Vet Your sources.
I generally try not to criticize cults of personality online, because time is short, I’m working multiple projects, and seriously: who cares?
But after witnessing yet another one of her off-the-wall claims over the weekend and the general feeding frenzy that followed, I’m going to say this once and for all: Louise Mensch is not your friend. She is not a patriot, she is not a ally of the Resistance and she will most definitely not save us all.
For many Americans, Mensch is now synonymous with #TrumpRussia, a social media hashtag referring to the unfolding scandal that is President Trump and his many, many Russian ties. Since scoring a genuine scoop in November about a FISA warrant issued to investigate ties between Russian banks and the Trump campaign, Mensch has developed tens of thousands of followers on Twitter, who hang on her every word, praise her every scoop, and support her every Russian allegation, no matter how offensive or ridiculous the subject may be.
But like anything in our post-fact world, you need to examine the source.
Mensch’s history is a checkered one, beginning with a brief stint as a Tory MP (a.k.a. Britian’s chief conservative political party), where she staunchly advocated for a media blackout during the London riots, a move that was largely criticized for being borderline authoritarian. She then abruptly quit her position to move to New York, but not before having a public spat with her husband over the move.
During that time frame, Mensch has also harassed teenagers who have disagreed with her politically, admitted to taking hard drugs, and — in a deeply ironic moment — tried to start a rival company to Twitter, arguing that Twitter didn’t have the discourse that people wanted.
In other words, Mensch does not have a reputation as a journalist, nor even a credible background as a politician. Her track record is complicated at best, and flighty at worst. In the world of logic, there is no reason anyone who had the information that she’s claiming access to, would risk career and well-being to leak it to her. But thanks to that single FISA scoop which just happened to be correct, Mensch is now being hailed by many as the go-to journalist for #TrumpRussia.
But here’s why that public support for Mensch is so hazardous.
Mensch’s tweets and so-called sources embody the wish fulfillment of the left, of a future time and place when Donald Trump is no longer president. Mensch knows this — as it’s pretty much the only thing most of us want — and is expertly playing on that impulse in exchange for self-promotion and a few bucks.
If you even have a passing knowledge of Mensch’s now infamous Twitter feed, you’ll quickly realize two things:
- Mensch often claims that there are Russian agents and compromised politicians everywhere,
- And coincidentally, she and her pal Claude Taylor — who used to work for the Volunteer Office of the White House — are the only ones who can tell you the truth about what’s going on.
By positing herself (and Claude) as the single true source of all things Russia, Mensch is essentially stating that it is at our peril if we don’t listen to her, since as she likes to remind her followers, there are Russian agents supposedly everywhere. Our well-being and the well-being of democracy, is predicated on the ability to fall into line.
But if we do listen to her, Mensch will graciously present us with tidbits of information designed to reassure us that all of this — Trump’s presidency, his cabinet members, the dozens of people that Mensch has casually accused of being Russian agents — will all be out of our lives soon.
In other words, Mensch is creating a co-dependency on her so-called information. Mensch is not only presenting followers with the very scenario they want to hear, she is also lulling them into a false sense of complacency over the supposed imminent demise of Trump’s presidency, and distorting public trust in legitimate experts, to boot.
(Though admittedly, the demise of the presidency seems a lot more likely now, after the revelation of Comey’s memo.)
By insisting that we are just hours, days, weeks away from Trump allegedly being indicted or dragged out by the US Marshals, Mensch is basically telling all those who follow her: no work is needed. There is no need to call our electeds; no need to march; no need to demonstrate — we just have to sit back and wait for the legal system to take effect.
But as people wait for her predictions to pan out, the world still continues. Environmental rules continue to be revoked. Health care bills are passed. Trump’s agenda — as chaotic as it is — still keeps moving forward, and real opportunities are being lost to stop any of this, because Mensch’s wish fulfillment premises have gotten in the way of actionable steps, common sense and logic. It is causing real damage to any resistance efforts, and it needs to stop now.
Mensch’s shotgun approach to supposedly imminent stories, is also distorting our ability to trust in genuine expertise. With a flair for pathological narcissism that is reminiscent of other cult-like leaders, Mensch encourages followers to attack, bully and harass anyone who questions her reporting.
By bullying her way into silencing legitimate experts — Luntz is a long-time GOP strategist — Mensch is not only making her followers question genuine (if occasionally partisan) expertise, but also reinforcing the idea that she is again, the only person who can tell followers the truth.
Her actions are not that different from what Trump and the far-right are prone to doing, and the sooner we come to a consensus on this, the better. To paraphrase an argument from professor Tom Nichols, Mensch’s actions are effectively reiterating the ever-growing idea that expertise, specifically media and journalistic expertise in this case, are not essential for discourse.
We prosper because we specialize, developing formal and informal mechanisms and practices that allow us to trust one another in those specializations and gain the collective benefit of our individual expertise.
If that trust dissipates, eventually both democracy and expertise will be fatally corrupted, because neither democratic leaders nor their expert advisers want to tangle with an ignorant electorate. At that point, expertise will no longer serve the public interest; it will serve the interest of whatever clique is paying its bills or taking the popular temperature at any given moment. And such an outcome is already perilously near.
There is too much at stake, to let a single person’s questionable intentions continue to errode our fight against Trump, and our ability to protect our democracy. We have to do better, and we have to keep fighting on our own merits.
So the next time you see Mensch or anyone Mensch-like come across your feed, ask yourself these questions that I have reiterated on Twitter often:
- What’s their level of expertise?
- What gives them the authority to say certain things about a subject?
- What’s their motivation in telling you [insert story here]?
- Are they telling you something true, or just something you really want to hear about Trump and the White House?
- If said Twitter pundit really worked in said field, would they really speak like that?
- If they’re credible, are other outlets reaching out for guest pieces, etc?
- If they aren’t, is it because these outlets see something you don’t?
The fight against the Trump White House is still looking like a longer battle. Be smart in your approach.