If seeing is believing, the recently released video footage showing the attack on Paul Pelosi shouldn’t just make people think twice about conspiracy theories, they should result in a plethora of apologies.
But here in the real world, neither of those things happened—even after definitive proof was presented.
Consider the case of Brian Claypool, a criminal defense attorney and Fox News talking head who was confronted with the truth on live TV last week.
In case you missed it, Claypool was on Fox News to talk about the attack, when he asked, “Where is the evidence of a breaking and entering?” He was interrupted by co-anchor Sandra Smith, who informed Claypool that “There’s video of [the perpetrator] breaking through the house.” The video was then shown on the screen, as co-anchor John Roberts chimed in, saying: “He’s clearly using that [weapon] to break in.”
After a few seconds of stunned speechlessness, Claypool stammered: “Yeah, okay, but can’t we talk more about…what is the [Department of Justice] doing?” (Then, he brought up Hunter Biden. It’s always Hunter Biden. When in doubt, whip it out.)
This was an amazing and revealing moment, and yet, it was also perfectly in keeping with an America where nobody admits errors and nobody is embarrassed. Instead, people change the subject and keep digging.
To be sure, tribalism and ideology have always biased interpretations of events, especially for partisans and ideologues. Still, in recent years, a conspiratorial mindset has resulted in the invention of something even worse than unconscious bias: alternative realities.
Such inventions have become a necessary habit for MAGA Republicans, whose rhetoric often incites violence, which then must be explained away. Recent examples range from lies about a “stolen” 2020 election (I blame Venezuela) to Jan. 6 (which was clearly a false-flag operation perpetrated by Antifa).
And, of course, the Paul Pelosi hammer attack.
In the wake of the shocking assault on the then-House Speaker’s 82-year-old spouse, multiple conspiracy theories emerged, including one suggesting that Pelosi and his attacker were involved in a gay tryst. This theory gained traction, partly because it was tweeted by Twitter’s owner, Elon Musk. (It was also aided by early and incomplete reports from the 911 call where Pelosi refers to the alleged assailant as “a friend.”)
But the recently released and complete 911 call makes clear what a lot of us suspected at the time: Paul Pelosi was obviously speaking in code language and attempting to alert police to his predicament without angering or (forgive the term) arousing the presumably unbalanced intruder.
Again, though, no amount of proof will be enough to convince some people. “Idiots on the left want [Elon Musk] to apologize to the Pelosis,” Juanita Broaddrick (the conservative activist who accused Bill Clinton of rape) tweeted after the video emerged. “For what? It is still a questionable and bizarre situation between two men in their underwear.”
Broaddrick’s contention that Pelosi and his attacker were in “their underwear”—despite the existence of a video showing the assailant wearing what looks like cargo shorts—is in the same league as Brian Claypool’s ignorance of the video showing the break-in.
When it comes to correcting the record, part of the problem is that these narratives have been out for months now, and are deeply ingrained. No pun intended, but a lie is halfway across the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.
Broaddrick’s tweet at least resulted in something positive: It prompted Musk to apologize, albeit in a way that seemed to confirm Broaddrick’s (false) contention about the underwear.
No apology can put the toothpaste back in the tube, but at least Musk owned up to his mistake. Good for him.
The same cannot be said for the numerous Republican politicians and MAGA pundits who advanced conspiracy theories about the Pelosi attack.
I suspect this conspiracy theory took off for a variety of reasons, including some reasons cited above. An additional reason may be that the attack occurred at the end of October, just before the November midterm elections. It is understandable why some partisan Republicans wanted to quash a narrative that cast Nancy Pelosi in a sympathetic light.
Others (like Musk) may be biased against Pelosi, but their primary sin is being a troll who tweets first and asks questions later.
Still others (possibly like Broaddrick) are deeply embroiled in the cult-like world of conspiracy theories purporting to reveal the long-hidden truth.
Regardless of their motivations, save for Musk, few of the people who pushed these conspiracy theories have apologized, and most seem hellbent on either (a) finding new theories to explain away the attack, or (b) moving on and pretending the video never existed.
It’s one thing to foolishly believe conspiracy theories. It’s another thing to refuse to allow evidence to change your mind.
Once upon a time, we could argue with the refs and dispute a call made on the field. Unfortunately, we have now arrived at a point where even instant replay—with slow motion and multiple camera angles–can no longer settle our differences.
Who are you going to believe, a video or your lying eyes?