The ‘Hodgkinson Standard’ and the Political Blame Game

On June 14, 2017, James Hodgkinson, a Bernie Sanders campaign volunteer during the presidential primaries, opened fire on a Republican congressional baseball practice in northern Virginia. Four people were shot, including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.).

President Trump addressed the shooting saying, “We may have our differences . . . We are strongest when we are unified and when we work for the common good.”

The New York Times noted favorably that “Mr. Trump steered clear of the possible political motivations of the gunman,” and instead issued a “dignified” call for unity.

There was general agreement that when a sociopath with a peripheral involvement in politics commits a violent act, it is unfair to attribute broad political blame.

Last week, someone sent devices that were meant to look like pipe bombs to two former presidents, their first ladies, congressional leaders, and an ex-CIA chief.

Another was sent to actor Robert De Niro, whose movie “Taxi Driver”was cited by a nut as the reason he shot President Reagan in 1981. Nobody ever blamed De Niro for John Hinckley, Jr.

Nevertheless, this time the media, prominent Democrats, De Niro, and some NeverTrump Republicans jumped at the chance to blame Trump. The story was sensationalized beyond the boundaries of readily ascertainable facts.

These were the rare explosive devices displayed at CNN like a party favor, photographed for Twitter, and shipped on America’s crowded highways (or worse, in airplanes) to Quantico, Virginia for further testing.

Which is how bombs are always handled. No, really.

Reporters must have deduced the devices were phony, but that did not stop them from saying and writing “bombs” whenever they could work in the word. They also falsely drew a direct causal between the president and the “bombs.”

Nobody knew at the time whether a Trump supporter was responsible. It could have been anyone. Surely, when the profilers at the FBI were first looking at the incidents, high on their list of possibilities to investigate must have been “hoax.”

That is because it is appropriate to ask questions, to explore possibilities, and to construct theories of human motivation. Which is what an investigation is.

The dominant media did not investigate. Instead of allowing for all possibilities, they locked onto the “Trump-did-it” talking point and ran wild.

Even if the sender turned out to be a Trump supporter, though, it would not be a reason to say that the president’s political criticism of his opponents caused the lunatic to act. Let’s call that the “Hodgkinson standard.”

The Orwellian apogee of the stupid reporting may have been when Jim Swift of The Weekly Standard criticized commentators on the Right, including our own Chris Buskirk and Brandon Weichert, for asking questions.

That perfectly demonstrates how clipped and cowed traditional sources—including ostensibly conservative ones—are by the approved media narrative. Don’t you dare ask questions!

News reporting does not exist to choose sides in a political contest and to filter facts through an approved narrative that favors one side over the other.

An event where fake bombs generate a news cycle designed to damage a president campaigning in the final days of a crucial election is more about the news cycle than it is about fake bombs.

On the fourth day of Trump-is-terrible saturation coverage, they caught the guy.

The media had hoped for a MAGA hat wearing Christian hunter with a single “Nobama” bumper sticker on fading 2003 Ford Truck with an aftermarket toolbox.

They instead got a steroid-addicted former Chippendale dancer in a white van with windows covered in stickers including one that featured a youth soccer team.

Central casting is still trying to figure out a way to make him the face of the Trump movement.

The news on Saturday should have been about an aging male stripper who sent fake bombs so that he could strut and fret 15 extra minutes upon the stage.

Instead, it was about violent Trump supporters trying to usher in a Fourth Reich. Then a real live Nazi shot up a synagogue in my hometown.

He was not a Trump supporter. In fact, he hated the president, who he thinks is controlled by some imaginary Jewish cabal.

And, yet, the attribution exercise began. The settled fake narrative this time was that the president makes things so crazy he ignites even the crazies who hate him. It’s his fault. Everything bad that happens is.

General Eisenhower once purportedly said, “If you have an unsolvable problem, expand it.”

Democrats can’t solve Trump on true political grounds. His domestic policy, measured by economic indicators, is a raging success. His foreign policy, measured by stature that provides diplomatic leverage, is transforming the world.

They must expand the problem: Trump causes trouble that he is not reasonably connected to. It is illogical and would not be possible without a compliant media. But it is effective because propaganda usually works on some portion of any citizenry.

It remains to be seen whether enough voters will withstand the propaganda onslaught and make these midterms historic, which a victory for the party-in-power would be.

In 2016, I predicted Trump would carry the Rust Belt and win the election. I have seen some of those same signs this time from my perch in middle-America, but the media assault has been relentless.

There is a week left. We shall see.

Photo Credit: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

About Thomas Farnan

Thomas J. Farnan is an attorney in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His writing has appeared in Forbes and he is a regular contributor to and the Observer. Follow him on Twitter @tfarnanlaw.

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