Someone has to tell the truth, even if it leads to personal embarrassment or even ruin. Who will it be?

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevengberman.

The First TV contributor network is a place for vibrant thought and ideas. Opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of The First or The First TV. We want to foster dialogue, create conversation, and debate ideas. See something you like or don’t like? Reach out to the author or to us at